“I Make $650,000/year Cleaning Up Trash”

Good morning, friends!

I’m SUPER excited to share this update with you on Side Hustle #71 – Being a Trash Picker-Upper as it’s been one of my top 3 favorites ever since featuring it in our Side Hustle Series 5 years ago.

Something about being outside and productive and basically getting PAID TO GO ON WALKS just puts a giant grin on my face every time I think about it :)

And maybe it will for you too who haven’t heard of this gig before?

Here’s a Q&A we did on how things have changed, and not, since last featuring Brian Winch and his trash picking up business here on this site. We also cover the pros and cons and how to get started if this is a biz you might be interested in trying out too. He likes to say it’s “America’s simplest business” and he wouldn’t be wrong!

Thanks for being up for it, Brian!

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Tell us how you got started in the trash business – it’s not a very common (or popular!) one :)

I first started cleaning up litter as a young teen around 1974. My dad was a janitor who made extra money on the side, and occasionally took me along with him to assist in his various side hustles.

One such gig was cleaning up litter material outside a nearby shopping plaza. He was paid to show up each day to sweep up empty drink cups, cans, bottles, candy and fast food wrappers, cigarette butts and other items people discarded on the property. We would walk the sidewalks, parking lot and landscape and sweep litter into our collection tools and then empty it into the waste bin on site.

The work was done early in the mornings and completed before the businesses opened. It was almost as easy to do as going for a walk!

I was working full-time at a sporting goods store (in the same shopping plaza) in 1981. I couldn’t see myself doing this job for the rest of my life and recalled the services my dad had done on the side. Why not start some sort of service as a side gig myself, I thought?

I didn’t have much savings, I barely finished high school and didn’t have any special skills.

But the hand tools were inexpensive, I could be based from home, and my vehicle could get me from one job site to the next. It was also a service that didn’t seem to have too much competition. The only time people talk about it is when they see a poorly maintained property.

I started up my business only weeks before my dad unexpectedly passed away at the age of 61. I was 21 and now even more determined to succeed.

So you’ve been doing this for over 40 years now? Wow!

Yes. Where does time go?

When I started in 1981 there was no internet, desktop computers or cell phones. I’ve learned this business and been successful from the school of hard knocks. I had to learn skills necessary to operate a business from trial and error. I devoured information from the public library, book stores, banks and government agencies. I asked plenty of questions. I made my share of mistakes, but I learned from them.

There has never been a better or easier time to start a business than today. Today’s technology makes it possible.

How much money have you made over the years would you guess?

I started the trash business as a side hustle. I was fortunate to have the income from my job to pay my living expenses, so I took the income I generated from the business and reinvested it back into the business to grow it.

Within a couple of months I began to make more money on the side than from my job. I quit my job and have scaled the business to one where we now have an army of people cleaning up litter across the city.

I made roughly $10,000 the first year (pretty good for 1981 -1982), and we routinely bill out $650,000 a year now.  I’ve made millions cleaning up litter over my time in business. More importantly to me is the freedom of being my own boss and getting satisfaction from the service I provide in my community.

Has anything changed in the business since we last shared your story in 2017?

I would say since you last shared my story there seems to be more awareness of the need to maintain properties free of litter material. No one, whether it be the public, businesses or clients, wants to see litter outside where they live, shop or work.

The final straw for many people was when discarded masks started showing up outside commercial properties. We saw a great opportunity to share that with the local media (and turn lemons into lemonade – pardon the pun). I contacted the news tip tab on the largest TV station in my market. Within an hour I had set up a time for the following day for a reporter and camera to interview me about this problem.

The story aired on the dinner time news and repeated the following day at noon. The story on their website was shared on social media locally and nationally. This publicity generated additional business and didn’t cost me anything. Would you care to guess how much money it would have cost to advertise both days for the 3 minute air-time? Anyone can do this.

Has Covid affected anything, outside of the mask littering?

Property management companies have to ensure that their properties are routinely maintained for the safety and security of their tenants and general public. We can do this with the unique hand tools we use. We don’t come into contact with any material we clean up. Our service is completed before businesses open so we can clearly see and clean all material without vehicle interference (parked on the lots). We are considered to be an essential service for this reason.

What are your favorite parts to this hustle? What are the worst?

What I enjoy the most about this are the outdoor work, early morning hours and the satisfaction from seeing the immediate results from my work and knowing the positive impact I’m making in the community.

Some people the past 2 years have gone out of their way to thank me for my service. They may be driving past and notice me and will pull into the property to tell me up close that I’m doing a great job. Always appreciate the compliments!

brian winch picking up trash

What I don’t enjoy is the attitude that many people have that someone else should clean up the mess they choose to leave behind.

I haven’t seen any noticeable change in this behavior in over 40 years. People from all demographics are guilty; male/female, young/old, educated/uneducated, rich/poor. I will concede that teen boys are the worst!

