My friend Carmen loves to leave curb-shopping alerts on my voice mail.
“Trash pile at 78th and Summit,” she’ll announce. Then she offers a quick review: “The couch is missing one leg, but I found a really nice bird bath.” Or, “Whatever you do, don’t open the green bin.”
I know some people look down their noses at those who can’t drive by a big pile of stuff on the curb without wondering what’s hidden in the neighborhood eyesore. But guess what? People set great stuff out on the curb all the time.
Someone moves and leaves behind the treadmill they never used. Or somebody decides to declutter and loads their curb with overflow from their basement and closets. I’ve done it myself.
When a tornado touched down near my home a few years ago, I huddled with my two panting dogs in a basement storage room. We waited out the tornado warning, wedged between a weight bench, a few bookcases, out-of-favor artwork, some chipped end tables and an artificial Christmas tree. That cramped experience put me in purging mode.
The next day, I set a huge pile of discarded items on the curb. Along with all the things I just mentioned, there was the hardwood floor cleaner I’d paid $60 for and only used once. I also set out an expensive coffee maker that didn’t meet my standards and a stereo with a broken CD player.
My trash pile stretched for 15 feet and included paint samples, dog bowls and leashes, kitchenware too large for my cabinets, and a weed eater. Two hours later, everything was gone from the curb. Apparently, I’m not the only curb shopper around.
If you’re willing to take a closer look at items on the curb, you never know what you’ll come across. Here are a few of my favorite curbside finds:
- A perfect-sized door my neighbor threw away when he remodeled his home. It’s now the door from my kitchen to the garage.
- A credenza with cabinets and drawers that I used in my office for six years before selling it on Craigslist for $60.
- My neighbor’s pricey patio furniture when she moved out of state, which now decorates my back porch.
- Multiple dog crates, which I cleaned and sanitized and sold quickly on Craigslist.
- Numerous floor lamps and side tables, which I kept or sold on Craigslist.
So, how do you know what to grab from the curb or leave behind? Here are some curb-shopping tips.
1. Don’t drag home upholstered furniture
What if the couch has bed bugs? You’re also taking a risk with rugs. The exception is if the item belongs to someone you know, like a spotlessly clean neighbor.
2. Take a chance on lamps
Nearly every lamp I found on the curb worked just fine. One is an expensive floor lamp that I now have in my office. You can also sell those lamps on Craigslist. Just price them lower than other listings so they sell fast.
3. Don’t take something you don’t need
If you don’t need it or can’t sell it, it’s not worth it just because it’s a good find. That’s how you end up putting all that stuff out on your own curb later.
4. Look up bulk item pickup dates online
There’s a well-off area in my city that has one bulk item pickup week annually. People set out bicycles, outdoor furniture, TVs, framed prints, barbecue grills and all kinds of worthwhile stuff.
5. Cruise middle-class and upper-middle-class neighborhoods
People with manicured lawns love to throw away good furniture, appliances and other items so they can buy newer ones.
6. Look beneath a layer of dirt
The small outdoor table on my front porch was covered with black grime when I nabbed it from my relocating neighbor’s curb. After some heavy-duty scrubbing and sanitizing, it’s now the perfect place to set my wine glass as I ponder by moonlight my latest curb findings.
Whether you’re a curb shopper operating under cover of darkness or by the bold light of day, the deals at the curbside clearance rack never expire. And for these bargains, you don’t even need to clip a coupon.
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