Thursday, November 16, 2006
Someone else's garbage, our treasures
People are amazed when they hear that we have paid off our (modest to begin with) mortgage, and they want to know how we did it. The plain answer is dumpster diving. I love dumpster diving. (We also call it "crow shopping," because crows like to check out what's on the curb, too, sometimes along with us.) I never know what I'm going to find, and while I don't always find what I thought I wanted, in the end, I seem to find what I need. And I've found that I end up needing what I find. A nice little circle there, and it's all free and legal. Where we live, the university student population moves once a year, and they throw out a truly astonishing array of things. One person's trash is another person's treasure, they say, but I have to wonder about the thinking behind some of these throwaways. I mean, just because one disc of your eight-disc complete Beethoven string quartets CD set gets broken, does it really make sense to throw away the other seven? And what about Goodwill and St. Vincent de Paul's? Some things I've found have told their own stories pretty clearly, like the handmade wooden cat carrier with "Kitty" painted on it, surrounded by flowers, and inside, a St. Jude's medal---the patron saint of lost causes: someone's dearly-loved cat who was lost, one way or another. Then there was the cardboard box containing two military-issue walkie-talkies (still working), some low-caliber ammunition, and an autographed photo of a young guy with very short hair and a name like Brett or Britt or maybe Rhett surrounded by the 1993 (I believe it was) members of the "Texas Bikini Team," whose big smiles were belied by their overly-made up eyes. I guess the Team never called him, like they said they would, so, after trying to contact them by walkie-talkie, he finally gave up and threw away their photo. (At least he got rid of the live ammunition---wasn't THAT upset about it.)
Anyhow, here's a partial list of things we have found in the "trash" in the past 5 years that have been in perfectly good condition: Cookie tins, silverware, blankets, dishes, candles, candleholders, pens and pencils, books, CDs, LP records, cassette tapes, a big recliner, wooden chairs, a cat tree, a cat scratching post cat carriers and litter boxes, aquariums, picture frames, lamps, towels, plants, pots for plants, cooking pots, cast iron frying pans, popcorn tins, microwave ovens and toaster ovens, writing and printing paper, leaf rakes, lawn chairs, insulated coolers, a mini-trampoline, exercise equipment (including a working treadmill), tables, doors, luggage, mops and brooms, reel lawnmowers, laundry racks, clothes (including a like-new North Face winter coat), shoes, bicycles, power tools, hand tools, bicycle tires, videotapes, VCRs, stereo tuners, bicycle parts, purses, CD players, bicycle trailers, dishracks, laundry baskets, notebooks, folders, a desk organizer, unopened reams of business stationary (good for printing out rough drafs), rolls of thick printer's paper as well as gift wrapping paper, sheets still in the package, a bookcase-style headboard, a huge antique chest of drawers, a small chest of drawers missing only one of its handles, spice racks, kitchen cabinets, sofa cushions, couches, futon frames, futons, incense burners, jewelry, framed art prints, charcoal grills, working radios, a beautiful purple and pink handmade and handpainted art supply case decorated with yellow tulips, crayons, canned food, cleaning products and sponges, children's toys, etc., etc.... Some of these things needed minor repairs; most didn't need more than a little wash-up.
And this was without even trying very hard, i.e., we don't go and hang out near dumpsters at big apartment complexes. If you did, you would likely find even more stuff. Whatever we can't use goes to friends, the Salvation Army shelter, Goodwill, St. Vinny's or the food bank. Food can be free, too----we grow our own vegetables and herbs, pick apples off trees that no one else seems to notice on public "wasteland," eat and cook vegetarian. Eating vegetarian really is cheaper if you *cook* and don't just rely on frozen "meat" substitutes. Every year, we make more pesto than we can eat out of wild garlic mustard (which grows everywhere now, it seems); I thought it would be very healthy but taste ghastly, but I was wrong, it was delicious, and a jar makes a nice gift, too. Here's the recipe from Wildman Steve Brill's edible wild foods cookbook, "The Wild Vegetarian Cookbook."
And that's how we paid off our mortgage, essentially, by gauging what it is we "need" by what we find as much as by what we want. I don't feel like I'm forcing myself to settle---on the contrary, I feel like more stuff comes my way than I can ever use, and plenty of it is high quality, too. The only reason we still work (and I work parttime now) is for health insurance, because we can get almost everything else we need from someone else's trash. Here's a great website for more fun and lots of info about "Dumpster Diving for Fun and Profit."
We also belong to a local Timebank, where we can exchange "time dollars" for other people's services, (and even fair-trade chocolate, wild rice and olive oil!), and get to know some nice people---but that's a whole story in itself. And I'm working on how to make personal care products: cheaper, better for the environment, healthier, but I do wonder: how much trouble will it be? Stay tuned...