Before I buy something new, I like to consider:
- How to dispose of the item at the end of its (usually short) life
- The type of material the item is made of—I avoid buying any new plastic
- The (usually excessive) packaging that accompanies the item
- The resources that went into manufacturing the item—water, energy, labor
- The country of origin of the item—working conditions, distance to ship to me
- Whether I can find it locally from a small business
- The (usually high) cost of the item
Does this mean I own nothing? Absolutely not. However, when I feel I need something, either the desire subsides after a few days or eventually the item magically appears. It’s that whole ask the Universe thing. And I tell you this as a minimally woo-woo person.
A Partial List of Possessions I Wanted But Didn’t Buy
I told my partner Chandra that I wouldn’t mind a clock. I thought it would help Charlotte and me get out the door on time in the mornings. But I didn’t want to buy a clock (see list above). A couple of weeks ago, Chandra found a clock with a battery discarded by the side of the road. I haven’t had time to hang it up, so have put it in the window for now.
These LED lightbulbs…
A while ago, I had also mentioned to Chandra that I wanted a new light fixture. The one I had saturated the room with the “hue of urine” as my neighbor accurately described it. Chandra found a new fixture at a yard sale down the street. So that wasn’t free, but soon a couple of bulbs burnt out. Chandra found another light fixture by the dumpster where I live, with LED lightbulbs that fit this light fixture. I took the bulbs and he took the fixture for his house.
These pillow cases…
I have been organizing produce bag sewing meetups and these cotton cases will make lovely produce bags. I found them in a bag full of discarded clothes by the dumpster. Our little group hopes to sew enough bags to lend them out at the farmers’ market. If you live in the Bay Area and have old, clean sheets of natural fibers that you would like to donate, please email me. Click here for post on transforming pillow cases and sheets into produce bags. Click here for post on organizing your own produce bag making meetup.
These small jars…
In the recycling bins where I live, I found the small jars you see sitting in these large jars. (The staff at Fraïche in Palo Alto save the large ones for me.) Often soaking in water easily removes paper labels. Click here for a post about removing labels from glass jars and smells from their lids.
This platter and stand…
Found by the dumpster.
This towel bar…
Also found by the dumpster.
Well okay, I didn’t find Bootsy by the dumpster. But he had been living outside. It’s a very long story… When Bootsy lived with my neighbor, her grandson wound up in the ER a couple of times from allergic reactions to flea bites. The hospital said something about contacting Children’s Protective Services if it happened again. So, Bootsy had to move outdoors. I eventually took him in.
One of my neighbors gave me three Le Creuset pots! He said he didn’t like using them because of their massive weight. My daughter MK took two of them over to her dad’s. I use this one for many things, including making yogurt. The cast iron, once warm, stays warm for hours as my yogurt cultures.
Another neighbor gave me this giant cast iron pot that had been in her family for at least a few generations. I think it’s about a hundred years old. I’ll have to ask Helen again for its history. She said she didn’t have space for it and knew I would appreciate it. She was right! Click here for instructions on maintaining cast iron pots and pans.
Oh but what is that I’ve set the pot on for the picture? Another neighbor gave me two of these dressers. I think they are mahogany. I need to clean off some wax that dripped onto this one. And what is that on the floor in front of the dresser?
I found this outside by the dumpster and have read about a third of it. It’s fantastic of course.
My friend Victoria moves back to the olde country (Canada) in July. She gave me this glassware, including a giant Le Parfait jar.
This sewing machine…
I had mentioned a few times to Chandra that I wished I had my grandmother’s old Singer treadle sewing machine that I had played with as a little girl. Chandra later found this tossed on the side of the road—one of his more outrageous finds. It dates to the late 1800s. It needed repairs—including a new belt—so Chandra fixed it and it now works.
I think these Ethan Allen chairs win the best find award. I had mentioned to Chandra a month or two ago that I wanted two more sturdy kitchen chairs when, this weekend, these magically appeared on the side of the road a few houses down from where I live. They look as though on one ever sat on them. Similar chairs cost over $300 new. Each.
The chairs don’t perfectly match my kitchen table—which I obtained through bartering—but they look pretty good.
If your neighbors don’t put much by the side of the road—and you don’t date a dumpster diver extraordinaire—you can find free stuff through:
- The Buy Nothing Project
- Craigslist, Nextdoor, Freecycle and other community websites
- Community swap meets (click here for a post on organizing one)
So what should I visualize next? I could use two large ceramic bowls for making my sourdough bread. I’ll just put that out there and see what happens.
17 Replies to “My Home Is Filled With Discarded Stuff No One Wanted”
Hi- I’m so impressed with the quality of the stuff that you find at the dumpster or on the side of the road! I also believe that the Universe will send you what you need but I have to say that it seems you have a direct line to the Universe through Chandra!
I really enjoy your inspiring blog, thank you. Lesley, Durban, South Africa.
