For the entirety of my adult life, I never stayed in any one spot. I rented basement apartments, condo closets dens, regular apartments, lived at home, etc. By my calculations, I had moved 11 times in the period between 2011 and 2016 mostly due to school and employment circumstances.
The brevity of these living experiences led me to meet many interesting roommates (for another day…), but also adopt the mentality of “own less”. “Own less” meant for every new purchase I made, I’d have to find a way to either throw something away or make it fit in my car upon the inevitable move. This worked very well for a period of time as it optimized my frugal habits but it got exhausting having to live knowing this particular roof over my head was temporary.
Finally when I got a full-time job, I decided it was time to get settled. I signed a one-year lease with a former roommate and we were in business. “No more moving!” I cheered, until I realized a big problem: that I owned zero furniture. Nothing except clothes and a laptop. For the past 5 years of my life, I had been subletting or renting furnished rooms. All of a sudden, I was going to be walking into a completely empty apartment.
Where do I start? What do I do? Where do I go?
I started to think about the things I’d need: a bed for sure. A desk. A dresser. A lamp. Probably a book shelf. Unwisely, the first place I started to google was Ikea and was quickly unimpressed with their pricing.
Then I took a breath and realized a few things:
Realization #1: You don’t need all this furniture at once.
Simply walking into an Ikea would lead to hundreds of dollars of subpar furniture plus the inconvenience of assembling it all. Instead, I slowed the whole buying process way down with my one and only visit to Ikea ending in the purchase of an Ikea futon for $300 (since used bedding isn’t a good idea in a major city). The futon was something born out of simply having slept on the same product when I lived in the den of a condominium and the fact that it was a very mobile piece of furniture – easy to disassemble, easy to fit in my car. The added bonus was that it had the potential to serve as a couch in the event I moved into a place of my own and got a real bed.
I figured that for the rest of the time, I could wait for the right buying opportunity for all the other pieces. And it worked. Waiting allowed me to nab a perfectly good but very ugly dresser for $7.50 from Habitat for Humanity ReStore. I had been watching this beauty sit there for at least 2 months originally at the $30 price point. Over a long weekend, it dropped to $10 with a 25% storewide sale. My decision criteria involved asking myself: “will it hold my clothes?” The answer was obviously yes.
Realization #2: People throw away perfectly good furniture.
A solid wood desk chair. A bedside table. A desk. Two bookshelves. A coat tree. All free, salvaged from people who left them on the side of the road or had expressed that they were being chucked. In fact, I told the previous tenants to leave any furniture they intended to throw out behind in case we could find a use – they left behind a lot at least 2 of those items and my roommate and I were able to sell the rest online with minimal effort. Talk about free money!
By simply waiting on the non-essential furnishings, I saved myself hundreds of dollars. In our common area also sits two pristine wood dining chairs, a functional floor lamp and a small solid table to hold keys and other doorside items – all free from the side of the road. Bleach and/or vinegar and water have become my best friend.
Realization #3: I’m not a slave to my possessions.
I’ll admit, while the aesthetic is a mix of Scandinavian (thanks Ikea) and old man, the low-cost approach to furnishing my apartment puts me in a position where I could care less about it all.
Need to move all of a sudden and rid of my furniture? I don’t care. Got a water stain from a cup accidentally? Don’t care. Apartment catches fire and all of it goes up in flames? Certainly inconvenienced, but don’t care about the furniture.
By owning things and regarding them truly as what they are: functional pieces of equipment in a living space, I am freed of the anxiety people sometimes get when it comes to their possessions. Like Kevin Spacey in American Beauty when he rebukes his wife’s scolding by saying: “It’s just a couch!”
Why is there so much free stuff nowadays?
On any given weekend, I’ll encounter perfectly usable discarded furniture or objects. This past week, it was car mats, books, an inflatable exercise ball, a wood serving tray, and mugs on a street I was strolling along (guess who claimed them? Me.)
Fact of the matter is: as the boomers have aged, they’ve realized the need to downside and it starts first with their possessions. I imagine the boomers have accumulated so much crap over their lifetimes that they’re in full discard mode. Exacerbating the waste we’re seeing is their unfamiliarity with the online marketplace or that frankly, they’re too busy to be bothered with trying to sell something to strangers.
And lastly: millennials hate a lot of their parents’ ornate furniture. Don’t agree? Ask yourself: do you envision having your mother’s China cupboard filled with random plates you never use sitting in your condo? Probably not.
We are the on the precipice of a major outflow of perfectly good furniture. So the next time you need something, why not wait? You never know what you’ll find.