How to find treasures in the trash

My focus is household waste. I love finding bits of history and – occasionally – treasure. There’s also money to be made from business / corporate waste, but I personally don’t find it nearly as exciting. If you’re interested in that, I’d suggest tracking down a dumpster diving community. I know there’s one on reddit, but I can’t personally vouch for any single group.

Garbage collection is handled differently everywhere, so I’ll try to offer you general information instead of Montreal specific tips.

No matter where you are, step one is to figure out how trash is handled in your area, neighbourhood, or city. I’ve heard that some places have pretty draconian anti-trash picking laws (particularly in the US) so it’s good to know what you’re going into beforehand. Some neighbourhoods here have by-laws against trash picking, and if caught you could get a fine (as I did once).

Some neighbourhoods will let you put your trash out at night, while others say you can only put it out in the morning (though some people will still put their stuff out at night). Trash picking at night is more calming, but it’s harder to see what you’re picking. You’re less likely to have awkward interactions with strangers, but people are more likely to be skeeved out if they do see you (and they might call the cops). Trash picking during the day is nice because it’s easier to see the stuff you’re picking, but traffic is more annoying and you’re more likely to have interactions (good, neutral, or bad) with strangers.

—-under re-construction, old contents below—-

I look mostly for larger than average accumulations of garbage in front of a particular house or “spot.” I keep my eyes open for “for sale” signs, especially in suburban areas. By this point – I’ve been doing this off and on since 2004 and full-time since 2013 – I have a pretty good eye and also judge a pile based on the “look” of the bags. In general, a “saggy” bag means household waste, a dusty bag means renovation materials such as plaster, and a bag with sticks poking out means yard waste. Lifting the bag or giving a light kick reveals a lot about its contents.

I avoid a lot of the nastiest garbage through my screening techniques but still occasionally open bags filled with cat litter, rotting food, and diapers. I also see the occasional needle, a good reason to avoid digging into the unknown as much as possible. You need a strong stomach in this profession! I untie the bags as much as possible. Sometimes the knot will be too tight and I’ll rip the bag near the top and re-tie it when I’m done. The main goal here is not to make a mess, it’s not good for business and it’s not a nice thing to do in general.

I make my money selling online, mostly with Ebay but also with Etsy and Craigslist. I generally base my prices on current and completed listings and adjust up or down depending on my instincts. It’s hard to pin down a value for some items – in those cases I might start an auction at what I would consider a “very high” price in order to gauge interest. In general I use fixed-price “buy it now” listing but will use auctions when I think a bidding war could ensue. I make a lot of money from yard sales and bazaars as well, though these can be hard to organize in my current neighbourhood.

That’s the most of it! Feel free to email me at thingsifindinthegarbage@gmail.com if you have any questions.

14 thoughts on “How to find treasures in the trash”

  1. I really enjoyed your blog! As a little girl, with my mum telling me “do not pick up things” walking around in the city; now, bikeing around looking at anything could grab my attention… And I feel so strong the importance of finding new ways – yes, to save some money, and also to do something for the environment.

    1. Thanks! I think saving useful things from the trash is one of the most powerful ways to help the environment. After all, not only is that item taken back into an “active” role in society, but we do not have to extract resources to build a new one or use landfill space to store it.

  2. love this blog I grew up in montreal still here. when I was a kid we didn’t have money to buy new things so I would troll the lane ways. I would pick up things and sometimes get a family table at a church flea market with the items i found. Please keep up the blog and it is amazing what people will throw out.

  3. Please rescue books that you find in the garbage and recycling bins.You can either give them away,try to sell them or keep them and build a small or big home library.I have an e-reader,but I prefer reading on paper and I love adding books to my home library.Books must not be thrown out.You can also build a home library for yourself.

  4. Dear Yuhaiwing, the things you find are unbelievable! May I ask if you would be willing to be interviewed this summer or if someone could come with you on one of your adventures? Do you accept to sell items you find to readers if they ask for it?

    1. I go with others very rarely mostly because while I find some great stuff there’s not always much to share. For example, my recent trips to Hochelaga and Villeray turned up very little. It can be a lot of work for nothing, or you might find something great. If I do go out with someone I insist on having dibs 😉

      I’d be interested in interviews. I have done a couple recent actually.

      I do sell the things I find to those who ask – a lot of people emailed me about that last post actually!

      Feel free to email me at thingsifindinthegarbage@gmail.com

  5. You are my hero, I love looking for stuff in the garbage too, I can’t even dream about doing it professionally. I have not yet come across anything as beautiful as what you sell in Etsy, but my best find is a pair of unused Levi’s jeans that fit my friend perfectly, which is not too bad either.

  6. Just found your site today. I was born and raised in ndg and left Montreal in 1980 at 21yrs old. Last year I lost my job here in Calgary and am currently on ei. At 58yrs old my job prospects are bleak and I fear I might end up losing my apartment once my ei runs out at the end of the year. Would love to do what you do for cash. Hopefully I’ll learn A lot from you. So glad I found this. Thanks. Tony.

    1. Glad it can help. I bet there’s a lot of good stuff in Calgary, and there’s probably not a lot of people doing trash picking. Definitely check out some of the local trash days / nights, especially the ones in richer areas. Don’t be afraid to go through bags, but don’t make a mess. If you have a truck you could also do a bit of scrap metal work too.

  7. I also do this part time and I am wondering where do you store all the things you find while they are for sale? Also, do you leave things if there’s evidence of mold or mouse droppings? Or do you clean them? Not judging, just curious.

    1. All the stuff on eBay is in my room, and occasionally the basement of my apartment. Most of it is small stuff, so it fits into various drawers and other storage areas.

      Mouse droppings are gross but I can clean them off. Rarely is it an issue. Mold is a bit tougher, if the item is ruined I won’t take it, but I’ll save it if I think I can clean it.

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