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    RINKER ON COLLECTIBLES — Column #1090 Copyright © Rinker Enterprises, Inc. 2007 

    Urban Forager

    While recently driving with Linda from our home on Vera Cruz Road in Emmaus (Pennsylvania) to the bank and post office, I pointed out a pile of reusable older goods, e.g., a wooden desk chair, a very nice wooden folding chair, a typewriter, etc., at the end of a driveway.

    “They are free for the taking,” I exclaimed, “I expect most of them will be gone in a few hours.”  Linda did not respond.  I interpreted this as a sign that she preferred I keep driving, which I did.

    We had to double back to Vera Cruz to get Linda’s camera.  As we passed the same location, I noticed the wooden folding chair was gone.  Had I stopped initially, it would have been in my trunk.  Once again, I passed on the desk chair (a major mistake after thinking about it for a few days) and the other items.

    I have no hesitation stopping along the road and picking up someone’s discards.  I have acquired some great things that way.  I am not too proud to do this.  If I can use it and it is free, I am going to take it.  If I can add the object to one of my collections, I am ecstatic. 

    In this age of political correctness, not only do we search for ethnically, politically, and socially neutral titles for what we do but also titles that sound impressive.  Janitors, who were once custodians, are now environmental service providers.  We have reached the point where one needs a college education, and even that may not be enough, to determine the actual duties the title describes.

    When I talk about my roadside or curbside acquisitions, I refer to myself as a dumpster diver, an individual who stops and salvages objects put out for the garbage.  Oops, I mean disposal.

    When I recently used dumpster diver in a conversation with Orly Knutson, my former WHATCHA GOT? co-host, I was immediately chastised and corrected.  “The correct term is urban forager,” Orly told me.  Excuse me!  Exactly when did I become an urban forager?

    I did not even know the term existed, so I did a Google search.  The website, freegan.info offers this lengthy definition of the term: “Alternatively know as trash picking, gleaning, dumpster diving, scavenging, salvaging, or curb crawling, urban foraging is the act of recovering useable goods discarded by retailers, schools, homes, businesses, construction sites—really anywhere anyone is throwing away goods that shouldn’t be wasted.  Frequently recovered items including clothing, food, furniture, computers, appliances, books, video, DVDs, office supplies, lumber, tools, toys, umbrellas – just about anything you can buy in a store….Urban foragers often collect goods both individually and in groups and frequently share the goods they find with others – at freemeets, on Freecycle, with international communities, with neighbors, or right on the street…”  This definition is far too broad to cover what I do.  Further, it includes “share.”  I keep what I find.  This is why I stop.  My kids can share my finds with others when I am dead.

    Actually, the vast majority, i.e., ninety percent plus, of the Internet definitions of urban forager involved individuals who were food foragers.  Again, most food forager definitions focused on searching forests, fields, and streams for edible plants.  Searching urban trash cans was surprisingly missing from all but a few definitions.  Thanks to my survival training courtesy of the Boys Scouts of America, I have no concerns about my ability to live off the land if I found myself in a position to do so.  However, doing it as a hobby, sport, or challenge has absolutely no appeal.  I am definitely not an urban forager using this description type.

    It is the “urban” in the urban forager moniker that bothers me most.  Admittedly, the best hunting occurs when urban neighborhoods, communities, or municipalities have their annual “clean-up” days.  This is a one- or two-day period when trash haulers agree to pick up any curbside deposit without extra charge to the customer.  Normally, one pays extra to have a dryer, mattress, washer, and similar large objects picked up for disposal.  Pick up is free on “clean-up” days.

    Actually, people use clean-up days to trash anything they no longer need from their attics, basements, closets, garages, sheds, kitchens, dens, etc., largely because they do not have enough stuff to conduct a garage or yard sale.  The picking is rich on clean-up days.  Individuals seeking treasures begin patrolling the area at twilight the day prior to the pick-up date.  By early morning most of the piles have been reduced by half or have disappeared entirely.

    The goals of the late night/early morning foragers differ.  One group is seeking objects for their personal reuse.  They are prime candidates for stuffed chairs and couches, dining room and kitchen table and chair sets, reusable kitchen items, and baby and children’s items of all types.  A second group is dealers looking for merchandise to resell in venues ranging from flea markets to antiques malls.  The price is right.  Their only overhead is their time, transportation, and meals.  Collectors comprise a third group.  Yes, collectors, especially those focused on 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s collectibles, forage.  Most will not admit they do it; but, they do.  Scrap hunters, individuals who are seeking material they can resell immediately for its scrap value, are the fourth group.

    Foraging just prior to the weekly neighborhood garbage pick-up day is more challenging and less rewarding.  Yet, there are those who do it.

    Checking out sites where individuals are in the process of moving or cleaning out the home of a deceased family member are likely to be far more rewarding.  Checking the local obituaries for the last surviving member of a family in which all the children live out of town is not as morbid as it appears.  Curbside deposits from such homes can be treasure troves.

    The individual who forages only in urban environments is a fool.  Opportunities abound in the countryside.

    Thriftiness and rural living go hand in hand.  Rural dwellers tend to have a far greater appreciation for the recycle value of their goods than do their urban counterparts.  If a rural person has something that is “too good to throw out” but he no longer needs, he is going to make the effort to see that it winds up in the hands of someone who does.

    I have seen a bumper sticker that read: “I brake for garage sales.”  My car does not have one.  If it did, the sticker would read: “I brake for piles of goodies along the roadside.”

    I consider a nested set of three Fire King white glass mixing bowls with a black polka-dot pattern among my best foraging finds.  I was driving down a rural road not far from Linda’s and my home in Vera Cruz when I spotted them.  I applied my brakes late and skidded past the bowls.  It took me a minute or longer to turn around on the narrow country road.  As I was heading back toward the bowls, I spotted another car starting to slow down.  A hard push on my car’s accelerator provided enough speed for me to cut in front of the other car and block them from the bowls.  I hopped out of my car and exclaimed, “They are mine.”  They were.

    When I talk about my foraging adventures, the look in many listeners’ eyes suggests an “I would never be caught dead doing that” attitude.  Foraging is beneath their dignity.  Too bad for them, great for me!

    Put your pride aside and remember one basic concept—the stuff is free.  Being of Pennsylvania German ancestry, I understand free.  Free is good.  I know there is no moral or social guilt associated with free.  Free is a gift.  Far be it from me not to take advantage of it.

    Implied in “free” is that if you are not going to use something, you should not take it.  Lest there be any misunderstandings, I equate adding an object to my collection as use.  I resent individuals that resell free items.  I am aware there is nothing ethically wrong in doing so.  I just personally do not like it.

    In summary, I will admit to being a forager, but not an urban forage.  Since I am old-fashioned, as my regular readers know full well, I am more than willing to stick with the tried and true.  I am a dumpster diver, and I am proud of it.

    Rinker Enterprises and Harry L. Rinker are on the Internet.  Check out www.harryrinker.com.

    You can listen and participate in WHATCHA GOT?, Harry’s antiques and collectibles radio call-in show, on Sunday mornings between 8:00 AM and 10:00 AM Eastern Time.  If you cannot find it on a station in your area, WHATCHA GOT? streams live on the Internet at www.goldenbroadcasters.com.

    SELL, KEEP OR TOSS?: HOW TO DOWNSIZE A HOME, SETTLE AND ESTATE, AND APPRAISE PERSONAL PROPERTY (House of Collectibles, an imprint of the Random House Information Group,$16.95), Harry’s latest book, is available at your favorite bookstore and via www.harryrinker.com.

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