Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Scavenge - some tips for surviving in a Recession

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Am I concerned about the economy?

Well, sure I am. Who would not be? Aren't you?

Right now many people across the world are also, like ourselves, concerned about the economy and this is certainly not surprising. Short working weeks, layoffs and business closures are a daily occurrence and when one sees business like Woolworth in Britain fail and other big names then we know we are in trouble and this despite of what the governments are trying to tell us.

The credit crunch and the recession, or should we call the baby by its real name, namely Depression, is biting in many households across America and Europe and many people are looking at how to make ends meet.

Scavenging, or “gleaning”, things you need and maybe want from trash cans, dumpsters (called skips in Britain), Freecycle and curbside of ritzy neighborhoods in one way that some are going, and, why not.

Being from a once large Gypsy family I have learned from an early age that money does not grow on trees and that we did not have much of that stuff to go around. Even as children we had to go out and earn a crust and this was done by various small trades. We also scavenged stuff to rework and then resell.

Thus I have learned to live with little and learned how to make the best out of what others regard as trash, or at least with some of it.

Most of my clothes and, yes, even the shoes, come from secondhand stores that are called Charity Shops in Britain. The only exception I make as to buying that way are socks and underwear.

I have got so many hats – as in ball caps – from trade fairs and such that I attend that I can nigh on start a store with them, and this aside from the woolly hats that I find all the time losy in the parks and countryside.

The on thing I have to say is that, so far, I have not tried services such as FreeCycle but I do often check – or used to more than now – dumpsters, called skips over here, for things that can be reused and recycled. However, scavenging from skips without a motorcar or van definitely has its restrictions.

Scavenging, however, can be very satisfying, and it is amazing what people actually throw out. When I was a youngster my uncle used to cruise the streets of the towns and cities when they had the municipal amenity curbside pick up days and the amount of things that were recovered were just amazing.

In my day job, so to speak, the one that brings the food onto the table and pays the rent and bill, I work for a local authority as a Park Ranger and it would amaze most people what we come across discarded in the trash cans and in the parks in general.

In one instance I found a 12VDC to 240VAC power inverter still in its box thrown (basically brand new). Then there was the nice kitchen knife that someone could not bother to take home from a picnic. This one was worth about $15 and has now become now a nice sheath knife. “Waste not, want not,” my parents taught me and thus I do amass rather a collection of things that might come in handy too.

Abandoned bicycles can be found rather often too and in my collection to be rebuilt it a relatively new Mongoose BMX bike that was left behind on;ly because the two tires had burst while someone did a stunt jump with it in the woods. Oh well! If they don't want it I gladly adopt it.

Once you get into such a frugal mindset as I have due to my upbringing it can become rather compulsive and people sort of give you strange look when you stop dead in the road to pick up a rather expensive wrench that has been thrown or lost, or other items. Money too can be found by the one with an open eye.

I used to go to trunk sales (called car boot sales here – a kind of flea market) and did my shopping afterwards when the traders had packed up; I used to call it “free shopping”, retrieving the things that they had discarded and often very good stuff was to be had.

Gleaning has its virtues except for the way it tempts us to brag. I have not learned respect for those who don't treasure things the way I do. I get mad at people who leave nice sweaters behind in restaurants. I wonder how they can be so careless.

Scavenging is a low cost form of personal entertainment. It's not just consumerism on the cheap. I glean the garbage because it's fun.

Frugality can be me internalizing capitalism – or it can be trying to beat it, sneakily, like people beat fear in the seventh grade by acting like they are not afraid. Scavenging clearly keeps us in the market looking for things at an advanced pace.

Call scavenging an underground economy – except that we who scavenge do so in the light of day. Call it compulsive – although it can be done with a great spirit of relaxation.

© 2009