Want New Stuff? Look to the Curb.

September 19, 2009 at 9:47 PM Leave a comment

So you’re driving down a side street on your way home from the grocery store—when you see it.

Big, beautiful, all-wood, unscratched dining room table . . . What are you doing out on the curb, table? And chairs to match? This can’t be up for grabs . . . if it looks too good to be true, it is. Too bad, too: it would’ve been a perfect upgrade from your ratty Target table.

Bad news: You missed out. Perfectly good stuff is kicked to the curb every day, and depending on what your town thinks, it’s yours to take—legally and totally free.

What’s Stuff Doing on the Curb, Anyway?

Most towns and cities have scheduled “Trash Pickup Days,” specified weekdays when people can leave their unwanted stuff—furniture, appliances, bicycles, garden equipment, or whatever—to get trashed when the garbage guys come. Many households put their stuff out a couple days early, in hopes that someone like you could use their old favorite chair or antique lamp. And others didn’t even think of it.

No matter why this stuff gets left out—depending on your town’s local ordinancesif it’s on a public sidewalk and not in a garbage container (trash can, dumpster, recycling bin, etc.), it’s all yours.

Is Getting Stuff at the Curb Legal?

In most places, yes! Check your town’s garbage policy web site for garbage pickup days, and call the department up to see what’s considered public domain. But if furniture and other valuables are visibly left on the curb (and not contained!), they’re out to be trashed, and they’re probably for the taking.

(‘Curb’ doesn’t mean ‘Yard,”Personal Walkway,’ ‘Porch,’ ‘Driveway,’ or ‘Inside somebody else’s house.’ Don’t steal.)

How Can I Find Curb Stuff?

Some reluctant stuff-trashers put alerts on the internet to let people know where to pick what up. There are loads of little sites online devoted to these alerts, but go for the big fish: check your local Craigslist’s “For Sale” section, especially the “Free,” “Furniture,” “Appliances,” “Electronics,” and “General” pages for free curb finds.

Remember, though: This is only a fraction of your potential loot. If it’s on the curb and not in a trash container, it might as well have a “Free” sign on it.

Treasure or Trash?

Once you open your eyes to the curb market, you’ll quickly see that most of your finds will be just what their past owners thought: JUNK. Here are some totally obvious tips to avoid dragging home a dud:

  • Inspect your find. Public curbs aren’t like Pottery Barn: there’s no guarantee that your new stuff’s sturdy, stable, intact, in good shape, or salvageable. Before you spend your time and effort getting this thing home, make sure it’s worth your while.

  • Where does this fit? Where’s this going in your home? In your life? Is there good space / reason for it there? In both cases, if it’s not a good fit, leave it on the street.

  • How am I getting this home? Plenty of great curb finds have been squashed by this one: the curb’s not always convenient. And sometimes—say you’re trying to get a big couch up a small stairway—it’s impossible. Don’t get the job halfway done just to realize you can’t get it home—or else you’re the one leaving a find on the curb.

I Just Can’t Curb It.

Let’s face it: Some people are too embarrassed to take things—even free and good-as-new things—off the street.

Don’t sweat it . . . there are other ways to get free stuff. Sign up for your local freecycle, keep an eye on Craigslist, go to garage sales (they’re posted on Craigslist, too) and flea markets.

But if you see a curb-find-of-a-lifetime, ignore it at your own risk!

I Suffer from Curb Remorse.

My fiancee and I saw a beautiful kitchen buffet, still in protective wrap, standing on the curb across from our apartment building. This couldn’t be a curb drop, we decided . . . someone’s moving in, and they’re coming out for this treasure in a minute. We decided to walk away and reconsider if it was still there later.

We came out hours later, and there was our buffet—being loaded into someone else’s SUV. This scene haunts me.

Don’t let Curb Remorse happen to you. If you see a curb beauty you can’t leave behind, don’t!

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Sam Warren

I write about money matters that apply to my life—and hopefully yours!

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