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Tuesday Morning Pickin’

Using karma to find free furniture on the curb.

Drive around our little town on a Tuesday morning and you’ll see a variety of things set out by the curb. Most of it is bound for the landfill or incinerator or wherever those stinky trucks go off to but no doubt hidden amongst one man’s trash - is another’s treasure!

My father moved up from Florida this spring into a little ranch we’d found for him just down the street. While we were preparing the house for him, my youngest son and I were returning from a soccer game when we saw what would turn out to be his first furniture: four Windsor style wood chairs with natural color seats and dark green backs and legs. A little wobbly and longing for glue, they seemed otherwise structurally sound so into the car they went. A little tune-up and they’re now the dining room set!

Once in a while, I see an older pickup truck patrolling through my neighborhood early on a Tuesday eyeing the collections at the end of each driveway. In its bed is usually a stack of bicycles and exercise machines that had no doubt become mere clothes racks for their former owners but, with a little oil and an adjustment or two, might bring in a few bucks. If it worked for him, I figured, it should work for me. After all, it was in my blood. My father once got stuck in a huge dumpster after leaning over too far while trying to retrieve some coveted item. Fortunately, the property owner happened by and was kind enough to offer him a step ladder to get out!

Unfortunately, I was unable to muster the discipline of weekly early morning trash cruises and I netted little more furniture this way. But I did find a couple of alternate sources of low and no cost treasures that were more successful. The first, Freecycle, is not much more than a mailing list to which participants post notices of things they no longer need. There are rules against charging - everything posted must be free. Folks who have an old bathroom vanity or some leftover fabric or some other item of minimal value that none the less may prove useful to someone can post an announcement and perhaps keep it from the landfill. Postings often take the form of “Curb Alerts” – meaning the owner has set the item out and it’ll be taken by the trash men next time around unless someone claims it first. At least it gives the seeker a target rather than them having to cruise aimlessly.

Another great resource is the Free Stuff listing on Craig’s List. Here again everything must be posted at no cost so it collects quite a range of quality. Recent listings included such gems as the “Most Comfy Couch in the History of Seating” which, if you don’t mind a stain or two, looked totally nap-worthy. “Coupons from Sunday Papers” and “Free Chalk & Bubble Blowers” looked like perfect amusements for a summer afternoon. A lot of people read this list and the good stuff goes pretty quick. If you spot something you need, you’ve got to commit, hop into a truck, and get there quick if you want to score.

Speaking of quick, a friend called us the other day and said she’d seen a nice little wood drop-leaf table and matching chairs being put on the curb; a little girl had been affixing a hand-lettered “Free” sign. Still in need of a table for my Dad’s kitchen, we jumped into the car and sped across town… only to find some friends we know from our church already loading the goods into their car! We tried arguing that our friend had spotted the table first so it was rightfully ours but to no avail. Speed counts. They won.

This is the best way to move stuff if you are on the offering side: put it on the curb with the “Free” sign. It’s a way to really make someone’s day. A few years back we put a tired leather recliner out. When we heard a car stop out front, we couldn’t help but peer through the window. Two young men got out, checked the chair over quickly, and then high-fived each other exclaiming “we need this!” before wrestling the articulated beast into the back of their car and speeding off. Whether it went to a dorm room or a tree house or an un-remodeled basement we’ll never know, but for just a moment, their joy was our joy.

I’d like to believe that there’s some karma involved here too. Maybe giving stuff out leads you to finding the stuff you need. I’ve been listing more and more stuff lately – stuff I don’t need but which may be a treasure to another. I stick it on the curb, post it on one of the boards, and then watch to see if it vanishes. Usually it does. I’ve got a few things at home now to put out. I think I’ll do that and then go look for a table.

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Fred Chalmers July 26, 2011 at 09:21 PM
It's amazing the curb-side trash that people will take! My brother put out an old toilet, seat and all, from a bathroon renovation and it was gone the next morning. A neighbor has an old basketball net set up at the curb so kids can use the street to dribble & shoot. Someone mistook it for trash and hauled it away. I kid him that when he washes his motorcycle and leaves it curb-side to dry, I'm putting a "Free" sign in front of it :^)
Clare August 07, 2011 at 12:29 PM
Half my house is decorated using other people's trash :). It's amazing what some paint and a little creativity can do for cast away furniture.
Bruce McArdle October 18, 2011 at 02:59 PM
Remember that North Reading has its own local freecycle group at http://groups.freecycle.org/NorthReadingMA that is free to join, fully moderated and has kept some great stuff out of landfills. Join today - only a simple questionnaire (that is mailed automaticly) is needed to be approved.

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