Tales from Curbside Shoppers

Until recently, I never really thought of my projects as being “trash-to-treasure.”

Fact is, I have a great respect for “stuff” in general. (You cannot be a bit of a Victorian without “stuff.”) So the unleashing hidden potential in a chair or table...or finding a use for something no one else wanted... was pretty much the only way to HAVE anything decent. For me, it wasn’t part of any special trend, or movement. It was the decorating budget.

To be perfectly honest, I hadn’t even been aware trash-to-treasure had a name-- and if anything, I’d considered it something better left undiscussed. Because it seemed-- in a fairly consumptive society where the newest video game system turns the old into rubbish the moment the marketing starts-- well, mentioning to a visitor that CHAIR they were sitting on had, last week, been resting on the side of the road with about three filled Hefty bags-- it really wasn’t the mark of good hostessing.

But then I learned I not only wasn’t alone, but we have not one name, but many. We’re “curbside shoppers.” We’re “dumpster divers.” We’re “trash-to-treasure artists.” In the UK, they tell me, we’re “skip robbers” (I rather like the adventurous sound of that! Has a good ‘Italian Job’ feel to it). And according to the hostess over at the Netherlands-based Trashcollector.blogspot.com, Dutch garbage men call us “Morgensterns” or “Morning Stars.”

I think that’s my new favorite. Gotta love the positive spin on that one!

But the most interesting thing I’m learning about the trash-to-treasure phenomenon is these skip-robbers, these Morning Stars I’ve had the pleasure of meeting online, tend to be the most amazing, funny and creative people. People who really appreciate the value in an object. Who really understand what it is they have. And who, often, have a terrific sense of humor about the fact their hobby might not be embraced as warmly by the rest of the world. So today, I give you two reader trash-to-treasure stories, and a new tale of my own which I’ve discussed with a few of you personally, but thought I’d recount here today.

From Rhonda L. who was kind enough to let me publish her great story to share with you all:

“I was so excited to find, a couple of weeks ago, an entire Waterfall Bedroom Suite in the trash. My teenage daughter and four-year-old daughter share a bedroom. We had just cheap cardboard furniture in their room until a year ago. A friend of mine had a waterfall wardrobe that her boyfriend was going to use as firewood. Well, I saved that beautiful piece of furniture, and the same day I ran by my favorite antique mall and found matching twin beds (and on sale).

“Well, they really needed more dresser space (with girls having so many clothes). So I had been keeping an eye out for a great deal on another wardrobe or dresser. My oldest daughter has been wanting an vanity for her room, since everyone is always fighting over the bathroom. Well, I work the 2nd shift and was on my way home when there it was.... A beautiful vanity with this enormous and even more gorgeous mirror. I had a hard time getting the vanity in the car so I went home got my daughter and we somehow fit it in the back seat of my car...”

“The next morning I got my mother-in-law (from whom I learned the hunting free-stuff trade) came before the trash truck and we were able to save the wardrobe and the full-size head- and foot-boards. Which she was able to use for her bedroom and it went with her bedroom suite. (She promises me that I can have it back when I have the space.)..”

“The girls love that vanity and think they are princess now.”

I LOVE that the daughters don’t care one bit that the furniture came from the curb. I think those frugal little princesses have a fine future ahead of them!

And now from writer Molly Crane (And Molly, I’d tried to link to your web site, but I see it’s down. If you read this, please email me if it’s moved to a new location and I’ll add the link...I’ve been kind of concerned...)

Molly titles her story “Rich Man’s Trash”:

“A few weeks ago I was awakened by my friend at 6 a.m. Saturday morning! She said to me, ‘Let’s go treasure hunting!’... “

“I said to her: ‘Girl, what are you talking about?’...

“She proceeded to tell me she needed some ‘new’ things for her recently-purchased Atlanta condo and she was going ‘dumpster diving.’ Immediately I thought the girl had had too many drinks the night before!...

“’How can you get 'new' stuff from dumpster diving?’ I asked her...

“She told me to wait and see! So we headed out around 6:30 that morning. We went to several, and I mean SEVERAL, affluent Atlanta suburbs: Buckhead, Alpharetta, and SmokeRise alike...

“We filled the truck with beautiful rich man's trash. We stopped at this one house where the owners had tossed this heavy SHINY mahogany table. Why? Because it had a huge ugly scratch going down the middle of it! We acquired that and paid a refinisher $50.00 to refinish it. We had it appraised and it was worth over $1,500.00 before it was scratched, but was still worth only a mere $750.00 now...

“Wow! Unbelievable.

“I picked up some tarnished stainless steel serving spoons and a tarnished serving platter as well. The next time I have a nice social gathering, I will definitely break out the Rich Man's Trash that I found and ‘repurchased’ for free!...

“Now I know where I am going to do my shopping from now on. “

Thanks again, Molly, for taking the time to tell us your story!

And MY tale? My tale is a lesson in better planning.

On bulk trash day in my neighborhood, I was headed to work a bit early. Dressed in business attire in plans for a later meeting, I lost all of my professionalism the moment I saw the white chairback peeping out of the trash of a neighbor about a block down the road from me.

I looked in the rear-view-- no one behind me-- threw the car into park and leapt out.

Er, NO, actually I threw the car into park, still running, and... um, you know how cars have automatic child safety locks?

Yes, that’s right-- I couldn’t get OUT.

So I fumbled with the locks, and then realized I was also BUCKLED in, and THEN leapt out of the car....

So much for the sophistication of ‘The Italian Job.’

I seized the chair and running back to my car, realized my second logistical error. The remote for the trunk and the back doors was on the keychain with the car key on it. Which was in the ignition.

(Growl, grumble...)

So there I was, in nice work clothes, my hair done up, and wearing vintage jewelry, trying to cram this dirty trashed chair into the back from over the driver’s seat. Quickly.

I have no idea if my neighbors spotted me, but my triumph over the chair has been enough to soothe some of those concerns.

I’ve been told recently, by some of my fellow rubbish fans, that I need no fear when I do these capers-- that if people don’t like it, it’s just too bad...

Others have suggested I employ disguises.

And while I appreciate the well-meaning advice, somehow, I think seeing a gal with bright red hair and, say, a Groucho Marx nose and glasses come flying out of the car, grabbing furniture and zooming away, isn’t necessarily going to be LESS memorable, in terms of techniques.

I figure if anyone questions it, I’ll simply invite them to see my finished chairs. This last chair is still waiting for its new look. So for a while at least, its story continues.

Have a wonderful week, everyone! Next week, join me for the results of a recent outdoor cottage decorating swap!