Yes, in our household, being called a scavenger is not a bad name. You could also use scrounger, which I prefer to think of as thrifty, penny saver etc. What I am talking about is getting something for nothing, which is not the same as "free" stuff, which often comes attached to a charge, or signing up for something.
We have 2 cords of split, aged wood in the backyard. We paid for none of it. What we did do was keep our eyes open and ask questions. The first part of this collection was sitting out in the street in front of a neighbor's house. We did not know this lady, but when we drove by, I figured they must have been throwing out the wood, which was in the form of big rounds. We stopped the car, and I knocked on the door. An elderly lady answered, and I asked her about the wood. It was indeed being put out for a contractor to pick up later in the week, but sure, we could have it. So, Wodan and I loaded it up in the 'Burban and brought it home. Some of it was so heavy we had to use 2x4's to roll them up into the bed. Some of it was no good, full of knots, and still sits in the driveway. The rest was good, and we broke 2 wooden handled mauls trying out our splitting skills. The rest of the wood was gotten in basically the same way. When the county widens roads, they cut down the trees first, and leave them there while awaiting the big orange Asplundh trucks that eventually come, pick up the wood, and dispose of it. In the meantime, it can be picked up by regular folks, and we got some pretty nice elm wood this way. To split the 3 loads of elm we picked up, we threw a wood-splitting/jelly making party with invited guests. Value of wood-$200.
We sleep on a queen sized Sealy Posturpedic mattress, gotten new for nothing. A friend living in a BOQ noticed them out by the dumpster one morning. The person who threw them out was a newlywed, who bought a new bed, while his wife, stationed in Germany, also bought a bed. He tried to sell the mattresses, but got no takers, so when it came time for him to move, he threw out the mattresses. Our friend called us, and we (having no pride at all) drove over, and threw em in the back of the truck. Value-$300.
When Y2K fever broke out, it became apparent 5-gallon buckets would be a great storage item. However, with Wodan's plans for storing enough for a battalion, we would need lots, and no way was I going to pay for them. I noticed our local grocery store had a bunch in the bakery section, they get their icing in it. So, I asked the baker, and he started saving them for us. An estimated 20-30 buckets later, I stopped asking. Value-$100. The point here is, be observant and don't be afraid to ask.
When we lived in California, recycle centers paid cash for aluminum, brass, and copper and so I took my 3 young kids, and began scouring our local military post. We took tin cans from trashcans, from softball fields, etc. and walked the training areas, picking up cans, and then 50-year-old brass shell casings. The brass was 40 cents a lb., 78 cents for aluminum. Over an 18-month period, we scavenged $324.00 worth of recyleables. Also on these strolls around training areas, we also found a live white rabbit, whom we adopted (used the manure for the garden) and eventually donated to the local school. We also found a queen sized folding mattress, which had not rotted because the air there was so dry. The cover was stained, so I made a new cover for it, and now guests staying at Hotel Wodan sleep on this mattress. Being able to realize something trashy has value is a great skill, as well as losing your pride, and picking up this stuff. Value of recycles-$324. The mattress, approx. $100.
Whenever anyone says they have something to throw away, would you like it, say "Yes!" Even if you don't want it, you can trade it, or donate it. We also take the shampoos, soap etc. from the hotel rooms, they are paid for, and can be used later when travelling, or when you have guests.
Drive around on "bulk trash" days, and see what's getting tossed. My sister in law got a beautiful round wooden table this way, and we took a set of metal shelves, slightly bent, which we gave to my mother in law. She painted them white and uses them for storage.
My mother noticed that the local graveyard yearly threw away all live plants left on gravesites. She went to their trash pile on that day and took the live plants, and planted them in her yard. What better way to recycle?
To be a scavenger, you need to be looking for things that people have in excess, and get rid of on a regular basis. You also need to be observant, and let people know you will take stuff. You need to get out, and look for things. One place we looked was also the local illegal dumping site-have you noticed your local national park/forest, state park/forest has an illegal dumpsite? Cruise it and look for stuff you can use. This is especially true of an area with lots of people moving in or out-transients like migrant workers, or military types. We got an outdoor table this way, also shingles for a mailbox, a Little Tykes dollhouse, and various other things.
These are just some stories and pointers to get you started on thinking like a scavenger. Try it out, and see what goodies you can find. Happy Scrounging!