When it comes to scoring the perfect materials for your next building project, your best tool might just be paper and pen. Learn the art of the ask in this excerpt from Microshelters.

Since I don’t mind spreading the good word if it means keeping more things out of landfills, I will tell you that one of my best tactics for sourcing free materials, with a success rate over 50 percent, is to drop mailbox notes. No, not love letters, but rather “I love that crud of yours” letters. Seriously. If I happen to see huge fallen limbs as potential firewood, a downed line of fencing being heaped for removal, or a seemingly long-forgotten pile of metal roofing or tongue-and-groove siding, I grab a pen and pad I keep in my van and scrawl a little note that reads something like this:

Hey, I noticed you had a pile of _________________ in your backyard, and I’m working on a DIY project right now — on a very, very tight budget. If you’re ever looking to get rid of the stuff, I’ll haul it away for you and save you the hassle, or maybe even give you a few bucks for it [or case of beer, help with yard work…]. If interested, let me know. I’d really appreciate it, as my funds are limited and I could certainly put that stuff to very good use.

          [Name and phone number]

You might also add: “When I’m done with my project I’ll be sure to send you a photo of it, if you’d like!”

Of course, you’ll have to tailor the letter to the situation. You might not even want to suggest money because if they’re willing to get rid of their goods for nothing you’ve now shown your hand and put money in their minds. Use your own judgment, but always be sure to be polite and keep it short, sweet, and legible. This little method has worked for me many, many times and once yielded a nearly suspension-killing trailerload of 8-foot-long, true 1×8 planks. I’m smiling right now as I think about that find and how many projects that score has since gone into. People often tear down decks and pay someone for the demo work, so there’s another avenue you might want to stroll down — money and material, all from “junk.”

Another overlooked means to acquisition is to simply make it known that you’ll soon be undertaking a project and are looking for secondhand materials. “If your neighbors know, the junk will flow” is a goofy little saying I often share with students. You’ll be shocked to see how much useful material will be saved and offered to you — sometimes too much of it, so be warned.

Text excerpted from Microshelters © 2015 by Derek “Deek” Diedricksen. All rights reserved.

Derek "Deek" Diedricksen

Derek “Deek” Diedricksen is the author of Micro Living and Microshelters. He hosts the YouTube channel RelaxshacksDOTcom and has hosted, built, and designed for the HGTV series… See Bio

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