In these interesting economic times when unemployment is low because everyone has, like, four jobs (but still can’t afford rent), you have to get creative. The good news is that no matter how chaotic things are out there, some fundamental economic rules always apply, like the fact that you can often substitute sweat equity for cash. Using time and effort as currency is as old as society itself, and you can use that currency in more ways than you think by incorporating curb alerts into your life.
A curb alert is an announcement that someone has placed free items on the street, like furniture or old toys, and you’re welcome to come grab them—an activity sometimes called “stooping” or “curb mining.” In other words, if you have some sweat and time, you can get a bunch of stuff for zero money. This isn’t just a way for broke folks to furnish their homes for free, it’s also a way to get rid of stuff you no longer want without the guilt associated with adding to our landfill problem. In the bad old days you had to drive around your town on trash night, eyes peeled for treasures; but today there are robust systems of curb alerts that will keep you informed, making it a lot easier to find the stuff you need.
How curb alerts work
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There’s no single curb alert system in the world, so choosing which one to follow depends largely on your local area and what folks are using to get the word out. Some of the most common ways to get curb alerts include:
- Nextdoor. This “hyperlocal” social platform connects folks in a single neighborhood, and it has a whole section devoted to free stuff being put out on the curb.
- OfferUp. Although used mainly to sell unwanted items, OfferUp allows you to list a number of items for free, so filtering listings on a regular basis can act as a curb alert.
- Craigslist. People often put “curb alert” in their listings when they’re dumping free stuff on the sidewalk.
- Facebook. There are numerous public groups dedicated to curb alerts on Facebook, so it’s just a matter of finding one serving your local area.
- BuyNothing. Not exactly a curb alert, but extremely useful if you’re looking to recycle someone else’s discards, BuyNothing is a freecycling, “global reuse” platform. It supports a network of local communities that make it easy to give away (and claim) unwanted stuff. There are local BuyNothing communities all over the world, and you can download their free app to find one near you.
You can also simply search social media for your locality and the phrases “curb alert” or “stooping”; chances are some helpful folks are tracking curb alerts and passing them on via real-time posts. Instagram is a popular social media platform for stoopers because of the focus on visuals, which makes posting photos of the curbed treasures easy.
Once you’ve got a stream of curb alerts coming your way, all you have to do is review them and be prepared to react quickly if you see something you can use. A few things to consider:
- Timing. It’s a good idea to know the trash schedule for your area—folks tend to curb their unwanted stuff around trash time so their discarded stuff doesn’t sit on the curb for days and days. Additionally, the end of the month is a busy time for curb alerts as people moving out will often curb stuff they’d rather not haul to their next place.
- Location. Throwing stuff away crosses all socioeconomic lines, but the folks who live in more expensive neighborhoods will probably be throwing away better stuff. If you’re hoping to score some high-quality goods off the street, know where the rich folks live and stalk their curb alerts.
- Safety. Be mindful of two facts: You don’t know anything about the people throwing this stuff away, and you don’t know what may have happened to the free stuff while it was sitting in the open. Be prepared to clean and sanitize your booty (especially upholstery, unless you’re a fan of bedbugs), and be wary about plugging in electronics without having a fire extinguisher on hand, just in case.
- Etiquette. Curb alerts can be thrilling, because you’re essentially in a race to claim something. Remember that you may not be the only person interested in an item, and the world of curb alerts is very, very much first come, first served.
The curb flip
While furnishing your home or getting much-needed equipment for free is the primary use for curb alerts, some people have a side hustle of grabbing free stuff from the curb and flipping it—cleaning and repairing stuff and then putting it up for sale. Since the items were free in the first place, anything you get for them is pure profit, minus any incidental cash spent on parts, cleaning supplies, or stuff like paint.
One thing to keep in mind if you’re considering using curb alerts to fuel a side business flipping items is how much expertise can be required to tell a vintage or antique item of real value from a piece of fast furniture designed to look like a vintage piece—and that it can impossible to tell if that stereo, television, or computer put out on the curb can be fixed at all. In other words, have a plan for getting rid of that stuff if it turns out to be less useful than you think.