Grand Home Furnishings on a Budget
A Craigslist Story
When my sister sold an old 27 inch fat TV on Craigslist I thought it would be a typical transaction. I expected somebody to show up, introduce themselves, make a few comments about the TV, pay for it and leave. Countless other transactions have gone that way. This time it was different. When the buyer pulled up to our house in a giant U-Haul we figure that he was moving.
Down from the truck stepped a man with some worn jeans, a long sleeve striped button-up, with some glasses and slightly curly hair. You couldn't tell if he was from around here or not. Southern California is a very diverse place and you can never be sure where anybody here is from. He said, "Hello my name is Kobe." Of course that is not his real name and he did not really say that. He did say that he is moving here to California from Mumbai, India. When he opened the sliding door to his U-Haul you could see that it was full of used furniture. Presumably most of it was bought from Craigslist.
When I heard his story of moving from India and settling hear in California and furnishing his apartment with a bunch of new furniture I thought about how exciting it must be to have a new apartment, all of these furniture, and a 27 inch TV that cost 25 dollars. As an immigrant myself it also made me feel a sense of nostalgia. It made me reflect on my own humble beginnings here in United States. I also began to think about how many of the things that we consider outdated, like 27 inch CRT TVs, are still valuable to the rest of the world. At that moment I realized how privileged we are to be in the position to say that a 27 inch TV is not good enough for us anymore, but at the same time I also realize that my family is poor by U.S. standards and there are people that are way more privileged than I am. At this moment I also realized that somewhere somebody that is much more privileged is looking to get rid of some pretty expensive home furniture and electronics and I know exactly where to look for it, Craigslist and estate sales.
Free Furniture on Craigslist
Craigslist is a great place to look for free furniture. I would advise searching the free listing in the richer areas. Often times there are people looking to move. Some rich people are looking to move and they don't have time to try to sell their stuff for the most value possible. Some of them will give expensive furniture away for free or will barter it for beer if it is a hot day out and they are tired from moving stuff. A lot of these movers have a lot of money and they are just looking to help people out while getting rid of their stuff quickly.
You can tell which people are in hurry to move because they will post items with pickup deadlines and they will often explicitly state they are moving. Some of them will leave items on the curb for pick up. When trying to obtain free furniture from movers you need understand they are looking to get rid of stuff quickly therefore you should be prepared to pick up furniture at a moments notice as some of them will not hold furniture for you, especially if they are giving it away for free. Calling them will assure that they have not given the item to someone else yet. You don't want to drive somewhere far for nothing.
The items that you should be most weary about trying to pickup are curbside items. These items can disappear quickly as anybody passing by with a truck can just load it up and leave. When deciding whether to pick up curbside items you should contact the person to see if the item is available. If you cannot reach them you will have to make a judgement call based on the amount of time that has elapsed since the item was posted, the value of the item, how far you will have to travel to get it, and the current time as well as the day of the week. Curbside pickups can be hit or miss.
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An estate sale is a sale that takes place to sell off the belongings of a person that was recently deceased. The proceeds of the sales are usually taken to pay off creditors first and then it is distributed according to the will of the deceased. Often times the grieving family is just looking to get rid of furniture or other items because none of the family members want to keep it or they believe that getting rid of everything will help them move on and can help them in the grieving process. When attending these estate sales be respectful because it is possible that family members could be present. This is especially important if you are attending an estate sale that is taking place on the property of the deceased.
The best website that I know of for looking for estate sales is http://www.estatesales.net/. This site is similar to Craigslist in that you can post ads for estates sales that you are having or you can search for estate sales in your area. This website will allow you to enter in a zip code if you are in the United States and it will build a map for you using Google Maps with places marked off to show the locations of estate sales in your area. This website will also list estate sales for Canada.
The first thing you want to do when looking up these estate sales is determine if the estate sale is being held by the executor of the estate or if it is being outsourced to an estate sale service company. Estate sales being held by the executor of the estate, who is often a family member, will usually take place for a very limited time and the goal is to often sell off everything quickly. For these estate sales you want to be on time so you get a chance to see everything. It is also important to read the listing to get a preview of what is being sold. With these kinds of estate sales you can often run into very pricey antique furniture. Some of this furniture is ultra high quality and very expensive.
Some estate sales are run by estate sales service companies. These sales are run by professionals who have often payed the family in advance for all of the stuff and are looking to resell these items at a profit. These professionals often make bids on the entire lot of items. Kind of like you see on the TV show, Storage Wars. It can be harder to bargain with them on high end furniture as they often have appraisers on staff and many of the really valuable furniture might be reserved for selling in a venue that attracts a higher price. Estate sales companies each have their own business model and way of doing things, so your experience at these sales can vary.
Alternative Places to Shop for Furniture
I also want to include a couple other places that are often overlooked. These sources aren't privileged people looking to get rid of stuff, but you can definitely find grand furniture on a budget at colleges and furniture stores that are going out of business. Colleges in my area have offered everything from free massages to free dental cleaning. Colleges will also sell everything from plants at the horticulture department to furniture from the design department.
Furniture here varies widely and wildly in quality. What is great is that sometimes you can get one of a kind unique and interesting furniture. As these are design students many of them are imaginative and they haven't had their creativity stifled or muted by the industry yet. These students don't design furniture that is made to fit in a box unassembled. They make stuff based on inspiration--powered by ramen noodles and energy drinks. They don't make furniture named Vallvik, Hemnes, or Florygg.
Unfortunately Vallvik, Hemnes, and Florygg are putting local furniture stores out of business. Just as Walmart has put many small business out of business IKEA is putting local furniture stores out of business. Our generation might be the last generation that gets a chance to buy furniture from a local business, so look for some unique furniture from local furniture stores. Many of these furniture stores have a long history behind them and some of the furniture that they sell are a reflection of that tradition.
The Future of Furniture
It is old news to say that we live in a society that encourages us to throw away old furniture. Given that we live in this kind of society it also true that we live in a society where it easy to get a bunch of free used furniture from everywhere.
Some might say that the stuff are hand me downs and are of lower quality, but I say some of this stuff has history and tradition. It has soul. It keeps us grounded. It reminds us of a time when we knew the person that sold the furniture to us--of a time where furniture was a reflection of who we are and our sense of style. It reminds us of a time when we actually made our own stuff--a time that was pre-Florygg, pre-Hemnes, and pre-Vallvik.