After outfitting his home with free finds from the kerb and beyond, Marty Smiley shares his hard rubbish tips and regrets.

furnishing for free

When our landlord booted us out of our share house last year, a group field trip to Ikea was out of the question. Like many Australians, designing a living space based only on taste and style was a luxury we could not afford.

Instead, we had to take to the streets: scavenging, upcycling, trading and buying through online flea markets. While we did make some second-hand purchases, much of what we got we got for free.

The fact that furniture can be found by anyone with a hire van and a dream is a godsend for renters. Here’s what we’ve learned to look out for.

It’s (usually) not stealing if it’s on the kerb

Timing is everything: if your city’s wealthiest suburbs have hard rubbish collection days, write them down. If not, time your scavenging hunts to popular decluttering periods.

Wealthy homeowners discard stuff like it’s going out of fashion. When summer months fade, perfectly workable barbecues are discarded as the negative gearing brigade upgrade to turquoise Heston Blumenthal gas burners. Well-manicured lawns are strewn with deck chairs, picnic accessories, inflatables and beach umbrellas. On the back end of winter, firewood, fire pits, and gas heaters emerge like spring daisies. We’ve taken them all.

It’s not just the mansion-dwellers though. Most of the lamps in our house come from the lawns of student accommodation towers. The transience of student life means there’s a high turnover rate of household items. Slow cookers, rice cookers, blenders and crockery are plentiful. In outer suburbs, come collection time, nature strips become Harvey Normans. It’s where I found a second computer monitor to upgrade my working-from-home life.

Now many LGAs have switched from council pickup days to on-demand pickups, which makes it harder to find a lot of things in one swoop. But a Sunday evening drive-by in a ritzy area is a good strategy. That’s the time someone else’s weekend spring clean – with a pickup scheduled Monday morning – can become your visit to the homemaker’s centre. Before you commit to picking through hard rubbish, it’s worth noting that some local councils have laws against taking things from kerbside pickup piles and might hand out fines for doing so.

Let the internet search for you

Sometimes the best strategy is to work through online groups who do the scouting for you. Street Bounty and area-specific hard rubbish groups on Facebook are great resources. People take photos of the hard rubbish they’ve seen in their neighbourhoods and if you join a group in your local area you’ll find everything from sex toys to spoon holders.

Often, professional hard rubbish trawlers, who collect items they can refurbish or sell in pieces, will post photos of potential hauls after they’ve pillaged them. This allows the rest of us to see what’s kerbside without leaving our house. The only thing is, you’ll have to be quick if there’s something you want. Users list the suburb, street and accompany it with a photo, so jump in your car or van and go before someone else gets it.

Rough Trade, Buy/Swap/Sell and Pay It Forward groups can also help you declutter or get the item you want. They operate like an online flea market where you can trade stuff you have in exchange for the items you see posted in the group.

I advertised a plasma TV on Rough Trade and wrote in the caption “happy to trade for beer or art”. I didn’t get a slab of beer but I did score a framed painting that looks great in our hallway. Other times people will write “NTN” meaning no trade necessary, or PIF, pay it forward – meaning it’s free with a good deed. Whoever comments first has the best chance of getting the item. NYT – “name your trade” prompts you to comment with an item you’d be willing to exchange. If you’re not the first to comment, you can write “NIL”, which is next in line. If the first commenter/user doesn’t close the deal, the seller will go to you next to consider your offer.

Ask what else they’ve got

Often people are giving things away online as part of a bigger decluttering project, so if you’ve come to collect one thing, always ask your donor if they’ve got anything else they’re trying to offload. Make it sound like you’re doing them a favour: “Let me take that off your hands.” They’ll either give it to you for free or super cheap. Better it goes to you than in the tip.

Know what you’re bringing home

There’s a reason people kick some things to the kerb, which is important to remember when you’re checking out a standing fan that has no power cord. A major trap people fall into is bringing home items that are broken, or missing pieces.

I’m guilty of this. Take this canoe I got. Or is it a kayak? Whatever it is, it’s a hobby I’ll never get to embark on because after a few months of it sitting outside, taking up space in the backyard, I discovered it had a hole in it. Denial is the reason it’s still in there. It wasn’t easy to transport.

Even if you’re taking something for free, it’s worth doing the same due diligence you would if you were buying it. Carry a measuring tape so you can work out the length, width and depth of bulky items you plan to adopt.

My housemate has a huge chest of drawers sitting outside his room because it was too big. He carried it all the way up the stairs before he noticed it didn’t fit his parameters. It’s now been sitting in the hallway for four months because he’s been trying to rehome it and hasn’t found a willing buyer.

Make sure you can actually transport it

I once drove 45 minutes to a lady’s house only to arrive and realise my bargain cabinet was too big for my car. I managed to get it in, but the weight of it blew a gasket in my engine. Not such a bargain after all. The moral of the story: don’t bite off more than you can chew. Check the weight.

The item may be free but if it’s too big for a train or bike and it can’t fit in your car, is it worth the hire van fees? Car hire services like GoGet and CarNextDoor make things a bit easier for you, but if you time it wrong, they can charge you extra for going over. Transport and distance are the factors to consider before you say yes to a new bed frame on the other side of the state.

Ask permission, not forgiveness

The origin of the phrase “one man’s trash is another’s treasure” is actually “one man’s meat, is another’s poison” which is relevant to our house, because not everything your roommate, parent or partner brings home is going to be widely accepted by the household. My housemate Nat brings home cardboard cut-outs and places them around the house to scare us. They serve no purpose other than his own amusement. Nat’s finds are our fears.

Maybe consider sending a group message to the people you live with before you cop a rug they despise. As long as decluttering stays in style, it will be easy to find a different one (that everyone agrees on) online or on-lawn.

(Article source: The Guardian)

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