It’s the Best Time of Year for Free Stuff on the Street

published Sep 1, 2023
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Household various rubbish garbage items put on the street for council bulk waste collection. City waste management
Credit: Daria Nipot/Shutterstock

Jeff Swanson just thought he saw a cool lamp. The Washington, DC, political strategist had strolled across his street on Capitol Hill after realizing the neighbors were moving cross-country. 

“The moving company sent the wrong truck that was way too small. They basically were in a bind and couldn’t fit everything,” says Swanson, who struck up a conversation with the woman moving. When she mentioned they couldn’t fit all their stuff in the moving truck and everything was up for grabs, Swanson jumped into action. “I saw the lamp, grabbed it, and didn’t look back.” It turned out to be a Harvey Guzzini Italian Modular Arc floor lamp, valued between $800 and $1,200. 

Sure, that’s an extreme example. For the majority of people, the idea of picking up free home decor on the street can come with a pang of hesitation, like eating food off the kitchen floor or going out with a guy holding a fish in his Tinder photo. That said, one person’s trash is another man’s treasure — and the end of summer is prime time for free stuff. 

Credit: InnaFelker/Shutterstock

This is largely due to the number of people moving during late summer: According to, 80 percent of all moves in the United States occur between April and September. Across the country, the phenomenon is so prominent that it’s even earned nicknames. Sept. 1 in Boston is affectionately known as “Allston Christmas.” It’s a day that marks the turnover of the majority of apartment leases in the city’s most student-heavy neighborhood. As new students flood the area to start the fall semester, the items belonging to previous tenants tend to find their way out onto the sidewalk. And in other college towns like Madison, Wisconsin, it’s referred to as “Hippie Christmas.”

When it comes to picking up what’s left behind, the frequent sidewalk stalkers have some rules they make sure to follow. Sean William Donovan of Sean William Styling says the night before or morning of trash collection is prime time for good pieces, particularly in upscale neighborhoods. 

“I have dragged home many mirrors, vintage side chairs, and even a rattan Bernhardt lounge chair,” says Donovan, who’s been known to scour the alleys of Boston’s Back Bay and Beacon Hill neighborhoods before trash day. “Often, one can score some great furniture pieces that another was simply looking to remove from their home.”

Donovan also advises beginners to focus on items that are made of wood, metal, or glass — or are super easy to clean and restore. Bed bugs are not what you want to carry upstairs. “Upholstered items are where it gets tricky, so you will want to only take items that look well-cared-for in the former home after a rigorous inspection,” he says. 

Give it a shake to make sure it’s sturdy and inspect the underside. “Often, you may be able to find labels with details on the maker, or how to clean it,” Donovan adds. If it’s upholstered, be sure to vacuum or steam clean it before you bring it into your home. After all, you’re never sure what’s been near it.