Non-Consumer Photo Essay — Helping Myself to All of The Free Stuff!

by Katy on May 24, 2024 · 51 comments

I passed by the grocery store the other day and noticed this bright pink spoon on the sidewalk.


Then I noticed this display of $3.99 Go Bites spoons inside the store. So yes, I took the smeared spoon home and put it through the dishwasher. Might be handy for a picnic or a packed lunch. Either way, a four dollar spoon with a “lifetime warranty” deserved a second chance.

* Update! Someone in my Buy Nothing  group asked for toddler silverware and is picking up the spoon this afternoon!



My husband and I took a stroll around the neighborhood after dinner last night and the free piles were out in full force. And not just regular piles . . .  piles with clear and deliberate signage!



Free bricks, with clear messaging!



This attention grabbing pink sign asked a question, clarified what was available and then suggested an actionable task. So helpful!



Why yes, I do have a green thumb, I only use free “planting/potting items” and I consequently felt empowered to help myself! I brought home this embossed flowerpot as well as the flared terra cotta pot in the background.



Perfect for the plant starts I’m always propagating over the kitchen sink!



Do you help yourself to discarded free items? Please share your stories in the comments section below!

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

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{ 51 comments… read them below or add one }

Jadie May 24, 2024 at 10:21 am

On garbage day Tuesday I got two tomato cages in better shape than anything we currently have. Last week I helped with college student move outs, a benefit of which is you can take items you want before they are donated forward. I got some box fans to use in the windows to cool the house when the temperature drops, a lot of cleaning supplies and other random bits 🙂


Katy May 25, 2024 at 10:43 am

I do miss picking my kids up from college at the end of the school year and scavenging for all the amazing abandoned stuff. I still joke about my “$24,000 bathmat!”


Marybeth from NY May 25, 2024 at 3:52 pm

I got enough laundry detergent for another year. I donated so many sheet and comforter sets.


Colleen Hull Gray May 24, 2024 at 10:37 am

I love your posts! I appreciate not only your perspective, but your adventures in frugality inspire me to look for solutions without spending money. I also appreciate that you model goal setting and determination! Thank you!


Katy May 25, 2024 at 10:45 am

That’s so nice, thank you!

My adventures certainly never end, even if it’s just an after dinner walk through the neighborhood.


Jann in Maine May 24, 2024 at 11:02 am

Love the tea towel valance!
Love sharing my plants and creating a “friendship garden” for others.


Katy May 25, 2024 at 10:46 am

Thanks, I love vintage textiles. And the idea of a “friendship garden?” Perfect branding!


Lindsey May 24, 2024 at 11:22 am

We never go to the dump without checking out the exchange site that people use to leave and take unwanted items. In the winter, when people are unlikely to drive through ice fog and zero and below temps to retrieve the bag of apples or potatoes they left on the bottom of the chopping cart, I always take those home. I can make use of them whether completely frozen, partially frozen or merely cold. Finally, I pick up the random socks and underpants that I find on the sidewalk in our neighborhood during the winter; I wash the socks and have no shame in wearing mismatched socks but I do throw away the underpants. In my mind I know they could be washed and free of germs, but I am still skeeved out by the thought.

I need help—a contract I have with a local business is giving me a new iPhone Pro. The owner seems horrified by my elderly first generation iPhone SE so I think this is instead of a bonus. It still works, although some apps refuse to update on this model so I cannot use them. I know there are programs that will take older phones for victims of DV but even with the help of Google, I cannot figure out where to donate it. Does any reader have the answer to my attempt to recycle my old phone or is it destined for the electronic recycle in town?


Mary in NJ May 24, 2024 at 1:49 pm

Apple will send you a free shipping label for the iPhone to be sent to a partner for possible reuse or recycling. I recently sent my iPhone 3. More recent iPhone models are eligible for a trade-in credit.


Cindy Brick May 24, 2024 at 4:06 pm

“Random socks and underpants?” Really??

I must live in the wrong neighborhood…

I’ll pick up anything free I can get my mitts on, provided we can use it. Just yesterday I found 92 cents in the bottom of the Coinstar at our local Safeway — and a couple of pennies previously. It doesn’t always happen, but occurs more than you would think…

I’ve also found 2 packages of readymade entrees left in carts (outside, in the cart return) at King Soopers. That seemed especially weird, but they were still cold — and very edible.


Kara May 24, 2024 at 6:39 pm

This is a cause dear to my heart as the mother of a USMC veteran. They recycle old cell phones.


