I admit it Ė Iím drawn to peopleís trash. When I see interesting mounds outside on the curb, I slow down in the car. Iíve even been known to flip around for a second drive-by. Shameless? Well, not really. I see rescuing perfectly good furniture and housewares as a service: Iím recycling.
You can furnish your home on the ultimate cheap (and even nab some free antiques) if you just keep your eyes open. Starving students, newly-emerged adults and new homeowners can pick up a sly starter set for a song using these techniques:
1. Call your Dump First. Some landfills will have an area set aside for cast-offs, which you can wander through and make legal selections of lots of things: couches, loveseats, end tables, coffee tables, bedframes, what have you.
My town not only forbids anyone from entering the dump for a look-see, but immediately crushes all and sundry to oblivion with a masher. This really offends my reuse and recycle mind view, so I have to be a little ballsier in my salvage approach. That means checking out salvage yards, demolition sites and curbs. Let's start with the easiest angle - picking through salvage.
2. Check into Salvage Yards. Donít write off even the most unpromising-looking yard-o-scrap. I must have passed on one such lot hundreds of times on my way home from town. Iron Mikeís, in Flagstaff, doesnít even have a sign out front Ė the tiny notice is only visible from inside the yard itself. It looked like a metal salvage heap from the street, but I worked up my courage to park and walk into the back. A bunch of grease-encrusted guys looked at me strangely when I asked if this was a salvage yard.
ďSure. What do you need?Ē they politely asked.
ďIíll know it when I see it," I replied. "Mind if I look around?Ē
They decided that was fine, so I made friends with the junkyard dog while scanning random heaps of rubbish. I hit the jackpot when I opened the creaky door to a ramshackle shed. Peering inside, I saw boxes of filthy housewares and piles of odd, miscellaneous goods heaped in the corners. Promising myself Iíd bring along a flashlight and sturdy work gloves next time, I rummaged through the boxes and piles.
Worth getting dirty. What I uncovered: two large Fiesta platters in mint condition (except really, really dirty), a perfect Roseville crock, three Depressionware plates, several Anchor Hocking kitchen items in great shape, a Transferware Currier and Ives collectible plate, a heap of vintage Pyrex treasures, a handmade quilt, a bird feeder, some tarnished sterling silver flatware, a crystal water pitcher, a handmade 1880s rolling pin, two 1950s framed prints, a three-foot candle pedestal in iron, some Deco-era draperies in need of a good cleaning and several old lamp bases sans shades. I also found an old door frame that I plan to staple sheer gold fabric to, to make a colorful and movable wall panel.
All in all, I piled a half a dozen boxes with things I liked and could use. The proprietor was more than happy to move these old things out of his shed - he only charged me $35 for everything. If Iíd had cash on me, Iím sure I could have bargained him down. He trusted me enough to accept a check, but I donít recommend relying on anything but cash at these places.
Jillís Salvage Yard Hints: Wear sturdy closed-toe shoes and your grubby clothes when you go to a salvage lot. Bring work gloves, a flathead screwdriver and a Phillips, a working flashlight, sunglasses or a sunhat, and make sure your tetanus shot is up to date.
I like to have a bottle of water in the front seat, too Ė recycling is hard work.
Shove a few crates in your car for your finds, since these yards donít usually have amenities for your goods. And it's worth saying twice: bring cash.
Bring your creativity. Look beyond the dirt and state of dishevel. Does that cool old lamp base need a harp and shade? JoAnn Fabrics sells lamp harps for 3 bucks, and you can pick up shades almost anywhere, or make your own. You can dry-clean interesting vintage fabrics, reupholster chairs and sofas, and wash the antique dishes lying on the ground.
Think about reusing and repurposing Ė old cabinets can be reused in the garage to store sporting goods and boxes of holiday things. Old drawer pulls and other hardware can be removed from anything you find and brought home for your own bureaus. Rickety shutters and orphaned doors can be turned into those oh-so-trendy and expensive movable screens by screwing on a few hinges. Wrought iron gates can be set in front of mirrors, cut to fit, to become a one-of-a-kind, gorgeous "heirloom" showpiece.