The Ethics of Selling Stuff From Free Piles

by Katy on June 25, 2015 · 118 comments

Free Pile

My “Five Frugal Things” posts often mention how I glean items from free piles and then turn around to sell them, and it’s not uncommon for a reader or two to question this practice. This doesn’t bother me, as it’s usually prefaced with “I love your blog, but . . . ”

Just yesterday, this comment came in on the blog:

“Love you and love your blog but sometimes wonder about the taking of free baby items from curb and selling them…wouldn’t a mommy in need be better off with these things for free?”

I went ahead and wrote this reply:

There’s no simple answer to this. I pick up free stuff, as I am desperately trying to scrounge up money for my kids to go to college, and I do it any way that I can. I’m not going through low income neighborhoods. These are mostly my parents’ neighborhoods which are decidedly upper income, (especially my father’s which is ridiculously wealthy. (My parents bought their house in 1969 for $20,000, but the area is straight-up rich people now!) ) These are people to whom making the effort to sort through old stuff to decide which consignment shop would be best; or to research, photograph and list on Craigslist would not be worth the effort.

It is worth my effort.

The baby toys and walker/activity table I brought home from free piles last week got sold to a grandmother whose daughter and granddaughter were about to come for a visit. I charged her $30. She did not have the time nor the inclination to keep an eye out for free stuff. She was just happy that I made this available with good pictures and descriptions on Craigslist. I could have charged more, but I like to create a bargain for the buyer.

I held out an adorable wooden inchworm for a friend who just had a baby, as I am not currently budgeting any money for gifts. This friend is a fan of the blog, and was tickled to hear that her gift was from a free pile.

In Portland, it’s become part of the culture to put out unwanted stuff, and once that stuff goes to the new owner what that person does with it is their business.

Yesterday I took a rolled up Ikea rug from a garbage can in my father’s neighborhood. There was construction debris out with the cans, which was also still usable. I’ll vacuum and shampoo the rug and then sell it. This was definitely a situation where I will be saving something from the landfill.

I hope this explains my mindset on this issue.

Thank you for asking.

My husband and I just recently finished paying off his student loans from paramedic school. We’ve never had the financial wiggle room to fund anything close to proper college funds for our 17 and 19-year-old sons. So yes, I bring home other people’s unwanted stuff to sell. I enjoy the challenge, and it fits in well with my days off from work when I’m otherwise taking care of the family and puttering around the house. I feel I have a gift when it comes to seeing potential in unloved items.

I also like to think of it as making things available for people who are looking for specific items.

Want a Cars-theme baby walker? Then drive aimlessly through a wealthy neighborhood.

Of course not!

But that Cars-theme baby walker was briefly available on Portland’s Craiglist. Because I recognized the value, brought it home, cleaned it up, photographed it and wrote up a description.

I know this defense will not satisfy all my detractors, but that’s okay. I’m Rumplestiltskin, and I spin straw into gold.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

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

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{ 117 comments… read them below or add one }

Linda in Mass June 25, 2015 at 10:42 am

In my area in Massachusetts, we also put things out on the curb in FREE piles. A lot of my lawn furniture either came from free piles or cheap yard sale finds. The next town over from me has “Big Trash” pick up days. The town deliberately does not pick up the items right away, rather, people will go looking through the piles for metal and useful items to either sell or use. It is a win, win because items will not go into the landfill.

As for selling items from free piles, I think it is a great way to earn extra money. If you did not pick it up, it would end up with someone else to sell or in a landfill. In my humble opinion, there is no ethical dilemma in selling the items.


Mary June 25, 2015 at 10:44 am

Great response and I totally agree!


Marieann June 25, 2015 at 10:48 am

I give away a lot of things to thrift stores, Freecycle etc. The thrift stores will sell them and someone will get a great bargain, if someone from Freecycle sells them 2 folk will get a great bargain. Both times, something that may have become garbage will be saved from the landfill…in this case the planet is the victor.
I think you Katy and others who sell free stuff are showing ingenuity and skill in making some extra money and helping the environment.
Where I live the night before garbage day is the time to put out free items. Pick up trucks cruise the streets looking for saleable merchandise, also scrap metal.
I think it’s a good thing for everyone involved.


Christine June 25, 2015 at 10:51 am

I like this and I don’t see it as an ethical problem.

It was once considered gauche to shop thrift stores because it was “taking cheap goods from the poor people.” I think that was just a red herring for being a little snobby about shopping there. Now I think it’s widely accepted that there are plenty of goods there, and the charities who run the shops benefit more from getting your money.

While I haven’t taken things from free piles to re-sell, I have taken things to use (even if I could technically afford to go buy them) because I had a use for it and I had the trunk space. Same deal, these were items from wealthier neighbourhoods. When I’m done with them I’ll likely pass them on to friends for free or donate them, and they might go to a parent who didn’t have a vehicle or a day off to go looking for free stuff curbside, but can get it from my house or at a thrift store. When your buyer’s grandchild goes home I bet she’ll donate or give away the seat, or re-sell it at an equally fair price.

Besides, if you stopped trash picking how could I live vicariously through your awesome finds? 🙂


Elaine in Ark June 26, 2015 at 6:11 am

‘It was once considered gauche to shop thrift stores because it was “taking cheap goods from the poor people.” I think that was just a red herring for being a little snobby about shopping there.’

I want to put in my two cents’ worth about that. I have found when people say that, they think “the poor” should grovel on their hands and knees for whatever items they are given, and should be overwhelmingly grateful for trash. One time I was giving a talk on organizing to a group and said if the items you’re donating to charity end up in the shop with a tag on them saying “Donated by your-name-here” and you would be embarrassed, then it’s trash and should be thrown away, not donated. I also said that people bag up garbage and donate it all the time, and the volunteers have to throw it away. They didn’t quite believe me until one of the women in the group who volunteers at the charity shop told us how much they get that is true garbage (almost 50%). It comes from people who think “the poor” should just be grateful to get anything. I think it insults the whole concept of charity.

I also don’t see anything wrong selling items one gets from a “free” pile. Katy, for example, researches the items, cleans the items, and sells the items at bargain prices. Anyone can do that, if they’re so inclined (I myself am way too lazy and just sell what I already own).


A. Marie June 25, 2015 at 10:54 am

The streets belong to the people–and, as I see it, so does the stuff left on the streets. If you have the gumption to get it off the streets and out of the landfill, it’s yours to do what you like with. (And, frankly, I’ve been doing it for years.) Rock on!


Cheri June 25, 2015 at 10:55 am

I do something similar. I go to Goodwill and find treasures to sell on eBay. I have also been lucky that friends and coworkers now give me their unwanted stuff to sell. Their thought is that they were tossing it in the trash so why not just give it to me? I have found stuff in the garbage that worked for me at home – most recently outside furniture that just needed a little work. It isn’t like you are taking it from the food bank or a free stuff like for the unfortunate.


Katy June 25, 2015 at 10:57 am

Right. And those bags of returnable bottles and cans? I leave them alone for those who depend on them. Even though I’m the only person I know takes her own cans and bottles back for the deposit.


Diana June 25, 2015 at 10:14 pm

Bottles are first come first serve. This is all “survival of the fittest” Darwinism…if your want to succeed you must take initiative! So I sometimes collect bottles too. I do however take food items we may not want anymore and put them in a clean bag on the curb! I have seen the mailman grab a soda & chips as well as families haul the bags of dried pasta & bean off…and an elderly gentleman drive up & plop a bag in his car… It’s the circle of life…all people were happy to have free stuff & I was happy it was not in the trash! I also set out a bag of cleaning products when I decided to switch to more green products…those were gone from the curb before I could bring out the next bag!


erin @ dfmi designs June 25, 2015 at 11:04 am

Good for you! It’s a skill and makes some extra money. Cannot beat it!


gloria June 25, 2015 at 11:10 am

I don’t understand why you just don’t work more instead of spending hours to earn $10 on a resold lamp.


Katy June 25, 2015 at 11:18 am

The “work” of reselling takes almost zero time from my life. But I’m away from the house for 14 hours on the days that I work. And my job is extremely stressful, (think emergent situations when we’re running through the hallways pushing stretchers to operating rooms.) My kids are only with us for another year, and I want to be as much of a present parent as possible.


Shannon June 25, 2015 at 1:39 pm

I agree. I’ve been reading for a while now and this really bothers me. I know it really won’t worry this blog writer that it bugs me, but I just see it as wrong. When she took the baby items, just imagine if there had been a family, really down on their luck, just five minutes down the road – and they could’ve really used those items. I like the saying “only take what you need”.

I’m not looking for arguments, just giving my 0.2 cents. I don’t really feel your response yesterday actually explained much.


Sonjia June 25, 2015 at 1:52 pm

In a perfect world, the person that needs the items most would be right there looking through the free pile and find exactly what they are needing.
However, I see a lot of really good items being loaded into the garbage truck headed for the dump. On trash day, if I see a piece of furniture or clothes sitting on the curb, I will take it whether I need it or not, just to save it from the landfill. I’ll go through the boxes, take some to Goodwill, sell the items that I know will sell better through Craigslist.


gloria June 25, 2015 at 3:25 pm

It’s not my business (take that as a given). But as someone who’s sold on eBay and craisglist, I KNOW it’s actually a time-consuming pain in the butt. You’re cleaning, measuring, taking pictures, and writing up descriptions for items and that takes a good bit of time. I wouldn’t do it for a low priced item where I earn $10 because my time is worth more than that. And I know, Katy, blah blah, you want to spend time with your kids, but I have boys that age too and they spend 95% of their time with their friends. Again–not my business how much you work, but it just seems silly to me to spend so much time earning pennies when you could be earning good money as a nurse to really make some cash for college.


Barb@livingrichlyinretirement June 26, 2015 at 9:21 am

Well, I don’t know about you, and I certainly cannot speak for Katy but-as a frugal retiree who is often asked why I do things like this or make pizza from scratch instead of getting a real job:

First, while it can be time consuming, selling on craigslist is not as difficult as selling on ebay. And I do what I need to do on my time, not on someone else’s. I may be washing toys in the sink after I was the dishes. I may be repairing or in my case upcycling clothing to resell while I am watching Murder In The First. And I am easily accessible to anyone who needs me, and can walk away from what I am doing whenever I feel like it t do something else. My time is only worth more than that if I could be working, would be worthing, and make that amount after commute and texas.

And again, while I cannot speak for Katy, my kids that age spent 95 percent of their time with their friends-at my house, because I was the mom who was home. And who let all the other parents know what their kids were doing when they were at my house.

So while I appreciate that some people may want to work, the alternative is equally workable for many people. Especially for those in high stress professions, with cucoo working hours.

Linda June 25, 2015 at 3:39 pm

Katy NEEDS to fund her sons’ college education. This is how she has chosen to do it. I wish I had her eye to see the potential in others castoffs.


Ruth June 25, 2015 at 5:40 pm

I too am a nurse like Katy, I’m not in Mid but I’m in a very busy ED and I agree with Katy about not wanting to pick up extra hours due to the high stress . If nurses don’t get enough days off they get burnt out … At my work we consider 4 days a week full time (8.5 hour shifts) those who try 5 days a week rarely stay for more than 2 years or they go on night shift where full time is 10.5 hours so they only work 4 nights to make up their time…
Honestly working as a nurse now is draining at times, more duties, less staff, more aggression not just occasionally but everyday multiple times a day so I don’t think working another shift is the answer…I think what your doing Katy is excellent … Someone said what if a poor family is just around the corner and missed out on that find….well I say what if they weren’t…. We can’t live for the what ifs …. Ok rant over


Ruth June 25, 2015 at 5:42 pm

Sorry Linda I hit the wrong Reply button my response was meant for a reply to the above message

gloria June 26, 2015 at 4:54 am

She says she works two days a week, not four.

Elaine in Ark June 26, 2015 at 6:17 am

Gloria, two 14-hour days = 28 hours. If she worked more than that, would you consider her a bad mom for being away from her kids too much?

Not going into debt is worth more than just money. And spending time with your kids before they go off to college is priceless.

gloria June 26, 2015 at 7:25 am

No, of course not. Her kids are 17 and 19–they don’t need a mom around during that day at all.

Diana June 25, 2015 at 11:44 pm

A lot of very needy people do not have a car & extra gas money to just drive around rich neighborhoods & look for free stuff… And the odds of them driving around and finding exactly what they need on the curb are statistically insane… So I highly doubt the “what if someone was 5 min down the road” theory…


shel June 26, 2015 at 5:42 am

I don’t really care how much Katy works at her “regular” job – because seriously … life is short. If you can fund your boys’ college fund with the extra items that you “spin into gold” – more power to you. What I’ve appreciated about the idea of a frugal lifestyle is that it frees up time for us to enjoy the people and the time around us.


Barb@livingrichlyinretirement June 26, 2015 at 9:13 am

If I want items to go to the needy, I do not just “put them out on the curb”. I take them to where the needy are (and for me at least, it is most likely not in my immediate neighborhood). I don’t put things out on the street thinking “well, now some really needy person will use this”. I put things out on the street thinking “I can’t use this, but someone can, and I don’t have the time to deal with it, so have at it”.

Thanks just me, but I understand her explanation entirely.


Ellie June 25, 2015 at 11:23 am

Katy – I take my own cans and bottles back for refund – and ones I find I return and put that money in my “found money” jar for eventual donation to our local food bank. I well understand why you don’t “just work more” and I think your family is very, very fortunate to have you at home more.


Diana June 25, 2015 at 9:44 pm

I agree with Katy & Ruth, those who are judgemental & think more hours should be worked do not understand the job these ladies are doing! Or maybe they don’t have enough years on the job to understand the toll on the body. Or maybe they value family life differently. I am also a reseller of at home items no longer useful & found items. We pick up recyclables and coins found on our walks. Items found that we do not want or cannot sell are donated for charity tax write off slips. Yes selling a $10 found item annoyed me 2 weeks ago…was it worth my time? Well today I counted over 2k in my jar of found change and cash from re-sold items….and I got there in a few weeks either $10 or more at a time! I saved many items from landfills and I delighted & helped many families who were so happy to score my deals! It has been a fun adventure for me & will help fund an adoption! I say that’s a win-win-win for the world! Maybe I didn’t solve world peace, but I feel good about what I accomplished! Katy I think you & your blog are awesome! I admire that you march to the beat of your own drum! I admire that you stand up for what you believe in & what you feel is right! Keep doing what you are doing, you are fabulous! I really don’t feel like you need to defend yourself on this blog, just keep being you…and let the miserable haters find something else to do….


Katy June 25, 2015 at 9:58 pm

Wow, thank you! Luckily, I don’t have haters, just readers who weren’t sure how to feel about my sales.


Diana June 25, 2015 at 11:49 pm

Urban dictionary hater definition:
A person that simply cannot be happy for another person’s success. So rather than be happy they make a point of exposing a flaw in that person.

…such things make me sad…


Jessica June 25, 2015 at 11:35 am

I absolutely agree with you!
The time and effort that you put into the project is *worth* something. This is an example of how domestic & household work is undervalued. Are you supposed to search for, carry, clean, photograph, and distribute things for free? Is your time without value? No! Nobody expects you to deliver their babies without a salary, right? They shouldn’t expect you to clean & organize their stuff for free, either.


Ruby June 25, 2015 at 11:46 am

I see nothing wrong with finding a new home for something that would have gone into a landfill. That you make some money for your trouble is lovely gravy on top. 🙂

We live in an older and very friendly neighborhood that gets “big items pickup” from the city once a month. A few days before pickup, folks will set out their items on the curb so that neighbors get first crack at them. There’s also an elderly gentleman who comes through with his old pickup truck and takes all the recyclable metals. It’s all part of the circle of trash life.


Diane June 25, 2015 at 11:56 am

We are lucky to be handed down a lot of children’s clothes from another family with kids a little older than ours. Many are very nice and could be resold at a consignment shop, especially since my kids can’t wear them all. But because someone was generous with us, I pass on these clothes to someone else in the same spirit–that seems like the right thing to do. Digging through a free pile and cleaning clothes, takes effort, so I might feel better about selling them (not many free piles to be had around these parts). I will consign outgrown clothes and toys we purchased or were given as a holiday present.


Amanda June 25, 2015 at 5:09 pm

I so agree with you! When friends give clothes, I give what we can’t use to others. But a free pile is somehow different.


Sandra June 25, 2015 at 12:05 pm

I like to think that if I put something out in a free pile that I wish for someone to take it away and make what use they can of it. If that is to use in their home, give to someone else or resell that is their business. It keeps it out of the land fill and in use and that makes perfect sense to me.


Michele June 25, 2015 at 12:09 pm

I agree with your feelings! We just had a yard sale and many, if not most, of the people we sold too weren’t interested in putting any elbow grease into making a cheap item ‘like new’. I, on the other hand, am quite interested in doing so! 😉


Bree June 25, 2015 at 12:28 pm

Who is to say that the people you’re selling to at a fair price don’t turn around and sell it for more? I don’t see how people can label it unethical to sell something that was set out for free. I’ve bought things on Craigslist for a decent price, used it for a little while and it didn’t end up working out, and then turned around and sold it again. Just how these things work.


Gina June 27, 2015 at 3:46 am

I was selling some of my mother’s furniture on Craig’s List to pay her enormous pharmaceutical bills during her last few months. A lady really wanted a piece of furniture but wanted it for MUCH less than I was asking. I told her it was worth much more and I had already discounted greatly and this wasn’t just selling to get rid of – my mom needed the money desperately. She gave me a hard luck story that she was starting over after an abusve relationship and had absolutely nothing. She LOVED the sofa and was going to sleep on it until she purchased a bed, etc. I gave it to her for the price she requested. TWO hours later she called me elated that she had just sold the piece for $200 profit and wanted to haggle over another item that she KNEW she could sell the same person. I told her it was already sold. THAT kind of dishonesty in order to get a cheaper price to me is disgusting. I don’t care what you do with items I’m selling but don’t come up with an elaborate lie to make me feel sorry for you so I lose money and in this case it was important for my mom. I asked the lady what happened to her needing the sofa herself and she just broke into laughter. I hung up disgusted.


Marilyn June 25, 2015 at 12:36 pm

I completely agree that you are performing a service when spinning straw into gold. And I love reading about your adventures doing this.


Jill June 25, 2015 at 12:42 pm

Also, hello, you *are* a ‘mommy in need’. You are a mommy in need of a college fund for her kids. Just because you aren’t putting those clothes on actual babies, you are still getting your needs met from the clothes.


Megyn June 25, 2015 at 1:38 pm

I get concerned about this as college is not a need, but clothing for a baby IS a need. I personally find it unethical, so don’t do it. I just put myself in the shoes of someone in need and would rather leave items for them…or pick them up for those who I know are in need. Minimalism is also big in my life, so I have a hard time focusing on stuff to make a little extra dough. I want to get away from thinking about material goods, and if I were to trash-pick to re-sell, I feel like it goes against my values of trying to have only that which I need and love.


Diana June 25, 2015 at 9:50 pm

Exactly. Have wha you need & love. She NEEDS cash for college & she LOVES her kids!


Megyn June 26, 2015 at 12:26 pm

College is not a necessity, and it’s not a NEED for a parent to help pay for it. This is all an argument based out of privilege, not true necessity.


Ruth June 26, 2015 at 8:04 pm

College is a necessity ….. When you want the best for your children

Megyn June 27, 2015 at 3:21 pm

Ruth–Again, this is a DESIRE/WANT, not a true necessity. Also, you can have a successful child who does not go to college. My husband who has no college degree makes far more than I could with my college degree. College does not always equal success. In addition, there are trade schools, community colleges, etc. that are far cheaper than state schools and private tuition. Finally, if you are paying in-state tuition at a public state college, it is very reasonable that a student could pay that tuition themselves with a part-time job. In my opinion, it’s not a parent’s responsibility to pay for their adult child’s schooling. Sure, it’s a kind gesture and done only out of love, but necessity it is not.

Britt June 30, 2015 at 11:37 am

I think Katy’s boys are getting an excellent lesson in frugality and sacrifice watching their mom save for their college fund. I paid for my own college, but I treasured any money my parents could give me because I truly knew how hard-earned it was. Great lesson, fun way to earn extra money as a family, win win in my book


Bettypants June 25, 2015 at 12:45 pm

I agree that it is ethical to take free items and do with them what you choose. When I give items away, the only thing important to me is that they are taken. I assume that is true for most people who put out items for free. They are not hoping a “mommy in need” will roll past, but only that their items will be gone the next time they set foot outside.

“Straight up rich people” neighborhood made me laugh.


Katy June 25, 2015 at 12:54 pm

Well . . . Cheryl Strayed who wrote “Wild” bought my friend’s childhood home. So, yeah . . . “straight up rich people.”


Diane C June 28, 2015 at 8:52 am

Somehow I think Cheryl Strayed would have a good laugh at being called a “straight up rich person”.


K D June 25, 2015 at 1:54 pm

I love what you do. You are performing a service when you match items up with people that want them (all while keeping things out of the landfill and adding to college funds). I am too lazy to resell items anymore, but I give many things away on freecycle and I am always happy when they find a new home, even if I could have made money selling them. I don’t mind at all if our no longer wanted items are sold by somebody else.

Here is another thing that I find more and more, there are poor people that are fussy about things. I have heard many times that those in need must have new books (books in our home were always borrowed from the library and purchased at yard sales). I have tried to give food to low income people that are too picky to want it. Giving to those in need is not always simple and I think you do a service to many.

Keep re-selling Katy!


Gina June 28, 2015 at 3:31 pm

So true, I passed a homeless man on the way to work a couple of weeks ago – he asked if I could help him get something to eat and that he hadn’t eaten in two days. I rummaged in my tote and pulled out an organic gala apple and banana and held it out to him. He asked me what he was supposed to do with it. I said, “eat it”. He laughed and said, “yeah, that’s not what I’m looking for, I’m not hungry I want money.”


Trish June 25, 2015 at 2:21 pm

What is ethical for some people won’t be for others. I think it is really cool that Katy supplements her income in this way – it is creative, and for a good cause. I don’t think it is really hurting anyone. One of my favorite blogs – second only to The Nonconsumer Advocate is Things I find in the Garbage. A young man scavenges things from garbage piles throughout Montreal, sells it, and lives off the proceeds. I know it isn’t exactly the same, I just wanted to mention this blog cuz I love it!!!


Melissa June 25, 2015 at 5:32 pm

Trish, I love that site too. That is actually how I found this site because someone mentioned it in the comments there. It was probably you. 🙂 If it was you, thanks! I love reading both sites.


The Frugal Shrink June 25, 2015 at 2:29 pm

I love your reselling posts! I sure don’t understand how there is hoopla about selling items that you trash picked. Because free piles that are unclaimed *do* go in the dumpster. I also think it’s great that these funds go towards college expenses. Keep on keepin’ on, Katy!


One of God's June 25, 2015 at 2:34 pm

Just a note about today’s savings here after I commend Katy for her getting more from others’ discards. Spent most of today in an excellent training session for volunteers. We were well fed both breakfast and lunch. There were leftovers, so brought enough pizza home for both of us for dinner. Stopped by a friend’s who also shred cukes and a zucchini. No money out at all to eat today.


Diane June 25, 2015 at 2:51 pm

Rescuing items from going to the landfill was something I always liked to do too. My perspective changed after a bedbug invasion a few years ago. Now I look at every cast off item as suspect.


annieb June 25, 2015 at 2:54 pm

I do not get why anyone would question this practice. If you put it on your curb with a free sign it seems pretty obvious you want to get rid of it. I volunteer for a thrift store that pays for programs for battered women and we don’t care who buys something and then resells it because we got what we wanted for it. Sometimes, I’m sure an item goes for a lot more than we sell it for, and you know what, “thems the breaks.” I think your response was very nice, but what you do with free stuff, or even resale stuff, is your business.


Betty Winslow June 25, 2015 at 2:59 pm

A woman once came to our church carrying a baby in a dirty disposable diaper and told us it was the last one and she was broke; could we give her money for dipaers? Well, that was against policy, but I *could* take her to the store and buy some *for* her. On the way, I told her that I had the discretion to buy her a dozen cloth diapers and a couple of pairs of rubber pants instead, which she could then wash out and hang on the shower rod as needed. It’s what I did with all four of mine and was a good use of resources. She shocked me by replying, in a scandalized voice, “That’s only for poor people!” Ummm…. ok. Some people just don’t get it. Sell stuff, keep it out of the landfill, send your boys to college – go, Katy, go!


cathy June 25, 2015 at 3:31 pm

Betty, interesting comment about the woman who needed diapers. As someone said earlier, just because someone is in need doesn’t mean that they don’t also have their own criteria of what is acceptable and what’s not (as you found with the woman’s attitude toward cloth diapers). I think it’s just as–if not more–likely that if Katy hadn’t picked those kids’ items out of the FREE pile, they would have ended up in the landfill. There’s no guarantee that someone who “needed” toys or an activity table for their children but couldn’t afford it a) was “right down the road” and b) wanted those particular items. Besides, what no one has mentioned is that in most cities and towns, the truly needy usually have access to free clothing, kids’ things, household items through a variety of programs including some thrift stores.

I know whenever I put something out for FREE, my biggest concerns are getting it out of my house and hoping someone who can use it takes it away. I don’t care if they use it at home, recycle it or re-sell it.


Patricia June 25, 2015 at 4:15 pm

Cathy, succinct comments, way to go!


Susanne g June 26, 2015 at 4:38 am

Couldn’t have said it better. Someone once told me that it was unethical for me to shop in a thrift store and buy stuff meant for poor people. To each his own, this person probably had never been in a thrift store to see how much stuff is available…enough for everybody!


lori June 25, 2015 at 3:30 pm

Hi Katy,
Great post! I totally understand where you are coming from on this. I am a full time working mom who barely has the time to get food ready and any extra time I want to spend with my child. I would never find free stuff because I am either at work or spending quality time doing something fun with my child. I definitely don’t have time during the day (or anytime) to wander around looking for free items, but I can take a few minutes to search Craigslist or Kijiji to look for something specific. You are doing the looking for me, providing a service and you get paid and I save money and time!!


cathy June 25, 2015 at 3:38 pm

I wonder if those folks who think it’s unethical to sell something from a FREE pile would also think it’s unethical to sell something gotten free at a yard sale or given to you by a friend or family member or something that was given out as free swag at an event. What if Katy’s neighbor gave her the toys and kids’ activity table before putting it on the curb? Does it matter where the FREE item(s) originated?


tonya June 25, 2015 at 3:48 pm

Only if it’s from Freecycle. I remember signing an agreement to not resell items I received from the site.


momsav June 25, 2015 at 3:45 pm

Free is free; there are no strings attached. The same with gifts; don’t give it if it comes with expectations.


Kim June 25, 2015 at 4:01 pm

Speaking as an RN, not all of us make great money. Depends on your area and your field. Also, it is a stressful job and with the increasing demands on nurses sometimes not worth picking up another shift. I see nothing wrong with reselling something that was set out on a curb for free. If you don’t agree that’s your right but just remember the old saying judge not…..


Naomi June 25, 2015 at 4:36 pm

Meh. You either ‘profit’ by using it yourself and not having to spend the money on it in the first place or you profit by selling it. I’m one of those people who doesn’t have time to pick up this stuff BUT I also think that we should reuse and recycle as much as possible – why manufacture a new one, when there is a perfectly serviceable one to hand and I value the service of someone else going to that trouble for me. lol.


marybeth June 25, 2015 at 4:40 pm

As I see it, you are the mom in need that the reader speaks about…you are in need of college money for your boys, and you are figuring out how to work some sides to make it happen.
We all benefit from things being kept in use rather than the land fill.
You also seem like someone who would be ready to help someone else in need if it was in your power to do so….that is part of writing the blog, to help others see what is possible if you just make a decision to do it.

Keep up the good work, and don’t buy a Lear jet!


Gail June 25, 2015 at 4:43 pm

How one legally obtains an asset is immaterial (free pile, gift, inheritance). You just convert the first asset to another asset( college fund, charitable contribution, mortgage payment, etc) more in line with one’s needs or values .
For Example, My husband won his employer’s free raffle – a microwave oven, which we didn’t need. We sold it on craigslist and gave $ to animal shelter.


Deb June 25, 2015 at 5:01 pm

If it doesn’t fit in my trash can our hauler charges $10 – 30 to pick it up depending on size. So if you take my “free” trash and resell it…THANK YOU!!!!! You just saved me money!


Debbie June 25, 2015 at 5:33 pm

Why knock the ethics of someone who is trying to legally and legitimately earn money to pay her kid’s college tuition? We should be thankful that she is willing to put in the effort to earn the money rather than just relying on federal financial aid!!!!
Katy, I love your blog!


Ruth June 25, 2015 at 5:57 pm

I’ve put a few things outside my house for free, my area is not low come but it’s heading there in the last 8 years as people move out and refugees move in , I don’t care who it goes to do long as it’s gone … I put out an old broken table tennis table and an old trampoline once, my neighbours picked them up almost instantly , they must have fixed the table tennis table because for about a year we could hear them playing and laughing under their pergola at night …I really loved that they were having so much fun. As for the trampoline that was also well used by their little children. For a while after this they used to bring me vegetables , I think they worked in nearby vegetable gardens .


Another Trish June 25, 2015 at 6:11 pm

I can relate to the feeling of having a high stress job and wanting to decrease hours because that’s exactly what I did two years ago. To make ends meet we have embraced a simple, zero-waste lifestyle and have started selling things we no longer need on ebay, amazon, Craig’s list, etc. I support trash picking and reselling your own excess 100%, but I do feel like picking free piles for resale is a bit opportunistic- unless you ask the person giving the items away if they would mind if you took them to resell. After reading this post, I personally have reconsidered putting baby clothes out on the sidewalk with a free sign. When I give away my baby clothes, I would want them to go to someone who needs baby clothes, not somebody who wants to make a buck off of my generosity.


Amanda June 25, 2015 at 7:13 pm

I disagree. I often put stuff out for free and if the individual who picks it up sells the item to send their kids to college, or even take them to the zoo for a fun family outing, I’d be thrilled. My cast offs would then have helped them, and whomever they sold it too.


another trish June 25, 2015 at 7:56 pm

You disagree with me wanting to give my things to somebody who needs them rather than someone who wants to sell them?

I quit free cycle and my local buy nothing group for this very reason. I don’t want to give things away so the money-grubbers can snap them up and turn a profit. I want to give things to those who are truly disadvantaged… which is getting harder to do!


Jen June 25, 2015 at 8:10 pm

I respect your opinion — in that case, you should find a charity that supports the exact people you want your goods going to, and donate to them. If you leave something out for free on the sidewalk, you really can’t control what type of person picks it up and whether that person is “worthy” of it.


another trish June 25, 2015 at 8:37 pm

Pretty much, though I take exception with the word “worthy”– just “needy”

cathy June 25, 2015 at 9:25 pm

I think it’s great that you want the things you can no longer use to go to those who need those specific things for their own use. But it seems that if you dispose of those things by taking the easy way out (i.e. putting them on the curb w/ a free sign), you lose control over making sure those goods are used in the way you find acceptable. Is there some reason you’re not just donating them someplace like a family shelter or thrift store that gives things (free) to those with the greatest need? It seems like a losing proposition to have a Free pile w/ strings attached.


Barb@livingrichlyinretirement June 26, 2015 at 9:31 am

Well, I have never had a problem finding those who are truly disadvantaged, a quick search of my town on the internet lets you know who needs what. But like I said, when I want something to go to those people I make sure that it gets to them.


Tracy June 27, 2015 at 9:23 am

If you want something to go somewhere specific, you should take it to that place. As Deb said, battered women’s shelters would gladly take the baby clothes. Then you know they, or whatever, are going exactly where *you* want them to go. If something is in a free pile, it’s fair game. If someone puts something out in a free pile and someone else takes it and sells it to someone who wants it, there’s at least four winners – the landfill, the person who put it out to get rid of it, the person who made money, and the person who bought it. Score!
What if the person who bought it gifted it to someone else…?


Deb June 26, 2015 at 9:20 am

Shelters for abused women often take baby clothes. An idea where to drop them off that would be well received.


aNNE June 25, 2015 at 6:11 pm

I live in a city (St. Louis) where we have monthly bulk trash pickup for everything except appliances as well as many people scouring the alleys for “junk.” I know some of the people taking stuff are reselling it, but it doesn’t bother me. It’s nice to live somewhere where I can put what I don’t want in the alley behind my house and watch it disappear. The rare items that get left behind, I move to the dumpster or donate, depending on what I have. I almost always donate smaller items. The odds of just the right person happening across my junk in the alley during the time it’s there are so small, I’m happy to have anyone take things!


Kayla June 25, 2015 at 6:13 pm

Someone posted this in a FB group I’m in & as I was reading I realized you’re in the same general area as us. Always love finding local bloggers! And I completely agree, once it’s out on the curb I do not care what the person picking it up does with it! 🙂


Lesley June 25, 2015 at 6:14 pm

If you leave it in the “free” pile, that means two things: (1) you don’t want it anymore and (2) it’s free. I’ve put plenty of stuff in free piles myself–I couldn’t care less if people use it, sell it, or take it to Goodwill. They can even try to eat it for dinner if they want! My involvement with the stuff is over.

People who aren’t in the position of needing extra money could always cruise free piles and garage sales for stuff to give to charity, no?


Isabelle June 25, 2015 at 6:56 pm

When I put something up for free at the curb, I want it gone fast enough so it doesn’t end up in the garbage truck. If someone wants to take the trouble of picking it up, carrying it home and list it for sell, then it’s their business. My part is done : it’s not going to the landfill. Win-win situation. We are not talking about someone who is stealing food from the poor here!
My point is: I don’t want to bother to sell it, but you do? Go right ahead!


Diane C June 28, 2015 at 8:57 am

I agree with your last line whole heartedly. You summed this discussion up perfectly, Isabelle.


Kristen June 25, 2015 at 7:48 pm

My most pressing concern about selling “found” baby items is the safety of the products. In my province, thrift stores are not allowed to accept used cribs, walkers, strollers etc. Picking such an item up out of a free pile means that the history and safety of that particular item is unknown. If you are selling baby items, I would suggest that you inform people where you got them, as they may not want to buy something that was left on the street.


Diane June 26, 2015 at 9:28 am

I also had this thought. If I bought a baby item on Craigslist, I would want the person to tell me if s/he picked it up off the street, and not leave me with the untruthful impression that it came from his or her own home. (I’m not trying to imply that Katy or anyone else reading this does it the second way.)


Melanie June 25, 2015 at 8:05 pm

If you’ve put items out on the street, you are being naïve and slightly egotistical to expect it to all go “to the right person”. It is the street, you have made it available to the public and all within it. If you feel strongly who should have what – MAKE AN EFFORT and donate it to a suitable organisation that will distribute it to a person who needs it (and they’d still get it for free)>


Maureen June 25, 2015 at 8:21 pm

People don’t put things on the street because they want someone poor or homeless to benefit, they donate for that. Things are put on the street because they don’t want to deal with it but still want it to have a second chance. It’s a much better choice than landfill or life in the crawlspace. What someone chooses to do with it, use or sell is also a good, enviromentally sound action… in my humble opinion. <= I think two responsibles make a right.


Cathy June 26, 2015 at 12:59 am

I think Katie is clever to have such a good eye. A friend recently took piles of books from my parents house which I’m clearing. She got £ for some, others she passed on – but I was just glad that I didn’t have to go through them. I think once things are on the kerb they are available to anyone, and Katie is saving them from landfill and matchmaking new homes for them. Good for her! I once had a very hard up friend and I offered her some nearly new children’s clothes and she was horrified at the idea of previously worn stuff. Each to our own, and how lucky we’re different. PS completely agree on the shift front as Katie’s job sounds very demanding.


Kirsty June 26, 2015 at 2:57 am

Anytime a usable item is kept out of landfill is a win.


Barbara H. June 26, 2015 at 3:49 am

I second what someone said earlier – that most really poor people do not have the time or the gas money, or the inclination to drive around rich neighborhoods looking for the stuff they need. They may not even have a car. There is a whole separate system of survival skills that really poor people employ – us middle class people with internet access and cars only think we know what life is like for them. We don’t.

Bravo for you, Katy, for your resourcefulness in finding a way to add to your income without adding significantly to your stress level. Plus, you are saving stuff from the landfill and helping the person who put it out by the curb.


Lucy June 26, 2015 at 4:11 am

I don’t see any problem with reselling items just because the previous owner’s asking price was $0.

I’m an eBay seller and sell on craigslist as well and I am only too aware of the work involved to get a good price – taking great pics, writing a description, replying to inquiries, packing and shipping or meeting someone. To make it worth it (to get a good sale price) you have to work at it!


Amanda June 26, 2015 at 5:06 am

I agree that there is no moral issue with selling free stuff. You could argue that you aren’t selling the stuff so much as selling your effort to find, sometimes clean, and make available stuff other people wouldn’t put the time into scavenging. One could argue you are actually being more morally correct by making things available cheaply to people in need.


Tracy June 26, 2015 at 6:16 am

If the family who left the baby items in a free pile wanted them to go to a family in need they could have donated them to a crisis pregnancy center or other charity that serves the less fortunate. In our area families who are in need of clothing are issued clothing vouchers for the charity thrift shops. So I don’t believe some poor family is missing out because she sold these items. I think the family put them on the curb because they wanted them gone quickly. And didn’t want to have to drive them to a donation center.


Vickie June 26, 2015 at 6:26 am

I think it’s awesome that you’re recycling stuff and making money too!!
Quite honestly, people who put stuff at the curb, on freecycle or advertise as “Free if you come and get it” on Craigslist could careless who wants it and why – they just want it GONE.
Having done the same thing when my Mom passed on and when my daughter moved, I have to tell you I’m very thankful for the gleaners. I despise throwing things away. I donate, recycle, re-gift, etc. I am SO HAPPY when someone takes things they can use to do with whatever they want – like you said, at least it doesn’t end up in the landfill!!!!
I live waaaaayyy out in the country, commute to work and I don’t have the time it takes, right now, to do the Craigslist stuff – which would require me to do a “meet-up”. That’s not going to happen.

People who are poor don’t usually have the time or gas money to roam neighborhoods looking for what they need. Most of them are very grateful to find free piles wherever they can, or pick-up good stuff at the Thrift stores for cheap.
If they are homeless, they won’t be in upper-class neighborhoods gleaning through free piles or trash cans.

Let me please reiterate this again, for those who might not understand:
If you want homeless or very poor people to have access to the things you donate, please donate to a SHELTER.
Extremely poor and needy people don’t even have money to buy things at Goodwill or the Salvation Army. Those stores rely on people who like to buy used items. The money is used for their programs, that help needy folks.
I buy used, because I like saving money, I like recycling – which is exactly what buying used is – and I like knowing that my money is going to help people, not in to the pocket of some Wall Street banker/invester/CEO.
When you buy new, the only person it’s helping is the Corporate bigwigs who own the store and count on people being big consumers of stuff.


emmer June 26, 2015 at 7:00 am

I think it is wise to have multiple income streams. jobs sometimes disappear, hours get cut, illness and injury prevent work. all have happened to me. my antidote has been to have multiple ways to make and save money to prepare for and live thru personal hard times. My motto is “never put all your eggs in one basket”.
I worked as a hospital oncology nurse and in forensic inpatient mental health. both were less than full time as like most of my coworkers, I found these fields to be almost overwhelming. I damaged my back in oncology and had nightmares about not being able to get to a patient who would die without more care.Iin psych, I suffered 2 assaults (very common). the second medicaled me out of nursing. If I had not prepared by having other work and ways to save money, I might be one of the poor these comments are talking about.
My ways of work included doing a little home care thru an agency, so that when “regular” nursing cut my hours, I still had some work, which I might then be able do more of. I also did alterations and repairs for co-workers and neighbors, and gave sewing lessons. I kept a garden and canned the extras. I traded with friends. Buying used and in bulk is a no-brainer. Before the internet, I sold at garage sales. Now Craig’s list gets anything I don’t need.
So, by already using multiple skills and multiple income streams, when I was disabled, I was able to switch gears and have a pension as base income and use my other, familiar skills to supplement that income.
You never know when you will have a personal (or societal!) disaster. The skills this blog talks about are useful for living well with low income, with low impact, with community, with love.


Britt June 30, 2015 at 11:43 am

Great point! It’s nice to have a back-up plan


LisaC June 26, 2015 at 7:01 am

You’re kind of like a broker for gently used items. 🙂


Katy June 26, 2015 at 8:21 am

I need to put that on a business card!


BRB June 26, 2015 at 9:03 am

You don’t have to justify your lifestyle to us! As long as you aren’t hurting anyone do whatever you want!


Nancy June 26, 2015 at 9:13 am

Whew!! I read through the comments and that was exhausting! No comment really. I once said I was to a boss I was willing to do anything at my job as long as it was not illegal, unethical or immoral. And, by the way those are by my definitions, not theirs. I think everyone needs to relax a little and go with the flow We all do what we can and are answerable to ourselves and our own belief system.


Megan June 26, 2015 at 9:49 am

We don’t have a trash service… I pay to take it to the “town dump”. There is a storage shed for people to “take or leave” items that still have some life. There is a guy who I see there regularly take and resell things from there… this is how the world goes around. I am honestly happy when I see him take something I have left there. Frankly, Katy— college fun or night on the town, it is YOUR choice where to spend that money from stuff you’ve earned from people who CHOSE to set out on their curb because they didn’t want to deal with it!!! Thank you for your wonderful and inspiring blog!!!


Linda M June 26, 2015 at 9:52 am

I think what you are doing, Katy, is wonderful! We set furniture and extra produce out at the road……we want to share. They are things we cannot or are not using. Whoever gets there first may do as they see fit with it. If they are industrious to resell…hooray for them! It saves me from taking it to drop off at the Goodwill or Thrift Store or keeps it out of the landfill. I think if someone wants it to go specifically to a clothes center for the needy or a certain cause, then they should make sure to deliver it to a drop off point.
I think spinning straw into silver is a very prudent and ecologically sound thing to do!


Michelle D June 26, 2015 at 10:03 am

I find it sad that people think teenagers don’t need their mom around during the day. Recipe for disaster my friend. Not that I don’t think your kids are responsible – they sound like lovely boys but the fact that you have sacrificed financially to be there for them just makes me admire you more. Isn’t this something that is always tossed around on frugal sites? It’s not about being cheap but about achieving a lifestyle that works for you. Working extra hours and spending your “time off” stressed about cooking, cleaning and squeezing in time with your boys while physically and mentally exhausted or as you describe puttering around at your leisure walking to errands and spending time with your family. I like your plan better.


Laura June 26, 2015 at 11:36 am

OMG, 93 posts! This is why I gave up on the NCA facebook page. There must be twenty zillion blogs in the world. If you don’t like Katy’s approach to life, go find another blog to follow and leave the rest of us in peace.


Amanda June 26, 2015 at 4:47 pm



Kaylen June 26, 2015 at 12:42 pm

I agree completely with your reasoning. I choose to donate to Goodwill and put free things on the curb because I want to be sure that things don’t go to the landfill unnecessarily but I don’t have time or inclination to monetize them. More power to those who do.


Paula in the Yoop June 27, 2015 at 3:54 am

I have a question(or 3) about these free piles. How long are these items sitting out at the curb? Is it just a house here and there that will have curb side finds? Are these items put out as part of a weekly trash pick up? I can’t picture how this works because this is not a common practice where I live. I mean yes we have weekly trash pick up, but everything needs to be in a bag and in a trash can. You may for a day or 2 see just a few items out with a free sign, at a random house, but it is not a regular practice. Where I live, these items would typically be sold (or given away) through a garage/ rummage sale, then donated to various charities in the area.

I see nothing wrong with taking items set out for free and the finder doing whatever they please with it. I would just glad it’s no longer in my house or on my curb!! What surprises me is how much you manage to get for these items. I have had rummage sales and if it’s not at rock bottom prices it will generally end up being donated or put in the trash.


ME June 27, 2015 at 12:46 pm

I agree w what Katy is doing 100%. I’ve been reading more about stuff and consumerism and such, and think that “just work more so you can buy/spend more” attitude is crap. Saving something from the landfill is commendable, it went to someone who wanted it and was happy to have it, and the money is obviously needed for her kids. And as another aside and mom of two small children, toys and an activity table are nice to have, but are not “needs” lol – it’s not like she sold pampers and formula that fell off the back of a truck.


Krystal June 28, 2015 at 2:08 pm


I think it’s awesome. You know what the nay-sayers remind me of? The people that get mad at Dave Ramsey for helping people build wealth, because many interpret biblical passages to say that wealth is sinful and evil. Sometimes people will find ways to interpret others lifestyles as a negative thing, often to validate their own beliefs or choices. We see this in several aspects of our modern life 🙂

More and more (and often unfortunately) our society operates on a “time is money” approach. You are offering people the value of time saved so they can type in exactly what they are looking for into Craigslist and there it is–no spending hours looking for the exact item at Goodwill or in a free pile.

You kick ass and keep on inspiring us! Thanks!


Amanda Walker March 21, 2016 at 4:15 pm

I love this!! I too get free items and sell them. We desperately need extra money and I am a stay at home mom as we cannot afford daycare. So this is how I make extra money and take care of my kids. I also believe that if I did not do this many people wouldn’t get the specific items they’re looking for at a very good price. Not many people have the time to stalk craigslist free and other free sites. I do the legwork, driving around, fixing items up, writing descriptions and posting pics. I’m actually working for this money. Unless someone specifically says that they are donating their items to someone in need I jump at the free items. Cudos to you for doing what you can to put your kids through college!!!


Shelley July 10, 2016 at 3:14 pm

Hi I do the same type of thing. Today I got a swing for free off a Facebook bst page. It was free I had every intention of saving it for a friend and not reselling. Someone posted an ad in search of a baby swing. I replied and sent a personal message and sold it to her. Then the lady I got it from got all hurt because I sold it but she said it would end up in the trash if nobody got it. My husband has been out of work for a month we are living on one income. I’m now feeling guilty about it. I sold it for $10 it’s well worth alot more but we need a bit of money and she needed the swing. I just feel like a horrible person now.


Mai November 7, 2017 at 3:56 pm

Love it!! I agree with you; Also it’s good for our environment to recycle and reuse!! Make the world go around


Carolyn Youngblood November 28, 2017 at 7:08 am

I moved into this house I had nothing in my house and some people gave me items I’ve lived here 2 months because of family reasons I’m having to move these people are now upset because I’m selling this stuff what is the ethics of the s what should I do


Christina Herries September 26, 2021 at 4:33 am

I know that a person took an object from a “ free pile” . The person later found that the pile of things was not a “ free pile “ . If the person Still kept the object or sold the object to someone else. Can the person Be charged with stealing?


Katy June 26, 2015 at 8:21 am

I need to point out that you neither know my kids nor my circumstances. Also, if you enjoy having a blog to read, you might not want to encourage me to work an exhausting full-time job. 😉


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