Portland’s Free Piles

by Katy on May 15, 2024 · 26 comments

Portland weather is finally at the stage where sunny days are the norm rather than a rarity, which prompts many people to set out their unwanted belongings for the taking. Whether it’s a “free pile” or a “free box,” it’s a great opportunity to save things from the landfill while nabbing a bargain.

Just yesterday I drove past this tray table set, which I promptly brought home. Sure it needed a thorough wipe down, but such is the price of curbside shopping. I haven’t decided if I’ll keep or sell it, but I know that free is better than the $68 you’d spend to buy it on Amazon.

Later in the day I passed by this box of psychology books while on my way to the library, which I photographed but didn’t touch. (Boy oh boy, do these books look outdated!) However . . . I know that people do well selling vintage books as decor and a couple of these would fall under that category. Especially the blue one.

This free pile caught my eye on my way home from the library, although I didn’t bring any of it home. I might have grabbed the chair if I hadn’t been on foot. 1970s decor it very fashionable right now and this chair would’ve been easy to bring back to life. All it would have taken would be a rug shampooer and a swipe of some Restor-A-Finish. Groovy.

My husband and I later took an after dinner stroll and  passed by this initially unpromising free pile. It may look terrible, but it actually had a bag of Specialized brand bike pedals, which if you needed them would be a great find. (They start at $56 on their website.) Also, that rug pad would be useful if that’s something you needed.

We also walked past this jumble of gardening pots. I briefly considered the galvanized tub, but I couldn’t think of how I’d use it which is my sign to not bring something home.

The last free box on our walk was this books-and-boots combination. I kind of liked the wooden box, but I wasn’t sure that it was actually up for offer.

Does your town have a “free pile” culture? I’ve been both the giver and receiver countless times and I love that it’s a practice in my city.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

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

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{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

Kathy May 15, 2024 at 11:55 am

I live in a hamlet of 6500 which means no sidewalks or street lights.
Post garage sale I’ll see FB posts with free piles. Usually the items are marginal like the items at the garage sale. Here in central Oklahoma items are well used before they’re discarded


karen May 15, 2024 at 1:09 pm

Here on the east coast it is very rare to have a free pile. If something is free it is a big item, like a chair or a desk. Most things are very well used.

But before covid yard/estate sales were plentiful and fanastic.
Since covid there is a lot less. Nut the ones few and far between are great.

Thrift and goodwill shops are strong here.


Beth May 15, 2024 at 2:06 pm

I’m a Portland dog walker and I love our free piles! I’m in all kinds of neighborhoods for work and consider myself the queen of the free piles. I, too, passed up a galvanized tub this week for the same reason (I think it was in a different neighborhood, though).

I also love putting bulky stuff on the curb and having it disappear almost immediately.


Bee May 16, 2024 at 9:57 am

I love galvanized tubs. They do have a ton of practical uses. I use them quite a bit in the garden. They’re perfect for mixing up the right combination of
Peat, Vermiculite and regular garden soil. They are also great to have when washing the dogs.
However, I think galvanized containers have a bit of Farmhouse charm. (I guess this really isn’t a Portland aesthetic). They make great container gardens. Geraniums in galvanized container look just great ! When my son was married in the fall of 2022, I used some as part of the party decor for the casual welcome party/Rehearsal dinner. I filled them with mums in fall colors and pumpkins and hay. I also had soda and beer iced down in them. I had collected several of them overtime from various sources.


mary in maryland May 15, 2024 at 2:08 pm

Lots of free piles in my part of Silver Spring, Md. We live in a choice place as hundreds of grade school kids and their parents walk by every morning. Friends in classier more isolated hoods often give me things for a free pile in front of our house.


Marie-Josée May 15, 2024 at 2:13 pm

The burrough I am now living in showcases two extremes. 3400 rental units that are really well maintained, but older and multimillion dollar condos, townhouses and mcmansions. No free pile culture here. It was common in the burrough I used to live in and I scored a couple of great toys for my grandchildren. It was also very interesting. Our appartment building does have a free pile area in the garage – it’s not an official thing, but our janitor tolerates it on a daily basis. If things aren’t rehomed that day, he disposes of them. There are 450 appartments in the building and not everyone rents a garage, so most tenants are not aware of this free pile stash. A bin was installed in the garage for over a year, specifically for donations. Unfortunaly, tenants would dump their garbage in there, so the program was terminated. I scored perfectly new Corning Ware large bowls one time, that I passed along to my daughter. She was thrilled.


