How to Breathe New Life into Dumpster Diving Finds

We’ve seen those TV shows where people flip or upcycle (restore, beautify and sell) things they find at garage sales, thrift shops, flea markets or even the dumpster. They end up creating amazing items and making a buck. But how can we get in on the action? Well, we have some dumpster diving tips you can use to get started today. And hey, if you like your creation, you can sell it or keep it.

Cristin Frank, author of Living Simple Free & Happy and Founder of Eve of Reduction, has been garbage picking and repurposing furniture for more than 12 years. She says that the money she has saved and made from doing this has contributed greatly to her paying off her home in less than 7 years.

“When my husband and I moved into our house we had hardly any furniture. So rather than go in further in debt (beyond our mortgage) we started finding curbside furniture and upcycling it to fit our needs,” says Frank.

She has some recommendations for those who want to follow in her footsteps.


Frank says to start by asking family and friends for things they may not want anymore, or look on sites like Craigslist.

“When we were starting out people were happy to pass along their outdated furniture. With paint and few modifications we were able to make things look much different and attractive,” explains Frank.


Frank believes that investing in tools doesn’t need to break the bank. You need to find the piece you’re looking for (in the best condition possible for the money) and you’ll probably want to purchase an electric sander and a good drill to make the adjustments.

Frank says that when you’re first starting off, it’s best to get furniture pieces for free in case you don’t achieve the desired result.

“You can even test out painting techniques on scrap wood…I would recommend not spending more than 1/2 what you think you can sell a piece for. For instance if you’ve researched comparable furniture for sale, only spend half of that to upcycle the item. This puts value on your time and talent,” explains Frank.

Additional Tips for Getting Started

  • Be sure to wear gloves, protective eyewear, face-masks and ear plugs. Your safety comes first.
  • Start with a small project- one you feel comfortable with and work your way up to more involved transformation.
  • Avoid upholstered furniture that is difficult to reupholster.
  • Avoid anything with a strong smell.
  • Try to get/make sets for certain furniture pieces.

“Lone chairs can look cool in your home but if you’re planning on selling, sets are easier to flip… For instance I garbage picked a patio chair. Months passed and I could not sell it. By a stroke of luck I found a similar one and painted it the same color as the first one. I literally sold the pair before the paint dried on the second chair,” says Frank.

What’s Legal?

Frank suggests doing research on the laws in your state to make sure you aren’t breaking any when dumpster diving or garbage picking.

“I am not an authority on the law, but I know garbage picking metal items is considered stealing. I have also heard of people who dumpster dived at storage unit facilities to have been reprimanded,” says Frank.

And if you decide to find your items in neighborhoods, Frank says to be courteous and leave the pile orderly. If the homeowners are out give them a friendly greeting and out of courtesy ask if they mind you taking a look.

Now that you have some basics on how to get dumpster diving finds that are worth your time and money, get creative and get flipping!

June Brockmeyer

June Brockmeyer

June Brockmeyer is a writer based in Phoenix, Arizona. Her background includes TV news writing and reporting, weather forecasting as well as blogging; specifically for small businesses, software, education and lifestyle. June is fluent in Spanish and has experience in translation, writing and tutoring. Having moved back and forth from the U.S. to Mexico a few times, June enjoys researching new options for storage solutions and moving. She is a fan of organization and celebrates new ideas to help stay clutter-free in her everyday life. She graduated Cum Laude from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University and loves to spend time with her husband, baby boy and their cute Havaneese dog, Reef.
June Brockmeyer

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