Unfortunately scavenging has gotten a bad rap due to it being associated with rats and homeless people. However, this phobia has come to the point where people are afraid to look into a garage sale free box because of what "icky" things might be in there. This is a little crazy.
I'd like to introduce you to the wonderful world of scavenging that only a minority of people take advantage of. Are you afraid of what your friends would think if you dug through a dumpster? That's exactly what keeps scavenging so profitable. Because nobody wants stuff that someone else didn't want.
How to Get Started
There are several ways to get started scavenging. The best way to start is just to carry around a plastic bag and pick up cans (if you live in a place of 5 or 10-cent deposits). This is generally socially acceptable as there is nothing inherently wrong with going for a walk. In 2014 I probably returned $30-40 worth of recyclable cans and bottles. If you think returning cans is for homeless people, think again. Even rich old retired men pick up beer cans. Who couldn't use some free money?
If you enjoy shopping at garage sales and yard sales, you are probably a bit of a scavenger yourself. But do you ever take advantage of the FREE boxes? Before a few years ago, I never even looked into a free box because I thought they were full of old cottage cheese containers and holey nasty mis-matching tennis shoes. Boy was I wrong! Sometimes the free stuff is worthless junk or even trash. But other times a free box exists because the home owner was too lazy to price the last of his items. As I write this, I am wearing name-brand jeans, a belt and a pair of like-new socks picked out of a free box.
The town we live near has something called "Junk Days", where everyone piles old furniture and other unwanted household items on the curve. The junk is out for one week, during which time middle-aged guys with pickup trucks (or in my case, teenage sisters with a pickup truck) drive around looking for items to sell or scrap. I've found perfectly usable household items, office supplies, a North Face backpack, hair extensions, books, brand new mens' jeans (sold for a profit on Ebay), and other miscellaneous items on the side of the road. Several pieces of furniture in our home were lovingly picked off someone's lawn during Junk Days.
A Few Cautions:
1. Always wash whatever you find before you use it.
2. Don't take something that isn't clearly free or unwanted.
3. Don't trespass on private property; be courteous and safe while scavenging.
Another hazard that you might run into: hoarding. The temptation to hoard can be very strong when you have been introduced to so many free things available. I've picked up loads of stuff that sat unused until I finally threw it away. It's okay to pass up the fifth garden rake or fifteenth tennis ball that you have seen. If you don't need it, leave it.
Those cautions aside, scavenging roadsides and free boxes is a fun, even profitable pastime.
* Scavenging is not for everyone, though. If you can't leave your ego at home... if you can't deal with the "embarrasment" of taking and using someone else's junk, you won't have fun scavenging. You can still be a part of it, though. Just leave your junk out by the road in a FREE box. Get a pair of binoculars, seat yourself by a window, and have a good laugh as we pick through your "worthless" old junk.