Beg or Borrow but Don't Steal, Money Matters, Second-hand Scavengers

Whimsical furnishings

So you’ve got the keys to the new house. The walls are patched from an exodus of photo frames. There’s electricity and water, but very little else. It’s a shell, not a home.

If you were pre-mortgage, you would have used and abused the plastic at a homemaker centre, but you’ve just received your first statement and realised that the interest accrued is greater than the cost of a new couch.

You decide to do without. Who needs a bed when there’s perfectly good carpet? But while you might enjoy camping out in your living room for a week or two, your back does not, and your partner isn’t impressed with eating off the floor. Time to invest in some stuff.

Except furniture is rarely an investment. A dining set from Harvey Norman will depreciate as soon as it gets wheeled out of the door. And a bed, table, and chairs are just the tip of the iceberg. How on earth are you going to be able to afford bookshelves, a washing machine, a microwave, an ergonomic desk and chair, side tables, an ironing board, lamps, extension cords, real Persian rugs, a full-length mirror, a coat rack, pots and pans, a chopping board, wardrobes, tallboys, a toaster that fits crumpets, bed linen, towels, a shower curtain, a vacuum cleaner, brooms, a stereo and Ajax when you’re just scraping by with the mortgage repayments?

You decide to take stock of what you’ve got: one bowl, some mismatched cutlery, an old Ikea coffee table. Everything utilitarian, you keep. Even small things like cutlery cost money that is better sitting in the offset account.

You make a list of things that you need. It’s long, but you prioritise. That fridge is probably more important than a big screen TV. A frying pan is of more use in your one-person household than that pink cake stand from General Trader.

Some of the items on the list, you get for free. And while free furniture is usually free for a reason, you’re surprised by the quality of stuff that’s out there for the taking. Crowdsourcing amongst family and friends unearths several treasures: a leather lounge suite from the 80s, a microwave, Deco-style bookshelves, heaters, and chairs. Freecycle, dumpster diving and hard-rubbish scavenging is rather hit and miss, but you still manage to rescue an old secretaire from the side of the road, and it cleans up nicely with a sand and polish.

Other necessities aren’t free but they don’t cost much once you know where to look. There are op shops that sell furniture and whitegoods, as well as other bric-a-brac. Auction houses and ex-rental furniture shops tend to be a little bit pricier, but the stock is more contemporary, which is great as your tastes aren’t always the same as Grandma’s. And then there is the wonder that is Gumtree.

Some things you just won’t buy secondhand, i.e. mattresses. Unfortunately if there’s new furniture out there that’s as cheap as its secondhand equivalent, you’ve yet to find it. But Captain Snooze, Bedshed, etc. still offer discounted stock and storewide sales. And if it isn’t on sale, you know you can get a better price. You once haggled down a cat carrier from $15 to $12 at a flea market in Oakleigh and the memory keeps you warm sometimes.

As your house starts to shape up into a home, you understand why your aunt and uncle took so long at renovating theirs. There’s always something to do: the windows don’t have curtains, the door needs a new lick of paint, the couch could do with some cushions. But you don’t want to rush; you want to get things right the first time because there’s nothing less environmentally and financially frugal than changing house interiors as often as changing the underwear. Besides, you don’t want this chase to end, not yet, not ever.

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