By now we’ve all been affected by this COVID-19 outbreak. Here in Montreal (as is the case in most cities, I think) most public gathering places, including schools have been closed down and events cancelled. I can still go to Tim Hortons, but it’s take out only – no sitting around and eating. There’s still people walking around outside, but the city is definitely quieter, and an aura of fear is palpable.

It’s all necessary, even if some aren’t taking it seriously (ie: the kids doing their normal spring break routine in Miami). If we do nothing, the cases will skyrocket quickly because no one has immunity to this virus. We have limited health care resources, including respirators / ventilators (which are necessary for more serious cases, and can occur in young as well as old people) and personnel, so it’s important to “flatten the curve” to ensure that hospitals can adequately care for those in need. If not, we run into a situation where doctors and nurses have to decide who gets a respirator and who doesn’t, which is currently the situation in Italy. By performing social distancing, we can flatten that curve.

At this point, I don’t expect things to return to “normal” for another two months. Even after that, there’s apparently a good chance of subsequent, but smaller outbreaks, so things might be different for quite some time.

The virus is having a clear effect on the economy. The stock market is now in bear territory, many businesses aren’t making any money, and a lot of people are losing their jobs. It’s clear that most people, outside of those in certain industries and the super rich, are feeling the crunch right now.

Thankfully, I’ve mostly been hoarding the money I’ve made, so I feel financially secure. I still owe lots in student loans, but that’s not a super immediate concern. It does seem likely that my cash flow will slow, however. eBay sales are down – only two items have sold in the last twelve days. My local auction house is slowing down its operations and could close outright (and even if they don’t, will people bid as much?). Assuming my two month figure is about right, yard sale season will also start a little late, albeit only by 2-3 weeks.

As for trash picking itself, fortunately social distancing is kind of baked into that already. The main risk is that I look through infected garbage, which would be impossible to spot. It’s more likely to find that in apartment building trash, given that many different people’s stuff tends to get all mixed together, so I’ll likely leave that alone for the time being. Most of my finds though come from single family homes or duplexes, which are less likely sources because of their low population density. Also, a lot of my strategy involves searching for stuff tossed by people moving, clearing out houses, and so on, and many of my current “spots” are ones I’ve had my eye on since before the outbreak.

So, I think I’ll keep doing my runs during the outbreak. I’ll try to be extra careful though, by using lots of hand sanitizer, cleaning wipes, and so on. What do you think of that plan? Please share any ideas or comments below!

Another thing to consider is how people’s garbaging habits will change as a result of the pandemic. My thinking is that folks might do a deeper spring cleaning purge than usual because they’re spending more time at home with nothing to do than they would otherwise. On the other hand, some people might be less wasteful if they’re feeling financially insecure, and others might be too busy with their kids (who would otherwise be in school) to do much spring cleaning. Maybe all those factors will even out, leading to a fairly normal springtime garbage boom. I kind of hope that’s the case, because I have a hard time staying on top of the “normal” quantity of garbage.

Anyways, I was fairly lucky this past week, despite it being the first one that was really defined by the virus. This Lavazza espresso machine was just sitting on top of a trash bin, perhaps evidence that some spring cleaning has begun. Despite making over 6000 cups (according to an odometer-like counter on the back) it still works fine. They seem to sell for around 3-500$ on eBay, so that was a nice (& easy) get.

The “part x of a million” person didn’t throw out anything for a couple weeks, and then one bag emerged this week. It was mostly actual trash, other than this very dry Montreal Daily Witness newspaper from 1908. I’ll continue to keep an eye on the situation, though it’s possible that the flow of trash is finally coming to a close.

I found some nice pottery and art glass on Monday night, the nicest piece of which was probably this ~11.5″ vase signed by Robert Held. It has a little chip, but it’s not noticeable. I’m hopeful that the spot that produced it will toss more quality junk in the coming weeks, seeing as the house has recently sold. I also found some good stuff there last week.

This Hummel figurine made it to the curb unscathed on Tuesday night. “Boy with umbrella” should sell for around 85$. It came from a spot I just discovered, which I hope produces dividends in the coming weeks / months.

