A Trashy Kind of Love


I love looking at the Google search phrases (listed in my stats) that bring people to my blog.  They range from the poignant to the silly, from the creepy to the poetic.  They make me laugh and cry and cringe and…scratch my head, puzzling about how certain phrases brought someone to my blog.  And sometimes, they give me ideas for posts. 

Like a recent one:  best thing I ever found in a dumpster.   Now that might not sound like the kind of phrase that would send you down memory lane, but my memory lane is strewn with some pretty peculiar stuff.  🙂   

I smile to myself sometimes when I read “green” blogs—that is blogs whose focus is talking about the ways in which the writers live what they call a “sustainable” life.  Like going to thrift stores or growing a garden or just making do with what you already have. All good stuff, of course, but really it’s always been just a normal way of life for our family and most of those I grew up with. Remember that country song years back—“I Was Country Before Country Was Cool?”  Well, I was “green” before “green” was cool.  But we called it being thrifty.   Both my parents and my Aunt Ellen (who I was very close to) had gone through the Depression and not only talked about it, but still practiced a lot of the frugal habits that brought them through hard times.  And, naturally, I picked up a lot of them, except for washing and reusing aluminum foil.  I had to draw the line at that because of, well, those little wrinkles in used foil.  For me, there is just a little too much potential for nasty microbial activity in those little crinkles. 

Anyway, when Blue Ridge Blue Collar Man and I first met, we quickly discovered we had a lot in common.  For one thing, between the two of us, we had just about every record Doc Watson ever made.  For another, we had a terrible weakness for ice cream.  Still do, though we might need to get over that if the price goes up anymore.  But one of the most surprising things we had in common was the fact that we both liked to dumpster dive.  Well, I say “dive”, but to tell the truth, I was always a little squeamish about actually getting down inside the dumpster.  I tended to just peer in and mostly skim the cream off the top, so to speak.  Tom, on the other hand, was a brave and fearless diver and was not afraid to plumb the murky dumpster depths.   

Of course, all this was back in the days before they put fences around dumpsters and positioned guards at the sites.  Nowadays, when we stop to drop off trash and casually glance around to see if there’s anything good, the guard eyes us suspiciously, as though he knows our sordid past.  So, our dumpster diving days are over, though we do still keep our eyes peeled for curbside treasures.

But, oh what a time we had.  There was one particularly choice dumpster site north of Chapel Hill.  For the most part, there was camaraderie (if an underlying competitiveness) amongst the divers. If there was something we couldn’t use, we’d offer it to others and we’d help them carry any particularly large largesse.  Blue Ridge Blue Collar Man and I had some wonderful times there during our courtship.   I was, for sure, the ultimate cheap date.


Which brings me back to the Google search phrase that brought someone to my blog:  best thing I ever found in a dumpster.   Now it wasn’t easy to narrow down my choices, but here are three of my favorites.  At the top, is a framed fireback Tom found leaned against a dumpster in Raleigh.  We think perhaps someone was moving and discarded it in desperation.  I hope they’d be pleased to know that it went to someone who loves it.  In the middle is a dresser that someone left on their curb to be disposed of.  I like the clean, simple lines of it and the sturdiness of the solid birch it’s made of.   Pictured at the bottom is a pot we found on our second dumpster date.  There were other pots there, but sadly, they were broken when someone threw them into the dumpster.  It was hard to see art so recklessly discarded.  But I’m happy that, at least, we could save one piece. 

We used to call our trips to the dumpster “shopping at the green store,” not because we were recycling, but because the dumpsters were painted green. 🙂  We miss shopping at the “green store” but we are so grateful for all the many treasures we found there and that we’ve done our part to reduce, reuse, and recycle.  And if they were alive, I think Mama, Aunt Ellen, and Grandma would be pleased to know that so many people are doing the same these days—that, in fact, it is  trendy to do so.   They probably would laugh to imagine reading books to learn how to live a simple life and would surely be quite amused to think of themselves as being on the vanguard of the simple living movement.  Who would have thought they’d be such trendsetters?

(Edited to add:  Just wanted to clarify that my statement above about “green” blogs was not meant in any way to disparage “green” or simple-living blogs.  On the contrary—I admire them very much and have learned a lot from them.  And I know for sure that Mama, Grandma, and Aunt Ellen would feel the same.  They’d love knowing that so many have adopted their penny-pinching ways!      Beth)



23 Responses to “A Trashy Kind of Love”

  1. Margie Says:

    You really found some treasures!

  2. Sara Says:

    I wish I’d been raised thrifty so that I wouldn’t have to strive to want less all the time! I love to find a great castoff too. Yours are lovely!

  3. June Says:

    Those are some pretty good finds!

  4. Ariel Says:

    Haha, I learned from the best! I’ve already found good stuff in my active, if somewhat brief, dumpster diving career. Did I tell you that one of the women I went dumpster-perusing with found hundreds of new left shoes thrown out behind Dick’s Sporting Goods?

  5. Nancy Says:

    There’s nothing like a good drive around the neighborhood on trash night…slinking by under cover of darkness, scoping out the find- from firewood to antiques…I got an entire set of antique wicker furniture for the sun porch one day on my lunch hour. The grandchildren were cleaning out Grandma’s house and could’ve cared less about the treasure they were discarding. You’ve found some real beauties! (And I like your choice of reading matter too!)

