It has been said that the most important thing about prepping and survival is having the appropriate mindset. A strong spiritual mindset will get you through many hardships. The mindset that your survival is up to you, that the government will not be there to help you is also necessary. Having a scavenging mindset is also important. Scavenging will be an important skill post SHTF. A scavenging mindset means that you aren’t embarrassed by scavenging people’s trash piles, and that you see value in items that others deem as trash.
Scavenging is not the same as picking in my view. Pickers, as made popular by several television shows, look to make a profit by finding valuable items and reselling them. Scavenging is more about finding useful items to recycle or repurpose. Many low-income people already have this mindset. There is a man who makes the rounds of the neighborhoods early on bulk trash day. This is the day that the city picks up large items from the curb. Those items that do not fit into your trash can on the regular collection day. I also see people with this mindset at the local metal recycling facility. They survive by having a scavenger mindset.
The scavenging mindset is important because if you are too embarrassed to be seen digging through someone’s curbside trash piles or peeking into dumpsters, then you will not be a successful scavenger. This all may change depending upon how hungry you get, but by then, you will not have the skills needed to compete. I admit that I do not do a lot of scavenging on my residential street where others know me, but if there is a great find, I will claim it from the curb. I get curious looks when I stop to inspect a trash pile on the curb, but the great finds from these piles has long since helped me get over any embarrassment. Another part of the scavenger mindset is seeing the value of items that most people would send to the landfill. I’ve picked up broken pieces of PVC pipe for the elbow or T fittings on them. Garden benches that were nothing more than the metal ends with a piece or two of the original wood seat still connecting them can be restored into a beautiful item for the porch or garden with a little elbow grease, paint, and some treated lumber – also scavenged. My grandparents, who lived through the Great Depression, could find a use for almost anything. Everything was used until it was “used up.” Sadly, society lacks that attitude today, but it is an attitude that will prove valuable in a TEOTWAWKI situation.
I scavenge in places that most pickers would never look. Most of my finds are not valuable antiques or collectibles, but items that can be recycled, reused, or repaired. Apartment dumpsters and curbs are my main hunting grounds and have proven to be lucrative places. I live in a community with a large university student population. These students are notoriously wasteful. Students tend to move at the end of each semester. Many of them are lazy, leaving furniture and boxes on the premises for their landlord to set out on the curb or place at the dumpster. While [in my jurisdiction] dumpster diving at apartments is illegal, checking the dumpsters on the university campus at the end of the semester is not (at least there are not signs indicating that it is illegal.). The dumpster behind the engineering and architecture buildings or dorms are particularly rich in finds. Architecture and construction science students build large projects each semester so the students can learn design and construction skills. Most of them have no way to transport the project home so the projects are disposed of by their instructors at the end of the semester. These projects contain a wealth of raw materials such as lumber (plywood prices are out of this world), large nuts and bolts, new hinges, casters, PVC pipe and fittings, and many other types of hardware. I collect and deconstruct these projects, saving the materials or using them for my own renovation projects. My neighbors know that I’m a scavenger and will often ask if I have an extra hinge or a PVC T-fitting. I direct them to the appropriate container and let them “shop” at will.
Dormitory dumpsters are also a great place to shop at the end of the school year. Students leave furniture, storage containers, and an assortment of building materials like cinder blocks either in or beside these dumpsters. Hitting these receptacles on the last day for students to move out can yield a trove of items that can be resold in garage sales, at flea markets, or donated to second-hand stores.
Apartment dumpsters yield mostly household items. Large pieces of furniture are not placed in the dumpsters, but are set beside them. Rescued pieces of furniture are either sold or donated to various charities for the tax write-off. I have found expensive bicycles sticking out of a dumpster. Most of the time, they only need minor repairs.
Rental houses and duplexes produce a greater volume and variety of items. I regularly find water hoses, extension cords, furniture, recyclable metals, patio benches, containers of various sizes, vacuum cleaners, and bicycles. Sometimes I have to replace an end on a hose or extension cord, but often, they are completely fine (I haven’t bought a hose or extension cord in 15 years). I once found a vacuum that a dog had chewed the cord into two pieces – replacing the cord made it as good as new. The owner didn’t know how to replace a simple power cord so they threw it away. I sold it for $40. Patio benches can be restored for $25-30 or less in materials and a little labor. These patio benches sell for $120 or more at the big box stores. These are usually given to friends or family. My commercial-sized wheeled barrow came off a curb. A $10 wheel made it good as new. My father-in-law’s neighbor left almost two rooms of furniture on the curb when he moved. e made over $300 on these items in a garage sale.
Most of the stones that I use to edge the flower beds and garden came from new home sites. The odd-shaped pieces of stone and castoffs that the masons can’t use are piled at the curb to be hauled off. I’ve never been denied permission to sort through the rubble pile for usable stone. Other items that I’ve found include:
- Patio tables and chairs
- Gas cans
- Containers of all sizes and shapes (container gardening, storage, rainwater collection)
- Cordage of various sorts
- Copper and brass fittings from appliances (usually recycled for cash)
- Electrical conduit (fence posts, plant supports)
- Dishes and cookware
- Golf clubs (usually sold at garage sales)
- Flower pots in sizes up to 30 gallons (good for protecting plants from frost)
- Plastic buckets (thousands of uses)
But, my best find were two gold coins! I had spied an Adirondack chair on a curb and pulled over to investigate. The chair was irreparable so I began checking out some of the boxes stacked beside it. One box was filled with old board games. I loaded that box up and took it home. As I went through the box later that evening, I discovered a small change box in the bottom. The top tray contained about $8 in small change (no pre-1965 coins though), a great find in itself! But, in the bottom of the change box was a very small coin purse. Inside the purse was a 1/10 ounce gold Liberty coin and a 1926 Quarter Eagle gold coin! That is my most valuable find to date. Now, I never pass up boxes on the curbside! And, my wife finds it hard to grumble when I make a sudden stop to inspect some boxes.
Scavenging means that I don’t have to buy a lot of new things and can spend those savings on other prepping needs. Some items can be repaired and sold for additional income. I’ve been able to barter some items for things on my prep list. In addition, I learn skills that will be useful post-TEOTWAWKI. I know how to rewire many appliances, refinish and rebuild furniture, repair bicycles, and repurpose most anything. I learned all of these skills by trial and error (or with the help of YouTube) on the items that I’ve found.
In post-TEOTWAWKI times, new items will no longer be available unless people develop the old skills to make things by hand. Until that time, we will have to learn to salvage useable items and materials and learn to repair them. As Jim and other contributors emphasize, knowledge and mindset will be the keys to your survival. Your “stuff” will only get you so far. By developing the scavenging mindset now and learning the skills to repair and repurpose items, you will have the advantage over most people.