Katy May 25, 2024 at 10:50 am

I have to know — what do you do with frozen apples and potatoes?


Susan May 24, 2024 at 12:13 pm

Target, Staples and our zoo recycle phones.


Lindsey May 24, 2024 at 1:50 pm

No Target or Staples in Northern Alaska. Nor any zoos…but I appreciate you taking time to try and help.


Virginia Allain May 24, 2024 at 12:33 pm

I hold onto mine as sometimes there’s a discount when you buy a new phone (and old ones count too).
Also, check out the charity places who give them to the poor to use for 911 calls.


Lindsey May 24, 2024 at 1:52 pm

Apple said it was too old to recycle, but I am contacting one of the places in the URL you posted. Thank you!


Selena May 24, 2024 at 6:49 pm

I miss my (not first gen) iPhone SE. Mine got to the point where even *if* I deleted all photos et al, I had no capacity to take iOS upgrades – and I am a security hard liner.
Though I have to admit, that the (upcoming) even skinnier iPhone 17 has caught my eye. I’m ticked off Otter cases *do not* cover the screen these days however. We pay cash for our phones.


Bee May 24, 2024 at 2:09 pm

My favorite curbside pick is my 6.5 Fiddle Fig Tree. I have also picked up orchid pots, orchids, a mercury glass lamp, a vintage stereo system for my son, a bamboo ladder, a damage oil painting with an incredible frame and a beautifully worn early 20th century Middle Eastern rug.
I’m always shocked at what is put by the curb, but I haven’t had a hood find in a while,


Bee May 24, 2024 at 2:11 pm

** 6.5 foot tall Fiddle Fig


Bee May 25, 2024 at 3:54 am

I must clarify that these items were things put out for the trash the night before. We are not allowed to put anything out on our curbs except for this reason.


Katy May 25, 2024 at 10:51 am

I’m impressed with the tree, wow!


Cindy in the South May 24, 2024 at 2:54 pm

Two years ago, my grad school neighbor was moving out and had two fold up chairs in her pile. I snagged them and use them every day to porch sit.


Katy May 25, 2024 at 10:52 am

Folding chairs are so helpful, you’ll never regret having them on hand.


Cathy May 24, 2024 at 3:28 pm

Free piles are not allowed on our street. 🙁 I’d probably be the only one looking into them! I buy new clothes for my husband. His job requires him to look very nice and he prefers to not wear “a deceased person’s clothes”. 95% of my clothes are thrifted. 95% of our home is family or preowned. My Volvo is 12 years old. I don’t usually post because as much as I try I’m no where near the level of thriftiness most of you are. However, a few weeks ago I was recycling soda cans. While there a woman dropped off 2 contractor bags full of water bottles. Just plopped them down and left. I put them into the machine and came out with over 60.00!! You’d think I found a million dollars!!


Christine May 24, 2024 at 4:36 pm

That’s a great haul and you didn’t even have to collect them. Good for you! I wish our state had mandatory deposits on water bottles and those little nip bottles. They’re all over the place. Such a mess. I’d have a better side hustle if they had deposits on them. As of now, it’s just the occasional can, soda or beer bottle.


A. Marie May 25, 2024 at 3:15 am

NY State now does have a deposit on water bottles, Christine. And the expanded bottle bill, last I heard, is still alive in the legislature, so I may yet be collecting 10-cent instead of a 5-cent deposits on my pickings.


Christine May 25, 2024 at 5:21 am

Alas, I live in Massachusetts! Not even near the New York border. I’m waiting for Massachusetts to implement stricter bottle bills.


Katy May 25, 2024 at 10:54 am

I’d be so sad to live in a community without free piles, I literally carry a tiny shopping bag with me when I go for a walk these days!


Laurie Graves May 24, 2024 at 3:50 pm

In rural Maine, where I live, there are not many free things by the side of the road. I guess people use up what they have or donate to Goodwill. But I sure do envy all those free piles.


Christine May 24, 2024 at 4:31 pm

Just yesterday while purchasing flowers for the family graves I decorate for Memorial Day, I spotted a mauled Petunia laying in the parking lot. It looked like part of it had been run over. Nevertheless, I rescued it and will plant it at the cemetery tomorrow.


Katy May 25, 2024 at 10:55 am

That’s very sweet of you to rescue the petunia.


Ecoteri May 24, 2024 at 5:51 pm

Ah, free piles.
1. I was at a local community centre today while they were having a clothing swap. I hadn’t taken anything to swap (I was there for a different reason), however a friend of mine had. She was a bit concerned when she was told she had to take as much away as she brought (and neither of us could figure if that was a joke) but since I filled one of her totes with lots of cotton shirts and pants that I will garden in, we figured whatever the rule was we didn’t break it!
I got an honest-to-label Harris Tweed hand woven wool jacket – men’s, apparently, but suits me marvellously!! Score!!!!.
2. Anyway, Today I invested in a new-to-me riding lawnmower that came with chains (necessary on our wet hilly ground) and a sweet dumping trailer. I am kind of spinning with joy.
Yesterday I was all set to buy a new one, but found a $900 used one – saving myself at least $1800 without taking taxes nor the trailer/chains into consideration. My own ‘real’ trailer was at a friend’s place, behind a fence that was blocked by a parked car – and the friends were out of town. However, Wonder James was pretty sure we could fit the mower in the back of my truck so we threw the ramps in the back and took off into the back country to find it. It started on the first try, and we were able to easily back my truck to a convenient hill where the slope was easy for loading – and at my place we did something similar to get it out of the truck.
We have already jury-rigged a Shute replacement out of a large ripped garden pot that was destined for the garbage. Using my SawzAll (Blue Gate Farmgirl – many uses!!) we cut up the pot and then drilled some holes in the pieces to attach to some existing bolts on the lawn tractor. My farm helper, Wonder James, and I were giggling away as we fiddled it together. We also spent a bit of time underneath trouble shooting, however it is a sweet machine and I am thrilled.
The reason I am mentioning it here on the “free pile” posting is that we needed to clear out space in a shed to store the new-to-me machine. Much sorting and stacking of pots, discovery of a lot of organic fertilizer (!!) and unearthing the sad mower-deckless old riding lawn tractor that had come with our property 13 years ago. My ex had the deck taken off but it was always a pain to use and so it has sadly sat in the shed, moldering and ignored. SO, after unearthing it, Wonder James and I pushed it out to the roadside, and I dug up a sharpie to refresh my FREE sign. I suspect it will be gone before noon tomorrow. BAM – don’t know how many cubic feet THAT is, but it is significant!.
Sorting all the pots was also an efficient exercise, the whole space is more accessible and I feel enthusiastic about working my way further into the depths of that old shed. Previous folk have dumped and dumped and dumped into that particular shed, both useful and not useful stuff, and much wasn’t cared for when it was abandoned – so what could have been still good has been damaged. sometimes I just need to take a deep breath and accept that not everyone is thinking of the future when they put something aside.


Ecoteri May 24, 2024 at 8:18 pm

Update – the free pile lawn tractor is GONE! before dark, yay!


A. Marie May 25, 2024 at 10:08 am

Ecoteri, I enjoyed your entire post as usual–but I congratulate you in particular on the Harris Tweed jacket. My late DH adored Harris Tweed, and I was lucky enough to score three or four HT jackets for him at thrift shops over the course of our total of 45 years together.


Katy May 25, 2024 at 11:03 am

I love everything you wrote, but especially the Harris tweed jacket. I’m picturing a whole gentlewoman farmer aesthetic!


Ecoteri May 25, 2024 at 7:27 pm

@Katy and @ A. Marie, AWW,, thank you. Also, you both would be extra happy to know that upon noticing that it was lacking one of the (leather wrapped monkey paw kind of ) buttons, I put the jacket on and went through the numerous pockets. Past owner had kindly saved the ‘lost’ button in a pocket that shall hereafter be know as the ‘button pocket’. Haven’t sewn it on yet but soon.
I am suspicious, though, that #1 son might want to divest me of the jacket before I can get too comfortable. We shall see, it was FREE. I do like the gentlewoman farmer aesthetic idea though…


Denise May 24, 2024 at 11:55 pm

Sadly, the free pile concept is very rare in my part of England, and usually is very child-centred stuff. I can only remember two I’ve seen in the past year.

I have had a very depressing event. When I moved to my new home last summer, my armchair barely fitted in the space available to it – scrunched up, unable to see the TV, edging round it. I finally decided to offer it up on FreeCycle and our local newsletter. It’s a hardwood framed chair, Belgian linen covers and a great, modern design. Nobody wanted it. I’m not on Facebook and refuse to join it. But a friend listed it for free and I still couldn’t get rid of it. So I am having to get it taken away by my local council. The charity shops that handle furniture don’t collect and I am unwilling to pay the £95 I have been quoted to get a “man with a van” to collect and deliver it to them. So I hope that the council will give it to charity, but I doubt it…


Katy May 25, 2024 at 11:05 am

I’m so sorry about the chair. However sometimes you really do have to try your best and move along.


A. Marie May 25, 2024 at 3:20 am

Re: Katy’s found spork, I quote Yogi Berra: “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”

As I’ve noted in earlier comments, I no longer actively trashpick (especially in the university neighborhood), due to increasing age and decreasing need. But I certainly haven’t retired from it altogether. And I’m still a very active collector of deposit bottles and cans. As I told a neighbor who brought me a bag of containers the other day, I made more on container deposits in 2023 than I made on a CD I had!


Anne May 25, 2024 at 5:31 am

A. Marie, brilliantly apt on the Yogi Berra quote.


Katy May 25, 2024 at 11:06 am

You’ll be happy to know that someone in my buy nothing group was asking for toddler silverware and is picking up the spoon this afternoon!


K D May 25, 2024 at 4:15 am

We love free piles. I brought a mirror home last night. I think neighbors put out two mirrors with a pile of other stuff for pick-up by a charitable organization early yesterday but they must not have taken the mirrors because one of them had a FREE sign on it last night. I assume the other one was picked up by someone else earlier in the day.

My husband has been joking lately that “the curbs will provide”.

I also pick up scrap metal, especially when walking. It started as just nails and screws, items with the potential to puncture tires, but morphed into other items over the years. When we have a bunch I give it away.


Heidi Louise May 25, 2024 at 7:39 am

I do like “the curbs will provide”!


Katy May 25, 2024 at 11:07 am

“The curbs will provide?” <--- My new motto!


Blue Gate Farmgirl May 25, 2024 at 11:31 am

My new motto is “let the universe know what you need, then she will decide what you get”. I “found” 3 cast iron decorative candle holders in the recycling depot, I will use as vase holders in the Pioneer Cemetery where my dad is. It is very windy and the cast iron will keep the vases from tipping.
I found a full garbage bag of bottles to return. It was on a random highway on my way to the coast. It ended up being $19.10 worth!
I picked up a sweet twin bed frame that is going to become a bench for the mudroom w/boot storage.
I put out free veggie starts that the neighbors didn’t want and one of the field workers at a nearby farm took them and then brought back the pots a few days later.


Selena May 25, 2024 at 6:53 pm

So heartening to read the recipient brought back the pots. Keeps my faith that there are more good people out there than we think alive and well.


Deb Flowers May 25, 2024 at 3:39 pm

Do I spy an avocado seedling in the mix?


Katy May 25, 2024 at 3:56 pm

You do, good eye!


Fru-gal Lisa May 26, 2024 at 5:13 pm

Few people put a free sign on their curbside trash around here, but once I was walking the dog early one morning, and 2 blocks over, I saw a brass headboard. Thinking it was for a twin bed, I picked it up and carried it home. I waited a few weeks and then took it to a consignment furniture store. They said it was a king-size headboard and they were thrilled to get it. I forgot how much money I earned from my half of the proceeds, but it was definitely 100% profit.

When I lived in apartment complexes, I called the trash dumpsters the “big green giving machines.” I regularly checked in and around the dumpsters for anything good. I got books, lamps, furniture, plants, baskets, flowerpots, lampshades, clothes, dishes, shower curtains — you name it! If I couldn’t use it, I passed it along. Again, whenever I sold something (or traded to the used bookstore), I figured I made a 100% profit (in cash or store credits). Around the end of every month, and definitely at the end of every college semester, is the best time to scout items around the apartment dumpsters. The renters move out and they or the cleanup crew toss stuff they’re not taking with them.


Terri C May 28, 2024 at 6:31 pm

I live in a very rural area. Dumpster sites are where the locals dump their trash bags for the county to pick up but there are RULES that if something is still good and useable, one places it outside of the dumpster, usually next to the fence, and then whoever requires or wants that item will pick it up. Our most recent acquirement was a small Disney Planes child guitar which retails for $30 on eBay. My husband, who is a guitarist wanted a second child’s guitar for the grandchildren to play with. He restrung it and tuned it and now we’re just waiting on the grandchildren to go into the music room and discover it. We’ve also brought home Step 2 Playhouse and slide, a Disney Minnie Mouse children’s table and chairs. Last week someone put two lawnmower tires against the fence. I’ve seen so many good things at the dumps in our county. It’s our unofficial Trading Post.


Katy May 29, 2024 at 11:31 am

You are such fun grandparents, what lucky kiddos!


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