I recall one time a few years ago a female in her 40’s was sitting in her Mercedes watching me clean up as I approached her. When I got close enough, she opened her car door then dumped her fast food wrappers on the ground. There was no point in saying anything. I just smile at the fact people like her are making me wealthy!

Do you ever not feel safe since I’d imagine you’re in the dark some mornings and seasons? Do you carry any weapons in case something goes awry? Lol…

Valid question. The properties are well-lit, so we’re not working in the dark. I’m always conscious of my surroundings. Should someone approach me asking for spare change, I reply that I don’t carry cash. I’m not going to give anyone the opportunity to grab my wallet if I was foolish enough to take it out.

I’ve never had a problem in 40+ years other than a few people shouting derogatory comments my way – “Hey! Get a real job, you loser”. If they only knew how much money I make!

Both men and women can do this. I’ve had both sexes work for me without problems. Besides, this work is best done after 4am. Not around midnight. Like any other business you have the choice to turn work down. If you don’t want to work in certain parts you don’t have to.

What are some of the weirdest things you’ve found cleaning up?

I’ve found some interesting items over the years. Underwear, shoes, pillows, coats, clothing, cell phones, you name it. It makes you think of an explanation (or story) as to why someone has discarded the item in a parking lot. My imagination can get pretty wild sometimes!

Someone recently removed a sewer grate in a parking lot, cut it in half, placed one half back and took the other. What would someone need half a sewer grate for? Makeshift grill?

Every so often I find money. Not only coins but bills of various denominations. I remember several years ago I found a fiver, a ten and several 20 dollar bills in the parking lot outside a K-Mart. The most I’ve ever found was over $600. I was cleaning around a waste bin and noticed a dirty roll of what looked like paper wound up by a rubber band. I took it home, cleaned it up, and counted out just over $600! I think that will go down as my all-time record.

What’s the best way to get clients?

The best way to get new clients when starting out is to compile a prospect list. There’s no short-cuts here. You’ll never find a list to rent that will be as accurate or up-to-date as the one you compile yourself.

It’s quite simple really. Do a search online for variations of “Property Management Companies” in your area. Make a list of your results then start contacting them. Your goal here is not to sell them anything, but to obtain the name and contact information so you can forward to them details as to how you can provide them with a cleaner, litter free property for less expense. Be prepared to follow-up in a few days and hit them up with more of how your service will be of benefit to them.

What’s that you say? You can’t do sales? Neither can I. You need to change your mindset. When you say the word “sales” the first thing that comes to mind for many people are the telemarketers who won’t take no for an answer.  What I’m doing here is sharing the benefits of my service to my prospects. No hard sell. If you believe in the merits of your service (or product) you can do it. I should know as I’m an introvert!

In addition to prospecting yourself, you also want your prospects to find you. Grab the free, low-hanging fruit before you start investing in a website. Get listed in online directories, create a personal profile and business page on LinkedIn and create a Google My Business listing.

Do you like to network with people? Check if your city has a BOMA chapter (Building Owners Managers Association). Ask to see a sample directory to consider advertising. It offers a wealth of information.

How much can an average person make their first year? How about after 3-4 years?

Everyone wants to know the answers to those questions. My best answer is this – if you work your business, your business will work for you. If you do nothing, you get nothing. If you do something to start, then give up or quit, you get the same result. Look, if I can be successful then so can you. So long as you put forth an effort and remain patient and persistent you will ultimately be rewarded.

Most people start out with one or two properties to clean. Depending on the size and service frequency, that can equate to $500 – $2,000 per month. A small retail plaza with 5 or 6 businesses may take only 15-20 minutes to clean total. A medium size commercial property might take 30-45 minutes per visit. A large retail property such as a Costco or Walmart might take someone 90 minutes to clean.

We all work and walk at a different pace and speed. The unique tool that I use allows me to clean up more material in less time. You can clean up litter almost as easily and quickly as going for a walk!

If you want to know how much to charge per hour, start with $30-$50. You need to experiment as each market across the country is different.

How much you make after being in business for 3-4 years is up to you. Every person’s motivation for starting this service varies. Some are content to work by themselves a couple of hours a day to make an extra $2,500/month. Others desire to expand from a side hustle to a full-time business to make 6 figures. You can recruit an army of people to help you with the cleaning to maximize your earnings potential.

I have a student who bought my book about 3-4 years ago. He was a school teacher who was looking to make some extra money during the summer months. He now has over 300 properties and operates in several states. How much money do you want to make?

Any resources you can share for those interested in giving it a shot?

If you’re interested in starting this service in your community, then check out the resources I offer on my website, Cleanlots.com.

My book, Cleanlots – America’s Simplest Business is available in your choice of ebook or hard copy. The book is really more of an instructional manual. It’s concisely written. No fluff or filler. Only information you can quickly absorb to start your own parking lot litter cleanup business.

cleanlots book

My contact information is also given so you can reach out to me for free support. Yes, you read correctly. I’m happy to talk to people who also share the same interest; to make money doing something they find value and personal satisfaction in!

I have nothing to lose in sharing my experience with others. None of us are competing with each other, and I’m not getting rich selling my book. My major source of income is from cleaning up litter from parking lots. I wanted to keep this opportunity affordable for people like you and me. It’s also my way of giving back and honoring my dad.

Who should NOT try out this hustle?

If you don’t enjoy working outdoors then this gig is not for you. Like other outdoor service businesses, you need to dress according to weather conditions and provide the best service you can. You’re going to get in a little exercise each day, for which you get paid, so if that doesn’t appeal to you then this isn’t for you.

Not everyone is also interested in cleaning up after people. That means more money for those of us that do. You see, people litter year round. They always have and always will. Someone has to clean up after them, why not us?

Any parting words or inspiration?

Don’t chase the money. You see people doing this all the time. They want to believe it’s possible to do easy work online in their pj’s for only 30 minutes a day without investing any money to get started. The only people getting rich are those who are selling these dreams!

You need to find satisfaction in what you do and enjoy doing it to become successful. This way you’re far less likely to quit when facing a problem. Being your own boss takes commitment to getting things done. If you can’t do it, you need to find someone to help you or do it for you.

Also be sure to promote the benefits of your service or product. It’s far easier to market your business when your prospects see how they will benefit from doing business with you. What’s in it for them? What problem are you going to solve? How are you going to make their life easier? How can you save them money? How are you going to give them better service?

Do more than you promise. Provide extra value. This is an easy way to build a relationship with your clients.

I’ll give you an example: Anybody can clean. We go further. While we’re out servicing our properties we look for any burned out exterior lighting, graffiti, illegal dumping (such as old sofas, TV’s, etc.) or property damage, and forward an image and message to our client when their office opens. They really appreciate the communication as it makes their job easier. They’re also more likely to do more business with you. There’s no better return on your investment of a few moments of your time.

Some businesses are easier to start and operate than others. I started with little money, skills and education, but plenty of passion, patience and persistence.

If I can succeed then so can you. And I’m willing to help you!

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brian winch - modern

Brian Winch is the founder and owner of Cleanlots, America’s simplest business. He’s been perfecting the litter removing business for over 40 years and enjoys sharing the benefits of it with others. 

[Had to end with a pic of Brian in modern times to balance out that top one from the 80’s! ;) Gotta be one of my all-time favorite profile pics ever, haha…]

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This hustle too dirty for you? Try out one of these instead ;)

* Links to his book and site above are affiliate links.

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12 Comments

  1. Brian Winch September 22, 2022 at 11:23 AM

    Thanks for sharing this! I hope I’ve inspired someone to start something. Anything. I started with little money, skills and education before the internet, cell phones and desk top computers. There has never been a better time than now!

    Reply
    1. J. Money September 22, 2022 at 12:00 PM

      Amen on that, brother! Super inspiring story and really appreciate you always taking the time to share 🙏

      Reply
    2. Steven September 26, 2022 at 4:25 PM

      Thank you so much for what you do! I have thought about this and still have many questions! I’d be gratefully appreciated if you have time to discuss further? Thanks again for your time and what you do!

      Reply
      1. Brian Winch September 27, 2022 at 8:08 AM

        Thank you Steven. You can leave a message on my website. I’ll get back to you. Click the link in the post.

        Reply
  2. Scott September 22, 2022 at 10:13 PM

    This is a great idea! I am passing this on to a family member that is looking for ideas on how to make some money. I wonder how much the initial investment is in terms of the tools needed to do this efficiently.

    Reply
    1. Brian Winch September 23, 2022 at 1:34 PM

      You can get started for under $75 for the special tools. Do you have a broom? Most people already have one.

      Reply
  3. J. Money September 23, 2022 at 6:50 AM

    You can probably just start with your hands! Nothing too complicated! :)

    Reply
    1. Brian Winch September 23, 2022 at 1:37 PM

      No need to bend over to pick up anything with your hands. I use a special tool that makes my cleanup work almost as easy to do as going for a walk. You can see the tool in a video on my website if you click the link to the book.

      Reply
  4. TIM September 23, 2022 at 6:11 PM

    I actually just bought this book after seeing Brian featured on a different blog. It came in the mail yesterday, hopefully the start of something fruitful. I love the idea of cleaning up my neighborhood and profiting from it!

    Reply
    1. Brian Winch September 27, 2022 at 8:09 AM

      My contact information is in your book for free consultation,

      Reply
  5. Financial Fives September 26, 2022 at 12:48 PM

    What a simple way to earn money and provide immediate value. I always thought the people to clean up the outside of an office building or retail plaza are their own janitorial staff on salary. Who would have thought!

    Reply
    1. Brian Winch September 27, 2022 at 8:12 AM

      Sometimes it is. Other times it could be a landscape or cleaning contractor. My business model has been successful for 40+ years because we can offer superior service for a better price.

      Reply

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