Free At Curbs In Portland: Just About Everything!

Waiting for a new rider near Willis and Fiske in Portsmouth.

PORTLAND — Poking through other people’s discarded stuff is a popular thing to do in Portland, and plenty of intrepid folks are up for the challenge.

For Jennifer B. of Cathedral Park in NoPo, the practice of putting out free stuff at curbs is one of her favorite quirks of Portland.

She regularly checks out the curbside goods while jogging through her North Portland neighborhood and nicknames the castoffs “curbies.”

“There was recently a large freebie pile on Willamette Boulevard that we ran past for a week, watching it gradually get smaller. Eventually all that was left was a rain drenched Bible and a used toilet brush! I wish I had taken a picture, I feel like that it perfectly encapsulated Portland,” she told Pipeline.

To some it was an old door, to Jennifer B. it became a headboard.

Over the past 10 years, Jennifer and her partner have picked up household and gardening materials, but her favorite items are furniture, because she likes to refinish them (for personal use, not resale).

A self-described amateur woodworker, it took her a few hours a day over a couple of weeks to make a bed headboard out of a discarded door. About half of that time was spent refinishing the wood and the other half was used to design the refinished piece using a table saw and router, as well as other power tools (“Some people simply attach legs to the bottom which are hidden by the mattress, and this doesn’t require a lot of tools”).

This headboard was one a discarded door at a curb. [Provided]

She’s also refinished two vintage office chairs, discovered a few years apart and on the same block of North Edison Street. She and her partner now refer to that stretch of Edison as ‘Office Chair Row’.

Check out Jennifer B’s “before” and “after” images, below:

Almost every room of Jennifer B’s house features refinished “curbies.” [Provided]

For Kari J. of Kenton, discovering unique stuff at curbs “feels like a bit of an adventure.”

She recalled when she and her husband were out walking their dogs — with a rain storm impending— and came across “a true treasure trove of useful pieces of furniture.”

“I had just redone a room in my home to be my office…our haul that night include a lovely shoe bench, a really nice lamp, and a settee bench (my dogs love lounging on that) and a dark green feather filled pillow…all strangely in colors that worked in my new office, which is where is all lives currently to this day,” she said.

A sette in Kari J’.s home office, found at a curb.
Coffee mugs and saucers, stemware and water glasses, salvaged by Kari J.

Jennifer B. and Kari J’s curbside experiences were shared on online platform Nextdoor, where I solicited stories earlier this month.

From “a mid 90s teal green Jansport fanny pack that I wear all the time” to a vintage kitchen table and a Sony Bravia TV that “works great,” many Cathedral Park, Kenton and Portsmouth Nextdoor members were eager to describe their favorite free finds.

The one that got away!

On my morning bike commute from North Portland to Downtown, I’m usually scrambling to get to work, so I glance at various curbside piles but don’t stop — unless it’s something worth being a couple of minute late for to snap a few pics and consider further.

Spotted on North Vancouver, this above-the-toilet shelving unit, left, was exactly what I had been thinking about finding (or buying) for the spare bedroom’s bathroom.

Alas, by the time I returned a day later (the Subaru’s back row of seats optimistically turned down) it was gone.

Acting quickly on higher-quality items seems to be the practice here.

This past summer I sourced a book shelf from a Portsmouth neighbor who’d just put it at her curb as I walked by with my dog.

A second shelf was found a few months after the first one, again while walking the dog (thanks, Blu!)

For many people, the fun is in the looking/observation and not the aquisition.

Jeffrey Larson of Foster-Powell/Arleta posts free stuff he sees with along with haikus. His Facebook group, “free crap by the side of the road jeff has inexplicably not picked up” has almost 4,000 members. It started 10 years ago as a private album, with around 100 of Larson’s friends.

Once he “decided to throw the doors open” and make it public, Larson said he was surprised how many people showed up.

All members of Larson’s page can post a photo and a haiku, and the comments are usually other people trying their hand at also writing a haiku or two about the same image.

Haikus inspired by a left behind couch. [Facebook/free crap by the side of the road jeff has inexplicably not picked up]

Larson called the haiku element of his page “a continual work in progress.”

“Some of the people who post or comment on the posts on the page are super talented at haiku, and I aspire to get to that level someday. In the meantime, I can write the haikus in my head in a matter of seconds when I spot that couch or microwave or TV set or bloodstained mattress on the roadside,” he said.

Photo courtesy of Heidi Lawler, a prolific contributor to Larson’s free crap FB page.

free stuff helpful links:

Ms. Freddie the dog’s owner posts free crap they spot on their walks, using hashtag #freecrappdx

Katy Walk-Stanley blog, The Non-Consumer Advocate covers a host of issues related to not buying anything new.

Bradley W. Parks with Oregon Public Broadcasting wrote about the mysterious practice of people putting out their piles of crap in 2017

Redditt user Blastosist, asked “Generosity or laziness ? It has been a Portland tradition for as long as I can remember to put a useless broken shit out on the corner instead of disposing of it. Maybe I am wrong I would like hear a defense of this. Could it be possible that someone’s trash is another’s treasure?” Read the comments here.

Somewhere on Rosa Park Blvd.
Two mattress left for the taking on Willamette and Rosa Parks, October 2019.
Source: chicagopipeline

Free At Curbs In Portland: Just About Everything!