I first became aware of the growing phenomenon of pickers (as of this post, Wiki didn't even have a page describing this activity yet) several years back when my husband and I were consolidating our houses. We had two houses full of stuff that we had to skinny down into one house. Much of it we gave to friends or charity, but some furniture and tools and other items just did not seem worth the time to drag down to the local Goodwill donation center, and so we'd just set it out by the curb for heavy trash day, which in our area is Saturday.
Lo and behold, a steady stream of people would materialize to collect this stuff in the early morning before the trash collectors arrived. These people were as methodical and as objective as a marching stream of fire ants. Some wanted only scrap metal. Some wanted only furniture. Some wanted only old tools (as I found out, there are many tools that Goodwill won't accept). Some wanted only building materials (to the point where one of them actually accepted a bunch of old railroad ties from us so he could use them in his landscaping).
We learned that a true picker wants no trouble and will not steal from you - a picker is much closer to being a mobile freecycler-of-opportunity than a thief (see the Clear Lake Freecycle group if you'd like more info on that). If an item is even one foot onto your property, they will not touch it - they only take what's at the curb. If they had doubts about what was legitimately available for picking, they would simply knock on our door and introduce themselves in order to get permission from us. It was not uncommon for us to see pickers driving $50,000 customized pickup trucks. Probably some of them were compulsive hoarders, but none of them appeared to be living in poverty or criminally-inclined.
Fast forward a couple of years and the competition among pickers has apparently picked up significantly. As we recently learned here in Centerpointe, they don't come in the early sun-shiny morning any more. They come in the middle of the night to ensure that they get there before any other pickers do, such as this couple who recently came to our house:
In true picker style, they did not enter our property, did not touch anything that was left on the lawn (I sometimes forget my gardening tools out there), and did not go through individual trash bags the way a dumpster-diver would if looking for an identity theft opportunity (such as discarded and un-shredded personal papers... remember to always shred your papers). They just wanted saleable or useable items.
Anyway, there you have a fascinating commentary on a rapidly-evolving facet of our suburban sub-culture.