Monday, October 20, 2008

A Short List of Things I've Stolen From Other People's Garbage

This installment of Poverty Party Tips (see widget to the left) is less of a tutorial, more of a spark to ignite your creativity. I hope it will encourage you to swallow your pride and get out there and find yourselves some pieces for that hard-to-furnish living space, facilitate some of your electronics in a user-friendly arrangement, or light that dark corner in your living room. And all for the bargain-basement price of a little travel time and maybe some spray paint. Times are hard. Cruising for treasures the night before trash day is easy.

When you have an empty space on your upstairs landing and your neighbors throw out a perfectly good pair of wicker chairs and leave them on the curb, then you do what you have to do. You go to the back yard and tell your husband, "Hey, get your SUV down the street and get me some chairs."

What you might not count on, though, is that at the very minute he is parked at the bottom of their very steep and winding driveway, loading two discarded chairs into the back of his car and cussing like a sailor under his breath about how cheap and tacky his wife is, the neighbor and his family of four coast down that driveway and look at your husband like, "That is so sad." Then they look the other way, saying to each other, "Pretend you didn't see that, kids."

This is a take on the classic before-and-after shot. You will see that the chair on the left sports an unfortunate Aztec-style pattern with a hint of pale blue and pink. The chair on the right showcases the difference one coat of mahogany spray paint can make. That amount of paint was eventually multiplied by three. The way I see it, I was saving some other dumpster diver from perpetuating bad taste and using the uncomfortable and worn Aztec chairs AS IS. It was my way of making the world a more beautiful place. A win-win.

Yes, well. My good fortune was well worth his embarrassment, as I sprayed and sprayed paint until I was rendered illiterate. And then I went to Pier 1, where I spent $38 on cushions, which were on sale. (Pier 1 is proud of its cushions.)

One man's trash is another man's sitting area.

Until I saw this picture, I didn't realize how many extension cords she has in her room for her phones, stereo, lamps, chargers, etc. Oh, and the keyboard she plays like she's Laurie Partridge.

This metal phone table in my teenager's room is a lovely blue and white, just like two of the colors on her multi-colored walls. Coincidence? Hardly. This was once the most rickety piece of crap you have ever seen ... until I applied about $2 worth of spray paint to it and transformed it into a functional and aesthetic piece of furniture for my dear child. "But Amy, where in the world did you FIND such a treasure? On the side of the road?"

No, I found it in an abandoned home about six years ago. The bank apparently didn't believe that locks were necessary, as someone had already ripped out the major appliances. All that remained was a distasteful array of colored tile throughout the home. And this table. And a goat tied to a tree in the back yard. On one of my trips to this house (yes, I visited often), the goat untied himself and followed me home. Every few days, I would look outside to see the goat wandering throughout our yard, minding his own business and eating grass. More than once, neighbors would see me in my yard or at my mailbox, roll down their windows and ask, "Hey, is that your goat wandering through the neighborhood?"

Like I'm the sort of person who would have a goat.

Timing, as they say, is everything. If I had arrived on the scene an hour later, this would have been in a landfill. It would have been TOO LATE. It's these little things that will save the planet.

Years ago, I dropped off my son at a friend's house, but another of his friends was still in my car as we drove down the street. I can't remember why. But I saw this black lamp sitting by the trash at the curb, put the car in reverse and said, "Chandler, hop out and get me that lamp." Strangely enough, at 8 years old, he never questioned me. He opened the door, wedged the lamp into the back seat and rode home in silence, looking out the window, holding most of the lamp in his lap. When I brought it into the house, I was delighted to find that not only did it work, it already had a bulb. I tightened the bolt on the base, and we had ourselves a new floor lamp. Which is good, because I didn't want to have to drive back across town and return it to a stranger's trash heap. That would be tacky.