Sadly, I don't often make eye contact with cute boys on the street. I also rarely ever spot celebrities while walking around New York. The reason? Fifty percent of the time my eyes are somewhere other than straight in front of me — I'm usually checking out the curb. Yes, I fully confess to being a street sweeping, trash digging, and (even the dirtiest of scavenging) dumpster diving addict. (Proof: This photo was not staged.) All my friends know I can't walk through a neighborhood without stopping occasionally to check out the stoop action. Suspicious closed cardboard boxes, dumpsters filled with construction materials — they all call my name. Loudly.
Folks have been furnishing their homes with $0 since the beginning of time. And, while my thrifting habits started at a young age (about seven), I didn't start noticing free signs until after buying my first car at 17 in California. Senior year of high school, I was driving myself to class one morning and spotted a falling-apart, Victorian, curved-leg sofa on the side of the road. It needed a new life, and my love, desperately. When I got to the campus parking lot, I called my Mom. She'd already seen it the day before and had hesitated — she didn't need another couch. But, for me? Of course. So, while I was sitting in British Literature she and my dad picked it up. That the apple doesn't fall far from the tree is no joke in our family. (And, for the record, she was the one who re-upholstered it).
Then, two years ago, I moved to New York. While good thrift stores are hard to find in the city, the street game is absolutely A+. Anyone who lives here knows it. The city is unfortunately a place of such extreme economic disparity. The small upside of that is what some toss may be truly valuable to others.
To be clear, as much as I kid about having hoarder tendencies, I do hold my possessions pretty loosely. None of us truly needs anything, besides a place to rest our heads. I still find an undeniable thrill, a DIY-excitement in spotting a rusty, broken item and forming a vision for giving it a second life. How can I fix this chair? Re-hammering the back to this bookshelf would be a cinch! Now, most often, I can't — the majority of things tossed asunder really are trash. But, there are gems to be found: vintage record players, expensive coffee table books, and fixable Eames chairs.
There are some rules to this hobby though — caution being key. You won't see me dragging a rain-drenched sofa back to my apartment. And, bed bugs are real, bad, and ruthless. Fortunately, I've never run across any, but I'm always meticulous about examining pieces. A friend taught me a great trick for making sure books are a-okay to add to your shelves: slip them into plastic bags and pop them in the freezer. Bye-bye bugs. The one time I did have to check myself was when I started to examine a chair that an elderly lady had just set out on the street for a game of outdoor chess. Now, that was embarrassing.
Some of my friends have asked me, "Don't you feel weird, just taking something that's been sitting on the street? You're basically a cute, little vulture." Well, no. Let me wax poetic; I consider it a beautiful, giving-back aspect of this city. Decorating your apartment with a random assortment of finds takes skill. It's a long project and never done. But, it's never just about the finds, and always about the thrill of the hunt. I, for one, have definitely gotten lucky, see some of my favorite finds ahead...
When I lived in Carroll Gardens last year, my neighbors across the street were selling this trunk at a stoop sale. The price was $200. I didn't have $200 to spend on it. So, my roommate and I wistfully looked at it from our third-floor windows. A month later, coming home late at night, I noticed they were finishing some construction work. Tired but curious, I crossed the street and peeked behind a pile of wood. There it was. I guess free things do sometimes come to those who wait.
A month ago on a gorgeous Saturday, my friend Stephanie and I were running errands in Cobble Hill. We were on Dean Street and almost to Trader Joes, when we saw a massive curb-side pile of junk. Basically it was free flea market. She found a WWII-era trunk to use for a choreography piece, me, two real-deal Japanese silk kimonos. We never made it to the grocery store.
Last September, I moved deeper into Brooklyn to the magical land of Windsor Terrace. While I have so much space now (I'm in trouble), the street finds aren't quite the same. People don't move that frequently. However, there are sometimes beautiful old things like this art deco mirror I carried home one night.