Before moving to San Francisco, Emma and I sat down and did some research. She understands my constant need to daydream and project, so she helped me find places where I could imagine finding myself in the months to come.
I looked for gyms, grocery stores, and co-working spaces. She looked for the good stuff: boutiques, bakeries, bookshops, and cafes.
I made a sticky note on my desktop of places to try when I arrived in town, particularly on my side of The Mission. Heath Ceramics, Tartine Manufactory, Bi-Rite, etc.
At the time of our research, my plan was to ship all of my furniture, clothes, dishes, and other various bits and bobs collected over the years and then drive them cross-country in a Uhaul van. When I saw the price of shipping crates and trucks, however, I quickly
was forced to decided to sell everything and start all over again.
I arrived in San Francisco with six suitcases full of clothes, small antique dishes from a couple of Parisian flea markets, four boxes of books (legions of books are sitting in corners of so many friends’ apartments, waiting to be shipped), and a stack of prints, paintings, and photographs. The rest I’d have to buy.
So this article was meant to be about my favorite places to shop for furniture and house decor in San Francisco. One day, darlings.
The truth of the matter is, I haven’t had to shop. Some benevolent force has made it so that, almost since Day One of arriving in The Mission (one month ago yesterday, I realize as I type), I’ve been able to decorate my apartment for next to nothing.
I keep finding free shit everywhere.
It started with things left behind from the former tenant of my apartment:
This mirror, which was left in the kitchen.
And this mirror, found in my bedroom.
An Ikea bookshelf that I, thankfully, did not have to build.
A Pixar-like lamp.
A chalkboard that I don’t need, but a very necessary hook for my house key.
This metal shelf that I use for my jewelry.
And four milk crates that I have turned into temporary nightstands.
After a week or so, I grew confident enough to walk around the city by myself (I am someone who benefits directly from Google Maps). On every walk, I would encounter a piece of furniture or a bit of decor set out on the street, waiting for its new owner: moi.
I knew that we did this in Paris. Every Parisian has a this-or-that found abandoned on a random sidewalk (my old apartment featured a coffee table that my former roommate carried back and painted, as well as a small blue-and-white porcelain bowl that I found half-buried in a flowerbed in the park). But I didn’t realize it was a San Francisco thing, too.
I soon discovered that it was such a San Francisco thing.
The following are only a few of the items I have found on my walks:
20th and Harrison. A wooden bench. It was nearly impossible to carry back all by myself, but I managed. I put pillows and cushions left by the former tenant on top.
23rd and Alabama. A strange metal rack (for spices? For wine?) that I now use for shoes.
21st Street. Jars of various shapes and sizes, housed in this wooden crate.
18th and Alabama. A perfectly good rug, rolled up and left to die in front of Tartine Manufactory.
Mariposa and Harrison. This lovely green velvet chair. I walked past a factory depot that had set many pieces of furniture out on the sidewalk to sell at a significant discount due to slight damage. I saw this chair and knew it belonged in my room. No other chair would do. When I came back to the depot to inquire after the price, everything was gone. I took this rather personally. It was a sign from the heavens that, like the Rolling Stones say, “You can’t always get what you want.” When this happens to me, I tend to believe that I actually never get what I want, and excessive wallowing follows. But, lo. Miracle of miracles! I walked past the depot again on the way to Gus’s Community Market a few days later. There was the chair. I asked a man standing in the doorway how much, and when he replied “Twenty-five dollars,” I nearly wept. Not free, but close enough. I bought it, loaded it onto a dolly that the man loaned me, and pushed it for several blocks (and up several hills) to my place. This was also immediately interpreted as an omen; I would get everything I wanted. This chair means that all my dreams will come true.
I texted my roommate to tell her about the rug and chair. “I don’t know if I’m just really lucky or just really weird,” I typed.
“A little big lucky and really weird,” she replied.
I made my way down Bryant and spotted several metallic bistro chairs. Perfect. I began to calculate how many I could carry back home on my own when I realized that the chairs were actually outdoor seating for small cafe.
The thought suddenly struck me: What if I’ve been inadvertently robbing people this entire time?
16th Street. I spotted this chair, took a picture of it, and texted it to my roommate. “Don’t do it!” she replied.
Florida Street. A decorative rug that I let be.
Folsom Street. A pot. (Left it.)
Valencia Street. A pan. (Didn’t touch it.)
16th Street. I spotted this chair while coming back from Rainbow Grocery and felt extremely tempted to bring it home. I took several pictures and then walked home, empty-handed.
Perhaps I am just a little bit lucky and very weird. Maybe these items on the street are like a strange ink-blot test that proves the psychological battle I face in wanting to save my ever-evaporating money and still create a comfortable, welcoming home. Or maybe, just maybe, the universe is giving me a sign that I won’t always get what I want, but I’ll get what I need (don’t roll your eyes, those are the greatest song lyrics ever written).
I’m probably just weird.