“We don’t need to buy more things”: people who equip their homes for free | Consumer affairs
OMan’s trash is another man’s treasure, the saying goes. This is certainly evident in the rise of exchanges on platforms such as Olio, Facebook Marketplace, and Nextdoor, where people willingly dump their neighbors’ unwanted goods. Sometimes the items are new or like new; sometimes they are a piece of furniture to recycle and breathe new life into.
Whether it’s saving money or helping the planet, many people turn to online communities run by volunteers and focused on products that would otherwise go to landfill, rather than to head to Ikea. Searches for the term “Freecycle” increased 22% from July 2018 to July 2021, as the number of people Google “where can I find free stuff?” Has climbed 800% over the same period, according to data provider SEMrush. Some scour the dumpsters, the streets and ask for free stuff in their community – all the ways to consume without spending a dime.
From materials for a garden bar to furnishing an entire apartment, four people tell us what they’ve collected for free over the years.
‘We have Habitat chairs and a bench that someone gave‘
âIt’s not really about saving money,â says Fin Craig, 56, of his obsession with looking for free products. âIt’s about climate change and overproduction. We are overconsuming and destroying the planet. There are so many things in the world. We don’t need to buy more stuff. We are slaves to it all. People think that if they need a library, they should buy it right away. But if you wait and look around, someone will throw one.
A committed environmentalist, it’s no surprise to learn that Craig, a pediatrician living in north London, never buys new products “unless we can really find them second-hand or for free.” She says most of the furniture – chest of drawers, wardrobe, shelves, desk – in her two sons’ bedrooms were found on the street or come from Olio, the food and housewares sharing app. âWe live in a house with mismatched furniture,â she laughs.
She says her garden is her favorite place full of free produce. âWe have two Habitat chairs and a bench that someone donated. One of my best finds this summer was one of those big egg chairs listed on Olio which was still in the packaging and originally cost Â£ 410. There is also a bench that I found in a dumpster. I always take out the dumpsters, even pieces of wood that I think I would use for something else like making shelves or a bench. When I go from A to B, I always keep my eyes open.
Craig is happy that his fondness for free things is in the family. âTo be honest, my proudest moment was when the kids came home from elementary school with a bookcase they could barely carry and found on the street,â she says. “I was like, ‘I trained them well.'”
âWe spent less than Â£ 100 for the whole apartment‘
Originally from Taiwan, Fang-Chun Hsu says there is a marked difference between the UK and the East Asian country when it comes to consumer behavior. âGrowing up, I barely saw my parents throw anything away,â says the 25-year-old sales consultant. âThey said everything was usable. In Taiwan, people don’t get rid of things. I don’t know if it’s a different culture, but here people seem to buy things and change them easily.
Hsu says she has started stocking up on furniture for free in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. âBefore Covid, if I needed something I would just go to the store to get it, but then I lost my job and my boyfriend was put on leave,â she says. âWe had to save as much money as possible.
It was when they moved into an unfurnished apartment in Bristol earlier this year that they really started to make the most of platforms like Facebook Marketplace, Trash Nothing and Olio. âI found two sofas for the apartment. One was from Next and barely used and reportedly cost at least Â£ 1,000. We have everything for the apartment – dishes, kitchen utensils, two dressers – from such platforms.
âTrash Nothing seems to belong to an older generation and we bought a vintage lamp there from a family who cleans their parents’ house, as well as kitchen supplies and a lampshade.â She says it’s a win-win situation. âIt keeps people from going all the way, and it’s a victory for me and for the environment. I also feel like I am part of the local community. Financially, it has helped massively. We calculated that we spent less than Â£ 100 for the whole apartment. My partner didn’t like it at first because he was the one driving, and he was like, âWhere are we going now? but he sees it as fun and really gets involved.
Hsu says the platforms can be quite competitive. âPeople are really professional with them and take things fast, so if you want something you have to keep an eye on the websites,â she says. âBut since I have most of what I need, I don’t use them as much as I used to. I don’t want to be a hoarder.
‘A friend picked up three chairs for me at a jump‘
Chantelle Laws, 41, is a self-proclaimed champion diver and landfill saver. âJump diving is one of my favorite hobbies,â she says. âI have friends who send me pictures of the dumpsters and their location addresses. A friend picked up three chairs for me in the blink of an eye because she thought I would like them. If I spot a dumpster, I drive back often enough to browse it. It’s often full of bricks, but even if something is broken it’s very fixable.
One find is a rug she spotted early one morning while walking the dog. âIt was rolled up outside a neighbor’s house next to the garbage cans,â she says. “That was over 10 years ago – three houses and four kids later and it still looks good.” Last month, she picked up an old pub table whose legs had been sawn off. âWe’ll just have new legs for this. “
Nottingham-based Laws, owner of recycling company Jaunty Junk, says her mindset comes from her family. âI grew up with thrifty parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles. They weren’t really strapped for cash but would think, âWhy waste it? Mom was very careful with the money. We lived in charity shops and she was always getting great deals, gifts, and growing our own vegetables. The foundation was there from an early age. I used to hang around charity shops and then realized I can get a lot of them for free because people were throwing stuff away. When she left the house and needed to furnish a room in a shared house, she says she “begged, borrowed and jumped a dive.”
She loves to see people’s faces when they visit her home and compliment her furniture. âI also have things from people’s barns here,â she said. “I’m going to ask them, ‘What are you doing with this?’ and they will say: ‘Nothing, that bothers.’
âI had a nice little 1920s velvet chair that was in someone’s barn and in great condition. In another, I took an original HMV record player. Not long ago I was in someone’s garage and they had a huge oak cabinet and they said they wanted to get rid of it. You just have to ask.
“I have a few computers that we get rid of‘
âI don’t like waste in general,â says James Bore, 38, director of a cybersecurity company and a virtual events company. âI don’t like to see things go wrong if you can still use them. “
Bore gets everything from technology to food for free. âI’m still determined to find free stuff as much as possible and reuse it rather than buying a new computer kit,â he says. âI have a few computers that we get rid of and almost all of the upgrade kits. “
His challenge during the lockdown was to build a makeshift bar in the garden, with all materials except nails found for free. âI picked up pallets from a nearby garden center, which formed the frame for the bar,â he says. âI bought the lights from a nearby community park group that cleaned some things, while the fridge freezer came from someone who was about to throw it away. My parents were getting rid of the gazebo, and the bath was a find on a trip to Belgium where there was an apartment renovation and someone was getting rid of an old 1950s corner bath, which I thought be able to use as a fireplace or barbecue. It is not the most efficient but it cooks well. All bar cups are tin cans with the top cut off.
Food is another thing Bore gets for free. âI took a course in butchery some time ago and so I find game that gives game like pigeons and rabbits. It is easy to find through Facebook groups and other networking groups.
He also collects fruit and vegetables that will not be used. âIt could be someone with an apple tree or grapes that will be wasted. I usually make my own wine from the grapes, âhe says.
Free sources: where to find free stuff
The next door A hyperlocal app where you can trade and get goods for free from neighbors, as well as buy things.
Free cycle As the name suggests, everything is free and you can also post whatever items you are looking for.
Facebook market Pick up everything from wardrobe to clothes.
Olio What started out as an app for sharing food has moved on to everything else.
Freegle Similar to Freecycle, a volunteer-run platform where you navigate to your location and see what’s available locally.
Trash Nothing Another website and app with people distributing unwanted products to other people living in their community.
Jumped up Technically, the items still belong to someone, so knock on the door and ask before taking anything.