Free Furniture: A Cautionary Tale

As a young, cash-strapped college student, I’ve found myself going to all sorts of lengths to get free things. I shop on Saturdays to get free samples at the grocery store and attend as many university sponsored eat and greets as possible. While its relatively easy to get some free cheese and crackers, finding free furniture can be a little more tricky. If you’re lucky, you might have a relative with an unwanted couch or table, but if not you may find yourself eyeing the furniture that gets left on the side of the road. It’s not exactly glamorous, but you can find some great things that for one reason or another are being replaced.

Keep in mind, college is more expensive than ever, and minimum wage isn’t getting any better, so this act of picking up ‘junk’ furniture is not as uncommon as you might think. Despite my love of all things free, you might want to think twice before following this trend. It’s said that one man’s trash is another’s treasure, but sometimes it turns out that it’s just trash. While I’ve had plenty of friends and previous roommates who have found perfectly good furniture from questionable sources, I’d like to share one story that has strengthened my resolve against taking anything from an alleyway or curb.

One of my good friends, we’ll call him John, found a chair in an alleyway last quarter. For all intents and purposes, it was a fine chair. Cushioned and comfortable it may have been, but a dark secret lay hidden in the stuffing. In a week John showed me his arm, it had a few marks on it. Nothing too remarkable. But it got worse. His arms and legs became spotted with red. This wasn’t the work of a mosquito and it wasn’t a skin rash. John had bedbugs.

John threw the chair out, but the damage was already done. He moved out of his apartment and started commuting from home, even after hiring an exterminator to clean everything. His experience made me feel truly lucky to have not encountered the tiny terrors. While bedbugs aren’t going to cause you much more than mild physical discomfort, the real threat is psychological. After finding a bug in his bed, John found it hard to sleep, even after he had moved out. He kept thinking about the bugs crawling on him.

I’m not trying to scare anyone, but there are real risks associated with taking furniture off the street. On one hand it’s a completely free way to furnish your dorm or apartment, but on the other hand it does invite other unwanted guests into your apartment.

If you are looking for some free furniture or at a garage sale, remember to examine these used items thoroughly before taking them. It’s a lot harder for these bugs to hide on end table or a wooden chair, so you can expect less of a threat from these items as compared to upholstered furniture which provides ample space for bugs to hide. When looking for free furniture, it might be best to stick to only trusted sources, like family members.

So, a quick overview to free-furniture hunting:

  • Try to stick to trusted sources, random furniture has a higher risk of unexpected visitors (bed bugs!)
  • When collecting furniture, be sure to thoroughly inspect it
  • After bringing it home, do your best to clean it up

Best of luck on your hunting endeavors!

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Ryan Schapals

Ryan Schapals

Ryan Schapals is a senior at DePaul University studying Creative Writing and Psychology. Outside of class, Ryan can be found working in the Pysch Lab or at a local health clinic. When he's not distracted by cat videos, he tries to balance his time between playing guitar, writing prose, and running around the soccer field.