Someone else in the neighbourhood put out some nice plants, including this crown of thorns. I’ve been wanting one for a while, so I was happy to find it.

I found more nice plants in a bag nearby. Here’s the entire collection. I ended up giving away the sad looking Christmas cactus and the plant that lost its soil. I’m going to keep the tree, which I think is called a dracaena. I forget what those leafy plants are called, but they’re pretty and don’t take much effort to maintain. It always makes me sad when people throw away plants, but at least I found these when it was above zero. Others aren’t so lucky.

That was a pretty good night. I also picked two bags of jewelry out of a recycling bin.

A lot of it was crappy, broken, or both, but I did save several nice pieces. The bag on the right is the kind you use to put your beans in at the grocery store.

The most valuable piece is probably that tie clip near the center right. It’s marked 750 (18k gold), and is worth around 250$ for scrap. Below that is a fun Mexican silver Snoopy brooch, which I think will sell for around 60$. To either side of Snoopy are different Calvin Klein pure parfums. The dangle earrings are by D’orlan, I just need to glue those stones back in there. The big brooch up top is signed Dauplaise. Because it’s quite large, I expect it’ll sell for around 60$. All the necklaces on the left are made using stone or glass beads, and that watch is a Super Edma. It’s not too expensive, but that band goes with it very nicely.

So, all in all it was a pretty good week for finds, virus and all. But let me know what you think of my plan, and any other thoughts you might have.


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36 thoughts on “COVID-19”

    1. I definitely have enough inventory to keep me busy for a while. But I guess I have a hard time letting go of the garbage, because I know it won’t be saved otherwise, and it’s my main hobby as well as my job. But you’re right, it is scary, and an argument could be made that I should just suspend my picking for the time being, as difficult as that would be.

  1. Stay safe Martin!
    Sales lately may be slow, but your finds of the week are pretty sweet. That art glass is gorgeous.
    Apart from the Crown of Thorns and the dracena, it looks like you have Marble Queen vines, and perhaps a hoya, as well. Nice!

    1. Yeah, I think they’re “marble queens.” I found three different ones, all in pretty lively condition. I already have one, so I might end up giving one or two away to friends.

      1. You’re right about the spring cleaning thing. Out here in Vancouver the alleys are bearing all sorts of treasures!

  2. Be careful. Pay attention to how long the virus can live on surfaces. I closed both my Etsy stores (temporarily). I think buyer’s habits will be like during the recession. People with stable jobs (nurses, teachers, civil servants) will continue with life as per normal. Everyone else will be tightening their belts or looking for side gigs. But this too shall pass, eventually.

  3. I am more afraid of being within 3-6 ft of another human than I am of touching surfaces. As long as I don’t touch my face before I have thoroughly cleaned my hands, I feel in control of being exposed. And if you wear good gloves, and then thoroughly clean your hands, you should be safe. Just do not touch your face!!!!!!! And then wipe down the surfaces you touch in & on your car, your keys, your phone, etc. Best of luck to you, as I know spring cleaning will be rampant this year.

    1. That’s true, when touching surfaces you do have a bit more control, since you just have to make sure you keep your hands clean and away from your face.

  4. Thank you for continuing to write blog posts during this unsettled and unsettling time. It is very hard to keep oneself from touching one’s face (most of us don’t realize how often we do it…) but wearing sterile gloves might help create/reinforce new personal habits… I share with you a desire not to miss out on saving important stuff from the trash stream — but I also don’t want you to harm yourself. Maybe after (using gloves, etc.) you find/collect stuff, you could leave it untouched for several days to give any COVID-19 viruses time to decompose before you handle those “finds” again?

  5. I think you’re a resourceful and careful guy, but, touching other people’s things right now does present a risk. Garbage bags might have used kleenex in them for example…If you do decide to continue to collect, please use every precaution…gloves, sanitizer, and cleaning wipes are essential. A mask would be a good idea too. The coronavirus can live in a freezer for up to two years. On surfaces, the lifespan of the virus varies from hours to weeks, you should take that into account…maybe store the things you find now in a separate place for a while until you can be sure they’re disinfected. Most of the stuff pictured here would survive a good hot water and soap washing. Keep track of the new stuff so you know what needs special treatment and cleaning.
    You might also want to let your customers and your followers know what your new protocol for collecting and cleaning is. Be careful out there and think health and safety first!

