Anything you can imagine being sold at a garage sale has at some point been thrown away. Moving away, spring cleaning—there are plenty of reasons for people to get rid of their stuff. A couple weekends ago was graduation weekend at OSU, which meant a cleaning of house for all of the students who are moving away. That meant that the dumpsters of Corvallis become their own metal-rimmed treasure islands, full of whatever you’re willing to take. During my days of dumpster diving this week I saw three printers, too many mattresses and chairs and couches to count, and enough cookware to run a bed and breakfast.
The items I found uniquely rewarding to take home were an archive bag full of drawings, including some blank paper and art supplies, three belts, a duffel bag, a chef’s knife, a kettle, and a baseball bat. I also took home a pair of seriously sunburned shoulders, three dirty latex gloves—I will explain—and my exhausted and dehydrated self.
I am not a dumpster diver. By that I mean that I have not in the past made a habit of it, and I might almost say that my adventure on Monday was my first time surfing the blue boxes. I love garage sales, but dumpster diving, as it turns out, is an even more rewarding pursuit.
My day began with a meeting at 10 a.m., which was over by 10:15, leaving me with some unexpected freedom. I started biking home and began to notice a greatly increased density of “free stuff” signs, chairs, bookshelves, and curbside giveaways of all descriptions. After stopping at a few such collections of loot, I came across my first dumpster of the day in an alleyway between a frat house and a residential apartment building. There I found a leather belt, which I strapped around my waist. I also found cables, DVD cases, and a giant sheet of memory foam. I was hooked. I biked along the alley, heading north between more dumpsters, but I didn’t stop at any of them. The next time I did stop was several blocks closer to campus, off of Harrison. Here I got off of my bike and climbed up to the rim of a dumpster to root through the top layer of discarded implements, at this juncture still limited by my bare hands. I didn’t grab anything here either. Then, at the next blue box I found my first gold. Dictionaries, notebooks, and art supplies are what I grabbed from that heap; it was a corner just off of Van Buren.
I headed home then. I was tired and so far I was still thinking of this as an exciting diversion. That changed as soon as I realized I had nothing to do until 4:30 p.m. I thought about it for maybe 15 seconds before deciding what I wanted to do with my day. I found a gray bandanna, three pairs of latex gloves, a pocketknife, and a junky cheap backpack whose origins I have forgotten. I got on my bike, and began my adventure.
I started out by sweeping east. My house is northwest of campus, and that seemed like the logical path to follow. Originally I stuck to searching the dumpsters outside of fraternities, but then I realized that the multiplexes were likely to have much better refuse. I found a baseball bat, notebooks, and many other things which I did not grab but that astonished me nonetheless. Along the way, the glove on my right hand broke open, so I added a second one from the back-ups in my pocket.
If there is anything I can tell you about dumpster diving, it’s to follow your gut. That is what will guide you to the richest cubes, rectangles, piles, and bins of various descriptions. People throw things away when they’re in a hurry, but people also throw things out when they decide selling them is too much trouble, or they just want the cleaning to be over. Keep this in mind as you search, and if you’re willing to stick with it, I guarantee that you’ll find something to take home and be 10 times as proud of as any object you’ve ever bought.
And here is the best news: many students will not even be leaving until the end of the month, so there are probably about two good weekends of hunting left.
By Whitman Spitzer