What Do Grief and Dumpster Diving Have in Common?

Dumpster Diving and Grief

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Short and Sweet Summary: Grief and dumpster diving are more alike than you think. Part of the post-traumatic growth process is digging into your own personal relationship with grief to unearth the buried treasures deep in your soul.

Have you ever heard of the phrase, “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure?”

The guy I see driving through our neighborhood every week in the beat-up pickup truck knows this idiom by heart. Our trash service is on Wednesday so most neighbors put their trash out to the curb on Tuesday night. This same pickup truck comes prospecting through our neighborhood every Tuesday evening looking for goodies that homeowners discard.

He’s been scouring the curbside trash for years. And he fills the back of his pickup truck to the brim with stuff. You could call him a dumpster diver. Or trash picker. Maybe even a recycling specialist. The point is, he finds treasures where no one else believes treasures exist.

So what does this have to do with you? And grief?

It turns out grief and dumpster diving have quite a bit in common. We’re all just trying to find meaning in the piles of rubble.


Finding hidden gems amid grief’s devastating debris isn’t easy at first. It’s hard just getting through the day, let alone trying to find anything positive about your current life situation.

But if you take a cue from those folks who dig through garbage for a living (or just for kicks), you’ll see that you’re capable of finding treasure where you never thought it existed, too.

The idea is to think less about the trash part and more about the treasure part. Yes, you are digging yourself out of a massive grief hole right now. Everything is messy and awful. It stinks. But the treasures are there if you dig for them.

Dig is the operative word here. You have to make your way by poking, prodding and removing the putrid, repulsive elements. After you’ve cleared away all the unpleasant material, you’ll eventually be rewarded with your own valuable finds.

So how can you accomplish the yucky task of dealing with your own grief garbage? Take a cue from the dumpster divers and get real about your goals.

Set an intention

What dumpster divers do: They know they have to go out every day or every week to scour for treasures. Treasures won’t find them so they must set an intention to look. They never know what they’ll find, but they are confident they’ll find something. And, isn’t that part of the fun? Not knowing what you might walk away with?

What grievers must do: You must go through every day with the intention that you can find something to appreciate. What you appreciate or find meaningful is personal to you. Just like a dumpster diver’s treasure is personal to him, you must look at the junk piles with your own eyes. Not everyone’s junk pile looks the same. When you stop comparing your situation to others and embrace your own bits of debris, you’ll begin to find gems in your piles of rubble that might otherwise go unnoticed.

Be patient

What dumpster divers do: Remain patient because they know they won’t always score a big-ticket item and sometimes they’ll come home empty-handed, but leave the house and go searching anyway.

What grievers must do: Keep trying. Grief is a journey, not a destination. Be gentle with yourself on the days when things are FUBAR. Be patient and understand some days are empty, but others are filled to the brim with good fortune. If things are hard today, recognize they won’t always be that way.

Don’t bring home more garbage

What dumpster divers do: Broken, marred or mismatched items aren’t worth bringing home if it means more work than it’s worth. Just because something is free doesn’t mean it’s worthwhile or valuable.

What grievers must do: Leave behind things you don’t serve you. When searching for solace, don’t take advice that doesn’t speak to your soul just because it comes from a good friend, your boss, or a parent. Be prepared to pass on any unsatisfactory or unnecessary obligations. Keep your surroundings clean and pure so you can focus on keeping the junk out of your life.

Understand your seasons

What dumpster divers do: Pay attention to seasonal shifts that compromise finds. Deals in the dead of winter aren’t as abundant as the summer months, so they adjust accordingly.

What grievers must do: Honor your own personal seasonal shifts. Accept that some days/months of the year are more complicated than others. Depending on the death anniversary, days leading up to it, holidays, birthdays, or any host of other remembrances, respect your grief boundaries.

Hold out for quality

What dumpster divers do: Hold out for quality finds. They will continue driving around, returning week after week, until they find something of value.

What grievers must do: Hold out for quality messages. Grief has a lot to share with you if you’ll listen. You might need to ride around in circles, returning to the same issue over and over again until it’s solved. Instead of pouncing on every newfangled feel-good trick or changing your core being because you think you ought to act a certain way so others don’t judge you, hold out for guidance. The more you pick away at grief’s trash heap, the more you’ll find ways to contribute to your own growth.


Grief has so many layers and nuances that just when you think you’ve figured it out, something changes. But part of the post-traumatic growth process is digging into your own personal relationship with grief to unearth the buried treasures deep in your soul.

These treasures don’t come bounding up to you like an adorable puppy begging for attention. They must be discovered and excavated only after you’ve given yourself permission to grieve and expose the riches layered deep in the piles of grief’s debris.

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