I Furnished My Apartment With Trash I Picked Up Off The Street, And You Can Too

I like to think of it as a collective recycling program, a form of city kinship that often turns up just the thing you’ve been looking for.
Publish date:
August 19, 2014
home decor, recycling

I rarely make it to the end of my block in Brooklyn without seeing a cardboard box left on a stoop, labeled with one of my favorite words: FREE. I always stop to check out the goods up for grabs, because who doesn’t love free stuff?

If you live in New York, you know what I’m talking about. The presence of perfectly good or gently used home décor and furniture left on the sidewalk is a common sight, but it wasn’t a sight I was used to before moving to the city six years ago.

Where I grew up in suburban Massachusetts, trash (like everything else, actually) was more of a private thing. Maybe you’d see the occasional yard sale, but it wasn’t an acceptable social outing to scour the neighborhood on trash day. Yankee pride and all that. In New York, you’d have to do something a lot weirder than take a table from someone’s trash to earn weird looks.

For one thing, it’s hard for New Yorkers to be packrats. We’re often trying to make the most of tiny apartments, and that means editing down our possessions every so often. Our tendency to leave outgrown or unwanted items on the sidewalk might mean we’re generous, but most likely it’s just the easiest way to get rid of something in the city (who actually pays for those junk removal services?!).

But I like to think of it as a collective recycling program, a form of city kinship that often turns up just the thing you’ve been looking for. I recently put a working lamp I’d come to loathe for no particular reason and a gaudy statement necklace I’d bought in a Forever21 frenzy but had never actually worn out on the sidewalk. I felt lighter. Glad to be rid of them. But also glad to think of someone finding, loving, and using my perfectly useable castaways.

Maybe Park Slope likes to redecorate more than other ‘hoods, but the block my boyfriend and I moved to a few months ago is basically a furniture store on trash nights, a cross between West Elm and Ikea. I’m not saying it’s the most romantic date, but Sunday nights you can usually find us strolling around the neighborhood, keeping our eyes peeled for tables, chairs, and artwork that would complement our apartment.

We actually needed a fair amount of furniture when we moved to this larger apartment, but I didn’t feel like dropping a bunch of money on pieces our puppy was likely to chew up. Furniture shopping is a hassle any way you slice it in the city, whether you’re paying extra for home delivery, attempting the subway stairs with heavy boxes, or venturing into the hellish maze known as Ikea on a weekend.

Besides the scavenger hunt appeal of a good ground score, I’d argue it’s a lot easier. Plus you can skip right over that super fun “some assembly required” part.

Before you sound the bed bug alarm, I should mention that I never take anything with fabric, and I always clean each item with antibacterial spray right way. I’m not saying this eliminates the risk, but those little freaks are everywhere from movie theatres to the N train in the city, and so far I’ve avoided their wrath. Besides, isn’t buying something from an antique store or a thrift store just as risky? I hope I never see one, but I can’t let the fear of bed bugs keep me from secondhand bliss.

From the perfect coffee table to a mirrored Buddha statue, here’s how we used trash day to transform our apartment for free.

1. Side Table of my Dreams

2. Made To Order Coffee Table

3. White Dream on Wheels

4. Shoe Rack & Ceramic Vases

5. Soy Sauce Remixed

6. Backyard Buddha

7. Trashy Gardens

Are you grossed out by trash furnishings? If not, what are your favorite ground scores?