Free Stuff on the Sidewalk in Victoria

Back in May, I wrote a blog post about a garbage amnesty in Coquitlam. In the comments for that post, Chris wrote:

Victoria could certainly use this. Since moving here, it seems like many people are putting large items on their curbs anyways with sign’s announcing “FREE”. It always looks a little junky. At least if it was city-sanctioned, we could limit this behaviour to a single day of the year.

After living in Victoria for a few months, I know exactly what he’s talking about. There seems to be a common practice of discarding stuff on the sidewalk for other people to pick up. Every time I’m out walking or riding, I see at least one example. It’s like freecycling without the website. Here are three I discovered in the past three days in my neighbourhood:

Free  Victoria, 3-Aug-08

Victoria, 3-Aug-08

For some reason, closet doors are often on offer.

Avoiding the Landfill

Chris is right, it does look kind of junky. But here’s the thing–apparently it works. The free stuff rarely lingers for more than a day or two. Either city workers come by and clean it up, or people take the free stuff. I’m pretty sure it’s the latter case, because I’ve seen people picking over discarded dishes and slightly-busted furniture. Given the alternative–that the stuff ends up in a landfill–I can’t complain.

I’ve wondered if it might be a symptom of my neighbourhood’s makeup. As far as I can tell, it’s this odd combination of older people, students and well-off professionals in their fourties and fifties (this is thanks to the combination of low-rise apartments, shared old houses and renovated heritage houses). That is, there’s enough affluent people to discard stuff, and enough less affluent people to collect it. Of course, I’d imagine that the exchange happens in the reverse order as well. The point is that there’s a lot of diversity in age, need and wealth in the neighbourhood, so maybe that encourages the flow of free stuff.

Of course, I haven’t lived in a Canadian residential neighbourhood (that is, one full of houses) for a decade or so. Maybe this is commonplace, and reflective of the greening of our culture.

Is there lots of free stuff around your neighbourhood?


  1. This has been going on since I was a kid. You have something you no longer want, or don’t want to bother to fix…Curb it. There used to be unspoken rules everyone around here followed. Never leave it out over night, and always leave a free sign taped to it. That way no one picked up something that wasn’t being chucked out.

    I have a chest of drawers , and a bookcase to this day I rescued from the curb. a little TLC and it heirloom!

    Hell when I was really little we use to go to the dump and scavenge good stuff there! When just making the house payments was difficult, you adapt.

  2. At my apartment in East Van (and previous apartments in Edmonton), it’s common practice to leave items in the lobby. I got a 27″ TV from it on one occasion (and cast it back to the lobby after months of not using it). Clothes, books, and small appliances are common. Furniture is usually left by the dumpster.

    I’ll also leave my cans and bottles there, as someone else will be more enthusiastic about taking them back.

  3. Having lived in both Victoria and Vancouver, I notice stuff being left out in both cities. The difference in Victoria is that people leave it in front of their homes with “Free” signs on it and in Vancouver, it get tossed in the alleys usually. (I guess if Victoria had alleys that might happen, too)

    In my apartment in Victoria books would randomly get left in the laundry room. I never found a good read there, but I recently came upon a copy of A Mighty Heart in the alley behind my Vancouver building.

  4. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about recycling other people’s unwanted stuff. I just think it could be done much more efficiently if the city were to get involved a little. Since living in Victoria for a bit, I’ve now since discovered that Oak Bay has a neat idea: instead of everyone putting their junk on various curbsides throughout the city (which may be hard for the scavengers to find), they encourage residents to bring their stuff to a local “scavenger” depot where some people drop off, while others routinely pick up. It’s actually quite a boon for the students in the city.

  5. I’m in Korea, and here we also have the rule of the curb. If you have furniture in your apartment that you don’t want, you either put it beside the recycling area in the building, or on the curb outside the building. The apartment manager watches the area like a hawk and swoops down on you to make note of your apartment number as you drop the stuff off. If nobody snags it within a day or two, he’ll arrange disposal and bill you the equivalent of about five to ten dollars.

    I have been on the giving and receiving end of this policy, and I’m all in favour of it.

  6. We currently have a small davenport (the sleeper sofa, not the writing desk) in the alley behind our house in Edmonton, waiting for someone to take it to a new home. We’ve done this in the past as well, and we call it “giving back to the universe.” We put a chair out there a few weeks before that we no longer had room for.

    We’ve found some wonderful things that people were giving away or selling at garage sales, and it seems right to give that back to the universe when we don’t need it any more. We tend not to have more than one or two items to give away at any given time, and we don’t really need the little bit of money a garage sale would generate.

  7. CRT monitors are a common sight on boulevards here. You cant sell these things any more but they are still useful and techy.

  8. Argh! What’s wrong with me? I left my comment with my super old blog site. Please erase # 8 🙂

    Now… yes, I’m all about the recycling 🙂

  9. This has always been a common practice in pretty much every neighbourhood around Victoria as long as I can remember (I was born here 28 years ago & have never really left). I’ve personally participated in both sides of this exchange. It would be nice if there was a government funded program where a non-garbage truck comes around in a similar way to pick up discarded items and bring them to central location(s) (not to sell them, but to aid in the whole process of stuff being found and reused).

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: