Think You Can’t Make a Living From Garbage Picking? This Montreal Man Does!

by Katy on November 23, 2016 · 11 comments

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If you were the type of child who daydreamed about hunting for buried treasure, you’re not alone. Many of us assumed we’d have a career where paperwork meant a treasure map, featuring a great big “X” marking the location of a chest spilling over with gold doubloons, jewels and priceless artifacts.

Believe it or not, there’s a Montreal man who’s actually living this dream.

Twenty nine year old Martin Gregory has been supporting himself as a modern day treasure hunter since 2013, but instead of a pirate’s treasure map, he relies on an in-depth knowledge of the city’s garbage collection days, as well as a willingness to set squeamishness aside in the name of rescuing the great stuff that would otherwise be destined for Canada’s landfills. Gold, jewels, silver, historical artifacts? He finds it all, and luckily for us, Gregory’s been chronicling his adventures since 2012 on his blog (Aka “Things I Find in The Garbage.”)

Self described as a “professional scavenger and entrepreneur making a living selling curbside garbage,” Gregory spends his evenings digging through the garbage of Montreal’s diverse neighborhoods. He then researches and lists his finds on eBay, Craigsist and Etsy, as well as hosting regular garage sales that draw both readers and random passers-by who eagerly scoop up his eclectic finds. He also holds onto broken gold and silver jewelry until he has enough to sell for scrap to his local pawn shop. And electronics? He finds so many last generation phones, laptops and iPads that he has a “stock photo” to illustrate when he’s sold something.

Although Gregory searches for things he can turn over for a profit, he also considers himself an historic preservationist, as the blog serves “an archive for things beautiful and historic that would otherwise have been destroyed.”

Gregory recently took the time answer a few questions for the Clark Howard community.

1) What was your first big find that you were able to resell for a nice profit? Also, what have been your favorite finds?

One of my first great finds was an antique 14k gold Waltham pocketwatch. I ended up selling that to my aunt for $250. Early on I actually had very good luck with jewelry – on two occasions I found around a thousand dollars worth of gold jewelry, and on a few other occasions I found large collections of mostly costume jewelry. I haven’t had that same kind of luck with jewelry since, though I did come across a good haul of modernist jewelry last spring.

I’ve saved so much cool stuff that it’s hard to pick a favourite. I think my most interesting find though might be a Nazi German passport that belonged to a Jewish woman who escaped just before WWII. The history of that piece is really fascinating, as you might expect. Otherwise, some of my favourite finds are decorative, ie: my furniture and the art I put on the walls.

Nazi-era Jewish passport

2) What items have most surprised you in terms of their resale value?

The market for perfumes, especially vintage ones was very surprising to me. At a certain point years ago I realized that I should look up all my finds on eBay’s completed listings, and that’s how I figured out that perfume was actually worth decent money. Before that I really had no idea! I wasn’t really a perfume guy, and I had no idea how much money people spent on them. It turns out that the nice ones are very expensive, and that old formulas (which might only date back to the 80s or 90s) are often more desirable than the new ones. Over the last few years I’ve made probably around 3k from perfumes, which is great.


3) What was the tipping point that made you realize you could support yourself with garbage picking?

At first I was just living a very frugal lifestyle, and I realized that I didn’t really need to make much in order to get by. My rent was around $250 for instance (I lived with a few different roommates) and I was able to keep my expenses pretty low. When I started doing this full-time I mostly just thought of it as a fun experiment – it certainly felt like a better idea that doing minimum wage work.

Over time though I just got better and better at finding trash, identifying what had value, and knowing how best to sell it. A fun way to sustain myself was becoming a legitimate “job.”

These days I feel quite confident that my line of work can sustain me. I made around 20k last year, which is just above the Canadian poverty line. Considering I live off trash I think that’s impressive! This year I think I’ll make around 24k (I’m still improving this approach) and I could see myself making around 30k if I continue on this path – maybe more if I get really lucky. That’s not bad for one person, especially considering I’ve kept my expenses fairly low otherwise.

4) What advice do you have for those looking to follow your lead?

I would say do some research before going in! I wish I had done this more when I started out. It took me years to figure out some things that are really quite simple if you just put the time into reading. In particular, my eBay skills took much longer than necessary to develop. I would personally recommend the Scavengerlife podcast and Reddit’s flipping subreddit as good sources of knowledge, though I’m sure there’s more out there that I’m not familiar with.

Also, it’s a good idea to know your bedbug. Sometimes things, especially furniture are thrown out with very good reason. Thankfully, the bugs are actually pretty easy to spot once you know what to look for. I have a section of my blog (How to avoid bedbugs) dedicated to helping you with that, so check it out.

5) I know you’re very motivated to keep usable and historic items from being needlessly buried in landfills, what’s your big message that you’d like to convey to Clark Howard readers?

