Grading Portland’s Free Piles

by Katy on December 7, 2014 · 19 comments

I used to live in New York City in the late 1980’s and it was a beautiful time. Why? Because it was before any of us know to worry about bed bugs. A time when a fresh faced young Oregonian could schlep home all the amazing curbside finds that New Yorkers abandon in front of their apartments.

An antique dresser here, a cool metal storage cabinet there, it was all mine for the taking. I still mourn the gorgeous old church pews that I had neither space nor muscle power to bring back to my Park Slope third floor walk-up.


Well Portland, Oregon has finally caught up to NYC when it comes to our citizens putting still usable goods out in front of our homes.

And this no longer so fresh faced Oregonian couldn’t be happier.

Check out this Zen fountain thingy! Not only did the owner clarify that it was indeed free, but she also made sure that any potential buyers would know that it worked.


Free fountain

Now this rattan dinette set didn’t have include an informative sign, but it was definitely set out for free.

B+ for putting this set out in between Portland’s ever present rain storms.

Free dinette

A nearby business set out these windows and door free for the taking rather than tossing them into a dumpster. You already know that I brought home that five-panel door with en eye to upcycle it into a headboard.

A+ for seeing old house parts as still usable instead of as garbage!

Free door

You also already know that I scavenged the brand-new looking toilet seat off this freebie toilet. Because apparently I no longer fear embarrassment.

A++ for even imagining that a person like me would even consider bringing home free toilet components.

Free toilet seat

In case you start thinking that I live in a magical land where desirable free stuff abounds, I present the following photo.

  1. Nasty couch? Check.
  2. Jumbled box of hepatitis C sketchy items? Check.
  3. Torn up old clothing? Check.

D+ for having the optimism to think that this pile isn’t straight up garbage. But it is, especially since the books had been rained on.

Unappealing pile

Rained on books penetrate my heart with sadness.

free ethics book

This dumped out bags of sodden books just killed me. There are actual books in there that I would have brought home! And there are certainly books that Powell’s bookstore would have bought!

F for wastefulness.

Free soggy books

Barbara Ehrenreich would not approve.

Free soggy Nickel & Dimed

I did bring home this sad little aloe plant, but I left behind the tiny zen garden.

Free aloe plant

Adorable, but it certainly falls under the category of “Perfect for the clutter enthusiast in your life!”

A- for including all the components, but marks off for setting it out when it’s starting to rain.

Free zen garden

That was a good free pile. It was on a semi-busy street and included both practical and decorative items.


Free pile crowd

Portland might not be up to the level of 1980’s New York City yet, but I’m seeing more and more people putting their stuff out for free. (In all neighborhoods too, which is kind of new-ish.)

I do love my Portland.

A+ for Portland!

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

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{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

Emily @ Simple Cheap Mom December 7, 2014 at 1:19 pm

The Zen Garden was pretty clutter-epic! Also, that rattan set looked really cute painted. In our old neighbourhood anything we put out would be snapped up right away. Out in the suburbs though everyone seems above it?


wondering December 7, 2014 at 1:39 pm

Who eventually cleans up the water soaked books or removes damaged sofa or the rest of the “shall we call it ‘unreusable’ goods? Is it automatic for the city waste company to take everything left in public spaces once a week? Or does it remain an eyesore and rat haven and …… Looks like it could but might not create a access hazard for handicapped people. Who pays for the disposal too?
AND, for all my questions I do think it is wonderful that people are sharing items they can no longer use for whatever reason. I do support the idea of reuse, recycle but I have these questions…….


Katy December 7, 2014 at 1:47 pm

All these items were either on people’s property or directly in front of their houses.


Dawn C. December 7, 2014 at 2:32 pm

I live out in the country. I have put items down at the end of our drive for free. They usually get snapped up right away. A win-win situation!


marie December 7, 2014 at 2:42 pm

I lived in the suburbs of Portland 10 yrs ago. When we sold our home for the wilds of country life, I set out on the curb a purple wing chair. I’d got it free and never got around to recovering it.
My neighbor said this big burly guy in a pick-up pulled over, walked around it, sat in it , then picked it up, put it in the pickup and drove away.
I still miss that chair, should of redid it, but it found a good home!


Lynn D. December 7, 2014 at 4:26 pm

I lived in New York in the late sixties. (Now that was a magical time, Katie) On certain days people could leave big items on the sidewalk and the sanitation workers would take them. It was not unknown for people to cruise around ritzy neighborhoods in cabs and snag the really good stuff. In my then unfashionable Upper West Side neighborhood I spotted a beautiful drop leaf table that I couldn’t possibly carry to my apartment. Just then a (handsome!) sanitation worker jumped off the back of his truck, helped me carry it the half block to my apartment, up the elevator and to my door. That gallant public servant took off just when I put my key in the door taking away nothing but my thanks.


