Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Survival Skill #1--Find Stuff

The survival skills I am talking about here are not the go out into the wilderness and live off the land survival skills. Although these skills are extremely valuable, this first series will focus on general survival skills that the majority of the population will be able to use.

I think the reason I am fascinated with the homeless, illegal immigrants, rural homesteaders, the "mole people" who live in New York's subway tunnels, survivalists, and others who live on the fringes of society is because they don't play by "polite society's" rules. Cool. This series will look at a bundle of ways that these people survive on a daily basis which we all can learn from.

This first survival skill, finding things, is one way that people who are short on cash and long on ingenuity and creativity use to take care of their needs. Most Americans have a pretty cut and dried way of acquiring the things they need: write list, go to store, charge needed items and some extra stuff, go home, show off your purchases, then pay for purchases for the next 18 months.

This process has a number of problems. First, many of the "needed" things on our lists are made up of stuff we see advertised on TV or things that our friends have. For example, a friend gets a 160 gb iPod and all the sudden you need one too. If you think about it, a 160 gb iPod holds 40,000 (!) songs. If you (legally) pay to fill up your iPod with 40,000 songs, that would cost around $40,000 (!!) dollars, and then it would take about 160,000 minutes, or 2,666.66 hours (!!!) to listen to the music. When you think about it like that, it really doesn't seem as necessary as it first did. Other reasons, in no particular order, that this system doesn't work as well as people think include: this is an expensive way to acquire things, charging stuff on your credit card is not good for your finances, this system leaves no room for serendipity, and how do you know that what you may find won't turn out to be something very useful?

On to our topic: finding things. Kids are good at this. Their minds are more open, or maybe their line of sight is just better because they are shorter than we are. So they spy something different in their environment (a new trinket at home, a hidden Easter egg, a toy left by the side of the road) and just like that, without any expenditure of money, time, or much effort, they have acquired something new. This is what we want to accomplish with this survival skill. Find things that have been forgotten, discarded, or otherwise left behind and--legally--take it. Here's some ideas:
  • Dumpster divers have made finding stuff that has been discarded and using it for their own purposes (a desk for their office, a slightly stained jacket they can use for fishing, food for lunch that has been tossed by the local grocery store, etc) into an art form.
  • Beachcombers find all sorts of interesting stuff that has washed up on the beach. Everything from items to decorate their homes with to things to sell on eBay can be had, for free, by smply taking a walk on the beach.
  • Walking down the road last week, I found a 5 gallon gas can in the ditch. It was new, empty, and I'm guessing it wasn't secured in someone's truck and went flying off the back. I passed it when I went on my morning walk and an hour later it was still there. Now it's in my shed. You can find all kinds of stuff on the side of the road...ladders, mattresses, clothing, et al.
  • Pets. Strays cats and dogs seem to find you rather than vice versa.
  • Other things...how many times have you found money on the ground simply by looking down? Letting the kids outside and telling them to find things to use for an art project usually yields all sorts of stuff. Some people have a habit of checking the change return on vending machines in case someone forgot to pick up their change after their purchase.

So your task tomorrow is to find something. The more extreme action that is required--such as jumping into a dumpster--the better. Keep both your eyes and your mind open and see what turns up. Be sure to report back here on your find!


  1. This is a good observation. Humans are natural born scavengers, a skill which has served us well for many thousands of years. Many people now feel that it is beneath them to scavenge, afraid it will impact their social standing. Good, all the more for us!

    Not only that, scavenging is alot of fun. I'd do it even if I were a billionaire.

    I wrote an article about scavenging dumps you might like to read:


  2. I have a habit I picked up from my Dad - comes from looking down while walking: finding - and bringing home - found odds-and-ends of hardware. Sometimes, I don't quite know what it is (latest find - part of a hand brake? from one of those little ATVs based on where I found it?), or what I'll use it for (I once found a 8-inch bolt, complete with washer and nut - don't know what I'll use it for, but I have it!)

    Most amusing found item: many years ago, at the end of a end of a relationship, I said to God, "If I can't have a meaningful relationship, then at least let me have money." Next day, found a quarter while walking to work. Should been more specific as to the AMOUNT of money... :)