The Secrets of an Urban Picker

There are a lot of people that call themselves pickers. To me, it is not like the tv show at all. Personally, picking is something that happens in alleyways, backyards, and in dumpsters. I hardly ever approach someone in their house to sell me their junk like in the shows. To me, picking is free and a vital way of life that gives possibility and a new life to thrown away objects. There is no way I can rescue everything thrown away, but every time I go out picking, I come home with a car full of good usable material.

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Living in a large city like Washington DC, there is so much movement of people to and from the city, gutting historic houses, and just clearing out the grandparents belongings that it is a picker heaven! A normal day for me is driving in ever enlarging concentric circles out from my apartment down every alley. Of course, I have some secret stashes that are usually pretty good and areas of town that are better than others.

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Here are some of my secrets:

First, get there before the trashman. Find out when trash day is in the neighborhood and ALWAYS get there before. In my area, it is Friday mornings around 11am. If I can get out there by around 9-10am, I am usually good. For all the small stuff that can fit in a trash truck, this advice is good. For larger items or a complete garage or basement gutting, they require a special permit to pick up the extra large items of trash and it takes a few days, so you’re safe for a while.

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Second, find areas that are recently gentrified in the last 10 years. Usually these homes are bought by more affluent people who either took over a home from a relative or bought from an older person in a historic neighborhood. Since we have become an Ikea generation, I tend to see the best treasures come from these homes.

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Third, closely related to number two, watch the streets for signs of a new house being gutted. I LOVE seeing a dumpster outside of a gutted house. Oh man, SCORE everytime I see this. Sometimes they close up the dumpster, but that doesn’t stop me. If you can gain access to these treasure troves, you will always find gold. From old single paned windows to huge metal and wood beams, to brass door knobs and socket plates. The list of amazing things thrown away in bulk is astounding and usually I cannot fit it all into my car. Always watch for signs in the neighborhood, displayed work permits and even for sale signs on an old house that is going to get flipped. On average and in my experience, the new tenant hires a contractor to rip everything out down to the studs without care for worth, so for people like me, this is our mecca. There is nothing like filling up a hatchback with reclaimed beams, solid wood casings, and brass knobs. I salivate just thinking about it now.

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Fourth, keep an eye out for large apartment buildings. Especially in this area, apartment dwellers are for those that are up and coming financially and are constantly upgrading everything in their lives. In the days of Amazon, no one is fixing older things and people are getting new things constantly. I have found perfectly great flat screen led tvs, a desk made during WW2 in England, so many antique chairs that need some glue, screws and love and so much more. Big apartment buildings usually have an overflow or large object room for bulky trash. If you can, get access to these or wait for them to throw it outside in the dumpster. I hunt in these areas every time I go to see a friend in an apartment and 6/10 times I am rewarded with picker gold.

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Alright, I think those are enough tricks of the trade for now. I will write more about this soon but can’t give away everything or I would be out of business.

I hope you enjoyed the read through and learned a little bit about the process. As always, don’t forget to head over to my Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, and Patreon page to show your support so that I can continue to make awesome content like this.

Thanks for reading!

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