  6. Ariel Says:

    By the way, I love the title of this post. 😀

  7. Judy Says:

    I used to love that song by Barbara Mandrell. lol. My older sister went through the depression and believe me she does not throw anything away and neither did my mother. Mother kept egg cartons, cool whip bowls, and lots of other stuff like that. I mean she had them stacked up in piles not just a few of them! Once when we lived on the farm, my husband grabbed a bag of garbage from the back of his truck and proceeded to throw it into the dumpster. I was in the front seat with the window down. We heard a great big “oomph” and he had hit some guy in the head that was down in the dumpster. Scared us to death! I love your finds. I don’t have any dumpsters near me but would not hesitate to grab a good “find” if I did or one from the side of the road. There are more people in Goodwills these days than the supermarket. I went in the one near me, found some good books, and had to wait in line for almost 30 minutes with two checkers going. I have found some pieces of Bybee Pottery in Goodwills and I collect the stuff. It just thrills me to find a good bargain and a free one is even better. Great post. I really enjoyed it.

  8. wesleyjeanne Says:

    I am always jealous of those who find cool things in the trash. I hardly ever do. I did find a neat iron grate once propped in someone’s trash on Ridge Rd. in Raleigh. But that’s it! Maybe I don’t “shop” often enough, or maybe it’s because I’m squeamish about diving in there, too.

    The dump stations around here are good places to look for “treasure” because 1) there are “trade bins” for people to put stuff like that for others to take and 2) there are attendants, who “rescue” items and place them in the trade bins. The other day Paul brought home a Pfalztgraf casserole without even a chip in it.

    And, yes, you are green before green was cool. Don’t you love being trendy?

  9. dawn Says:

    My grandmother (who also lived through the depression) loved picking up curbside treasures during her evening walks around her neighborhood.

    You would be surprised probably at how many people dumpster dive. There are actually entire forum groups dedicated to dumpster diving where people can share their treasures as well as share the locations of the good and the bad dumpsters.

    Yahoo groups search: dumpster diving

  10. Benjamin Says:

    Haha, the Honors College dumpster is unsupervised but only occasionally rich. It’s the dumpster where we found that Compaq computer (with memory, hard drive, everything!

    Ariel: Only left shoes? That’s rather amusing! Sounds like a batch from a machine defective on one side :-D.

  11. Benjamin Says:

    Oh, and surplus sales are the new dumpster diving. Whole computers and networking equipment, all sold at a dollar a hit!!!

  12. Ariel Says:

    @ Benjamin: We couldn’t figure it out. We think that maybe they were the display sets that go out on those little plastic platforms. But I reckon we’ll never know!

    Also, $1 computers? When, why and how?

  13. eemilla Says:

    I haven’t been diving, but the change in semesters on college campuses are great places to find stuff since the dumpsters are likely to be overflowing and the stuff likely not have been discarded only to lighten the load on the way back home not because of any defect. I recovered a mini fridge from UNCA or Oglethorpe that lives with my mom and stores beer and juice (ten years after it was thrown away).

  14. Benjamin Says:

    Ariel: Haha, we need to stage an investigation. $1 equipment: the first friday in February at the Facilites Management Warehouse because technology becomes obsolete pretty quick, and Western REALLY wants to get rid of it.

  15. Debi Kelly Van Cleave Says:

    Wow, you got some really great stuff! You’ve got the touch!

    I love Dumpster diving. Where I come from, we called it garbage picking. The best thing I ever found was an antique cookie jar of a little sailor boy without a chip on it. A few months ago I got an aloe plant. I felt sorry for it so I took it home and it’s thriving now. I also recently got a 1960s yellow coffee cup–my kitchen is retro and yellow. Oh, and a chair for my riding arena and one for my barn.

    I also like your reading material. I loved “A Girl Called Zippy” and of course “Angela’s Ashes” because I’m Irish. And Frank McCourt didn’t write that book till he was like 60. So we have time Beth!


  16. Debi Kelly Van Cleave Says:

    Hey, did you read The God of Animals? That was really good and if you like characters like Zippy… Oh, how about The Glass Castle? Oh, that one was awesome! Oh, get that one Beth!


  17. CountryDew Says:

    I have never gone dumpster diving. My mother would have been appalled but I think in this day and age it is a great idea.

    In fact, at some future date I expect “landfill recovery” to be a major industry.

  18. Clara Melvin Says:

    Hi Beth, I have never been luck enough to find anything good sitting along the road or otherwise, but I wish I could. I know a woman who has just about furnished her house with finds like that. (and yard sale things) I love your finds. Maybe I will start looking a little closer for a dumpster treasure.

  19. Clara Melvin Says:

    I meant to say “lucky”.

  20. Jeff Says:

    Those are some really nice finds! With a pottery background, I can really appreciate the hand-thrown pot with the rough clay body. Very nice – probably a glaze with a lot of iron in it. The fireback looks faintly Art Deco and so does the dresser. I just love the way you pick up a topic and run with it, turning it into a fascinating post with observations on other topics. It really is about the journey, not the instructions!

  21. ash Says:

    in times of economic distress, dumpster diving becomes an art:

  22. colleen Says:

    The best thing I found in a dumpster was a braided rug that I had in one of the kids’ bedrooms. We got a great couch last year for the cabin that someone left with a “free” sign. I love finding these treasures both for thrifty reasons and green reasons. I once dug for bottles and found a jug similiar to the one you posted. There is more than one way to be rich and I like to provide some needs directly rather than working 9-5 for the money to buy them. I’m hoping this downturned economy continues to prompt people to conserve.

  23. crisitunity Says:

    That dresser looks almost like a Heywood-Wakefield. I can’t believe someone would just throw it out.

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