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Urban salvaging : 7 pieces of advice for refurnishing your home without spending money

Salvaging items from the street is a way of getting vintage home deco that’s environmentally responsible. It allows you to refurnish your home without breaking the bank, and with a clear conscience! Before taking the plunge, let us walk you through it!

A few years back, one of my interns back from New York told me that being strapped for cash, she had kitted out her whole apartment by salvaging furniture (sofa, table, bed, etc.) from the street. I found the idea very odd, but she made me feel better by saying it was a very common thing to do in the USA. It must have stayed at the back of my mind, because I have seen bulky waste items left out in the street in a different way ever since.

Keep your eyes peeled

Out in the street, on foot or in the car, you may happen upon a little gem left behind by its owner. Why? Well, it’s often down to someone redecorating, moving house or having a clear-out. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. To give you an idea of how it all stacks up, each year the municipality here in Paris salvages some 90,000 tonnes of bulky waste items. According to French newspaper Le Monde: 43,000 sofas, 930 cookers and 4,600 dishwashers. Not forgetting masses of small items (all kinds of crockery, books, cushions, plants, etc.). Getting into salvaging is not about rifling through dustbins. It’s just about keeping your eyes peeled for items left by the side of the pavement that can still come in handy.

Keep a look out ahead of bulky waste item collection

The first thing to do is find out the bulky waste item collection schedule. In some towns and cities there’s a set day or date (the last Thursday of the month, every Monday, etc.). In other large cities (Paris, Lyon, Marseille) it’s an as-and-when service. Private individuals make an appointment and leave the item in front of their premises accordingly. If it’s on a set day, you need do no more than walk the streets the evening before. Otherwise, it’s the luck of the draw. Be aware that some streets are more “providential” than others. Because some residents – those who must have regular clear-outs – put out items that are going begging, bagged up ready for any takers. Once you’ve found such a spot, you just need to pass by a bit more often than usual. Also, be aware that some days make for more successful salvaging: Sundays and Mondays, after the weekend clear-out. The same goes for the end of the month, the prime months for moving house (May to September) and January after the tidal wave of presents.

Be creative

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On YouTube there are a great many instructibles on “how to convert a piece of furniture” or “what to do with a wooden pallet”. If DIY is not really your thing, you can just salvage an item that’s in great condition (you’ll find that this is very often the case). Another possibility: repurposing an item. For example, a tall chair as a plant stand.

Avoid certain items

Of course, it’s not about salvaging anything and everything and turning your home into a hoarder’s paradise. It’s easiest to pick up something that will serve a purpose in your home. If you’re not sure about it, move along. Before taking the items, check their condition and check pieces of furniture for little holes, which are signs of pest infestation. Pass on mattresses and bedframes, so as not to bring bedbugs into your home!

Clean up your haul

Once you’ve got your items home, clean them with a sponge and a specialist product. Also, use a joss stick (sage or palo santo) to remove all the stored-up energies and start afresh.

Follow the right accounts

On Instagram, a great many private individuals’ accounts are dedicated solely to urban salvaging. You’ll be blown away by what gets found and salvaged from the street. How to fully furnish a house without ever buying anything with the account @tombes_du_ciel or @la_recyclerie_des_merveilles or @lrecycle_la_rue or @merci_la_rue_. So what do these accounts have in common? They repurpose discarded items to rein in waste and bypass the infernal cycle of the consumerist society (buy, throw away, replace). Other inspiring accounts: @consommons.sainement and @defi_riendeneuf, which share salvaging instructibles and give out tips for smart consumer behaviour.

Go equipped

If you’re on foot, be sure to take a small foldable bag with you, and gloves (for inspecting furniture and other items). And keep your eyes peeled… There are tonnes of little gems out there waiting for you!

To read for further information: La récup’ facile [Salvaging Made Easy] by Aline Gubri (available only in French) (Éditions Leduc, €14.90).

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