Part 2: Furniture and electronics
If you’re on it with the tatting, you can furnish a house very well in just a couple of weeks. The important thing is to bring stuff home and give it a go. If you find something electronic like a kettle or a blender don’t assume it’s broken, take it home and plug it in. Often it’ll work or something trivial will be wrong with it. For example, it may involve a fuse or plug being changed, which we’ll talk more about later. People throw out stuff because they bought something fancier much more often than because there’s actually anything wrong with it. Especially when they’re decorating their kitchen or living room. The main barrier between people and mountains of free stuff is how we conceive of value. Free does not equal worthless. And you’ll be amazed at how the world opens up when you train yourself to see value in unexpected places.
Where to pick stuff up
Keep an extra special eye on things like communal bin areas attached to a block of flats, local fly-tipping places and houses or shops that look like they’re being done up, especially if they’ve rented a skip. Skips are absolute goldmines. People will often leave things in their front garden or on the street if they’re hoping it will be taken away. A really good time for furniture hunting is towards the end of summer/beginning of autumn, when the students are moving. For a while the streets are paved with gold. Explore, keep an eye out, and you’ll soon get a feel for where the good tat is in your local area. If you’re into doing a bit of amateur carpentry then palettes are a great, free source of wood. It’s already cut to standard sizes as well, so there’s very little measuring or sawing involved. Or you could even use them as they are by stacking them to make a table or to raise a mattress off the floor.
How to check for bed bugs
You’re probably going to be fine, we’ve not yet come across anything that’s had bed bugs. But better safe than sorry, because once you get bedbugs you pretty much have to move.
You’re going to want to check, preferably with a magnifying glass, for any reddish-brown tiny bugs, black flecks, or translucent shells. Pay most attention to seams and folds. I’ve linked a couple of guides below that will explain it better.
How to change a fuse or rewire a plug
If you plug something in and it doesn’t work the most obvious thing that could be wrong with it is that the fuse needs changing. Some plugs have an easy-access fuse that looks like this:
So just pop the fuse out and replace it with one of the same amperage.
Otherwise you’re going to have to go inside. Unscrew the plug with a screwdriver, take the back off the plug and put the screws somewhere safe. The fuse is a tube-y thing held by a couple of catches that the brown wire leads to. Sometimes the fuse will look obviously burnt, but not always. Replace the fuse that’s in there with one of the same amperage or higher (preferably the same), the amperage should be clearly written on the fuse itself. Put the whole thing back together and give it another whirl!
Sometimes you’ll tat something that doesn’t have a plug at all and you’ll have to wire one on yourself. So you get your spare plug and screw the wires into the connectors in the arrangement outlined below, ensuring that the wire isn’t frayed or loose in the plug. You may have to trim the wires in order to fit everything nicely in the plug. You can do this with wire strippers, but a penknife or nail scissors will do the job too. You’ll want to have enough of the wires exposed to allow them to reach their respective pins, but not so much that they take up the limited space in the plug. It might take a bit of chopping to get everything the right length on the first try, but you’ll soon get the hang of it. The best way to get a feel for how everything in a plug is supposed to be arranged, is to open one up and hunt around. I taught myself how to to wire a plug by just opening up a second one and copying what was inside. But you could never tell that by how expertly I talk about it. “Brown wire”, “tube-y thing”.
It’s very important that you put each wire in the right place and don’t leave anything loose. If you’re in doubt about something, consult someone with more experience.
Plugs and fuses themselves are quite easy to find for free. Most people leave them attached to devices they’re throwing out, often they leave the fuse as well. You can have yourself a healthy pile quite quickly if you keep an eye out.
Websites like http://www.uk.freecycle.org and http://www.gumtree.com have listings of things people are giving away. I’ve been told that if you have the smartphone app for freecycle, you can end up getting some pretty cool stuff. These things are worth checking out, but there is no substitute for simply keeping your eyes peeled when walking around. For every person that bothers to upload a picture of the sofa they don’t want, there are hundreds that just dump them in the nearest place they can find.