We Really Need to Set Up a 'TrashCam'

Category: What on Earth!?

So all day Saturday we returned to an old theme--cleaning out the stuff that was left behind in the house.

We were proud to make three trips to the local charity resale shop, and they were definitely thrilled to see us. The woman behind the counter commented on how much we had, so I gave her the short answer: "Well, we bought this houses that was full of stuff..." "That sounds great!" she responded. I just said "yeah, it sure is." Some things defy simple explaination.

Beyond donating to charity, we've come to terms that there's some stuff here that just isn't worth the effort. And so, we turn to that magical exchange of free goods in Chicago--the back alley.

Not only is there someone out there to take things off our hands, the process serves up plenty of entertainment too...

Here's just a short sample of the interesting things that happened behind our garage throughout the day:

  • A guy walking his tiny dog was walking by and glancing at the piles when I came out with another box. "That's a lot of stuff," he said. Assuming he thought I'd acquired it all myself, I said it had come with the house and we just didn't have use for it all. Five minutes later I saw him pass by the other way and carry off something he liked.
  • One guy in a truck stopped by and pretty much rummaged through everything. He even took stuff out of the trash cans. At the end he left, taking nothing and putting nothing back in the cans.
  • Our neighbors got a steel work stool and a wooden chair with a seat that needs to be recaned. They're very crafty, so I'm sure they'll go to good use.
  • Another neighbor came out when he saw us, and proceeded to explain how our previous owner would often grab discarded stuff from up and down the alley. I took a mental note of the irony of that fact.

So, all in all a success given that pretty much everything is gone as of this evening. The great weather certainly helped. We always check for rain before we put things out...don't want things to get wet before they're "picked".

I'm just happy that other people find use for this stuff, so that very little of it will actually end up polluting landfills out there somewhere.

Looking for More?

House in Progress Search for more on 'Chicago alley' on this site.
Houseblogs.net Search for 'Chicago alley' on on other houseblogs like this one.
Google Search for 'Chicago alley' on Google.
Amazon.com Search for 'Chicago alley' on Amazon.com.


you might want to list some of your stuff on chicago freecycle - another handy way to make sure that the stuff isn't heaping up in landfills.

Going up and down the alleys is one of my favorite pastimes. My family has found quite a few trinkets in our days that were really really darn cool that someone else just threw away! I wish we were neighbors because I'd pick up that sled in a heartbeat :)

And thanks for the post about Minneapolis. I would have never thought about it before but it looks like my family might move there in a year or two, granted we like the city, to buy a house. Bungalow of course!

There is something paralyzing to the intellect about the word or concept "Free." We have a two-by-four foot FREE sign that I made and that we occasionally put out in the front yard with the current collection of stuff that needs to go. We used to take stuff to our local Good Will, Community House, etc. but find that the FREE sign is much more efficient and cuts out the middle man. People rarely stop in the daylight but you can bet that just about anything put out overnight when the weather is good will be gone the next day.

A partial list of items that have gone the way of the FREE sign:
• The “pleather” couch (it looks like leather but sit down and you’ll realize its plastic,
• A Formica and aluminum bar table,
• A paper sack of worn out white gym socks (???),
• Two five foot long pillows that looked like a salmon and a catfish (I thought they were great decor. My wife disagreed.),
• Various and sundry dead computers,
• An oak round table with a big crack across the surface,
• Several TVs – one with the fake wood cabinetry,
• Out of date editions of textbooks from my undergrad that the cat peed on.

Like you said, at least these things go somewhere else besides the landfill, at least for a while. I’d sincerely like to know what became of the gym socks.


My sentiments exactly about the landfill, or as in Florida the trash mountain. We always put anything that could have even the remotist use out a couple of days before pick up. It is always taken. I myself have garbage snarffed a metal rolling cart with shelves. Great for the TV. A girlfriend picked up 2 chairs from the 50's(she is very handy, stripped them down to the frames and reupholstered them). one man's trash they say heh??!!

Hey I would have stopped. I love to rummage through other people's junk much to Seb's horror. I would have probably taken your old sled as those are worth a small fortune here.

As to the bag of gym socks, I am a school teacher and we give one to each child to use an an eraser when we do phonics drills. They each have their own chalkboards. My brother has actually rented u-haul trucks to go alley and dumpster diving, and then resells the stuff. He found a recently dry cleaned wedding gown in the dumpster and resold it at a bridal shop, along with countless other items. He does it at the end of May, when lots of the apartments in Chicago turn over. I guess people get too lazy to take stuff to charity. I miss the alley ttading business since I moved from Chicago. Here in California we pay 40 dollars a month for
one 32 gallon a week can. They will not take the can if the lid does not fit on top. Extra Cans are 6$ if you call in advance. I miss the sight of the garbagemen tossing a whole couch into the back of their blue sanitation trucks!

The garbage picking in Chicago is sublime. I have to admit that I've spotted a gem from time to time and I am completely unashamed about taking things!

The sheer volume of things in this house is beyond overwhelming...which is truly bizarre. You know that you are over your head when you have too much stuff to fit into a garage and yard to have your own sale! Gah!

We like to delight the neighbors with putting a few choice items out, like the sled, because they put up with all of the other items back there...

If anyone is in Chicago and interested in rummaging through the nicer things that we donated, you can find them at "It's New to Me"...the resale shop connected to Swedish Covenant Hospital. They're nice folks.

Hi - my first input, but I've been reading for a while. Great site! I remember my mother used to put stuff out at the road with "free" signs and no one would take it for days. Then she'd change the sign to "$10" and it would be gone the next morning. I'm sure there's an economics class lesson there.

Actually, there IS a lesson here...and it is recounted here in Cialdini's book, Influence (which is a GREAT book that I read in grad school.)

That makes sense on the socks. Another suggestion I heard was using them as grease rags or furniture stain rags, etc.

This past year our city passed an anti-dumpster diving ordinance in the name of preventing identity theft. Apparently the steep rise in meth use in the area has caused a corresponding climb in identity theft. Those of us out in the county can still have our FREE signs but sadly the back ally economy is no longer legitimate.

Hey all! I enjoyed this post so much it moved me to tell you (even though we've never really met) that I am leaving Austin, Tx and moving back to Chicago (my home town) - I plan on dumpstering like crazy when I get there! I used to find the best vintage sitting in the alleys begging for a new coat of paint! I would be lying if I said reading your site didn't make me homesick. We are currently emptying our little 50's ranch house here, trying to make it fit for sale, and it is a task! I can't even imagine being in your shoes! Good luck!
luv dena


Email this Entry to a Friend

Email this entry to:

Your email address:

Message (optional):

a neighborhood of home improvement blogs

Cabinet Refacing
Cabinet Refacing:
Face Your Kitchen | Your Guide to Kitchen Cabinet Refacing