The Dumpster Of Treasure


A funny thing happened yesterday when my wife and I were waiting for a space in the club parking lot. We were doing some stretches outside when an old man with a bamboo stick over his shoulder and too medium bags at each end came tiptoeing in. Where in the world was he going, we asked ourselves. Our eyes followed him to the back corner of the lot, which extends around and into the club. Like a ninja, he proceed to jump into the big recycling dumpster and start rummaging!

After about 5 minutes, he popped out, and those medium sized bags on each end morphed into bags the size of his own body. This time, he happily walked away and didn’t tiptoe around us. Cool, he’s decided to lessen the dumpster’s load and take some plastic bottles and cans for himself. Maybe the old guy can get some trade in value for his stash, although I can’t imagine very much.

The wife and I are still waiting for a spot 5 minutes later when ANOTHER man with bamboo stick and plastic bags on each end comes marching in. This fella was younger, perhaps in his 30′s and could literally have been the older man’s son. He didn’t do any tiptoeing, he just marched right in and climbed into the dumpster. After about 10 minutes, he threw himself out, and muttered in disgust, “Don’t people recycle anymore?!” and walked away.


We felt a little out of place as we continued to stretch our hamstrings on the pavement floor. Was the parking lot camera rolling, and we were being tested on whether we’d be the recycling police? Nah, it was just a little bit of reality.

THREE OBSERVATIONS:

1) Experience counts. The older man was a veteran by virtue of his age and timing. He moved like a cat when he trespassed into the parking lot, careful not to attract attention. He was decisive in his leap, and quick to pick up his treasures. In and out he went smiling. The younger guy, on the other hand was boisterous on entrance, took double the time, and was 5 minutes too late.

2) Competition is everywhere, all the time. If it wasn’t for the old man, the young man would have collected all the goodies, or would he have? Now that I come to think of it, these dumpster hunters are everywhere in the city all vying for the same cyclical intra-day supply. When the young man cried out “Don’t people recycle anymore,” he was blaming others for his misfortune. He didn’t say “Damn, I bet someone else was here before me,” nor did he ask us casual observers whether someone came recently before him. Not recognizing the competition nor asking for help leads to permanent mediocrity.

3) Doing everything to survive. In the bigger context of things, both men are admirable, doing anything they can to make some money in these trying times. They could have done nothing that Saturday afternoon and complained about their economic situation, but they chose to risk persecution to collect recyclables. They had no ego, simply a will to survive and make a living 5 cents at a time.

THE REWARD
Simple math says that 200 bottles equals $10. The recycling station takes 20%, but given they aren’t paying taxes on their income, the gross take goes back to $10. The old man probably walked away with about 50 bottles in five minutes. Say he were able to visit six other dumpsters in one hour, leaving 30 minutes for travel time, he’d collect 300 bottles and earn $15/hour! Not bad compared to our state’s minimum wage of $8/hr.

There was no shame in the way yesterday’s men went about their business and that is admirable. When I worked at my first job at McDonald’s during high school, I told my manager to put me in the back to make Egg McMuffins because I was secretly ashamed of being seen by my friends. I remember the manager telling me, “RB, you speak the best English out of the bunch, won’t you be my greeter and front line leader? You’ll get a 30% raise ($1/hr more) if you do a good job after a month!” Thanks manager, but I’d rather eat free apple pies and practice a foreign language than be seen by anybody! There was a girl or two I had a crush on back then, who so happened to drive nice cars compared to my bicycle. I didn’t have enough allowance money to get them anything, so I worked, but I tried to avoid them at all cost during the process! I never did end up getting the girl, but that is another story!

After 19 months, we’ve already gone through the longest recession in history, longer than even the 16-month recessions of 1973-75 and 1981-82. We’ve all hurt in some way, in different magnitudes (“The Less You Have…”), but we’re going to find a will to make it through. The good thing about the past 19 months is that it’s over and done with. There’s no shame in doing anything you have to do to survive, because it really doesn’t matter what you do. What matters is how well you do it and whether you do it with passion.