I guess it would be not to be afraid of trash! People get very much caught up in the idea that anything in a garbage bag is absolutely disgusting, and sometimes that’s true. However, if you learn the right “screening” techniques (read my blog for tips!) you won’t get your hands dirty that often, and you might happen across some really great stuff. Occasionally I’ll make a thousand dollars or more from one trash pile, so just by keeping your eyes and mind open you might luck into some cash even if you’re not a “full-timer” like me.


You’re probably unlikely to quit your day job in the name of garbage picking, but maybe, just maybe you can get over you fear of germs in the name of your inner treasure hunter. You never know, you might strike gold!

Click HERE to read through the entirety of the’s archives.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

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

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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Marilyn November 23, 2016 at 1:06 pm

I have been reading Martin’s blog for several months. What always amazes me is the fact that he pretty regularly finds cash – actual coins and sometimes dollars –in the garbage! I enjoyed reading this interview with him – thanks, Katy.


A. Marie November 23, 2016 at 1:16 pm

I too have been a fan of Martin’s blog for some time now. Bon chance en Montreal, mon ami!

And, yes, people do sometimes toss actual money. DH and I found 1.30 in change in a nearby dumpster recently. (Honestly, we were just using it to toss some trash we’d picked up on the property of the nonprofit organization whose dumpster it was, but…!)


Patti November 23, 2016 at 5:15 pm

Very interesting! I live in a neighborhood where people regularly put out “good stuff” for others to take. I should spend more time looking in those piles but right now I have too much stuff of my own to sell on eBay or give away.


Connie November 23, 2016 at 5:21 pm

I am amazed at how much good stuff college students throw away at the end of EVERY school year. I hope some colleges have figured out a better way of reusing and/or recycling items.


Trish November 23, 2016 at 5:32 pm

I have followed Martin for a few years, and saw on a recent post that he was feeling a bit discouraged, after an unfair encounter with police, from a neighborhood that clearly didn’t appreciate trash pickers. I posted on fb on the NCA group to pop over to Martin’s blog to encourage him. He got a record number of hits – cuz non consumers are the best!!!! We all need encouragement at times. I think what Martin does is amazing!!


Bellen November 24, 2016 at 3:22 am

I, too, have been reading his blog for quite a while and am always amazed by what he finds.

I’ve been a trash picker for decades but since moving to FL, where our garbage is in county issued lidded containers for mechanical pickup, it is not usually possible. Best opportunities is after a yard sale when all unsold items are piled on the curb, but even that is getting scarcer. A couple of entrepreneurs are now offering to take away all the leftovers and will pay you a nominal fee – actually a great idea if one owns a truck or van.


susanna d November 24, 2016 at 7:03 am

Martin’s blog is a new one for me, and I’m looking forward to reading it.

When we lived in the city, I knew if I put an item at the curb, it stood a good chance of being gone within an hour (the record being a tie between the “gone in 60 seconds” broken down snow thrower and the old dining set that someone loaded into his truck as I brought each piece out). I scored some pretty good curbside items myself. Between all of us, we kept a lot of stuff out of the landfills.

Now? I live in the woods in a far less populated area, and very few people put their trash out at the road because, well, BEARS (among other things). The few “free” items I’ve seen tend to be old tube tv’s or couches that have sat out in the rain or snow. So I’m very happy that I have a blog to follow that will at least let me read about the thrill of the hunt again!


VanessaKC November 25, 2016 at 8:06 pm

Same! I’d often put notes on items, like “clean, functional high chair” or “ugly lamp that works” and they’d disappear. Now I have to drive items to donate, which can be tricky in a standard sedan. Also found a few cool things in the old neighborhood. We don’t have bears but people do not put things out where I am now. I tried initially, nobody took it so I drove it to the DAV store. That’s what I miss the most about inner city living.


hanna November 25, 2016 at 8:30 am

I used to find a lot of really good stuff for my home (antique furniture) but about 7 years ago, the professional pickers came. They come with trucks and get everything and anything within 10 min of it being put out. It’s a bummer because what was put out as a good gesture for neighbors became complete stranger’s money. If I wanted to give them money, I would give them money. I put the stuff out for someone else to use, not make money on. I guess I am just fussy about this one


Martin December 7, 2016 at 10:55 am

Writer of the blog here. I understand that your fussiness in that case. To clarify though, 99% of my best finds (including everything mentioned in this post) come from black garbage bags, and I don’t think anyone is putting them out for the neighbors or whoever. Once in a while I’ll take a piece of furniture that someone has left out for whoever, but I don’t feel too bad about it. I live in a big city, and I’m sure that for every piece like this I take and sell there are 10 more that someone gets for free. Regardless, I wouldn’t call it a big part of my income.


Gina in KY November 29, 2016 at 5:09 am

I’m another fan of Martin’s blog. What a great interview, Katy!!


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