texasilver May 15, 2024 at 2:47 pm

I don’t think they are formally called “free piles” in my hometown. Neighbors randomly put items on the curb when they are doing spring or fall cleanup. I found a nice rustic school- house type clock on a curb in the fall. It was propped up against the wall. It was the only item on the curb but a nice find. It looks good on my kitchen wall.
1. I went to the Habitat store today to buy an insulated cup. One the way out I stopped by their dumpster (I can’t seem to help myself). I found a 750 ml of Santa Marguerita pinot grigio. I took it home. When I looked online I saw it retails for 25$ a bottle. I am not a wine drinker, but I have a friend who likes white wine.
2. I also found some unused bottles of toiletries in the same dumpster.
3. Next I went to a neighborhood that has many mango trees. I found mangos in the street that had fallen off the trees. Some are green but they will ripen.
4. I also found some slightly out of date cello wrapped snack cakes in the top of a dumpster at a convenience store. The cakes were in a cardboard display box so, the wrappers weren’t dirty.
5. I found around 35 cents in change on my evening walk.
In response to Dollar Tree raising their prices, I have found that Dollar General has a 1 dollar aisle & some of the things that Dollar Tree sells can be found there. Of course, they do not have a huge selection like Dollar Tree, but the prices are still one dollar. I have found bleach, bar soap, dish soap, and other items there.


Bee May 15, 2024 at 2:58 pm

I love the sharing aspect of the free pile. Residents in my community are not allowed to put items out on the curb until the evening before trash day. Thus, we do not really have a free-pile culture like you do in Portland. However, it is not unusual to have people take things off the curb on trash night. I personally have done some curb picking over the years.

To make sure things stay out of the land fill, I usually put my unwanted/ unneeded things on Buy Nothing, give them to someone that I know, or drop them at a charity organization/thrift store. On occasion I do resell.


Selena May 15, 2024 at 6:57 pm

Eau de hoity-toity in your community eh? Nothing wrong with re-homing items and the lack of free piles does not make ones community better than others. I am rural yet a couple of items we set out (geez, it has been 10 years ago) were gone in a flash. Better half actually helped a woman load one item.


Karen May 15, 2024 at 3:02 pm

My apartment building’s tenants have a free pile culture, management does not. Some great finds to be had, provided management has not taken them straight to the dumpster, where the homeless fish them back out again. Now the piles show up after business hours. I’ve snagged plant pots, a lidded sea grass basket to hide our printer in, a grocery trolley, a toolbox, cleaning supplies, books, a set of blackout curtain liners, spendy cat litter and a huge box of Kirkland dog treats for my son’s dog. Someone beat me to the office chair.
In my old life, I used free piles to pass along a no longer needed backyard swimming pool with all the equipment and some camping gear. The family who took the pool had kids in the backseat who were literally bouncing with excitement. Fair price!


Lindsey May 15, 2024 at 4:50 pm

When I lived in a small village at the top of the state, things were so expensive to buy that you rarely threw anything away because someday you might need it. Seriously, with only one grocery store that also sold a few types of clothing, one gas station, and one corner store, and no roads in or out of the village, things just were not discarded. But because the houses were small due to the cost of heating and also construction costs, a lot of stuff was just left outside—it was impossible to tell if someone wanted to give it away to passers-by or just store it in the yard. (I say yard loosely because it is too far north for grass or trees to grow, so mostly it was dirt or snow as your two choices for a yard.)

In Fairbanks, all the dump sites have an exchange area where you drop off stuff and take home anything you see that interests you. (Unfortunately, people sometimes drop off their puppies and kittens there, even at 40 below, even though our animal shelter has a heated set of stalls open 24 hours a day. Drop animals off with no questions asked, so why some people have to be jerks and leave month old non-human mammals at the dump I cannot explain.) And the university has a free exchange once a year, which is really a good place to find stuff students are discarding.


Selena May 15, 2024 at 6:59 pm

There is a special place in Hell for those dumping puppies and/or kittens, no matter what the weather. Karma is a bitch with impeccable timing.


Christine May 16, 2024 at 5:52 am

I agree Selena! Especially as Lindsey says, there is a shelter with heated areas open all day and night for these innocent animals. Reprehensible behavior.


