My Frugal Life: Curb Shopping

Being low income and depending upon curbside shopping before "city pick up days" arrive, I drive through my neighborhoods, rather than the main road, en route to any place. I keep a sharp eye open for whatever is being tossed that is:

  • Not trash or dirty
  • Not in a bag
  • Not sitting all alone
  • Is something I need or can give away or sell
  • Is recyclable at least twice
  • Still has lots of wear/use
  • Can be easily repaired if broken
  • Is something unique or stimulates my imagination/creativity
  • Goes with something else I already have
  • Is a collectible
  • Fits me or someone I know
  • Would be shameful to toss into the landfill

I never dumpster-dive, as some do. There are obvious unknown bacteria in dumpster walls, lids, handles, from unknown sources, having incubated for an unknown number of years since dumpsters were invented in the fifties, I believe, as sure source of deadly diseases. Most curbside shopping has no actual garbage in our city, because we have paved alleys for garbage and strict container requirements. But curbside is a smorgesborg of delights, if not totally contained and it hasn't rained.


Clean free packing materials are the most common to find, usually in freshly opened, clean, often sturdy boxes, peanuts and bubble wrap being very commonly found. Cardboard is always in abundance. Owners are most happy for you take whatever you need IF you do not disturb their stacks and sacks, leaving the area as you found it or better.

I have found most every single item I need and much I have wanted by doing the only shopping I can afford there. There is a slight risk when taking clothes curbside, not knowing their history. I have a rule to not take any that are very worn, preferring those that still have tags and unwashed labels. I consider the location, the condition of both the home, the items came from, the condition I find them in, and how many neighbors are outside at the time, preferring evening drives. But these don't often coincide with appointments and visits to my mom's group home near my church.


I carry a small vinyl zippered bag of simple tools for screws, hardware, parts removal if needed, and a 50 ft. nylon rope for anything too big that must ride on the luggage rack on top of my van. I also carry a new section of recycled newspaper in case of ground soil on dying potted plants I've always been able to nurse back to health.

If I'm not too picky or prideful, I am pleasantly surprised at what wasteful Americans toss, one reason we're in the mess we're in. However, if every one of us tried to find a second and third use or another user for every item we don't need or want, the world would begin to heal, regardless, and the landfills would not be a hazard to the Earth and our health.

Another rewarding thing to this sort of Green Living is that it draws on all of my talents, skills, experience, utilizing both my body and muscles, as well as supplies that might have been unused otherwise.

When I find good ceramic tiles being tossed, I collect them and use them instead of shelf paper beneath my sink, hot water heater, closets, on picnic table, crafts, and even as hard ground cover in my potting bench area outside if they are outside tiles.

Often times, there are brand new gift items someone didn't want for whatever reason, and I pass them on as gifts I could not otherwise have bought to whomever I believe they "fit".

At one time there was a stigma attached to the practice of curb shopping, but no longer. The competition is picking up and gets as busy as a bargain basement "fire sale" sometimes.

I practice standard courtesy, which I cannot say for all I meet there. However, if someone else gets to something first, I walk up slowly and just look from a short distance to determine if they've made a "this is mine" pile for themselves. If they don't look up, I know it's not a problem if I look at the same time, otherwise, I stay aside or in my van until they have taken whatever they found first.

I am careful not to block driveways or traffic, to turn off my headlights, turn on a blinker and park correctly. I do not speed off, race, not leap frog, but rather just drive slowly, look carefully for children, walkers, pets, and homeowners, to whom I wave.

Only one time in all of the ten years I've done this have I had someone to be angry that I stopped to recycle what they were throwing away. I left promptly.

I thank God for His provisions anyway they come to me, and I do all I can to take care of what He helps me to find. Considering what I've found, I feel it is one of His miracles for those less fortunate. I am frequently reminded of the verse, "Freely you have been given, so freely give.", which I do.

By Lynda from Texas

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July 24, 20080 found this helpful

I too curb shop, and have done so since college apartment-living days. When I got my first apartment, I got my table and chairs, microwave, dresser and some other stuff this way. I continue to find things, rarely even books, toys and clothes for my daughter. I, on the other hand, DO dumpster dive but not in dumpsters where food waste is thrown. I dive in the thrift store's dumpsters, for all the stuff they don't want for their shelves. There I find housewares, games, toys, purses, costumes, and books. I have taken the books to my local used book shop, sold them, and made $18.50 so far- and not gone out of my way to do it.

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July 24, 20080 found this helpful

When I lived in Los Angeles, There was a truck with a catchy logo on the side that went around to the different neighborhoods on large item day. Apparently they refurbished items and sold them somewhere.

Once I put a dryer out that the timer did not work on.

I was worried that someone would burn their house down so I drew a pantomine image for the non-english-reading not to leave the house with it on.

In New york City it is pretty common practice to leave an item on the curb if you do not want it . Couches, tables, chairs.

I have harvested picture frames myself. Spray painted them gold.

The packing materials tip is a great one, I hate paying for that stuff.

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July 24, 20080 found this helpful

I feel it's ok to go into the dumpster if the stuff is on the TOP and can be WASHED. Just got a glass bonsai tree that way. Nice in front of the window fan.

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July 24, 20080 found this helpful

Dear Lynda,

Thanks so much for sending along this info! I to have been one for years who has looked to salvage useful, slightly damaged, outdated etc. "curbside articles."

My husband always jokes about it but I think you have made some real good points that are constructive, healthy, and creative and I thoroughly "thank you" again for this info and Good Luck Hunting Lynda!


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July 24, 20080 found this helpful

As for the freebie books.... there are used book shops in Houston which will take your books and give you credit on a running account to purchase books you want to read. My son and I used to hit all the church rummage sales for books, pick out the ones we wanted and take the rest to the book store to get more of our choice in books.

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July 25, 20080 found this helpful

Good heavens, I'm not the only one! I live on a military base in Turkey and drive through base housing on trash days. I collect items for the local, migrant farmer workers who have nothing and the local animal shelter. It is appalling what folks throw out - only to buy again at their new assignment. I really love my trash days. Even the trash guys think it's great as they know I collect things for their fellow countrymen in need. Hey, folks are going to talk about you,; why not give them something to say! Thanks, Sharon

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July 25, 20080 found this helpful

I usually ask at the house, before taking anything from the curb. I figure it's polite to let folks know why I'm hanging out in front of their house, so they don't call the police on me, LOL.

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July 29, 20080 found this helpful

We have a dumpster in our apt complex (if u can call it that). We live behind a "bargain barn" and the owner often throws out good stuff that he could not sell. And when we have neighbors moving in/out we check and get some pretty good things. My SIL came to visit once and got a beautiful white down comforter (in a garbage bag, by itself). Wish I would have beaten her to that. We also got our DD's daybed with trundle under it, for free. Happened to see it by the curb after it did not sell at a garage sale. I like the "bargains" we find. I retrieved a bookshelf headboard for my DD's room that we use free standing as a bookshelf (it was outside the dumpster, just cleaned it well before bringing in the house.

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