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Question: I moved to New York and noticed all this discarded damaged furniture on the sidewalks. Is this stuff free for the taking? Because my apartment has nothing in it, and I need stuff. —Matt C.
Answer: Yes, guy, that stuff really is free, and it’s open season for you and your friends to nab and drag home. But before you start scouring the neighborhood for mildewed armoires and sprung armchairs, you’ll want to make sure the furniture you find is worth your precious square footage. So… let’s go shopping!
An Ethical Quandary
You’re walking past your building one day, when you happen upon a coffee-stained, but still plushy couch just sitting there. Is it trash? Is it treasure? Or is it an old but memory-filled possession of your new neighbors, who are at that moment moving in upstairs?
How to tell? Ask them! They’re your new neighbors after all—no reason to be unfriendly and start off on the wrong foot. If they say, ‘No, it’s not ours,’ and maybe give you a funny look for chatting about garbage, well who cares? Score!
Of course, if they say, ‘Yes, that’s our beloved couch from our first apartment in grad school,’ well, you’d do well to assume this is a blatant attempt to swipe what’s rightfully yours. Finder’s keepers motherfucker. Take the couch and leave, but go quickly, and never, ever have those neighbors over for a drink.
So, Matt, what have we learned?
Couch, stained: Take it, get a doily to hide the spots.
Couch, stained, but hidden for the cadaver that’s lying on it: Take both; forego the unnecessary doily.
Wealth vs. Health
Don’t let your eye for a good deal blind you to bad health; that dining table may—may—have three coats of lead paint on it. Believe it or not, furniture found on the streets of New York has no guarantee of cleanliness or safety. A mattress leaning against a stoop may look like a sweet deal, but don’t be surprised when I say the droppings next to it may be those of the Nutria rat.
What’s safe and what’s not?
Anything you may find yourself naked and on top of is out of the question. Mattresses, duvet covers, throw pillows. No, no, no. But go further; inhabit the mind of the recreational nudist: Will your unclothed rear come into contact with any of the following: that sagging wicker chair, the chipped marble end table over there, this dual-scan DVD player? If you answered ‘possibly,’ know that someone else—perhaps even the item’s former owner—answered ‘YES!’
Be Handy & Inventive
That three-legged stool only has two legs on it. Are you going to find a stray stool leg before dinner? Doubtful. Will you kick the un-legged edge of the stool into the wall until it ‘sticks,’ beating gravity at its own game? You bet you will.
After all, why spend extra money on tools and supplies to fix up the garbage you’re calling your living-room suite? This is a budget-minded exercise, Matt, not a search and rescue mission for discarded home décor.
Cool floor lamp! you say. I’d have to agree. But do you know anything about electrical repair?
Then what good is it?
Snap it in half and you’ve got a nice replacement leg for that stool.
Home Sweet Home
You wanted a home, Matt, but instead you got some apartment in New York that you’ve filled with other people’s trash. Congratulations!
If, in the process, you’ve avoided contracting rabies or scabies, and you still refuse to admit the oak credenza smells like urine, then you’re healthy and ignorant—and that equals ‘happy’ in my book. At the end of the day, you saved a buck or two, as you lay there, comfortably, on the new-to-you mattress that you lugged home even though I said not to—that’s when a Nutria rat slips out and bites your testicle.