One weird trick to furnish your new home for free

September 24, 2013
This post is part of a new media experiment describing why, and how, Clef moved to Oakland. Read the next piece here,  see the whole time line at or let us know your thoughts with #oaklandis on Twitter

No, this isn’t a spammy ad. This is how I managed to furnish a new, entirely empty, house without spending a cent.


Identify your needs

We were starting with practically nothing (the only thing we had were bug-free mattresses from Ikea). I made a list of everything we would want in an ideal world: couches, bed frames, dressers, kitchen and dining tables, chairs, stools, a toaster, a microwave, pots and pans, bowls and plates, cups, kitchen utensils, silverware, and more.

Don’t do it as an afterthought

I started my search by creating a couple IFTTT actions that emailed me whenever free items went up on Craigslist. After a few days of trying to get real work done and simultaneously process Craigslist ads, I realized that it wasn’t going to work. The context switching made me less productive and the fact that I was at the office without a car meant I couldn’t just run out and grab things. Things go super quickly and you have to be able to pounce. Doing it half way won’t cut it.


Block out at least one full day of searching

With IFTTT turned off, I decided to dedicate all of Saturday and Sunday to the free search. This was the best thing I could have done

Get out of the house and in the car

I started Saturday with a home base strategy. I sat on Craigslist waiting for new items to appear and would email or call the owner — if they responded, I’d hop in the car, grab the item, and return home to search again. I spent a lot of time traveling to and from home, a complete waste of time. Eventually, I decided to skip the middle step and just stay out.


Your phone is your best friend

Once I realized that traveling home was a waste of time, my phone became my search engine. I quickly realized that it was the perfect companion. After each pickup, I opened up Safari and refreshed Craigslist. If new items appeared, I’d get directions to them in Maps and be on my way.

Go, call, email

If you’re emailing a poster and there’s an address or phone number listed, you’re not getting the item. If an address is listed, just get in the car and go — the owner doesn’t care who takes their free stuff (most often, it’s just left out on the curb), they just want to get rid of it. If you get there first, you’re almost guaranteed to get it. If there’s a phone number and no address, call them and tell them you can be there in 10 minutes. If there’s just an email, shoot them a quick email telling them you can be there ASAP, but don’t wait for a response. This is a race. Win it.


Target large giveaways rather than individual items

At the start of my search, I primarily targeted listings that explicitly included items that I wanted. This was problematic for two reasons: (1) there was less throughput (not that many postings); (2) the ratio of travel time to item gathering was high (I spent a lot of time driving to just get one thing). After visiting a few “I have free things, come get them” posts, I realized that these postings were the ones to go after. There were way more posts, they usually had a lot of items that I wanted, and they almost always included the address.

Always ask if there’s anything else

When someone is giving you something for free, it’s easy to think that they are doing you a huge favor and you should just shut up, be thankful, and leave before they realize the mistake they’ve made. This is the wrong attitude — in almost every situation, you’re doing them a favor by providing free moving services for all the shit they don’t want. Before you leave, always ask if there’s anything else they don’t want. At one house after asking if there was anything else, in addition to the set of plates I’d already received, I was given a knife block, a set of brand new knives, 5 awesome framed records, and some beautiful grain containers (yes, they are beautiful). Another time, I got kombucha! Always ask.


Be friendly and have fun

Furnishing a house can sometimes feel like a chore — don’t let it. Personally, I got very hooked on the thrill of finding awesome things. Treat it like a treasure hunt and imagine that everyone you meet along the way is either an organizer or a fun-seeking fellow hunter. Ask them how their days are going. Smile. Let other people choose first (sometimes). If you’re putting positive energy into the world, it’ll come back your way.

Don’t let the tables turn (stick to your list!)

Everyone has too many things. That’s why we’re all giving it away. It can be tempting to just take that extra thing — don’t. You’ll be happier if you get just the things you need rather than every cool thing you come across.

Share your stories

Do you have any good stories or suggestions from your own experiences with the Craigslist free section? I’d love to hear them on twitter!

Read on to hear how we ended up in an awesome office as well.

This post is part of a new media experiment describing why, and how, Clef moved to Oakland. Read the next piece here,  see the whole time line at or let us know your thoughts with #oaklandis on Twitter