Free stuff!

By Jeanne Reynolds

Ever find out something you were secretly a bit ashamed of is actually pretty common — even popular? Like you were cool and didn’t even know it?

That’s me and curb shopping.

What’s that, you say? Curb shopping is sort of a larger-scale, nicer-sounding version of dumpster diving. Urban Dictionary defines it as going around neighborhoods, picking up things people have placed outside their homes on the curb, usually for the garbage trucks to collect them.

Or you — unless I get there first.

I recently read a story in Cola Daily’s newsletter (Do you subscribe? You should — it’s awesome. Do it right now.) about the best neighborhoods to curb shop in Columbia. As you’d expect, the more upscale the area, the better the discards. But you can find great “hand me downs” nearly anywhere, including chairs, bookcases, large plastic toys, bikes, lawnmowers, tools, terracotta pots, struggling-but-still-alive plants, decorative items and more. And spring cleaning/college move-out season is an ideal time to rescue reusable goods.

Now, just because this stuff is free doesn’t mean curb shopping should be a chaotic free-for-all. There are actually unspoken rules — and sometimes laws. Here are some to keep in mind:

  • rocking chairIf it’s on the street, it’s fair game.
  • Don’t trespass on private property. Make sure it’s really on the street.
  • If you want to be extra careful, check local laws. In some places there’s a thing called “retained interest” that means once an item is in a recycling bin, it belongs to the waste management company. Or just stay out of recycling bins and closed garbage cans.
  • Don’t leave a mess. If you drag something from the bottom of the pile, put the other stuff back.
  • Don’t block traffic while you stop to heave that perfectly good rocking chair into the back of your car.
  • Find out when the large-item trash pickup is in different neighborhoods, and plan your route for early that morning.
  • If another “shopper” is already stopped at a likely-looking pile, move along. Or stop and offer to help.
  • If it looks like a garage sale is being set up, come back late in the day to see if unsaleable items have been dragged to the curb.

The old saying “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure” is another way of saying there’s no accounting for taste. It’s not meant to be taken literally. But in the case of curb shopping, you can — and should.