Home Decor

How I Furnished My Entire Apartment For Free

Stooping is a fun and sustainable way to snag one-of-a-kind home items.

A teal couch with a sign marked "free" to illustrate an article on curbing and how to furnish your home for free.

(Photo: iStock)

In the middle of the pandemic, I moved apartments. I had previously been living in shared accommodation, but with dropping rental prices, I managed to snag an amazing apartment all to myself along Toronto’s lakeshore. Moving out on my own meant the cost of furnishing was all on me; a tab that can easily run in the thousands according to Statistics Canada, who found that Canadians spent an average of $1,124 on furniture in 2019. Because of my strict budget (I lost many clients due to the pandemic, slashing my income), I had to get creative. I decided to furnish my new apartment entirely with items I found on the curb, a practice that is sometimes called “stooping” or “curb mining.” You read that right—someone’s trash literally became my treasure. 

I first came across this practice years ago when my neighbours put a box of vinyl records out on the curb with a “free” sign. I initially balked at the idea, but when I saw how quickly the box emptied out and how excited passers-by were, I realized there might be something to it. 

I’ve since embraced the practice. My sofa, vintage armchair, flat-screen TV, antique sewing table, vintage record player stand and countless other home and kitchen accessoriesfrom teapots and coffee grinders to ottomans, curtains and side tableswere all found for free. “She Stoops To Conquer,” indeed!

If you want (or need) to decorate on a budget, read on for everything you need to know about stooping and why you shouldn’t be afraid to try it.

What is stooping?

You’ve probably seen your neighbours put a box of odds and ends on the curb during spring cleaning. That’s stooping: taking someone’s previously loved but unwanted goods right off of their front lawns. (Don’t worry, they want you to take them!) Items on offer will range from small things, like books, hair dryers or votive candles, to major items, like couches, dining room sets, wardrobes and electronics. 

Curb mining offers major benefits, especially if you’re on a budget. Apart from the savings, you can rest easy knowing you’re giving new life to pre-loved items and living more sustainably. In order to reduce waste from our culture of fast-paced consumerism, we’re often told to buy less or swap our unwanted items. When stooping, you can rest easy knowing that you’re taking part in the sharing economy by reducing waste and your carbon footprint. 

Where do I start?

If you want to get serious about stooping, put on your walking shoes and spend time searching beyond your hood. Plan to go for curb mining excursions, walking up and down the streets. Always carry reusable, sturdy shopping bags with you (moving bigger pieces might require access to a car) and keep an eye out for tell-tale cardboard boxes at the end of driveways. If you live in an apartment complex, discarded furniture can often be found next to the recycling dumpsters. Some complexes have a designated area near the laundry room or parking garage where unwanted items are free for the taking. 

Don’t forget to let your friends and family know that you’re looking for furnitureit’s an easy way to snag free stuff!

A vintage credenza in an apartment furnished for free through curbing

A vintage credenza given to the author by a friend. (Photo: Christine Estima)

Are there online resources for stooping and curb mining? 

Absolutely, and joining online forums in your neighbourhood should be your first port of call. There are also forums dedicated solely to stooping and curb mining that include information like pictures, nearest intersection and working condition of the items in each post. There are Canada-wide easy-to-join groups and forums like the Dumpster Diving in Canada group, the Buy Nothing app and the Bunz app, plus an array of localized groups. Toronto has the Stooping Toronto Instagram account and the Palz Trading Zone group. Montreal has the Jeté Trouvé and Bunz Montreal groups. In British Columbia, there are the Vancouver Free Stuff and the Victoria Buy Sell and Trade or Free groups. There are also tons of groups to be found for smaller cities across the country. 

I got my hands on an incredible vintage armchair when a neighbour posted about it in a local group, so I hailed a taxi-van and raced to get it before she put it out on the curb. It now serves as a vibrant statement piece in my living room.

Can I do it no matter where I live?

Absolutely! If you don’t live near a major city, you can use online classified like Kijiji, Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace. Opt to receive notifications for their “free stuff” section, and tailor the  search to maximize results in the radius you’re willing to travel. If all else fails, get outside and wander your neighbourhood.

When stooping via online resources, people will hold the items for you (just like when you buy something on Facebook Marketplace or Kijiji) if they haven’t put the items out to the curb yet. Once it’s put outside, it’s first-come, first-serve.

When is the best time to try stooping?

When looking to salvage items from the curb, timing is everything. The most successful time to look for items you need tends to be at the end of the month, when leases end and people move. That’s when items they can’t take with them are likely to be put curbside. Conversely, when someone is moving into a new place, they might also give away items left behind by a previous occupant. 

A brown couch with pillows in an apartment furnished for free through curbing.

The author’s loveseat. (Photo: Christine Estima)

I managed to snag a loveseat when a new neighbour got rid of the furniture left behind by her home’s previous tenant. She said I could have it for free as long as I moved it myself, so I grabbed a friend who offered their strong arms and their mini-van to collect it, and voilàfree sofa! In another instance, a neighbouring sub-letter in my building left behind a fairly new flat-screen TV in perfect condition when they moved out and the new tenant already had their own, so it was offered to me for free in exchange for letting her use my Wi-Fi until she set up her own. Deal!

Is stooping safe?

Many people believe that if something is dumped on the curb, it must be broken junk and not worth lugging all the way home, or even dirty and infested with bugs.  But common courtesy is a big part of stooping. I’ve found that the community almost never puts something completely damaged to the curb or online. Notes are always placed on items to indicate any quirks, broken segments that need repair or if they come from a pet/smoking home. If there are poor weather conditions, items like mattresses, sofas, and electronics are almost always wrapped in plastic. 

Always give items a thorough inspection and a quick wipe-down before bringing them into your home, including the underside of all furniture for cobwebs or creepy-crawlies. If considering upholstered furniture, be sure to have a lint roller on hand to get rid of pet hair. During the COVID-19 pandemic, many items are left with wet wipes to kill germs. Above all, don’t feel pressured to take anything! 

How do I let people know that I have furniture up for grabs?

If you want to give back to your community by giving away items you no longer want, the online forums are the best way to advertise that. Make sure to include photographs of the items in your post and include as much helpful info as possible (such as location and condition). To be a courteous and thoughtful stooper, always make sure you offer up items in relatively good condition, give them a wipe down and add a note that warns of any flaws.

What kind of items should I look for?

At first, you will find that small common items are in abundance, like kitchenware, side tables, plant pots and framed artwork or prints. But with some diligence and persistence, large, expensive items, and even one-of-a-kind antiques, are absolutely possible to find. 

My favourite and most cherished piece is an antique sewing table dated from 1893 with its original foot pedal and wrought iron wheel. These beauties go for hundreds of dollars on eBay and at auction, so when I saw it discarded on the curb, I didn’t hesitate to wheel the antique back to my place (luckily the wheels were still attached).