Photo by the author
Stooping fights fast fashion and prevents unnecessary waste. Where and when to hunt for hot trash around Boston.
Eventually, we all become our parents. This sentiment became undeniably clear to me when I moved into my own apartment in Cambridgeport, and began finding furniture, decor, kitchenware, and books on the side of the road. All of the times I was mortified by my mother’s tendency to pull over and sift through a stranger’s garbage turned into informative learning experiences as I welcomed my newfound thriftiness.
The home goods I have sorted through range from gently used to completely trashed, but in all cases, it’s worth a look. Whenever there’s a box with “FREE” scrawled on the side in Sharpie, take a pause, cross the street, pull over, and put on the blinkers. If you don’t, I will. There may be significant treasures inside.
In my travels around Greater Boston, three of the best neighborhoods for finding roadside goodies are Cambridgeport, Allston, and the North End. Beacon Hill and Back Bay are honorable mentions, but have a lower population of college students. Students move in and out of their apartments more frequently, and are therefore more likely to ditch great things on the sidewalk.
Wherever you are, it’s best to be on the lookout in the couple days before and after the first of the month. When leases end, people purge whatever they can’t fit in the moving van or sell. In August, I found a beautiful upholstered office chair on the side of the road in Allston. I had just come out of an artist’s showcase in someone’s backyard, and spotted it in front of a neighboring building. Up until that point, I’d been using a folding chair left in my apartment by the previous tenant; this chair looked brand new, so I threw it into the back of my car, and took it home.
In Allston, the trash is picked up every Wednesday morning, so Tuesday evenings are an ideal time to have a look around. Annually speaking, this neighborhood, of course, has Allston Christmas, a stooping occasion so prolific it’s become an unofficial holiday. Falling on the last few days of August and the beginning of September, it’s when leases end for scores of graduating students.
This past Allston Christmas, I found myself face-to-face with a “jouch,” a jean couch upholstered entirely with denim. The person who put it out noticed that I was taking a picture from their first floor window, leaned out, and recounted the jouch’s tale. It was custom made, ordered by her father after his divorce. When he began dating his new girlfriend, she requested that the jouch be gifted to his college-aged daughter.
I continued on my walk, and, in the time it took me to pick up a burrito from around the corner, someone came and began loading the jouch into a van. They planned to take it all the way to New York City.
Trash pickup in the North End is every Monday morning, so the prime time to look for furniture there is Sunday evening. Because of how densely populated the area is, it’s easy to stumble onto good finds. After dinner there one time, I encountered a wooden wine shelf equal to me in height, with intricately painted portraits of scantily-dressed women on each side. Sadly, I was talked out of taking it home.
In Cambridgeport, just outside of Central Square, the trash is picked up early Friday morning, so Thursday night is when I go out hunting. Although I’ve found a fair share of my furniture around these parts, there’s also a tradition of people leaving out what my roommates and I affectionately call “free boxes.” They’re put out at random, with no telling what might be inside. We love them; our living room is full of old books and magazines that we cut up and collage with, and we use mugs and bowls and candles found in boxes. Sometimes there are also highly useful products, like the unopened box of Tums we found and use to this day.
If you don’t have all the time in the world to hunt for roadside finds on your own, or to sift through trash, there are people out there doing the work for you. On Instagram, @stoopingboston_ has more than 2,000 followers who eagerly await the owner’s walks before trash days and posts of their findings in real time. They also accept direct messages from their followers giving them the address and photos of stooped furniture, décor, electronics, plants, antiques, or giveaways from the follower themselves.
“I created @stoopingboston_ in summer 2021 after I moved to Boston from NYC,” the account’s owner tells us. “The New York stooping culture is on fire with a cult following behind @stoopingnyc, the account which inspired me. That summer from my window, I watched trash workers throw a beautiful desk into their truck. It bothered me. This is simply a passion project and I do not make a cent from it.”
Oftentimes, the items posted are snagged within minutes. The account owner’s advice is to take what you find home—even if it isn’t perfect—and to make it your own through new knobs, a fresh wood stain, whatever it takes. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, in 2018 the US tossed in excess of 12 million tons of furniture and furnishings. Stooping fights fast fashion, reduces greenhouse gas emissions, and prevents unnecessary waste.
Just note: Whether the item found on the street needs a quick fix, a new coat of paint, or just a light cleaning, it’s essential to check upholstered furniture for bed bugs. You can quickly examine a piece of furniture on the street with your phone flashlight and a plastic credit card from your wallet. Shine the light and run the card through the piece’s crevices, looking for small reddish brown stains or the bugs themselves. If there’s anything you deem suspicious, leave the item where you found it.
But when something’s safe and a great fit, there can be real rewards. One favorite element of my room is a tiny, dark wood table that I use as a plant stand. It was broken when I found it; I was walking home from the grocery store in the snow when I noticed it upturned, one of its ornate legs lying on the ground beside it. I took it home and realized that the top was slightly warped; even with the leg re-affixed, it was still wobbly. I simply added two adhesive felt pads, the ones used to protect hardwood floors from scratches, to one of the legs. The table has been in my room ever since.
Now, as I prepare to move out of my apartment, many of the things I found on the street are returning there, hopefully to be picked up and cherished by someone with more time left in this city.