Friday, August 21, 2020

How We Furnished a Three-Bedroom Home for Free

When you move out of an RV, you leave all your furniture behind because it's attached to the walls or floor. So when we moved from a 450 square-foot RV to a 1400 square-foot house, we had nothing but our personal items and kitchen stuff. This is the story of how we furnished the house for free.

Disclaimer on furnishing our house for free

When I say "free," what I mean is that after all is said and done, our net costs were zero.  I don't think there's any way to furnish a house without any expenses--unless you could get people to donate everything you needed and deliver it to you at their cost. So while we did spend some money, in the end, we actually made money by using this method. I'll explain how to make a profit at the end of the post.

Things you'll need when furnishing your house for free

First of all, you'll need a vehicle that's big enough to transport furniture. We have our truck, but you can easily rent a truck or van or borrow one from a friend. 

It's also necessary to either be strong enough to move furniture, have people who can help you, or hire someone. Ryan moved all the furniture himself while we collected it over a period of a few months, and then on moving day, he hired someone to help him move it all in so it would go faster.

Third, you need a place to store furniture. If it had been just the two of us moving into a house from the RV, we would have been fine with moving in first with just a mattress on the floor and then collecting furniture gradually. But we wanted mom to be comfortable and enjoy things right away, so we gathered furniture ahead of time.

Obviously, we had no place to store furniture inside the rig we lived in. So we had to rent a storage unit. Lots of places have special discounts these days, where you get the first month "free" or three months at 50%, etc. The "free" month usually involves paying some registration fees. On average, we've rented storage units at 75%-90% off their normal price. Check around, and don't be afraid to switch from one company to another or rent from more than one place at the same time to get the best deals.

Other options are asking someone you know if they have extra room for you to leave some furniture, or stacking things up in your own space if you're moving from a smaller home to a larger one. These ideas work best when you have a set end date in mind.

Fourth--and this is key--you need to have the right mindset. This isn't a gimmick to get brand-new furniture for free. Everything (except our mattresses) is used but in good condition. And yes, we collected a lot of this during COVID and cleaned it well before we utilized it. Nobody got sick. The microdoses of the virus that one comes into contact with from touching a piece of furniture are unlikely to infect the average person. But just in case, you can leave the furniture in an isolated place for 72 hours and then clean it well (this is the practice used by many thrift stores that are now accepting donations).

Patience is also important. You'll have a lot of competition for free stuff, so you won't always get to something first. It can also be frustrating when you answer an ad and are told to get something from the curb, only to arrive and find it's already gone. So, yeah. Patience is a necessity.

Lastly, you have to be willing to interact with people. Luckily I have the hubby for this. He's pretty fearless. He would wear masks and gloves, and strip and take a shower as soon as he got home. He knows he has two immune-compromised people at home and takes our safety seriously. Again, nobody got sick. Yes, there's a very contagious virus out there, but many people remain infection-free because they use the right precautions. This was a necessary risk, as our furniture budget was basically zero.

How we found free furniture

The first pieces of furniture we acquired were by accident. We have a used book business that started on Amazon, and we used to shop exclusively in thrift stores and library sales for our inventory. But once we became stationary, Ryan started buying large lots of books from Craigslist ads. He has a knack for building a rapport with whomever he meets. So often, people would say "Why don't you also take this piece of furniture that I don't want?"

He also started getting into storage unit auctions and estate clean-outs. Because he was doing people a service when it came to the clean-outs, he would either get the stuff for free or get a huge discount because people just wanted to get rid of things. He befriended the manager at the storage facility we used to keep our finds, and she even gave him free items from the corporate unit so that she didn't have to deal with cleaning it out herself. 

On top of that, he had alerts set for Craigslist (example: dining room table) so when something would come up, he'd get an email on his phone and jump on it right away. He tried to combine trips to save on fuel and would look for additional items at the curb to pick up as well (always checking first with the owner that it was ok to take them). You may be surprised to learn that people even give away perfectly working free TVs and other electronics, and that's how we have four TVs in the house.

He developed a network of people who now regularly contact him to take away their unwanted stuff. Through these people, we also acquired some rugs, artwork, and lighting (even a box of free lightbulbs!), so it really was a complete furnish.

Lastly, as we were buying this home, we asked the sellers to leave behind any furniture or other items they didn't want. They ended up leaving us a complete set of dishes, a kitchen table and chairs, an outdoor dining table and chairs, a desk, some bookcases, and several pieces of artwork.

How to offset any expenses so your net cost is free to furnish your home 

First of all--if it's offered and in decent condition, take it. Ryan would accept items whether we needed them or not. If we didn't need it, he would sell it. I have a whole post about selling your stuff for cash if you need some ideas.

By the time we got into the house, we'd already sold enough furniture to cover all the costs to acquire what we had, plus some extra. Not only that, but we'd expanded our business to include furniture, decorative items, collectibles, and whatever else we found interesting. This wasn't something we'd intended to do when we set out on this transition, but with changes to the economy, it became necessary to ensure we have enough income to pay our bills.

You may need patience again while you find new homes for the unwanted stuff. Set reasonable prices, and be negotiable in what you're asking. If anyone wants a delivery and you're able to do so, require payment of a deposit in advance through PayPal or a similar service.

If things don't sell, consider donating them to a non-profit thrift store (we prefer the Salvation Army or the Habitat for Humanity ReStore). Depending on your tax situation, you may be able to deduct the donation on your taxes.

Lastly, you can, of course, offer unwanted items for free again. This won't get you any money back, but you're paying it forward in good karma.

Also, there's no reason why you can't regularly exchange your furniture as you want to change the look of your home. Just rinse and repeat the steps from above. You can also take the items you have and change their appearance in many cost-effective ways. I'll be doing that to stuff we have in upcoming posts, so get ready for some ideas!