If you were the type of child who daydreamed about hunting for buried treasure, you're not alone.
Many of us assumed we'd have a career where paperwork meant a treasure map, featuring a great big "X" marking the location of a chest spilling over with gold doubloons, jewels and priceless artifacts. Believe it or not, there's a Montreal man who's actually living this dream.
Meet expert garbage picker Martin Gregory
Martin Gregory, a 29-year-old Montreal resident, has been supporting himself as a modern-day treasure hunter since 2013. But instead of a pirate's treasure map, he relies on an in-depth knowledge of the city's garbage collection days, plus a willingness to set squeamishness aside in the name of rescuing the great stuff that would otherwise be destined for Canada's landfills.
Gold, jewels, silver, historical artifacts? He finds it all, and luckily for us, Gregory's been chronicling his adventures since 2012 on his blog GarbageFinds.com. (Aka "Things I Find in The Garbage.")
Self described as a "professional scavenger and entrepreneur making a living selling curbside garbage," Gregory spends his evenings digging through the garbage of Montreal's diverse neighborhoods. He then researches and lists his finds on eBay, Craigslist and Etsy, as well as hosting regular garage sales that draw both readers and random passers-by who eagerly scoop up his eclectic finds. He also holds onto broken gold and silver jewelry until he has enough to sell for scrap to his local pawn shop.
And electronics? He finds so many last generation phones, laptops and iPads that he has a "stock photo" to illustrate when he's sold something. Although Gregory searches for things he can turn over for a profit, he also considers himself an historic preservationist. His blog serves as "an archive for things beautiful and historic that would otherwise have been destroyed."
Gregory recently took the time answer a few questions for the Clark Howard community. Here's what he had to say...
1) What was your first big find that you were able to resell for a nice profit? Also, what have been your favorite finds?
One of my first great finds was an antique 14k gold Waltham pocket watch. I ended up selling that to my aunt for $250. Early on I actually had very good luck with jewelry—on two occasions I found around a thousand dollars worth of gold jewelry, and on a few other occasions I found large collections of mostly costume jewelry. I haven't had that same kind of luck with jewelry since, though I did come across a good haul of modernist jewelry last spring. I've saved so much cool stuff that it's hard to pick a favorite. I think my most interesting find though might be a Nazi German passport that belonged to a Jewish woman who escaped just before WWII. The history of that piece is really fascinating, as you might expect. Otherwise, some of my favorite finds are decorative, ie: my furniture and the art I put on the walls.
2) What items have most surprised you in terms of their resale value?
The market for perfumes, especially vintage ones was very surprising to me. At a certain point years ago I realized that I should look up all my finds on eBay's completed listings, and that's how I figured out that perfume was actually worth decent money. Before that I really had no idea! I wasn't really a perfume guy, and I had no idea how much money people spent on them. It turns out that the nice ones are very expensive, and that old formulas (which might only date back to the 80s or 90s) are often more desirable than the new ones. Over the last few years I've made probably around $3,000 from perfumes, which is great.
3) What was the tipping point that made you realize you could support yourself with garbage picking?
At first I was just living a very frugal lifestyle, and I realized that I didn't really need to make much in order to get by. My rent was around $250 for instance (I lived with a few different roommates) and I was able to keep my expenses pretty low. When I started doing this full-time I mostly just thought of it as a fun experiment - it certainly felt like a better idea that doing minimum wage work. Over time though I just got better and better at finding trash, identifying what had value, and knowing how best to sell it. A fun way to sustain myself was becoming a legitimate "job."
These days I feel quite confident that my line of work can sustain me. I made around $20,000 last year, which is just above the Canadian poverty line. Considering I live off trash I think that's impressive! This year I think I'll make around $24,000 (I'm still improving this approach) and I could see myself making around $30,000 if I continue on this path — maybe more if I get really lucky. That's not bad for one person, especially considering I've kept my expenses fairly low otherwise.
4) What advice do you have for those looking to follow your lead?
I would say do some research before going in! I wish I had done this more when I started out. It took me years to figure out some things that are really quite simple if you just put the time into reading. In particular, my eBay skills took much longer than necessary to develop. I would personally recommend the Scavengerlife podcast and Reddit's flipping subreddit as good sources of knowledge, though I'm sure there's more out there that I'm not familiar with.
Also, it's a good idea to know your bedbugs. Sometimes things, especially furniture, are thrown out with very good reason. Thankfully, the bugs are actually pretty easy to spot once you know what to look for. I have a section of my blog (How to avoid bedbugs) dedicated to helping you with that, so check it out.
5) I know you’re very motivated to keep usable and historic items from being needlessly buried in landfills. What’s your big message that you’d like to convey to Clark Howard readers?
I guess it would be not to be afraid of trash! People get very much caught up in the idea that anything in a garbage bag is absolutely disgusting, and sometimes that's true. However, if you learn the right "screening" techniques (read my blog for tips!) you won't get your hands dirty that often, and you might happen across some really great stuff. Occasionally I'll make a thousand dollars or more from one trash pile, so just by keeping your eyes and mind open you might luck into some cash even if you're not a "full-timer" like me.
You're probably unlikely to quit your day job in the name of garbage picking, but maybe, just maybe you can get over your fear of germs in the name of your inner treasure hunter. You never know, you might strike gold! Click HERE to read through the entirety of the GarbageFinds.com's archives.