K D December 8, 2014 at 3:51 am

Sometimes we put stuff in front of the house with a “FREE” sign on it but more often I list items on or take them to a school where there is a giveaway box.

We have scored a few items left at the curb and a table left at an apartment house dumpster area.


PoppyEcho December 8, 2014 at 7:24 am

My neighbourhood has a strong tradition of free piles. I both take and give. Love the free pile. so fun to happen upon “treasure”. A reward for walking.


Diane C December 8, 2014 at 8:53 am

While I love me a big ol’ free pile, I share Wondering’s concerns, so I’ve turned to freecycle with great success. I highly recommend it! I have fun scanning “wanted” items and being able to fulfill someone’s wish with something I don’t need any more. Clutter out the door for me, something needed for them. No money changes hands, nothing left sitting out in the rain, and I don’t have to drive anywhere.
I help run my library’s book sales. We always have more books than we have room for. We started giving away duplicates via freecycle. It gives appreciative new homes to lots of books and indirectly lets the whole community know about our sale. Win-win!


Rachel S. December 8, 2014 at 11:05 am

We had a free box in our college dorms. Loved that box, both gave and received so many great items. I have had mixed results with Freecycle. People schedule a pickup, and then never come. Or people keep sending me messages asking for items that I posted were taken and no longer available, and get snotty about it. Or once, when I scheduled a pickup and drove a considerable distance to pick up an item, and it wasn’t there. When I emailed to ask if we could reschedule, they said no. Ooh, and once someone included a whole bunch of extra junk in the bag with the item I came to get. That was fun. So I haven’t used it it recent years.


K D December 9, 2014 at 3:43 am

I on;y give away on freecycle, I don’t attempt to score items listed. I do porch pick-up so I don’t have to be home or let people know when I will or will not be home.


Hannah December 8, 2014 at 11:20 am

I love Portland’s free piles. I have both gotten and given stuff out using this method. (We have a great corner on busy SE Hawthorne.) However, I won’t put stuff out when it’s raining. Like you said, it’s basically littering. Also, I use free on craigslist to get rid of any large plush furniture. It just seems more responsible.


JD December 8, 2014 at 12:15 pm

We don’t get freepiles here, sadly, but once my husband had the idea to use our old wooden rocker with the broken out seat as one of those shabby chic planters at the end of our drive. I didn’t want it — I don’t really like them — but he did, so he sat the rocker at the end of our drive and went searching for a big planter pot to put in the broken out seat frame. When he came back, the rocker was gone, which made us both laugh.
So I guess we did have one freepile here — ours, even though it wasn’t intentional.


WilliamB December 8, 2014 at 12:32 pm

Agree with you about the D+ pile, especially the sadness that is ruined books. I find myself intrigued by the wooden thing behind the trash can – was that possibly a bookcase in waiting?


Katy December 8, 2014 at 5:56 pm

WHY would someone put out books in rainy Portland in December?!


Barbara H. December 8, 2014 at 2:53 pm

I do love the free pile. Here’s a few scores I have made over the years: Not one, but TWO Step II roller coasters, complete with the little cars that ride on them…an antique rocker with a broken stretcher, which I mended, recovered the seat, and gave to my daughter for her screened porch…a nice Barbie house complete with furniture (consigned that one)…several strollers and riding toys in great condition, still using them. I have put out a few things myself…the worst was the cat’s litter box with litter still in it, put out truly for the TRASH, and someone took it right away. Whatever floats your boat.


Mary December 10, 2014 at 4:52 am

I live on a suburban cul-de-sac. I have put out several things over the years…redwood patio chairs without cushions, a broken ancient snow blower and various broken lamps, etc. Even a clothes washing machine, which was picked up for scrap by a van-driving man who regularly trolls the area on trash day in the summer. I have rescued various baskets, window box pots, bookshelves and even a few kids’ toys. I call this practice “lawn shopping!”


Gina December 30, 2014 at 8:24 am

I live in what has been dubbed “Portland’s twin sister city” (Louisville) and here we have “large item” trash days annually three times per neighborhood (the city is made up of many little neighborhoods). I love those days! I have snagged an armoire with a broken panel (fixed using burlap coffee bags), chests, useable 2 X 4s, plants and planters, etc. You have to be quick though-pickers are out in droves on these days.


Diane C December 30, 2014 at 10:07 am

Wh have large item pick-up/recycle days twice a year in my community. The waste disposal company distributes large neon-green tags that basically say “Hands Off!”
To which I say: Bah, humbug!


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