A few weeks ago, Denise Gordon was walking near her Gramercy home when she spotted an antique chest of drawers on the curb. She didn’t need it, but this dresser was too good to ignore — solid wood, with clawed feet and dovetail joinery. It was also too heavy for Ms. Gordon, who is 68, to carry. So she did what any good sidewalk stooper would do: She offered two random men on the street $20 apiece to carry it back to her apartment. And, being New Yorkers, they did.
“People don’t know what they’re throwing away,” said Ms. Gordon, who grew up on the Upper East Side and has been digging for discarded treasure since she paid 35 cents for a silk blouse at a thrift store when she was 13 years old. “In my neighborhood, they don’t know and they don’t care.”
New York City curbs are awash in furniture left behind by people who are moving, who died, or who are simply fickle. If you know where to look, and how to get the stuff home, it’s possible to furnish an entire apartment with someone else’s junk. And if you don’t know where to look, an entire ecosystem of expert scavengers has emerged on TikTok and Instagram, ready to help you scout out great finds.
A good sidewalk sleuth can spot a quality piece, knowing to check its heft and to look for features like tongue and groove joinery, before committing. They deftly enlist strangers and Uber drivers to help drag loot home, and often travel with screwdrivers, bungee cords and flashlights, in case they happen upon a gem.
“I’m like a heat-seeking missile. If it’s there I’ll find it,” said Ms. Gordon, who sells many of the items she finds, such as the leather Eames lounge chair that she recently sold on the used-furniture marketplace AptDeco for $2,000. “It’s wooden money, that’s what it is.”
Instagram and TikTok accounts that readily post curb alerts have made it easier to learn about good discards, but when a vintage Wassily chair turns up on an account like @StoopingNYC, odds are it will be gone before you leave your apartment. We spoke with a few expert stoopers for tips on how to furnish a home for free.
Know When to Look
A skilled scavenger knows where and when to hunt. The end of the month is always a good time, with people unloading before they move out. So are weekends. In New York City, bulk items can be placed on the curb from 4 p.m. to midnight the night before trash collection day. So, plan accordingly. (If you’re heading out of your neighborhood, check the trash collection schedule before you go.) P.J. Gach, a writer with the Instagram account @nycfreeatthecurb, likes to swing by luxury buildings early in the morning — around 6 a.m. — because those properties often set items out right before the trucks come for collection.
Not All Neighborhoods Are Created Equal
Some neighborhoods, like the Upper East Side, have been known for decades as prime foraging destinations. But there are plenty of other spots to put on your radar. Ms. Gordon likes Dumbo in Brooklyn. Shelby Veazey, who runs StooberNYC, a company that delivers found and purchased furniture, has had lots of success in Harlem. And Jessica Wolff of @stoopinginqueens thinks Ridgewood, Queens, is the most underrated neighborhood in the borough. For antiques, she suggests Jackson Heights; for quality, Long Island City is worth a visit.
It never hurts to try to get ahead of trash night. Strike up conversations with the doormen or porters at the large, upscale buildings. Ask them what time they generally put the bulk trash out. See if they might tip you off before a choice item heads to the curb.
Separate the Wheat From the Chaff
There’s a big difference between a Mads Caprani curved floor lamp and a knockoff arc from Target. You may be perfectly happy with the Target discard, but the thrill of the hunt is about finding those discarded diamonds.
If you see something on the street and you’re not sure of the quality, pull out your phone and do a quick search. Bronwyn Tarboton, an actor with a dumpster-diving TikTok account, @nyctrashtotreasures, uses Google Lens, taking a picture of her find and looking for matches to identify the brand and quality. “That way you can see how much something is worth, how much things are selling for,” said Ms. Tarboton, who supplements her income restoring and selling her finds.
Jot down the dimension of open spaces in your apartment, so you don’t come home with an oversized object. And keep a mood board on Pinterest of the colors, materials and styles you’re aiming for, to help you visualize how the new find will look in your home.
Check for quality. Dovetail joinery on the drawers is a sign of real craftsmanship. A heavy item is likely better quality and sturdier than a light one. Check to see if it’s wobbly, and if the legs are in good condition. (If the legs have been removed, count them to make sure they’re all there.) For upholstered sofas and chairs, look along the seams for dark spots — telltale signs of bedbugs. And take a whiff before you lift. “Think about the dog pee,” Ms. Veazey said.
Tools for Your Arsenal
Ms. Tarboton always travels with a backpack or tote bag. You never know when you might come along an amazing table lamp, something small enough to bring with you as you go about your day. Once, she found a side table on her way to the grocery store. She picked it up, carried it with her to the store, and left it outside by the entrance. It was waiting for her when she was done. “If it’s tucked away, people won’t take it,” she said.
She also frequently carries a screwdriver, in case she needs to disassemble an item to get it home. A tape measure helps, too, so you don’t end up bringing home a dresser that won’t fit through the door or up the stairs.
Bring a flashlight if you’re looking at night, so you can inspect your finds. “It’s sort of like camping or hiking — you want to be prepared,” Ms. Gach said.
If you come across an item missing drawers, keep moving because that may be a sign that someone is coming back for the rest later, Ms. Gach said. And unless an item is clearly on the curb, it is off limits. Leave an area as neat as you found it, closing up any bags you opened, and making sure the area is not left in disarray.
Sometimes, you’ll need help carrying a large or heavy piece home. If you call a taxi or Uber, offer a hefty tip. If you ask a stranger on the street for help, offer to pay them for their effort. Saying thank you is free.
If other people are already looking at an item that you come upon, they have first dibs. And if you aren’t serious about the piece you spotted, and someone else shows interest, say hello and let them take a look. “Remember, something else is going to be down the road,” Ms. Gach said. “There are thousands of leaning bookcases begging to be adopted.”
If you look hard enough, one of those bookcases will soon be yours.