How to shop curbside and furnish your home for free

Guest post by Claire Smithney

Remember Offbeat Bride Claire’s puppet wedding from way back in 2008? You know, the one with the male flower girl? Well, Claire’s still living the offbeat life!

Our curb-salvaged couch. Photo by Kim Keough.

Every Sunday night in the summer, my husband and I hook our little dog Neville onto his leash, grab a flashlight, and head outside to take a walk. We get giddy as we make our way down the street, swinging the flashlight from side to side, shining light on the bulky shapes lining the sidewalks. Sunday night is curbside shopping night in our town of Somerville, Massachusetts.

We never know what might come home with us. We’ve found a dining room set, complete with matching chairs. We’ve found not just one, but two couches. I remember sitting on one of them, hugging the cushions and giving the stinkeye to other collectors while my husband ran to get a Ziptruck. We’ve found beautiful bookshelves left behind by people who have upgraded, or moved on to new lives. Our house is almost completely furnished and decorated by things we’ve found curbside.

I can look at each item in my house, and remember the adventure that we had getting it home, or the fun that we had fixing it. Like the time my husband came home with a little tea hutch. We sanded it down and discovered that underneath a cracked and peeling mud-brown finish was a beautiful golden oak. The hutch now sits in our kitchen, holding our canisters of tea. Every time I walk past it, it makes me smile.

I am always surprised by the amazing things that people throw away. But I suppose that our cast-offs might be treasures for other people, too. I like to imagine that the things that we’ve chosen to give up have found homes as good as ours, and make someone just as happy as they made us.

Tips to start shopping curbside:

  • Find out the garbage days for your area. We live in an area with a lot of renters, so there is always stuff being left out.
  • Even better, if you live in a college town, find out the typical move out date. College kids leave behind gold mines of free stuff.
  • Bring a flashlight. That chair you think is a nice green in the dark may turn out to be a (still awesome but not matching) chartreuse with light on it.
  • Bring a buddy. You never know how heavy something may be and you’ll need help to carry things home. You may also need someone to guard an item.
  • Make friends with Pinesol and Lysol (or a green alternative).
  • Rehabbing furniture is not as hard as you’d think. A block of foam and a cute fabric can make the difference between trash and a kitschy treasure.
  • Be careful of upholstered furniture. Bed bugs are on the rise.
  • A coat of paint can completely change a piece of furniture. Don’t pass something up that has good bones because it’s not exactly right.
  • If you can’t quite bring yourself to take something home off the street, start off by checking out some yard sales. You never know what someone will be selling for ten dollars.

Best of luck in your curbside shopping! If you’ve already been, what’s the best curbside or dumpster score you’ve ever found? We’d love to see them in the Offbeat Home Flickr pool.

Comments on How to shop curbside and furnish your home for free

  1. I have fond memories of doing this with my best friend and her mom in high school. I’d spend the night at their house on Fridays, and we’d all wake up extra early on Saturdays to go garage saleing and we’d always end up with someone’s cast off furniture from the side of the road instead. Good times!!

  2. I, too, am a fan of aquiring fabulous cast-off furniture and have found some terrific pieces over the years – an awesome coffee table, a vintage dresser from the 30’s. I call it “Dragon” furniture which is a play on the fact that you usually have to figure out a way to “drag in” your find. My husband now knows if he gets a text saying I found a Dragon to hop in the big car and find me. 🙂

    • Exactly what I was going to say. I don’t see much stuff left curbside around here, don’t even see carboot sales often (UK version of garage sale/flea market) but it seems like the entire town is on Freecycle.

      Annoyingly we missed the Christmas TV change-over but we’ve gotten some amazing stuff from there, and gotten rid of some old junk that would otherwise have gone to landfill.

    • freecycle is awesome! I will never have to buy clothes again for myself or my kids, there is ALWAYS someone giving them away, among many many other things

    • I was this close [_] to getting a free car on freecycle once! Missed it by 5 minutes! But have acquired lots of good stuff from there, I recommend!

  3. About 75% of the furniture (and many other goods too) in our home came from Craiglist’s “free” section, Freecycle, or just plain found on the street: dining table, kitchen chairs, two large folding tables, a handmade sturdy wood table, bookshelves, couch, mattress, computer desk, loveseat, armchair, office chairs, artwork, nightstands, etc. etc.

    I think my biggest personal find was when we stumbled across a huge pile of virtually brand-new, high-quality kitchen goods, including two cast iron skillets and a turkey-sized Romertopf clay baker.

  4. YES! Thank you! People always think I’m slightly insane when I say that I’ve found treasured pieces of furniture “in” the garbage.

    But then I laugh at them and think of the gorgeous antique carved walnut bed-frame I found leaning against a dumpster in my former college town that just needed to be stripped and refinished. 🙂

  5. love this! I found my current computer desk on the side of the road, and I just happened to be with my friend who has a truck! It’s an awesome desk with an extension for my printer. I also found a wooden drying rack (for dishes) in an alley. Don’t worry, I sanitized it well!

  6. Hahaha, another person with a dog named Neville! I too have a pup named Neville.

    More post-related: if there’s a college town, DUMPSTER DIVE LIKE CRAZY. It’s better on the private college campuses, btw. I’ve found the richer the campus, the more likely students are to just trash stuff rather than move it! 😛

    • I’ve lived in college towns my whole life and hot damn, do you find some good things in the trash! It’s not just furniture either. I’ve found designer clothes in sorority trash.

      Also, a lot of apartment complexes in college towns have donation bins on move out day now, and you can pick up good stuff there too.

  7. I love doing this as well, I used to live in Boston (Somerville is close by) so I’ve found a lot of great stuff that’s made it all the way down to NYC with me. And my area in NYC is pretty great for findings as well. I DO draw the line at sofas and/or upholstered anything, even rugs/fabrics as well. You just don’t know what kind of eggs/larvae/insects could be in there.

