Free to a Weird Home

Leslie Garrett by Leslie Garrett | October 18th, 2010 | 9 Comments
topic: Eco Decorating, Green Living

Purple chair on the side of the road

I’m so busted. By the moms at my kids’ school. My neighbors. People in passing cars.

But I couldn’t help myself. It was perfect. Exactly what I was looking for. And there for the taking.

I looked to my right. My left. All clear. Grabbed it.

But it wouldn’t fit easily in the back of my car. In the time it took me to rearrange things so it would fit, it seems everyone I’ve ever met happened by. Some looking embarrassed for me. Some just confused. But the look on my seven-year-old’s face made up for it.

“Did you get it?” she asked, when I returned to the car.

“Good as new,” I replied. “Just has a bit of dirt we can clean off.”

“She’ll love it,” she said, referring to her doll — and to the wooden cradle I’d just garbage-picked from the side of the road.

Treasure on the roadside

It’s not the first time I’ve found treasure on the roadside. Nor will it be the last. Though I prefer to do my dirty work under cloak of darkness, I won’t pass up anything that suits us, even when it means I might prompt neighborhood gossip that I am reportedly a) crazy, b) in financial ruin or c) crazy.

Thus far, I’ve furnished our home with a wicker hamper (all it needed was a good coat of paint), a wooden patio table (all it needed was a good coat of paint), a dining room chair (the perfect match to my grandparents’ 100-year-old set), a dresser for my son’s room (needed dusting and some wood glue), an old Salada tea-box-cum-end-table (all it needed was a thorough dusting) and a doll cradle (cleaning and a coat of paint, see above).

My kids are accustomed to my salvage missions. My 12-year-old daughter, upon leaping out of the car post-Christmas to nab the hugest poinsettia we’d ever seen, pointedly remarked that “we’re kind of a weird family, aren’t we mom?”

Environmental price tags

What I find weird is that people toss with abandon. The only explanation I can come up with is that our stuff has lost its value. What’s the point in finding another home for an item when it seems worthless? And the reason it’s worthless is that a replacement is so cheap. We live in an age of disposable everything, rendering everything temporary, including our attachment to it.

While I love a bargain as much as the next girl, I’m learning that the cost of an item doesn’t just show up at the cash register. There’s an environmental price tag to all that we purchase, from food to couches, lipstick to cars.

The more use we can wring from our purchases — including passing them on to others when we no longer need them — the better.

In the meantime, I’m happy to make use of all those great things that others toss. Weird indeed.


  1. I’d have pulled over so fast I’d have whiplash if I saw a purple chair like your lead-in photo sitting on the side of the road!

    Leayn | October 18th, 2010 | Comment Permalink
  2. I do it too…and I quit caring what others thought a long time ago. A lot of what I “rescue’ gets donated to local thrift stores if it’s not something I can use.
    I’ll never understand why people throw away perfectly good items when there are so many places to donate them to.

    Susan Nielsen | October 18th, 2010 | Comment Permalink
  3. Great article. I just found a wooden park bench in the trash — perfect for our new house, which comes complete with a giant park-like back yard. I can’t wait to rehab it and put it to good use. I spotted a pair of barstools in the trash earlier and your article has me wondering if a fresh coat of paint and new fabric on the cushions might turn them into great seating at the kitchen island. Off to snag them (before someone else does)…

    Jodi | October 18th, 2010 | Comment Permalink
  4. WOW! I would have bent over backwards to take that chair home… not only is it retro-style but PURPLE! Love it!

    Mia | October 18th, 2010 | Comment Permalink
  5. We’ve scored everything from a vintage metal sofa to a perfectly fine hamster habitat (didn’t spend too much time thinking about what must have happened to the previous hamster, just gave it a good cleaning with bleach). When we lived in the suburbs, there was definite shame attached to taking someone’s “trash.” Back in the city now, we occasionally put good usable things we no longer need out on the sidewalk and then take bets as to how long it will take before someone picks it up :)

    Gini Kirk | October 18th, 2010 | Comment Permalink
  6. What a great post! When I moved to a studio apartment, I found some of the best furniture items in the “throw away” section of my basement en route to the laundry room. The bounty included a perfectly workable table lamp with handmade paper shade, a simple round wooden end table, and a Japanese paper folding screen…all in perfect condition, no tears, scrapes or wobbles! Thanks for encouraging this mindful way to make our homes beautiful. Also, I recently needed to clear some space of old books and clothes, but instead of just throwing them out, I found that the Salvation Army will pick up any amount of donations (including my ten boxes and five bags) for free! So, that’s another way we can pass on our no-longer-needed items.

    Emily | October 19th, 2010 | Comment Permalink
  7. Love the chair. good finds are hard to come by, so when you see them you have to go after it. Some finds at garage sales need to be reupholstered and the price of designer fabrics have gotten out of hand. Found this great site to buy at a huge discount: look under decorative fabrics.

    mari | November 30th, 2010 | Comment Permalink
  8. After I bitter divorce, medical issues that put me on disability and a fire that lead to me loosing almost everything I had in the world. I began curb shopping to fill my Chicago studio. I have found on the curb a nice sideboard that I repainted barn red and use as my pantry. I also have a nice 3 drawer dresser, mirror, a box of picture frames, a working portable CD and cassette player, 3 mismatched dining chairs and a medicine chest that still hangs in my bath. The chair is a great find. I’m jealous.

    larry | May 29th, 2013 | Comment Permalink
  9. stretcher in hands

    Nike Free 5.0 | February 10th, 2015 | Comment Permalink

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