My grandfather grew up during the Great Depression and though I have very few memories of him–he died right before my thirteenth birthday–I remember the stories. Someone told a story at his funeral about how his mother would scrap the insides of egg shells with her finger just to make sure she got all the egg out. My uncle, who is a master builder, recounted how, when building a porch for him, my grandfather would have him straighten out bent nails with a hammer so they could be used again. One year, he gave my aunt a can of dented, generic peas from the grocery store, partly as a joke and partly to teach her that it wasn’t necessarily the package but the product that mattered and to save where she could.

The most prominent stories for me though are the countless examples of what we called “The Bob Gene”, because the family referred to my grandfather simply as “Bob”. Clearly influenced by growing up during the Depression he was unwilling to let anything go to waste. If he noticed someone throwing away something good or useful, he would salvage it and put it to good use. Over the years my mother has teased me for inheriting this gene, but if you want to save money (and resources, and the environment…) it’s a good habit to cultivate. Even as a high-schooler, I was making my grandfather proud, rescuing an arm chair and a futon from a dumpster. My father often encouraged this habit by pulling over to check out what people were throwing away. Though furniture is one of the more common things to find, kitchen appliances are my new favorite grab: often old but functional appliances don’t fetch enough to sell but still work. My roommates now even alert me if they see something while they’re walking that they think I might like.

Curbside collecting like this can often have bad associates but with a good scrubbing, vacuuming or otherwise cleaning often you have a perfectly functional item for the fantastic price of free. And though my mother and sister have habitually teased me for it, I love the sense of history my objects had and the sense that if my grandfather were here, he’d be proud.

If you’re interested in dumpster diving and free cycling, Dawn has some great posts on it here and here.

Photo Credit: Stock Xchng