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Just as my husband headed out the door for work today, I reached over to straighten his Nautica tie. I thought it went very well with his Tommy Hilfiger pants and Ralph Lauren shirt. Yes, my husband is quite the fashion plate…and did I mention I got him those clothes for free?

I am a Dumpster diver. We retrieve useable goods from the trash, both residential and commercial. My husband’s clothes came from the Dumpster behind an outlet store in my area that constantly throws out great stuff. I have gotten 280 thread count sheet sets, Liz Claiborne perfume and body lotion (among many other designer perfumes), a Waterford vase with a tiny nick in it, Ralph Lauren jeans, and much, much more. I have given Warner bras with the tags still on to my mother, a set of four oversized coffee mugs to my grandmother, and a set of two candleholders to my aunt. All of these items were in perfect condition and no one knew they had come from a Dumpster.

So why do people throw such great stuff away? Well, sometimes there might be an imperfection, such as the tiny chip in my Waterford vase. You wouldn’t pay for it, but it still looks great in my house. Sometimes clothes fall to floor and get dirty. No one wants to buy dirty clothes, so the store writes it off as damaged property. Into the trash it goes. If the store doesn’t think they can sell it, they can write it off. And yes…this is all perfectly legal. You aren’t trespassing unless they have a No Trespassing sign posted. (But check the laws in your area just in case. Some communities do have laws against Dumpster diving.)

Another good place to check for free clothes is the Dumpster of a thrift store, such as the Goodwill. They get more stuff than they can possibly use and sometimes, good stuff gets thrown out. I have retrieved Birkenstock sandals, Adidas running shoes, and Bass loafers, as well as entire bags of clothes for my children. You’d be surprised at what you can find, if you just take the time to look. I haven’t had much success with residential trash, when it comes to clothes, but I do know of some divers who regularly dive apartment complexes and have come up with cashmere sweaters, silk blouses, and polo shirts.

You might be a bit squeamish about getting stuff from a Dumpster. But actually, the Dumpsters of stores that sell perfume, candles, and potpourri smell very nice. There is minimal actual garbage in commercial Dumpsters, maybe a bag or two of employee trash, but the bulk will be boxes and packing material. You can wear gloves if you wish, although I have never had to. What you do need to watch out for is broken glass. Some stores break things to prevent people from rescuing them from the Dumpster and returning them for a refund.
Interested in getting some free clothes? Here are a few tips to get you started:
1. Dive with a buddy. It makes it safer and more fun.
2. If you are nervous, try diving after the store is closed to minimize the possibility of a confrontation.
3. Make sure that if you get in, you can get out. Take a stepstool of you are short and a long stick to dig around with.
4. Never dump anything into a Dumpster—that is illegal, and always leave the area cleaner than you found it.
I would advise donating some of your goodies to charity as a way of paying homage to the Dumpster gods. That will help ensure that you will continually find useable items. And if you dive good stuff that you can’t use (like the Liz Claiborne size 0 skirt I once found) you can sell it on Ebay. There’s your money for nothing.