In my line of work as a flagger, I see a lot of road-side trash. I mean a LOT. It’s disgusting. In the Boy Scouts, I was raised to never litter and to this day, I will chase down a small corner of wrapper that escapes my pocket. But at work I see cans, bottles, food, wrappers, and everything else imaginable. One of the bonuses of the job is that, if I find anything worthwhile, it is considered fair game. Finders-keepers is the name of the game.
Aside from some cans that I scrap, my haul has been a couple of shovels and a heavy flannel jacket. I saw a wooden ladder, but forgot to grab it at the end of the day and it was gone the next.
I have coworkers that have done much better than I have, however. Over the years, he’s collected all sorts of tools, clothes, and even a mattress still in its original packaging. He says that his wife calls his shed a redneck shrine from all the tacky collectables he’s found.
Is finders-keepers theft?
One thing that concerns me is the possibility of the idea of finders-keepers being abused. I mean, come on, a new mattress? Somebody missed that. The jacket I found and one of the shovels look like they had seen better days, so I’m not too concerned there. But the fact remains that sometimes people lose stuff and would like to get it back.
Stuff that has been stolen from me
When I earned my Eagle Scout award, I received a Leatherman as a gift. I used that knife for years until one day, I left it on a trailer at work. When I got back 30 minutes later, it was gone. What got me the most upset, however, was the fact that nobody would own up to having taken it. If I had seen a knife like that and somebody had asked if I had seen it, I would have gladly given it back. But instead, somebody decided to get a free $60 knife.
Two years later, I was given an igloo cooler as part of payment for a side hustle. Since I drink upwards of a gallon and a half of water at work during the height of summer, I used that cooler to keep it cool. Of course, it was a bit big to lug around every time I had to move a couple of feet. So I would generally leave it if I was only going to be gone for a few minutes.
One day, there was an accident on the freeway and cars were hopping off onto the frontage road. We were working on that frontage road, so it wasn’t much faster than the freeway! Traffic was pretty much at a standstill either way. Well, I had to move for a bit and when I came back, somebody had helped themselves to that cooler, along with the rest of my water. Ugh!
Building an Ethical Framework for Finder’s Keepers
Having had my stuff stolen from somebody who probably thought it was just left behind, I’m sensitive to the idea that others may realize they dropped something and come back looking for it. As such, I’ve been trying to devise an ethical framework for dealing with the finder’s keeper’s issue.
At the most basic, I could just leave the stuff where I found it for a certain length of time to see if anyone comes back for it. The obvious downside to that, it others may not be so considerate and just take it. It’s more likely that is what happened to that ladder.
If I was dealing with a central location, I could simply report it to them, and people would know to check there. That’s how it works at my wife’s store. People drop a LOT of cash in parking lots. Employees that find it are required to report it to a manager. Not doing so is a fireable offense. But if nobody claims it within 90 days, the person who turned it in gets to keep it. But I don’t have a centralized location like that. At least not one that is immediately recognizable.
The only thing I can think of would be to take the item and leave a note on who to contact if the person who lost it comes looking for it. Of course, this has issues as well. First is having the time to write such a note. The second the question of how to leave it in place without it being destroyed by the elements or simply blown away in the wind.
Do you believe in finder’s keepers? How would you handle a situation of finding something that another is likely to try to recover?