How To Score Free Furniture (& Other Cool Stuff!)

Photographed by Amy Lombard.
When I moved to New York City several years ago, my greatest surprise was not how great the bagels really are (they're amazing) or the unprecedented friendliness of the locals (sometimes). No, it was something I discovered on trash day eve: People get rid of good shit. Like, Eames-chair good. Because even the worst hoarders can only further their addiction as far their square footage allows — which, in NYC, is not very far at all.

I was certainly no newbie to street scavenging when I landed in Brooklyn — my addiction to the hunt has always been deep-rooted. But I quickly realized New York was a whole different ball game with its own unique surprises and challenges. You have to be willing to dig, identify potential finds, and know when to back away. Bringing bed bugs, mold, or rotting wood into your place is no joke.

Ahead, all the tricks I've learned for identifying prime street pieces and some words of caution. Tell us about your greatest street find in the comments below.
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Photographed by Amy Lombard.
Books & Magazines
First off, if the books are in a cardboard box, this giver has been doing a library purge and probably cares about books. A quick flip through should reveal whether it's been left outside for days (and should give you pause) or you've stumbled across the dog-eared jackpot.
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Photographed by Amy Lombard.
Books & Magazines (Continued)
Stay away from any warped pages that look like they may have seen water damage. And it's always a good idea to pop your new finds in a Ziplock bag and leave them in the freezer for a few days to kill off germs.
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Photographed by Amy Lombard.
Textiles
Some of my friends are still weirded out that I wear clothes found on a stoop. You'll want to put them in a sealable bag until you have a chance to get them to the laundromat, stat. And always look out for dirt and crumbs in the pockets. Blankets and other textiles can become moldy when exposed to the elements — or worse, if they're found by stray dogs. It's also important to note if insects or other small animals have made your found fabric their home.
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Photographed by Amy Lombard.
Furniture
For upholstered pieces, be sure to carefully inspect the crevices and seams and feel all over for any dampness, which could indicate rotting or mold issues. Usually there's something wrong with a chair, maybe a screw missing or a leg that's off. These are usually fixable, but serious damages like ripped caning can be more trouble than it's worth to fix. But don't rule out possibilities for applying a new wood stain or paint job.
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Photographed by Amy Lombard.
Electronics
TVs, phones, and printers can be the most dicey. And we've all seen a rogue Mr. Coffee set atop someone's stoop with an "I work!" sign taped across its front. It doesn't hurt to trust a stranger's goodwill, but take it with a grain of salt. Even if the gadgets don't find a new lease on life in your home, it doesn't hurt to try to have them repaired — or properly recycled.
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Photographed by Amy Lombard.
Boxes & Packing Materials
So, you need to move, and fast. A brisk walk can usually turn up some good packing materials, but be wary if there's been any rain recently. If several are bundled up together properly with string, that's usually a green light. Ones in dumpsters can be suspect since they're mixed with everything else and you'll be bringing in a lot of dirt. Look out for boxes from companies like Fresh Direct (ideal for dishes) or Casper (mattress containers can hold weirdly tall items).
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Photographed by Amy Lombard.
One of the more important things to keep in mind when picking up larger items off of the street — once they hit the curb, they're technically city property. It's fine to haul them away with your own two hands, but you could run into issues with the Sanitation Department if you drive off with your newfound sofa strapped to the roof. You can find out more about eco-friendly and responsible disposal here, or visit NYC.gov for more disposal guidelines. Happy hunting!
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