Pick a Rich Area and Pack a Tape Measure: Free Lessons for Furnishing Your Home | australian way of life

OWhen our landlord kicked us out of our shared home last year, a group trip to Ikea was out of the question. Like many Australians, designing a living space based solely on taste and style was a luxury we could not afford.

Instead, we had to take to the streets: scavenge, recycle, trade, and buy at online flea markets. Although we did make a few second-hand purchases, much of what we got was free.

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

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

Timing is everything: if your city’s wealthier suburbs have tough garbage collection days, write them down. If not, schedule your scavenger hunts for popular decluttering times.

Wealthy landlords throw things away as if they were old-fashioned. When the summer months fade away, the fully functional barbecues are thrown away as the negative gear brigade moves to turquoise Heston Blumenthal gas burners. The manicured lawns are dotted with loungers, picnic paraphernalia, inflatables, and umbrellas.

As winter draws to a close, firewood, fireplaces and gas heaters emerge like spring daisies. We took them all.

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It’s not just the inhabitants of the mansion.

Most of the lamps in our house come from the lawns of the student housing towers. The transience of student life means there is a high turnover rate of household items. Slow cookers, rice cookers, blenders and dinnerware are plentiful.

In the outer suburbs, at collection time, the nature bands become Norman Harveys. This is where I found a second computer monitor to improve my work-from-home life.

Now, many LGAs have moved from council pickup days to on-demand pickups, making it harder to find a lot of stuff all at once. But a Sunday night drive-by in an upscale neighborhood is a good strategy. This is when someone else’s weekend spring cleaning — with a scheduled pickup on Monday morning — can become your visit to the home help center.

Before you commit to picking up hard waste it should be noted that some local councils have laws prohibiting the removal of items from curbside pick up piles and may issue fines for doing so.

Let the internet search for you

Sometimes the best strategy is to go through online groups that do the scouting for you. Street Bounty and region-specific hard trash groups on Facebook are great resources. People take pictures of the hard trash they’ve seen in their neighborhood and if you join a group in your area, you’ll find everything from sex toys to spoon holders.

For example, this spoon holder. Photograph: Marty Smiley/The Guardian

Often professional hard waste trawlers, who collect items they can refurbish or resell in pieces, will post photos of potential catches after looting them. It allows the rest of us to see what’s on the sidewalk without leaving our house.

The only thing is that you will have to be quick if there is something you want. Users list the suburb, street, and come with a photo, so hop in your car or van and drive away before someone else gets it.

The 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 items you have in exchange for the items you see displayed in the group.

I advertised a plasma TV on Rough Trade and wrote in the caption “happy to trade for beer or art”. Didn’t have a beer, but did score a framed painting that looks great in our hallway.

A painting that Marty traded for an old television
A painting that Marty received in exchange for an old television. Photograph: Marty Smiley/The Guardian

Other times people will write ‘NTN’ – which stands for No Exchange Necessary, or PIF, ‘Pay It Forward’ – which means it’s free with a good deed. Whoever comments first has the best chance of getting the article. NYT – “Name Your Trade” invites you to comment with an article you would be willing to trade.

If you are not the first to comment, you can write ‘NIL’, which is ‘Next In Line’. If the first reviewer/user does not close the deal, the seller will then come to you to review your offer.

Ask what else they have

Often people donate things online as part of a larger decluttering project, so if you came to pick up one thing, always ask your donor if they have anything else they are trying to offload.

Look like you’re doing them a favor: “Let me get rid of it. They will give it to you for free or very cheaply. It’s better for you than for the tip.

Know what you bring home

There’s a reason people knock certain things on the pavement, which is important to remember when checking out a pedestal fan that doesn’t have a power cord. A major trap people fall into is bringing home broken or missing items.

I am guilty of this. Take this canoe that I have. Or is it a kayak? Anyway, it’s a hobby I’ll never get into, because after a few months of sitting outside, taking up space in the garden, I discovered there was a hole .

Denial is the reason it’s still there. It was not easy to transport.

A canoe with a hole
A canoe with a hole that still hasn’t been sent to the curb in turn. Photograph: Marty Smiley/The Guardian

Even if you’re taking something for free, it’s worth doing the same due diligence as if you were buying it. Pack a tape measure so you can determine the length, width, and depth of large items you plan to adopt.

My roommate has a huge dresser outside his room because it was too big. He carried it all the way up the stairs before noticing it didn’t fit his parameters. It has now been sitting in the hallway for four months because he is trying to rehouse it and has not found a willing buyer.

Make sure you can actually carry it

I once drove 45 minutes to a lady’s house only to find that my discount cabinet was too big for my car. I managed to get him in, but his weight blew a gasket in my engine. Not such a good deal after all.

The moral of the story: don’t bite off more than you can chew. Check the weight.

The item might be free, but if it’s too big for a train or bike and won’t fit in your car, is it worth the van rental fee? Car rental services like GoGet and CarNextDoor make it a bit easier, but if you get the time wrong, they may charge you extra for overtaking.

Transportation and distance are the factors to consider before saying yes to a new bed frame across the state.

Actually fix your fixers

If you think you’ve found something you can fix or reuse, do so. If you don’t, inevitably it will languish somewhere in the house gathering dust or rain. In our house we saw a foosball table that needed bent legs over a winter, an incomplete weight set in rust, and a wobbly scooter brought home that never rode.

Other times, injured objects just need a little imagination. When my roommate made me bring home a bottomless potted plant, I wasn’t happy. I’ve since learned that a potted plant doesn’t need its bottom if it’s outside and not going anywhere. That’s what the ground is for.

Ask permission, not forgiveness

the the origin of the phrase “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” is actually “one man’s meat, is another man’s poison”, which is relevant to our home, because anything your roommate, parent or partner brings home will not be widely accepted by the household.

My roommate Nat brings home some cardboard cutouts and places them around the house to scare us. They serve no purpose other than his own amusement. Nat’s findings are our fears.

Terrifying cardboard cutouts
What’s wrong with those terrifying cardboard cutouts, Nat? Photograph: Marty Smiley/The Guardian

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

  • Did you find something great for free on the street? Tell us about your hard waste treasures by sending an email, ideally with photos, to [email protected] with the subject “Hard Waste”. These can be published in a follow-up article.

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