In my book, Good Products, Bad Products, I briefly discuss cost (to maker) and price (to customer). These often relate to overall product quality, but not necessarily in a logical or linear manner. But it is definitely the case that we are all sensitive to price when acquiring products. But how about products, even reasonably high quality ones, that can be obtained for free? To many of us, especially those of us who do not have the benefit (?) of great wealth, these have a particular cachet.
I used to like to read Wired magazine, but it has over time become such a promo-piece for expensive products (full page add for Gucci on the back of the Feb 1,2015 issue) and the digital industry that I no longer subscribe to it. But like many Conde Naste publications, it still comes to my house, probably either because they think I will subscribe again, or because they can keep me in their circulation count (attractive to advertisers).
This issue has an interesting editorial by Scott Dadich, the editor in chief, which starts out with a mea- culpa on his addiction to “shiny new gadgets”, followed by raves about Microsoft’s Project HoloLens . But then he brings up the fact that the rapid turnover in new gadgets results in great numbers of still usable devices ending up in landfills. He then mentions an article in the issue by Randall Sullivan about a person named Matt Malone, an expert in corporate security and a professional dumpster diver, in that he finds products (often new) that have been discarded and resells them at a lower cost. In fact, he states that if he was to do this full time, he could make at least $250,000 in the Austin. Texas area alone. The editorial is here, and the article is here.
I resonate with Matt Malone, even though I have never met him. First of all, he is adding to the world’s recycling effort, and secondly, I am an amateur dumpster diver and finder of fine objects in trash piles. I don’t sell them for profit, but rather I either give them away, or keep them because I love them— they appeal to me and they are FREE.
The photo at the left shows a “free swap” book box I built for my wife for Christmas. She loves books, and since the area in which we live is full of academics, who in turn have and read lots of books, it gets a heavy trade. But it is a miracle to my wife and I, because it is an ever-changing source of free books right next to our house (sorry Amazon).
When I first arrived at Stanford it was "upgrading" and discarding many "old" items. As an example, they were re-doing teaching spaces and filling dumpster boxes with captains chairs that had been used in the old rooms. I snagged a half dozen of them for my house, because they were comfortable and showed the patina of history. Ironically enough, some years later, Stanford was putting brass plaques on the few that were left. and awarding them to major gift donors. And people were so eager to acquire new and "modern" equipment that they did not value the beauty and historical value of some of the old.
The two photos below show an old medical instrument that was used for examining tissue sections, and a few rescued objects that are in my office. The adding machine is of great value because none of our present students have the faintest idea of what it is. The two instruments are there because I like them. And I’ll bet you don’t have as good a whiffle ball container as the one in the photo below them.
And I do not restrict myself to dumpsters. My wife is a compulsive gardener, and has a constant need for pots. The photo below shows her pot supply. We never have to buy them, because Stanford has a free trash pickup for all campus homeowners twice a year, and I have a pickup, with which I can easily keep her in pots, as well as miscellaneous yard furniture, shelves, garden tools, and other goodies.
I must admit that she is somewhat embarrassed that we will be seen by the neighbors as we go through their trash, but I am proud to be helping the ecosphere and our budget, as we acquire objects of high quality that are no longer appreciated by their former owners.