When Sayuri Sagisaka moved to Toronto in late 2020 to finish her PhD in environmental science, she needed to furnish her share of an apartment. But starting from scratch was expensive, so she turned to the streets to find furniture.
Today, looking around the 25-year-old’s flat, her list of curb finds includes a side table, two large and intricately woven rugs, a television stand and two desks. Last summer she and one of her roommates brought home a forest green three-seater couch with the faintest hints of wear from a house a few blocks away.
Ms. Sagisaka estimates the pieces she has found over the past few years have saved her more than $1,000.
“People just put out really pretty good furniture because they’re not looking to sell and they just want to get rid of it,” she said.
Canadians across the country are turning their neighbours’ unwanted furnishings into money-saving treasures, grabbing discarded pieces to decorate their homes – a practice colloquially known as stooping or curb mining. Stoopers also tout the environmental benefits of buying fewer new items and rescuing still-usable furniture from a trip to the landfill.
The financial benefits are significant. Canadians spent an average of $1,124 on home furnishings in 2019, according to Statistics Canada. But the price of furniture rose 13.7 per cent this March from a year earlier, according to the agency’s consumer price index, and in February Statscan reported that consumers were paying 7.8 per cent more for household appliances and 10.4 per cent more for kitchen utensils, tableware and cookware. IKEA said in November it would raise prices by an average of 9 per cent because of higher transportation and raw material costs.
“Living in general is just so expensive,” said Angela Olaguera-Corcoran, a 32-year-old church administrator in Montreal who has curb-mined since she was a university student. She stooped many of the furnishings in the apartment she shares with her husband and three-year-old son, including the dresser in her son’s room and a nursery table she converted into a moveable kitchen island with casters she rescued from the curb.
Stooping has “always been a great way to save money [that I can instead] put toward experiences and making memories with my family,” she said.
But the go-to source of furniture for generations of students seemed to take off during the pandemic. Numerous Instagram accounts have launched in the past two years, including Stooping Toronto, Stooping in York Region and Stooping Kitchener-Waterloo Region, that share photos and locations of furniture and décor put out to the curb. And there are similar free-stuff Facebook accounts for Montreal, Vancouver and Victoria.
The Buy Nothing Project, a movement started in 2013 to share used items and promote more sustainable consumer behaviour, has also boomed, reaching a global membership of 5.3 million, more than double its prepandemic numbers.
Ellyce Fulmore, a 27-year-old money coach and TikTok financial influencer in Calgary, said there are two ways to look at the financial benefits of stooping.
A street find is, by default, much cheaper than buying new or used, she says.
But she also points out that many discarded items, thrown out for small cosmetic dings or otherwise repairable issues, can be of higher quality and will last longer than what young people would get from flat-pack furniture.
That’s an ethos that has guided Kelsey Friedlander, 30, a video producer in Canmore, Alta. She and her roommate found their dining room set – a solid wood table with an extra leaf and eight chairs – beside a dumpster in Banff. It needs some sanding and buffing to fix small marks, but she’d rather put in the work on a well-built item than buy something new of lower quality. She has also stooped an end table, two lamps and an office chair.
While she called her finds “mostly opportunistic,” she said the ability to save money is valuable. “Even a not-well-made dining room table would set us back a few hundred dollars. As single people living in the Bow Valley, it’s difficult to get all of that extra cash to furnish your place right away.”
She added that stooping can make sense for people who expect to move around in the next few years and wouldn’t be able to take furniture with them every time they change apartments.
Stoopers have also gotten their hands on genuine vintage finds that would have cost hundreds or thousands of dollars to purchase. Melissa Dalgleish, a Toronto career educator, said she and her husband stooped and refinished two teak Folke Palsson J77 chairs and a Koch and Lowy brass floor lamp that just needed some new wiring, both of which would have cost her more than $1,000 each if she’d bought them at a vintage shop.
“It’s a way to get beautiful things that would otherwise be thrown out or damaged by being out in the weather, give them a new life and use some of your skills to turn them into something gorgeous,” Ms. Dalgleish said.
She also found a solid wood bed for her three-year-old son and adds to his toy collection from stooped finds. For her single-income family, the savings are significant.
While curb mining implies grabbing items purely for the cost savings, regardless of the look, many stoopers are hunting for items that help them cheaply execute their personal style or a trendy aesthetic.
Ms. Fulmore pointed out that the list of affordable furniture or home décor stores for young people with lower incomes is “really small” and doesn’t often suit the “super quirky, trendy type of look” that millennials and Generation Z are after.
“Everyone’s living off content on social media, everyone wants their place to be like an aesthetic,” Ms. Sagisaka added. “But apart from sharing it online and showing it off, you’re trying to make a home for yourself. You want to feel like it’s your space.”
There are risks to grabbing from the curb, though, Ms. Sagisaka cautions – namely bed bugs or other critters. “It’s definitely something where you want to take your time inspecting and/or washing. I don’t think I would grab a mattress from the street,” she said with a laugh. “There are lines.”
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