In all of my dreams about my future, I’d not thought “Maybe someday I will eat dinner on the floor.”I entered the real world in 2010, with one piece of furniture to my name. After I graduated from college, I moved into a one-bedroom in Allston and, aside from my clothes, a TV, and some kitchen supplies, had just one chair. There was a terrifying period of time when my mother threw around the words ‘inflatable mattress’ with reckless abandon. After that, there was nothing. In all of my dreams about my future, I’d not thought “Maybe someday I will eat dinner on the floor.” I needed furniture, and I needed it fast but, being an underemployed recent graduate in a terrible economy, I was going to need it for the low-low price of “pretty much free.”IKEA is a good option if you can expect to be a computer scientist or financier in the future and don’t mind that you’ll need a complete overhaul in the next few years.Like many people hoping to furnish their first apartment on a budget, I turned to the ubiquitous purveyor of particleboard-and-glue-that-somehow-becomes-a-bed, IKEA. There are some things I bought at IKEA that are still alive today: my curtains, a rug, my mattress, and an ice cream scoop. The rest of the things—like, the furniture things—over time, exploded. IKEA is a good option if you can expect to be a computer scientist or financier in the future and don’t mind that you’ll need a complete overhaul in the next few years. But if you’re thinking “someday I’d like to pick up this dresser and move it to a new apartment and still have a dresser when I get there,” you may want to consider something else. Was it worth it? I mean, I had a couch and a coffee table and a place to put my clothes. But, over the course of two years, I had to replace all of those one by one.
Which leads me to my next point, and cause of much phantom itching for some folks out there: used furniture. I don’t blame you. I’ve had friends who’ve gotten bedbugs and it’s even more awful than you can imagine. I’m keen on keeping my space free of a thing whose sole purpose is to feast on my blood so it can make more things to feast on my blood, into perpetuity. But it’s possible to get used furniture without also getting parasites.The first rule of used furniture is don’t take used furniture off the street. The first rule of used furniture is don’t take used furniture off the street. I know, I know. People will disagree with me, I’m sure, but my general principle is that if you don’t know where it came from, don’t touch it. There are probably exceptions—maybe if it’s not upholstered?—but seriously, this is the easiest way to avoid bringing unintended roommates into your apartment.
If you want to acquire free, uninhabited furniture, the best thing to do is to snatch it from someone who is moving out. Everyone knows that moving is terrible and that burning all of your things in a pyre and starting over with a new identity is preferable to Tetris-ing all of your shit into a UHaul while it is 100 degrees/snowing/somehow both. So: keep your ear to the ground. I’ve gotten things from neighbors, friend’s neighbors, and neighbor’s friends. People will practically promise their firstborn child to you if it means they don’t have to wedge one extra thing down their ridiculously narrow stairwell themselves.Craigslist and Freecycle are also options for those hoping to put a face to the floral loveseat.Craigslist and Freecycle are also options for those hoping to put a face to the floral loveseat. I personally haven’t had much luck with Freecycle, a website where people post offers for things they’re giving away, but I do have friends who swear by it and have found everything from desk lamps to road bikes. You can also post “Wanteds” so if you have a specific item in mind, you can request it on the site and hope someone responds. I just don’t have the patience—there’s a lot of weird stuff on Freecycle, like bricks and glucose blood monitors, and the site often lacks pictures of the items so it’s hard to know what you’re getting. But, hey, it’s free.
The “free” section on Craigslist is worth a browse just for the lawlz, as the kids say, and people occasionally post not-terrible stuff on it—like, hey, a boat! Plus, if you’re going to pick up furniture off the street even though I warned you not to, you can browse “curb alerts” here. People will offer things they’ve already thrown out, but the fact that they’re letting you know about the free stuff on the street probably means it’s safe to snag it (unless those people are evil). It’s first-come, first-serve, so if you’ve got a car handy you’ll want to get to it ASAP.Craigslist is a great resource for someone who has an aesthetic in mind but who doesn’t have the budget to be a serious collector. When it comes down to it, if you’ve got to spend some buck, the best bang for it is still “The CL.” Craigslist can definitely be a black hole of horrible leather sofas and other people’s IKEA throwaways, but their search function is a powerful tool. My best tips are to filter results to search only listings with photos and to start at a price slightly over your budget. Again, people are just happy to get rid of their stuff and they’ll usually be willing to come down on price if you seem like a reasonable person who isn’t going to stand them up. I’ve found some good quality mid-century pieces—what I call “person furniture”—at a steal. Craigslist is a great resource for someone, like me, who has an aesthetic in mind (think Don Draper’s apartment) but who doesn’t have the budget to be a serious collector. You probably won’t get murdered, but the buddy system is useful anyways as sellers sometimes can’t or won’t help carry items. Also: moving blankets are helpful. This is a lesson I learned the hard way.
I have spent much time wandering in the Land of Cheap Furniture and I have much wisdom—these are the basics. Once you can snatch the fly from my hand, we’ll go to the flea market, grasshopper.