I Heart Mindless Consumerism: The Fine Art of Curb Shopping
It’s the middle of the night. The driver inches the car slowly through a pitch dark alley, while the passenger shines a flashlight out her window, scoping out the landscape. “Stop!” cries the passenger, already opening her door. The driver slams on the brakes and watches her partner in crime slip out into the night. There is the faint sound of rustling boxes, and the shine from the dying flashlight casts an eerie glow just outside the vehicle. And then, “SCORE!” The passenger leans back into the car to give the driver a closer look at her discovery. Somehow, impossibly, amid the haphazard pile of vacuum cleaners and paint cans, a real treasure has emerged. A bag of paperback books. Throwing it into the backseat next to the other items from the night’s haul, the passenger hops back into the car, a satisfied smile on her face. The driver begins to inch the car forward, onward….. into the alley… onto the next great find.
For three nights in a row, this is how I occupied myself. With my trusty lifelong sidekick Angela, we zigzagged the map and dug through other people’s garbage. Well…. maybe that makes it sound a bit more disgusting than it was. You see, a few times per year, in my town and most likely in yours, there are designated days in the fall and spring when you can literally throw anything away and the garbage man will pick it up. From ceiling fans to sofas, the curbs are littered with the castaway items of people’s lives. And because people as a rule are wasteful and thoughtless when it comes to the remaining value of their “junk”, people like Angie and I troll the town to hunt down their goodies.
Despite what the title of this post says, I do not actually HEART mindless consumerism. That was a bit o’ my famous sarcasm. The truth is, as fun as dumpster diving can be for amateur treasure hunters, it is equally frustrating. We found ourselves repeatedly lamenting the senseless trashing of extremely functional and often valuable items. Beyond the obligatory ripped couches and broken chairs, we found books and bikes and even exercise equipment. I took home the big prize of a new york city descriptive essay (of the Tony Little variety) while my buddy nabbed a treadmill.
True, as my husband was quick to remind me… repeatedly…I do not need more stuff. But better in my hands than in the landfill, right? What’s worse is when you come upon things that you cannot rescue. We happened upon two identical chaise lounges. Just chillin’ at the edge of some rich person’s property. In perfect condition, these would have made a fine addition to anyone’s living room. Alas, they were too big for us to load. So we drove away, grumbling about how something like that could just be thrown away. Have these people never heard of donating? Certainly some hospital, some homeless mission, some library, or the Salvation Army would’ve been thrilled to take such items. No, it was far easier to just toss them in the trash. Likely their crime being that they simply didn’t match the new furniture.
Curbside shopping is environmentally friendly, it is harmless, and in this economy it may just be the perfect answer for those in the market for big items like a couch, tables, etc. We saw SO MANY things like that. You’ll also find tons of televisions and computer monitors. People upgrade, and the obsolete version becomes trash without a second thought that someone else may actually make use of it.
best over 40 dating sites ukWhen there is stuff to be purchased, one must eliminate the old stuff to make way for better stuff. Because it would be unthinkable to be caught with outdated stuff. It is imperative to have the newest stuff… the most impressive stuff… the best stuff. This is the mindset. And it isn’t exclusive to snooty rich people with money to burn. Every neighborhood with every monetary demographic was guilty of trashing good stuff. Mindless Consumerism isn’t a class thing… it is a cultural thing. It’s our American culture that dictates to us that we must keep up with the Joneses. Fortunately for me, I’ve never given a crap about the Joneses, but I am curious what’s in their garbage.
So to those of you who are more throwers than pickers, I will say this. Don’t judge. Who is more of an embarrassment to society? The person who recycles items that would have contributed to clogging a landfill, or the person who is so consumed with having bigger and better THINGS that they are incapable of recognizing the possible value others might place on their replaced items? Get over yourself.
Here is a short list of some of the items Angie and I scored on our three night tour:
About 10 bags of paperback books (Most of them in a single garbage pile. Looks like someone got a Kindle for Christmas)
Two beautiful and ornate hardwood kitchen chairs. Perfect condition. (There were four in the pile, but we could only fit two in the car. One we left behind was broken. I guess for some people if you break one of your chairs, the whole set is junk.)
A hands free device for cell phone (still in package)
An unopened package of Gain laundry detergent (SCORE!!)
A nice black Nine West purse
And lots more…
Cool, right? Now you’d like to try your hand at curb shopping. But you don’t know where to begin. Don’t worry. I’ve compiled a little “How To” guide for the amateur garbage getter. With practice, soon you will be a pro like me.
The Beginner’s Guide to The Fine Art of Curb Shopping
The first step to a successful scavenging experience is to ensure you have the right equipment. Failure to pack the necessary items will greatly hinder your efforts. Here are a few MUST HAVES for your adventure:
Flashlights and Batteries
Snacks (keep in mind this could take hours)
Now that you have your gear… you simply MUST make sure you are taking a vehicle that can hold all of your potential treasures. In our case, we were rolling in Angie’s Grand Marquis circa 1986. His name is Leroy Sinclair, and he has plenty of room. We would have never had the success that we did had we been driving my mid-eighties BMW. (Classy girls drive fancy cars, right Angie?) Ok! So we have the gear and we have the car… Let’s Go!
So, if this is during Fall or Spring cleaning, there are usually designated areas of town that can put their stuff out on the curb on a certain day. Find out which area of town has the goods on the night of your excursion, and get your butts over there!
It is best to do your junk jumping in the middle of the night. This is for a couple of reasons. 1. Since you’ll be driving slowly and stopping regularly, it can get dangerous if there is a lot of traffic. 2. I mean, do you REALLY want everyone to see you going through their garbage? Let’s be real.
So, under the cloak of night with the anonymity of the darkness, you’ve begun your journey. Be vigilant. Seek out large piles with lots of bins, boxes and bags. You never know what is in them. Remember, if you drive down a street that appears to have no garbage, don’t fret. They may have an alley. Go around the block. Drive down the alley for a dumpster diving delight!
There are a few rules of etiquette with curbside shopping. Don’t make a mess. If you empty a box, pick up what you took apart. Spreading stuff all around someone’s yard, even if it is “just garbage” is rude. It makes us all look trashy. Don’t pull up right behind someone else who is curbing with your brights blaring. It is just rude and makes people feel self conscious. And do NOT go onto people’s property. If they have stuff on the curb, that’s probably up for grabs. Stuff in the yard? Leave it. This is curb shopping, not thievery.
The rest is up to you. What do you need? What do you want? Just enjoy yourself and see the beauty of the treasures that someone else has deemed trash. And tomorrow, when someone asks you what you did last night… just tell them you went American Picking!
(And in all seriousness, if you grab something you later decide you don’t want… just donate it. Don’t throw it away unless it truly is garbage. Come on.)