Free agent: On the Craigslist free section, anything goes

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couch

Illustration by Matt Mignanelli

By Susan Anspach

Are you reading this sitting down? I recommend sitting down. If you don’t have a couch to sit on, do you want mine?

I’ve been trying to get rid of my old couch on Craigslist. When I call this couch old, I really mean 6 years old. When I call it a couch, I really mean four-piece Kivik sectional that retails for $899.99 on Ikea.com. Factor in six years, two kids, a couple of moves, carry the one—I figure this thing’s worth $150, OBO.

I posted the ad. Not a nibble. Not so much as a sniff. I reposted the ad and really tried to underscore the point: OBO, or best offer. You tell me what you think the couch is worth. There’s no Kelley Blue Book on timeless gray Kivik sectionals, so please name your price, then come to my house and we’ll spit handshake on it or whatever we do then. I wouldn’t know because I haven’t gotten that far. No one wants my damn couch.

My big mistake was asking any money for it at all. Free stuff on Craigslist: It’s a vulture’s market.

The free couches you find on there are just the beginning. On Craigslist, there are mythological whale bellies’ worth of free crap for the taking. Some back part of my brain had registered the free section but never properly invested the time in getting to know it, and that is a shame. There are free Jacuzzis, free chickens. Thirteen free crazy straws (unpackaged, but they’re probably fine). A single free chicken coop, mysteriously offered by a person other than she with the chickens.

On Sunday, March 12, someone’s free dresser, bike, grill and king-size mattress were all for the taking outside a house in Manassas. “Please do not disturb tenants.” When I got there, the bike I’d been interested in was already spoken for, but I poked around anyway. They weren’t kidding about the no-disturbance notification. All the blinds were turned down, and there weren’t any cars out. I did open all the drawers of the dresser to discover three tube socks, one granola-bar wrapper, one cardboard medal belonging to a high-school track athlete.

Two of the tube socks matched. I took those. On my walk back, I noticed the same grill at a neighbor’s house and decided not to point it out to him.

I do feel a pang at the requests not to disturb. Come on, everyone! Where’s our sense of adventure? Isn’t half of what we’re coming for the story behind the stuff? Like those chickens. Who invests the time in raising perfectly good chickens only to give them away? Could said chickens be less than perfectly good? Either way, give me the details. A Life Chasing Secondhand Chickens … is the title of a memoir that’s not going to write itself.

By the Craigslist free section standards, is there an hour after which prowling someone’s driveway is no longer acceptable? How serious are we about wanting to dump our free stuff? And how does that square with nobody wanting to talk or make eye contact? If we really mean business, you pony up the GPS coordinates and, should you hear anything outside your window after 9 p.m., try not to think about my wire cutters or large burlap sack.

There are people whose hearts break at the thought of having to give their stuff away, and it could be it’s just too hard to watch it all go. I don’t have this problem. No one in my family does, and for this we have my mother to thank. My mom sheds her possessions like they are, all of them, going out of style. She wouldn’t stand for a second of this “do not disturb” nonsense. She would disturb. If she’s going to buy or accrue a new thing, she’ll have questions about quality, about fabric, about instep pattern. You could argue the point that they’re only tube socks. But why introduce subpar tube socks to the sock drawer in the first place?

More than the ghosts, I take issue with the people clearly gaming the system—that is, offering free stuff that isn’t free. Free firewood! Only it’s a live tree someone wants to have cut down from their property. BYO ax. Free bricks! Just pry them up from the walkway leading to my house, at a date and time convenient to and specified by me. There’s the free hot tub with a fried control panel that’s going to cost upward of $400 to replace. There are free pets, guaranteed to never eat or require any veterinary care, ever. 

I do feel for the families giving up their pets. At least, I feel for the pets. And I do appreciate that someone’s trying to find them a home, though I have to wonder how hard it is that they’re trying. My emails regarding six white mice, one bunny and a single red rooster named Americana all went unanswered. 

Finally, someone did want to communicate. Her name was Elle, and she was looking to offload a sailboat-patterned loveseat. With Elle, I should have explained up front that I just wanted to talk about her free loveseat, not actually take it off her hands.

When I emailed her, she was to the point. “You were almost too late,” she wrote back immediately, as though she’d been expecting me, and not happily. “But you can come by at 7.”

I felt chastised, then embarrassed a stranger on the internet could make me feel chastised. Then indignant, then back to chastised again. What the hell, I thought. We’re about to have a big, couch-sized space to fill around here, anyway. I’ve always liked sailboats.

When I got to Elle’s house that night, she wasn’t at home. Her husband was, though. And he was friendlier. “We have an ottoman, too,” he told me. “We have matching slipcovers, if you want them.”

As it happened, I did want them, and I was shuffling out to my car with them when his wife returned home.

“She’s taking the ottoman,” I heard him say to her. “I gave her the slipcovers.”

The next thing I heard was the sound of someone tripping after me in high heels down the driveway. “Wait!” she called out. “What about the loveseat? Aren’t you taking the loveseat? When? When can you take it? You said that you would.

Point, vultures.

That was four months ago. We still have both couches. Elle’s sailboats don’t match anything else in my house. But I’m keeping them, in part out of fear that she’ll see me repost them on Craigslist and be mad that I turned up my nose at her taste in red and yellow nautical design. But partly, too, I’m doing it out of loyalty to Elle, who, to her credit, went to the effort of finding her stuff a new owner instead of heading straight for the dump. There was probably a time she felt pretty fond of those sailboats, though it’s safe to say that point was not four months ago.

Point, Elle. 

Do you want a couch from Craigslist? I’ve got a gray one with no weird juju attached. As a bonus, I’ll answer your email and set up a time to let you see it in the daylight. I’ll even let you ring my doorbell, and when you do, I’ll answer the door.
Only when you get home with it and find two tube socks stuffed behind the back pillow, don’t try sending them back. To be blunt with you, the instep quality was simply not up to snuff.

(May 2017)

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