Susie's Daughter May 15, 2024 at 5:53 pm

The weather has just turned stable enough in the last week for the start of free pile season here in my part of New England. I used our community eforum to send out a curb alert on my first one which included two chairs with small amounts of wood mold, a breadmaker, assorted glassware, two plastic deck chairs and a couple of kids things. I was thrilled to see it all leave the front yard over two days!
Free piles are a great way for redistributing stuff in my neck of the woods – even if it can only happen 4 months of the year – and allows a community of folks who pride themselves on getting by and making do to access stuff they might want or need without shame. It is a win win win.


Christine May 16, 2024 at 6:01 am

Same time in my part of New England. The items I’ve put out in front of my house disappear quickly. There is also an intersection where 3 stop signs converge that is a popular place for setting out larger items. I guess with so many vehicles stopping there, people driving by have a few seconds to eyeball the items then get out to take them. I’ve never had to take an item back in after setting it out there. Again, a win win win.


Selena May 15, 2024 at 6:53 pm

Uh.. groovy originated in the 1920s but became prevalent in the (latter) 1960s . The style of the chair was copied in the 1980s, arms added, for desk chairs. Good luck to the new owner if it has any cat fur on it.


kate May 15, 2024 at 8:19 pm

i live in oakland, CA and we have tons of free piles, little libraries, etc. this post is timely, because today on the way to pick up a buy nothing score, i found an extra amazing free pile. i ended up taking some vintage xmas decorations, a postcard art book and some sterling silver jewelry. i’d say 75% of the time they aren’t this good but occasionally you find gems like this. also we have pretty good little libraries and i’ve sold some stuff i’ve found on the pango books app which i recently discovered.


Bee May 17, 2024 at 4:26 am

That is an exceptional free pile!


A. Marie May 16, 2024 at 1:03 am

In my area, free piles are fairly common–so much so in a neighborhood near the university that they’re referred to as the “[Name of Neighborhood] Flea Market.” And, of course, at this time of year, the students at both the university and the local Jesuit college are discarding things as if there were no tomorrow. I used to participate in all this with gusto, but I’ve scaled it back somewhat, now that I’m older and am trying to accumulate less stuff.


K D May 16, 2024 at 2:11 am

Free piles proliferated during the Covid pandemic and continue to be popular. I try to be judicious in what I bring home and to share generously.


Ashley Bananas May 16, 2024 at 8:57 am

There is definitely trash day culture in my neighborhood. We also have a large neighborhood Facebook group where people post curb alerts. I would say we have a very consumer savvy middle class neighborhood. When I drive through more high end neighborhood I also see a lot of curb piles for free. I scored a ton of cool plants this way around Christmas. My poor son, he probably thinks I’m crazy. But I enjoy it! =)


Anne May 16, 2024 at 9:30 pm

I live in an over 65 development and I seem to be one of the few people who put things out for free. For one thing, at our age, we need very little so we are doing less scrounging. My large items get snapped up quickly, though.

I once put out a pile of small stuff that was ignored, so now I save those up for a trip to the thrift store.


Ann May 16, 2024 at 11:31 pm

I live in East London, UK and there is definitely a free pile culture here. I have picked up many things from outside people’s houses that they no longer wanted and that I could use in our home. Sometimes, serendipity allows you to find just the thing you were needing, at just the right time.


Selena May 17, 2024 at 4:40 am

I know there are a number tea drinkers who read this blog. Recall:



Nancy from mass May 17, 2024 at 4:59 am

Those are some great free piles! I can’t wait until I can start walking around again and see what my town has out there. (Although I won’t be able to carry anything home) I just had rotator cuff surgery so I’m home for the entire summer!

My son came to help me for the first 3 days after surgery and he dug through his storage cubbies and other areas around the house and brought home pictures and decor to put up around their new apartment.

He also pulled out his old game system, but we couldn’t find the charging plug so I ordered one on Amazon for him. He sent me pictures last night of them playing with the game boy. It was worth spending the 7 dollars to buy the charger.

I gassed up a week ago and probably won’t need gas for another three or four weeks since I’m not going anywhere. But, my son works for a large gas station chain and keep earning money off gas. He filled up before going home yesterday and saved $1.90 per gallon.

Since I knew I was going to need ice for the cooling machine after surgery, I started making ice two weeks ago and had quite a bit amassed . A friend is stopping by later today to help me with my bandages and I’ve asked her to bring me some ice from her Fridge. I need to use the machine another day or two.

Thankfully, my pain has been very tolerable. I didn’t even notice when the nerve block wore off.


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