Other people have a lot of cool stuff — stuff they have outgrown or grown sick of, stuff they put out by the road that might just need a little TLC. I have found better quality items sitting at the end of my neighbor’s driveway or in a stranger’s garage than in a catalog or at the mall.
My now-husband, then-fiancé outfitted our first “grown up” living space with mostly fun finds nabbed the night before big item pickup or trash night. It was a little embarrassing at first, to sift through someone else’s unwanteds, but when I would find that one piece that fit perfectly as a corner table or accent piece, I was glad I didn’t spend my pennies on something new.
Yes, the dude in my life was the one who got me over the stigma of lurking around garbage cans. And he was usually the driving force behind evening runs with the Jeep. But boy did we find a treasure trove in those days: a working big screen T.V. (not flatscreen—this sucker probably stuck out 3 feet in back—but it worked), handmade rocking chairs, couches and end-tables.
Some of the items needed a little repurposing, but we almost always found things we could work into our décor, hodge-podge as it was. Alas, our careful collecting was washed away in an unbelievable (and wet) twist of events just six months before we got married (I’ll tell you how a flood paid for our wedding in a future post).
When we moved out to Tucson for a year we brought our trash-savvy with us, but took the oh-so-sophisticated route of FreeCycle. (Mostly) gone were the days of prowling the streets looking for our next victim. We found some really great free stuff and learned the neighborhoods of the Catalina Foothills and Oro Valley driving to pick them up.
One of my favorite pieces was a glass-front cabinet a woman hand-painted a vibrant red with gold accents. When I asked her why she wasn’t selling it—after all she had put a lot of hard work and no doubt money into it—she said: “When you pour love into something, it seems like bad karma to sell it. I’d rather give it away for free so someone else can enjoy it.”
In that same spirit, when we emptied our place in Tucson after moving back East, we decided to donate all of our fun finds to refugees resettled by the International Rescue Committee. As a volunteer that year—one of the only ones with a vehicle large enough to transport donated furniture—I saw first-hand that one person’s trash is another person’s treasure.
In Tucson we also met a Vermont woman who, after she had transferred out west for work, found out that she was pregnant. She had her baby out West and then went home to be with her husband. She just had one problem: a Queensland Heeler named Jack who had to find his own ride home. We popped that pup in the back of our car with our own dog on a Christmas Cross-Country trip adventure of sorts. And what do you know… she left us her dining room table as a thank you.
As I slowly outfit my new house, I keep the giving-receiving mantra in mind. I’m always on the lookout for a used piece with a story, free or otherwise, and I love to pass the along things I no longer use so someone else can find joy in it.