Readers, feel free to share any stories you have that gives you hope. Any side jobs or interesting things you’ve done to help pay the bills? I’d love to hear them. We probably have some things we’re better at doing than the average person. Why not try and monetize if you need the money. Guitar lessons anybody?

Related Posts:

“If A Panda Didn’t Look Like A Panda, Would The World Still Care?”

“You Aren’t Going Clubbing!  Interview Attire 101″

Keigu,

Financial Samurai – “Slicing Through Money’s Mysteries”

Sam started Financial Samurai in 2009 during the depths of the financial crisis as a way to make sense of chaos. After 13 years working on Wall Street, Sam decided to retire in 2012 to utilize everything he learned in business school to focus on online entrepreneurship.

You can sign up to receive his articles via email or by RSS. Sam also sends out a private quarterly newsletter with information on where he's investing his money and more sensitive information.

Subscribe To Private Newsletter

Comments

  1. Anonymous says

    The old man was also smart to sneak around because if the city catches people "dumpster diving" I think they can charge fines. I like your comments in section 2. Asking ourselves the right questions when it comes to competition is a really good point. thanks for posting. Charlie

  2. admin says

    Hi Charlie – If someone were so cruel to call the "dumpster diving police", given that the old man was in and out in 5 minutes, I think he woulda made it out with his stash :) When I call the parking cops when someone is blocking my driveway, they take routinely 45min to an hour to get here!

    Best,

    FS

  3. Anonymous says

    It's human nature to just blame others for their misfortune. It takes real guts to recognize your own failures, and to move forward. Everytime I go to a fast food restaurant, and see someone elder working the counter or mopping the floor, I am overwhelmed with pride. These people are my heroes, for sucking it up and doing anything to put food on the table and provide for themselves and their families.

  4. Anonymous says

    A lot of people feel some jobs are beneath them. Pride gets in the way of reality. Sad. If my guy had to go work at Burger King, I would support him 1000%! Lacy

  5. Blah Blah Black Sheep says

    I’ve gone dumpster diving around where I live, but not to dig up recycleables (although now that you did the math for me, I’ve been cheating myself NOT doing that!) I found hitting the local apartment complexes the weekend before the end of the month was prime pickings. Apartment folks aren’t so anal about dumpster diving, and usually leave “the good stuff” sitting out. Found a couple of old computers that way. A few CRT computer monitors. A set of encyclopedias, clothes, a razor scooter, kids bicylce … the list goes on. The problem is, I can’t use it all. So, I load up my car and take it all to Goodwill and donate it. I toss it next to the trailer at night, which I know folks stop by and scrounge at. So, either someone’s going to take it after I leave it, or Goodwill can sell it. Either way, it’s stuff that’s still useable that’s been kept out of the landfill. The only thing that soils it is when you end up at an apartment complex with someone who hates their life and is looking to pick on someone they think is “inferior”. Had one old, drunk guy harassing me from his porch while I dug stuff out and loaded it in my car. Later, when I headed home (do this at night around midnight), I had a cop car following me. The old guy called the cops on me, and they were cruising around looking for me. I stopped at my house, which is in a nice neighborhood, and the cop just drove on by a bit annoyed that I wasn’t some criminal trying to mastemind my world take-over through trash-digging.

    What I find most interesting from my trash digging experience is that lower-income neighborhoods throw out a lot of useful stuff, from beds to couches to clothes, etc. Not sure if they have no concept of value or what, but it’s just odd.

    • admin says

      Hey Blah! Interesting color! No problem on doing the calculation for you. I hope you make a lot of money in the process!

      Hmmm, I might have to partake in the dumpster diving myself. That’s great you donate the stuff to Goodwill. You’re doing a lot of people a good service!

      Thanks for stopping by. Looking forward to hearing more of your interesting comments! FS

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *