The prospect of furnishing an over-priced apartment in a costly city can be daunting. But before you go running off to that Swedish transnational, take a couple weeks to look around you–you’ll be surprised at the things you can pick up on the cheap.
Since nothing is cheaper than free, and nothing is freer than other people’s trash, dumpsters are a good place to start. As you make your way around the neighborhood, work residential blocks and alleys into your path. Look for areas under renovation, an ongoing process in Hyde Park, as they often have industrial-sized dumpsters full of furniture (and wood, if you’re crafty enough).
Alleys between two apartment buildings are the best hunting grounds–an alley on 52nd near Kimbark one day yielded a beautifully upholstered armchair, which I carried home on my head. Rain and snow decimate wooden furniture, so the key to alley hunting is frequency of search and timeliness of discovery. It also pays to have a friend to call on for carrying assistance–my roommate recently called on me to help him net a massive bookshelf.
Not into furniture scavenging as a form of opting-out of high-priced homemaking? Perhaps you’re more comfortable on the Internet? In that case, Craigslist and the University Marketplace are the next best options. Craigslist has a “free” section, and people decorate entire houses with its contents. It is helpful to have a car for pick-up, unless you luck into finding something nearby, or are willing to pony up the cash for delivery.
If you haven’t searched the treasure trove that is marketplace.uchicago.edu, do so now. Because life plans change quickly, there is always someone in a hurry to dump truckloads quickly, and therefore cheaply. Logistics may again be an issue, but occasionally the seller will deliver to your door in their haste to flee the area.
As you might expect, the best time for furniture is during high move-out season. This would be from late summer to early fall, cresting during the first few weeks of September just before the quarter begins. There are several furniture swapping events among students, as well as a house plant exchange in late September. Keep your eyes open for advertisements around that time. (Chris Ivanovich)