My friend Butch Lazorchak had a saying, or maybe it was just something he said once that I associated with him, an expression legendary in my mind. I forgot the circumstances but one day he blurted out, “free is the way I like it.” It’s not catch-phrase worthy, but appropriate in the right situation. The saying pops into my head when I see a free box or a sign that brings my attention to a free item on a curb.
I’m not writing about the Freegan lifestyle. That’s a different post. I know there are websites and networks for those who champion that lifestyle. With effort, bargains are sure to be found and technological advances make their pursuit easier. I prefer random encounters with free stuff; things I don’t even have to bring home.
Like most people, I appreciate anything free. I’ve never been able to find free shoes that fit but discarded shoes gross me out anyway. I have unrealistic expectations that all concerts should be free which is why I never go anywhere. I have no idea what a free food hook up is. That no free lunch slogan is the story of my life. The occasional art opening really means free cheese. Considering how disappointing “free” antenna TV is makes paying for cable worth it. Regardless I always hope worthwhile free stuff will come my way.
Summers in Portland are good times to leave stuff out for gleaners. People feel confident that even if no one wants their junk there isn’t the risk that it will be ruined by rain. In a survey with no scientific merit, Saturdays were deemed the most popular day for this donation method. It’s the first day of weekend cleaning. I always thought that if I needed a chest of drawers, which I actually would like to have for bike stuff, I could drive around on a Saturday and find one.
This is a great concept, this placing of goods on the curb in hopes that someone will find value, the value that is no longer found in the item by the discarder, and carry it off eliminating the trip to the dump or the item heading to the landfill. I prefer discard piles that have a sign, otherwise it feels like a gray area that has me questioning whether people are getting rid of items or utilizing lawn storage space. The free sign is optional because it’s a given that stuff on the curb invites people to help themselves. It made me feel better when I asked someone if I could take the tape deck from a signless pile on a curb. I also asked if the deck worked. The answer was sure and “your guess is as good as mine.” Cordiality is unnecessary when dealing with free junk.
I would gather free stuff from curbs on a regular basis but I can’t indulge my hoarder tendencies when I have a basement full of junk. My restraint is incredible. I only window shop curbside free stores taking fleeting glances into pandora’s box-like, free boxes. My quest for an old couch, delusional as I may have been that the right one would appear someday, ended after hearing a bedbug horror story that occurred from someone dragging free furniture into their home. Contamination cures couch collection compulsion the headline could have read.
Free Boxes have inspired the creation of art. Jon Meyer named his web series The Free Box after encountering many of them in SE Portland. The show centered around broke characters and free boxes that were worked into some of the episodes.
The free stuff that’s available can be anything. Some of it falls into the “You’re Really Trying to Give That Away?” category. People want to find someone who can give new life to what they need to get rid of, whether it’s a pile of dirt with a sign made from painter’s tape or a collection of broken concrete. Free box books are usually better suited for the Goodwill self-help section yet every once in a while a must-read can be unearthed. A bag of free floral foam was one of the more unusual, yet useful things I’ve seen lately. If you think you really need something and don’t want to pay never give up your quest to find it. Free stuff will always materialize but more likely when you need it the least.
Just as this post went to press I got wind to a nice article on the OPB website with a free stuff angle:
Also Jon Meyer, who was mentioned in this post, sent me a link to a blog post he wrote about the free stuff phenomena that I wanted to pass on: