Wednesday, May 18, 2016

How can I furnish my place with pretty much no money?

Inspired by some threads on various forums, I'm going to start posting about the cheapest places I've found to get various items. Note that these aren't necessarily the best value, as in, the item that will last the longest, or is the best quality for the money spent. People who are looking for cost-benefit information may want to go to a mainstream review-type site. What I'm going to post is the cheapest place to get a minimally adequate version of a particular item.

Today's topic: furniture and related home furnishings

The cheapest place to get furniture is either finding it on the curb over time if you don't need it right away (try Allston, Mission Hill, Fenway around Aug 31 or college move-out days), or looking in the free section on craigslist, or on freecycle. If that doesn't work, try thrift stores or the non-free furniture on craigslist. Most furniture you should be able to fit in your bathtub to hose it off with soap and water and maybe a bit of scrubbing. Or you may be lucky enough to even have a yard and a hose. If it looks acceptable after this, you're done, and you've spent nothing.

I assume if you're reading this that you aren't a single childfree person with no money, or else you probably would be fine waiting to be able to afford furniture before you have anyone come over. This is written with people in mind who have children or have disability services folks come to their house or whatever the case may be, thus need to make their home look like they're able to support themselves adequately. So we're going for the cheapest and fastest way to get a house looking clean, sanitary, and like people live there who aren't completely broke.

So, now that you've got your free or cheap furniture: If you find something that's badly scuffed or has stains that won't come off, spraypaint it. This way, it looks clean and new. If it appears to be some type of non-wood laminate, or you aren't sure, buy the spraypaint that says it works on plastic. If you're sure it's entirely wood or metal, save yourself some money and get regular spraypaint. If the hardware is ugly, spraypaint it black or silver, or replace them with cheap IKEA knobs. Don't have anywhere to spraypaint? Do it in a parking lot, basement, in the street, or fashion a spraypainting shelter with an appliance box or a tarp. After painting and replacing hardware, your piece of furniture will have run you about $10.

The spraypainting method works well for situations like mismatched kitchen chairs; paint all the chairs the same color, or paint each in a different coordinating color, and it looks quirky rather than broke. It also works great for a bedroom with all different styles and colors of free furniture; paint everything white, black, or a bright color if that's your thing, and it suddenly looks intentional. You can further tie things together with some accents. I saw these kitchen towels at Dollar Tree last week that I thought would look nice spread out on top of a dresser or end table. IKEA has dining chair cushions starting at $2.99 each.

A few years back I had a dresser I found on the curb, which I shockingly don't seem to have a picture of. It was solid wood with carved details and looked to be from the 1960s with a pretty awful marbley sort of stain with high gloss coating. Rather than spend a ton of time and money stripping it, I spraypainted it turquoise and replaced the awful hardware with some mismatched glass knobs that I found on eBay and the Anthropologie scratch-and-dent shelf for a total of about $10. When we needed to rearrange our space to accommodate more people moving in, I sold it for $200 on craigslist to someone who showed me pictures of the room they were furnishing with scarily high-end stuff.

I guess the main thing to remember with furniture is that you can in fact forgo a lot of the "big ticket" items and still make a house look furnished and sanitary and all that stuff that people view as a measure of appropriately caring for yourself and your family. 

This picture was a quick google find, and it shows what could be a nice, proper, adult living room without a couch or upholstered furniture. (Upholstered furniture you would actually want in your house is harder to find for cheap or free, unless you come across someone clearing out almost-new stuff for whatever reason). It looks like the owner of this room took some low-end chairs, arranged them nicely with some pillows, and tied the area together with some accessories.

Forget the messages you've been sent about proper homes having a "bedroom set" and "living room set" and all that. A bedroom needs a bed (cheap beds will be the subject of a future post), somewhere to put clothes (free dresser is probably easiest), and a stool or similar near the bed to set bedside items on. A living room needs things to sit on at minimum, and probably could use some tables and bookshelves. These can all be free or improvised. Then you need some items to put out on surfaces so it looks like a home, looks intentional, and says "minimalist decor," not "this kid lives in a house without much furniture." Dollar Tree sells picture frames, storage baskets, vases, potted plants, candles, framed posters. A local thrift store will have these things as well, though they may actually be more expensive than at Dollar Tree.

Assuming you live in the typical Boston housing with hardwood floors or industrial-grade linoleum tile, you'll want to put down some rugs. Rugs are expensive, right? They can be, but they're also possible to get for not much money, and they make a huge difference. If you can get to IKEA, they have this 4x6 rug for $12.99. That's large enough for a living room rug. They also have those 2x3 thin cotton rugs for $3.99, which are sufficient for next to a bed or in front of the kitchen sink, and, again, will make it look like your house is properly furnished.

You may also be able to find rugs at thrift stores for not very much money, or on the curb, freecycle, or craigslist free section. Rugs often are in surplus in these places, since people pass them by assuming they're going to be gross. But you can get a rug clean without spending money at a professional carpet cleaning place. Put it in a large laundromat washer, or in your bathtub with a ton of hot water and shampoo. Wash it as hot as you can for as long as you can. It's a myth that you can't wash wool, so don't worry if your rug might be wool. If it is, it will smell funny for a few days and the texture might change slightly if it's really furry, but it will probably be just fine. Most of the ones I've washed have seemed to have wool in them, and they came out fine. If your rug is huge, rent one of those Rug Doctor things. Or wash it outside with a hose and scrub brush. Take it to a self-serve car wash with those giant pressure washer hoses and a bottle of dollar store shampoo. Or laundry detergent if it's really gross. Dry it outside if at all possible, on a balcony or roof or something, or dry it in a clothes dryer if it fits. If you can't do that, dry it inside, but use stuff out of your recycling bin or whatnot to raise it up off the floor. Or if the rug doesn't weigh much, hang it over your shower rod.

What's left? Wastebaskets, dish towels, hand towels, soap dishes, organizer baskets, potholders, shower curtains, etc. I would start with freecycle and the free section on craigslist. There are often people who are moving and want to give away all of their stuff, including the small things. If you can't find one of those people, try Dollar Tree. It's going to be cheaper than thrift stores for the most part. (For those who are new to dollar stores, Dollar Tree is one where everything is actually a dollar. There's one in Roslindale, Mattapan, Allston, Somerville, and they all have the same basic departments, but they stock different things even if you go on the same day.)

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