(Photo of free door,
after much stripping, sanding and painting)I learned about the joy of getting stuff for free at an early age. When my Dad lived in a tiny studio apartment on Paloma Court in Venice in the mid-70's our family frequently checked out the neighborhood Free Box (similar in concept, not scale, to this) a few blocks away and came away with cool toys, useful household items and clothing. People in the neighborhood would leave items they no longer needed but which were still usable in the box for others to take and use. Someone in the neighborhood had put a wooden box, the size of a small trunk on the sidewalk in front of their home, with a note that read something like "Take what you need, leave what you don't" Even as a 6 year old, I was well aware that this was definitely NOT how things usually worked in our society. I remember the thrill I would get as we walked down the street toward the weathered box, wondering what treasures we would find when my Dad lifted the lid.
I still love gettting stuff for free and giving stuff away. I am a member of Freecycle and am so happy when I can pass along useful items to other folks. I am looking forward with much aniticipation to an upcoming event that a friend is organizing, a women's clothing swap party where a bunch of us are bringing clothes that no longer fit us to exchange with one another. I often leave items out on the curb for the scrap metal collectors who cruise our neighborhood on trash day. And I can now justify my freebie-mania, knowing that I am practicing the three R's: reducing (my consumption of the earth's resources, the amount of stuff going into landfills, the amount of my income that goes to multi-national corporations, etc.) recycling, and re-using.
Of course, my Dad was the most influential conservationist in my life, he taught me how to mend socks, make flying toys out of popsicle sticks and re-purpose old furniture. His conservation ethic and skills at reusing found materials probably came both from his experience growing up in a poor family, especially his grandparents immigrants from rural Mexico and also from the vocational training in the building trades that he got from his instructor, an older man from New York whose family had emigrated to the US from Eastern Europe and lived through the Depression.
So, no one was more thrilled than my Dad when my husband and I started picking up old house parts from the streets and sidewalks of LA to use in our remodelling project. He literally shouted with joy when we brought home an amazing, turn of the century solid sugar pine door with original bevelled glass and a matching screen door ("before" photo at right). He grinned from ear-to-ear when we brought home the 800 lb "built-in" china cabinet (photo below), salvaged from a house being demolished near Chinatown. And he was truly impressed to hear how my husband and a friend had taken two pry bars, a few screwdrivers and a small pick-up truck to the doomed house and returned to deposit this treasure on our front lawn, where it rested until we could get enough strong hands to move it to the back patio. (And he didn't laugh, when we later learned that to install the "free" front door and move the china cabinet into the house, we'd have to spend big money to tear down the front wall and reframe the whole thing to current-day standards!) He happily lent his pick-up truck, shovel and muscle power as we made multiple trips to various construction sites around town to pick-up loads of arroyo river rocks that would become garden edging, and the dry river bed arrangement that would solve one of our drainage issues.
I am proud that my spendthrift ways make me the latest in a long line of conservationists, though my impoverished ancestors would probably just call my habits being smart or making do. We have gotten a lot of joy from the freebies we have used to rehab our house. Every so often, I look at the front door and recall the unmistakable sweet and fagrant scent that the nearly 100 year old sugar pine gave off when we sanded it down. Not only do we have high quality, historically appropriate pieces for the house, some made from material no longer available, we have the satisfaction of finding, hauling and, in some cases installing these things in our home ourselves. And each of these house parts provides us a cool story to share with guests and connects our house to a place or event in recent LA history. On top of all this, we have the memories of working together in this project with my Dad and the image of his broad, infectious grin and expressions of disbelief (Man, how do you find these things?!) over each one of our finds--things that you just can't buy at Home Depot or Lowe's!!