College Move-Out Days: The Best Time to Dumpster Dive?


Ah spring, sweet spring. The flowers are opening their colorful buds, birds are chirping, and across the country, thousands of college students are throwing out working electronics, unopened containers of food, and other perfectly useful items.

It's the same routine every year. Harried college students, rushing to pack and move out while completing finals or preparing for graduation, don't have time to sell or give away their excess stuff, or they simply don't care that it goes to waste. The result is that during finals week on through graduation, campus dumpsters and the sidewalks in college towns are rife with serviceable stuff often in excellent condition. (See also: Waste Not, Want Not: Stop Throwing Away Your Food!)

In other words, if you live near a college, it's a great time to go dumpster diving. 

When I was in college, I loved walking around the dorms and scoring free stuff as everyone was moving out. Some memorable finds include several almost-full bottles of cleaning products, clothing, and lots of great household-organizing equipment. I also have friends who have scored furniture, televisions, and other big-ticket items previously owned by college kids.

If you're thinking of poking around your local college campus for freebies, here are some things to keep in mind.

Some Colleges Donate (or Sell) Unwanted Items

While you don't want to announce to a college that you'll be picking through its trash, it's good to call or do a Google search for the particular college you're planning to visit before you go over there. Over the last few years, several schools have recognized the rampant wastefulness that occurs around move-out time, and they've developed efforts to collect unwanted items and give them to charity. Thus, these schools might yield slim pickings at the dumpsters, or anything you take might've otherwise gone to help those in need.

Some schools also sell items they collect and give the money to charity instead of the goods. Keep an eye out for these sales in your town; you can still get great stuff at a substantial discount.

This Stuff Belonged to College Students

There's a reason why the stereotypical college apartment contains a lumpy couch fixed with duct tape — some college students don't take great care of their stuff, and that stuff has sometimes come to them second- or third-hand already. Make sure you carefully check everything you're planning to take.

It Can Pay to Go More Than Once

The weekend after finals is usually the best time to look; that's when most students leave. Check the academic calendar of your local college to find out when this is. But also keep in mind that some students may leave early if their finals are concentrated in the beginning of the week, or stay late for graduation or other activities. Visiting more than once can be fruitful.

Colleges Are Usually Private Property

If you're not a student of the school, never enter buildings just to pick through items that might be inside. Your safest bet is to visit schools or areas where students live in town where trash is put out on public streets. When in doubt, err on the side of caution. For more information about the law and dumpster diving, read Kentin's great post, Dumpster Diving 101.

Do you ever go dumpster diving on college campuses? Do you have any stories of particularly great finds? Share them in the comments!


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Guest's picture

I live in graduate housing and every year I wish I had a garage. From the end of June to mid-July people are constantly selling or dumping furniture. Then in late July to early October people are constantly moving in looking for furniture. If I had any space I would gather up all the free furniture and sell it back to the community a month later. Instead I live on the 3rd floor without an elevator so I just feel a bit sick at all the waste.

Andrea Karim's picture

I still have one of the flannel comforter covers that someone in my dorm threw out. I couldn't believe my luck - it was clean and totally stylish. Still is.

Guest's picture

It should be noted that you should always be careful picking up stuff like couches and chairs that have been on the street. Sometimes squirrels and mice like to nest in them and nobody wants that in their house :P

Guest's picture
Guest Connie

Best dumpster dive rewarded me with 12 brand new current DVDs and some nice furniture and mirrors. Also, check out the apartment complex dumpsters. Folks move all the time.

Julie Rains's picture

When I was an RA in college, my job required me to stay past move-out days so I really enjoyed watching people get rid of things at the last minute. They were so busy with exams, they never noticed the difference between the amount of their stuff and their parents cars. When they realized that they couldn't take it all with them, they quickly discarded bulky items like fans or furniture as you mentioned.

What I noticed most though was that people threw out tons of canned food. So much, in fact, that I led a campaign to collect the food (before it hit the trashcans and dumpsters) and donate it to the needy. This end-of-the-year event was a great success, and collection sites were overflowing!

Guest's picture

I've actually furnished entire houses, plus friends' houses doing this years upon years. I've found big screen TVs (and vintage TVs), really nice couches, a pillow-top California king posturepedic bed and frame, futons, several office desks, computer parts, misc. furniture, fans and heaters, and pretty much everything else.

The summer time is a great time to look (also, you can find things behind thrift stores and furniture stores), also another favorite time is after Xmas and New Year's Day. I've had the best luck by finding things of value next to dumpsters in apartment complexes where there are many complexes on one street.

And no, I'm not even a dumpster diver; I don't drive ALL the time and do see these things laying around quite a bit (plus I am thrifty and am willing to fix things up).

A lot of people wouldn't even believe me if I told them I got most of my stuff from sitting next to dumpsters. People tend to throw out some really nice things!

Also in some cities/areas more than others.. Your geographical location has something to do with it.

Guest's picture

Just finished my semester at college. My own suitemates threw out full bottles of shampoo, a scale, and lancome cosmetics. I also got free storage items, cosmetics, shampoo, a mirror, ironing board, and food! Next year, I am going to town and I plan to get ten times as many free things! Whoo, I can't wait :D

Guest's picture

I found a pair of UGG Boot!!! Perfect shape! It's crazy what people throw out. I go to the college but live off campus. I always feel so weird doing it but it's like why throw out stuff people can use, they could have donated it.