I love your questions at the start and you’ve managed to collect some amazing finds! I must try harder, clothes are the only thing I consistently buy second-hand. I usually look but don’t have the patience to wait!
These are all beautiful things, and you have such lovely taste— I’m sure there are plenty of free things out there that don’t suit your aesthetic/ethics at all, and you have the restraint to leave them for someone else.
That said, “asking the universe” seems to work best for middle-class or upper-middle-class people. You clearly live in a place where people can afford (or at least THINK they can afford) to be careless (or best case, generous) with their things/money.
Just amazing finds, all what you wanted/needed and in excellent condition. Now they are being used and loved as they should be.
Good post as always. Those Le Creuset pots are the best! I do my sourdough breads in one just like that orange one. It is amazing what a throwaway society we are in the west. I totally agree with you about visualizing. A lot of truth in the saying “Be careful what you wish for.”
I was recently looking to buy and bike and thinking about finding one second hand and a co-worker of mine happened to give me one a couple of days later! I love it when the universe bring things to you that you need. 🙂
I love this. It’s so true things come your way a lot of times. I had been looking in thrift stores for ages for a pasta machine. Before I decided I wanted one it was one if those things I saw there occasionally next to 1000s of fondue sets. But for several months I found nothing. Then a friend of mine cleared out her basement so I told her what I was looking for (in case she had it hiding about) including the pasta maker in a WhatsApp group. She didn’t have it but another friend had one she bought at a garage sale and never used. She gifted it to me 🙂
I have many other stories. My most amazing one was being gifted a free knitting machine. They can easily go for a few hundred dollars on eBay.
Good thing Chandra didn’t arrive shrink-wrapped in extra packaging from Amazon -I’d say it sounds like he’s the real find!
Wonderful post 🙂 I also have a dear little black cat. Believe it or not, mine was found in a recycling bin as a near-starved kitten. A treadle Singer sewing machine is long on my wish list, so lucky you on that score. I sighed with envy when I saw yours…And the Le Creuset pots, oh my! This is when I again conclude that on the whole we are just so affluent when we can afford to give away cookware like that.
My 15 year old son asked me the other day, why is everything in our house antique? I thought this was funny because it was like he’d only just noticed after 15 years living with the stuff! I explained the whys and wherefores – quality, sustainability, beauty etc… and it was as if a light bulb suddenly went on and all of my years of ‘lectures’ suddenly made sense!
This is so awesome! The apartment building that I live in actually has a sort of raised surface in the lobby where we all put things we aren’t using anymore and others can take them if they need! It’s unofficial but everyone takes part and it’s been amazing!
I think there is a common thread there: Chandra! All you need to do is mention it to Chandra. Do you have a spare Chandra please? Or could you let him know I need a duvet cover in green forest hues? Seriously now, on the topic of Le Creuset pots, how does one restores a 22 year old Le Creuset pot to its former splendour? The inside of mine has turned brown over the years. Is there a way to make it look less battered?
I love looking around at things I’ve gotten for free. The upholstered chair in my living room, my dining table and two of the chairs, my daughter’s bed, a set of Pyrex mixing bowls, a set of three cake stands that I use to hold produce on the counter, baskets, my clothes drying rack, chalk board and cork board, pavers for my backyard, my trusty Jansport backpack, clothes…the list goes on and on! Just last week, my three year old and I were taking a walk and came back with Tom’s of Maine shower gel, two necklaces, a pair of brand new socks, and a book!
I really enjoyed this post because it resonated with me on a very personal level. When I moved into my house ten years ago I obtained about half of my furniture and decor from people taking it to the landfill, dumpsters, a quarter from yard sales and the remainder was given to me. I have always received speculative looks from guests who don’t know me well (they got over the origins of my furniture soon enough). You are right, every time I thought (earnestly) that I needed something, it presented itself to me – not always exactly as I wanted it, but as I needed it. I often found I also had to be humble enough to accept what came my way – it’s become easier over time. I’ve just found your blog – it’s very interesting, thank you for it! I hope the ceramic bowls come your way!
It boggles my mind the things people in the US throw out. Good stuff! I’m always looking at the side of the road here but things are in dump condition before put there for the rubbish truck. I have gotten a perfectly good kitchen cabinet from an uncle though.
Hi Alisa, I can’t believe it either. Every time I look at my new-to-me chairs, I still can’t believe they were just sitting there on the curb unwanted. It’s good for me but also crazy! Glad to hear people are less wasteful where you are. ~ Anne Marie
While I did score a pretty sweet cat from the streets, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything worth taking in my area, both IRL and online. Poor people don’t really get rid of a lot of good stuff, and sadly I don’t have the space for fun recycled art.
Once I did find a gorgeous low slung 60s/70s mod armchair, but it was missing its cushions and turns out replacing seat cushions is HELLA expensive when theyre custom fit for the furniture. So, so expensive that I had to leave it behind. Still sad about it.