One Man’s Trash: The Council Cleanup


I’ve previously chronicled my deep love for bargain and secondhand shopping, an activity that thrills me like almost nothing else. I love finding gems on the dirt-cheap and rescuing them from landfills. The only thing better is rescuing great things from landfills for free. And so it is that I have formed a love for the Council Cleanup.

2 or 3 times a year, the local councils (governments) arrange to pick up household trash that is otherwise not suitable for the regular pickup, usually due to size. In some areas, you schedule the pickup out of a few available days, but in our council area, we get the dates for the year well ahead of time in the mail, and you may begin placing your items in front of your home one or two days before the pickup. Large piles of discarded items start to show up on the side of the road, and it’s not uncommon or even frowned upon for people to avail themselves of anything useful. Around council cleanup time, you’ll even see people in trucks driving up and down the streets and picking up electronics, appliances, and presumably anything that might be resold or used for parts. On the Freecycle group I belong to, people sometimes post pictures of particularly good things they’ve seen driving past a council cleanup in their neighborhood. People often leave “good” stuff that they just don’t need anymore out, knowing that it will get picked up by someone who wants it.

Previously, I’ve never gone out of my way to scope out council cleanup piles, but if I happened to be walking by and saw a treasure that I could carry, I’d take it home. I’ve gotten a wine rack, a pie plate, some toys for Hushpuppy, and for three years, we used a desk chair that was a council cleanup rescue. I’m particular about what I pick up. It needs to be in great condition (fading OK, but I’m not handy enough to fix anything up). It can’t be more than a little dusty. And, I absolutely never pick up anything that has upholstery or fabric, as you never know if it’s been out in the rain or what it’s been through.

Because we live in a large complex now, the pile for our council cleanups gets pretty massive, so it’s always worth a quick look. Recently, I’d been thinking that I wanted to get a new mop so that I could have one for outdoors to do the balcony with. And, lo and behold, I spotted a perfectly good mop left out on our pile. The best part was that nearby was a toy mop in great shape, so both Hushpuppy and I both got new mops that day.

Later, Partner-in-Crime intercepted someone on their way to dump a kid’s chalkbaord and table & chair set. As we’d just dumped Hushpuppy’s falling down little toy house, we had the perfect spot for these things, and they even gave us a bucket of chalk to go with it! The table could do with a paint job, which I’ll do if I get around to it, but as a craft table, it’s perfectly acceptable.

The little ride-on toy in front was also a council cleanup find.

The little ride-on toy in front was also a council cleanup find.

The next week, as I was walking home from the gym, I spotted this on the side of the road. I dragged it home. I noticed that it had lights and sound, but assumed that part wouldn’t be working. Much to my surprise (and kind of annoyance), the zebra’s jaunty songs are going 2

After this string of finds, I was on a council cleanup high. So, when we were out running errands earlier this week and drove past a cleanup neighborhood, we agreed to do a drive around to see if we could stumbled on any more treasures. We drove past a lot of legitimate trash, but then we found a house that had  a lot of toys outside and hit the motherload. I grabbed books, a wooden xylophone, a set of Winnie the Pooh blocks still in the box, and this adorable doll house that they clearly intended for someone to pick up, as all the little pieces were tucked into a Ziploc bag. photo 4

I never would have thought to buy Hushpuppy a doll house at not-quite 2, but it’s been such a hit. She’s spent ages working on the little furniture and putting the dolls into different rooms and set ups.

At another house, we picked up some nearly-perfect condition baskets that we turned into toy 5

And, as we headed home, I spotted this…photo 3 (4)

… it was a little faded, but still has a lot of life left in it. (I promise we’ll buy her a helmet before she takes it out for a real spin!).

All in all, we’ve managed quite the haul from our roadside shopping. I love that we’re giving so much stuff a new lease on life, and my blood is pumping from the thrill of a successful hunt.

{2016 Edit: Check your local council’s restrictions, as some have begun to make it illegal to remove items from council cleanup piles.}