  6. I agree that people (myself included) will be using the extra time at home to do some Spring Cleaning. I think you can be safe in picking…and could maybe do a quick pick and quarantine the items until the possible germs die and you can do a more thorough sort. I have had a few eBay, Craig’sList and Mercari sales over the past days. People are bored so the ones who can afford it are shopping online. Especially for kid stuff and collectibles. I did lower some prices just because I like to keep things moving as long as I am making a little profit. Hopefully you can find some projects that you never seem to have time for to keep you busy during this time. Always happy to see a blog post from you. I am really noticing the simple pleasures these days, and your posts are always a treat.

  7. Martin, I think you should keep at it. You’re a smart guy and I am sure you are already using, and will continue to use, an abundance of caution. Use gloves, put the stuff aside for a while and/or wash things thoroughly with hot water and soap, etc. People are getting bored, so online sales should pick up. Yard sales might be more of a challenge; you’ll have people pawing over stuff in real time which might not be the greatest thing right now. Individual sales on kijiji would be easier to control. Now might be a good time to find Euros and other coins since people won’t be travelling. When you have some, please let me know!!

  8. I don’t see how garbage picking would carry any more risk than a trip to the grocery store. I am not a germophobe but I was considering all the ways the virus could have come with me on my last trip- My purse, any item from the store, my reusable bags which I can’t forego. I say keep finding.

  9. Stay safe man. I really like your blog, those poignant pictures from pre-war Czechoslovakia would be of interest to Czech emigres. Watch out for people on hyper-alert due to Covid-19 might not be best time to be outside rummaging!

  10. It seems too risky to be going out anywhere right now. You just don’t know what’s in those bags or how long the virus could be living on items that you collect. I stopped diving more than a month ago. At this point, we only leave to go to the grocery store for pickup. You order online and just open your trunk, so no interaction at all. It’s just too risky. I live in a beach town in FL though, so maybe I just fear our risk is higher because of the idiot spring breakers who came here when the party towns closed their beaches 🙁 BTW, I did sell on Ebay through the recession and my sales were good. I think it really depends on what you sell. Thus far my sales are normal if not a bit above normal.

  11. I sell collectibles and am doing ok so far. I already miss picking! I was out doing it last week, carefully, but decided to give it a rest for at least two weeks. Very hard. It is definitely a hobby as well as an income. Everyone here has given good advice. Stay safe whatever you decide.

  12. I wouldn’t chance it. I say follow the Québec government guidelines. They have been giving out good advice on safest behaviour. As well, a break from picking could present an ideal opportunity to research and clear out some if the backlog that needs to be dealt with.

  13. In my area, most thrift stores that usually accept donations are closed. You may find a new business model by leaving notes for people at their door explaining what kind of items you would be willing to “haul away” for them, especially at these locations where you have found good things on or near the trash. (That kind of seems like a sign that they WANT someone to walk away with the item.) You could include your phone # and suggest a “no contact” method of pickup.

    1. I feel like even leaving a note for someone is kind of taboo at this point. Plus, people can be weird about their garbage, and I’d prefer if they never knew I looked in it to begin with.

  14. The others are giving good advice about not picking right now….but I get the urge is strong and especially since people are home so they are cleaning out stuff right now! If you must pick…just use caution and gather your stuff carefully and store it without much handling for two weeks so any living virus on it has had a chance to die. Trash collectors are still working so use the caution they are.

  15. I’ve been thinking about you and wondering if you would operate as usual. Personally I would go out. It seems like there are a lot of people doing spring cleaning and it could be a good opportunity for quality finds. You’re unlikely to get into contact with people, but they may also be more likely to see you picking and get mad. Maybe do more reading to see if they know how long the virus stays active on surfaces? I’m trying not to go out, but when I do, I don’t touch my face and then clothes go straight into the laundry and I wash my hands and shower. Thinking that’s a decent compromise.

  16. Things are very similar here. There was a bit of a panic yesterday when both New South Wales and Victorian governments were proposing a TOTAL LOCK DOWN. However, with the PM – Scott Morrison – only announced the closure of “non-essential” services including restaurants, cinemas, places of worship et cetera. That’s quite different. Some restaurants can still operate, but only take-away. The Superwok at Glendale has closed down.

    Yesterday I deactivated my Facebook account, because most of what was on there was COVID-19 related. It’s not that I don’t want to hear about that, but that most of it was either contradictory or misleading. I din’want to trigger a panic attack in myself.

    Mind you

    1. Yes, a lot of stuff that ends up on Facebook is misinformation (deliberate or not). Best to get your information from more reliable sources. And yes, it’s good to not overload yourself with information – this is a bit of a problem for me at the moment.

    2. Laura, there is an extension for your browser called FB purity or Facebook Purity – you can use that to put in words you do not want to see appear in your feed.

      I use it so I don’t see funnelweb spiders as a surprise – come summer around here every man and his dog post photos of them on local groups asking “Is this a funnelweb?” Well look, that spider is rearing up on its back legs, I’m going to say chances are good it is one, but the people to ask are the Australian Reptile Park and not randoms on the facebook plus seeing those photos means my skin crawls for hours upon hours, potentially days.

      That way you can keep up with what your family is up to and skip all the covid stuff. Just put in corona, covid, virus, that kind of thing, it should work a treat.

      But also too, this works for anyone wanting to remove the politics from their feed. 🙂

      1. I already have FBP and have been using it for the last four years. The filter is what kept me on Facebook during US Presidential elections. Otherwise my feed would be full of posts about Trump and whomever is running against him, which is all nonsense to me because it’s the politics of another country. BUT, FP Prity ‘s filter is only good when posts and links actually use the words it can filter. Plenty of people post memes which are all image and no text, which passes through that filter. No, I’m better off Facebook for the duration.

        Mind you ages ago I signed up to CAKE and never did much with it. I might at least do a journal or diary pon that for the duration.

  17. I am a ling time follower and “fan” of yours. Please stay safe & healthy. I so enjoy reading about and seeing your finds. 🙂

  18. I had to giggle when you wrote that the aura of fear in your area is palatable. I think you meant palpable. It is definitely NOT palatable! Good luck whatever you decide to do, picking-wise.

  19. Nice haul! Good luck with the trash picking in these extraordinary times. In the last picture, the three pieces you identified as necklaces are more likely prayer beads. You can easily check which religion they belong to by counting the beads. Cheers!

  20. The virus apparently can survive for days in hair and clothing. It’s recommended to take a shower and wash clothes after being public. Use your common sense, be vigilant and thorough in your prevention strategy, take extra precautions to avoid other people. Carry on!

  21. Here in our city in the USA, they have instructed us to take care when setting out our garbage to limit any exposure to the sanitation workers. All garbage must be properly bagged and not thrown loosely into the can beginning this week. I would avoid any contact with refuse at this time. Going out and picking through garbage during a global pandemic doesn’t seem like a good idea, sad as it might be for lost treasure. There will always be neat things for you to come across 🙂

    1. That’s a good point. For instance, yesterday I threw into the garbage packaging from a parcel received, which had probably been handled by numerous people. Lots of people in my building alone have been receiving takeout and orders of supplies and all the packaging is obviously being thrown out. Not to mention that some of the people at home putting out garbage may themselves be in quarantine due to symptoms.

  22. Hey. Love reading about your finds, Thanks for sharing. Last year I visited Montreal and thought about you while I roamed the streets(mostly NDG) and saw first hand all the cool stuff people leave on the footpaths..I am thinking now the thrift stores are closed and not taking donations, there will be an increase in landfill as people start cleaning when bored.. Such a waste,shame they dont put all the good stuff in neat little boxes ..Now that would be a perfect world.!!. Stay safe whatever you decide to do.. Oh yeah, the Robert Held glass vase is cool. He has a great gallery in Parksville on Vancouver Island..

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