  8. When I got my first apartment, I had a camping chair and a milk crate for furniture. A neighbour was cleaning out the attic, and gave me several items including a basket chair with a cover, and an extra cover since it used to have a mate. One day as I walked home, a van pulled up by the dumpster and dumped- a matching chair!

  9. I live in a college town, and miraculously behind one of the “rich kid” apartment complexes. This has been a gold mine for me and my friends. Rich frat boys dump the BEST furniture! I recently just got an Ashley recliner from next to the dumpster for one of my friends who is expecting. (It’s properly cleaned and aired out and baby safe now!) The college kids look out their windows funny when they see a bunch of 30 somethings scavenging their trash sometimes, but it’s a BLAST!

  10. I have furnished my entire house with free stuff from craigslist and hand-me-downs from my family. I must have a plan or I drag in every stray. I have a list of things I want, a set plan for the style of pieces I’m willing to go after and a maximum distance I’m willing to drive for the quality of the piece being retrieved. I drive a truck, so hauling things home is easy; I keep a tarp and cargo straps, and a hand truck in the back so if I find something kind of big or long I can get it home safe and dry. I’m almost done =) just a few more funky items and my plan will be complete! Right now I’m looking for an old console hi-fi.

  11. My husband and mother-in-law call it “home shopping”. We’ve gotten a dry sink, computer chairs (at least 6), my brothers’ small couch, several bookshelves, chairs, side tables. Yea. Living in an apartment complex is like a goldmine come summer and fall.

  12. My brother and his roommate are living the fabulous (and broke) lifestyle of two twenty-something stoner bachelors in their very first place. Almost every piece of furniture in their house except for their beds (brought from mom’s) tv, and gaming systems (bought secondhand) were taken off the curbside. I was amazed at the variety and quality of furniture they’ve been able to find that other people have just thrown away.

  13. In my hometown and the adjoining town across the bridge (New Hope PA and Lambertville, NJ) there was a designated time each year — around spring cleaning time — called “Sparkle Week”, during which everyone would put their stuff curbside the day AFTER garbage day and leave it out for curbshoppers for a full week. You’d find amazing stuff — 40 year old records, books, furniture, rugs, clothes, sports equipment. I wish that I could take advantage of something similar now that I own a house!

  14. i used to LOVE doing this…until i had enough friends deal with bed bugs infestations. they would burst into tears at the meer mention of bed bugs even months later.

    one friend got them from bringing in a headboard off the street. she thought you only had to avoid puffy furniture but tht isnt the case.

    to me, a free piece of furniture isnt worth the 3000 bux i might need to spend on bed bug removal…

    but i know there are ltos of cute things out there! damn these bugs!

    • Exactly. I’ll craigslist or freecycle, but bedbugs and other crawlies have scared me off curb-picking (a friend brought in a curbside find that ended up being a secret home for roaches, another got scabies, though both of those were upholstered furniture).

  15. I furnished an entire apartment off Craigslist when I moved to San Francisco, for free. A woman was leaving the country, and she didn’t want to be bothered with selling her stuff, so she responded to my ad and Irented a truck and carted it off!

    I passed the gift along to a friend in Oakland who was getting out of an abusive relationship just as I was moving back to Memphis. She’s now passed it along to her daughter, and the gift keeps on giving!

  16. Also don’t be afraid to ask family and friends.

    When I moved in with my boyfriend we got given tons of second hand stuff by family. Someone had a table they were replacing, someone else had chairs that had been in their garage for months, one person asked the owner of their building who saved anything and everything left behind when tenants moved out.

    It seems almost everyone has an odd bit of furniture in need of a new home.

    Even we managed to help out when my sister got her own place. We’d been given 4 sets of knives, forks and spoons and only used 2 so we passed one set on to her.

  17. my town doesnt have a lot of curbside treasures, but yard sales? oh do we have yard sales! Best things we ever picked up from a yard sale was my daughters stroller, and the adorable bedside tables.

  18. When I was a kid my parents would raid the local dump. At least until they made it illegal to remove things. None of the rest has really caught on here, perhaps due to the weather (8 months of snow potentially puts a damper on this sort of thing), but I know in Montreal it was fairly common, especially on the annual moving day.

  19. Another tip is move-in day for college students, especially those who are moving in to a 4th story apartment or dorm room. Some things just don’t fit and some things are just too heavy too move and you can find some nice pieces outside!

    I rented in Newton, MA for a while and our entertainment center that we have had for 9 years now was a curbside find. During our first year of marriage, all of our furniture except for our bed was from garage/yard sales and curbside finds. Over the years we have replaced most of it but I still have a gorgeous banquette and china hutch that I got for $35. People who come over love it and think it must be an antique and was passed down in the family–nope! Just a friend who was downsizing!

  20. I love curbside finds! My husband and I hardly owned anything when we got our apartment, shortly after getting married and moving several states away for grad school. Almost everything we own came from curbs, thrift stores, and yard sales. He even found a computer that he refurbished! It’s great, because when we move back, we don’t want to have to pay to move a ton of stuff with us. We can just have a yard sale, donate, and then do it all over again after we move!

  21. off the street, small folding dish chair (ikea), I litteraly pulled over tires almost screching on a busy road, got out threw the thing in the back much to the suprise of my passenger. bbq grill from the trash used for years free to someone else. Grand but not off the street a china cabinet free with my mom’s condo.

  22. If your looking for storage solutions try the back of business’ they may not be the prettiest things but they are generally really sturdy. I’ve got two shelves and one glass cabinet for the back of stores. I love a good free find, till the bf reminds me that we have no where to put it. So can’t wait to have a house to furnish!

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