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Saturday, September 4, 2021

Ravenswood Notes: Fancy

     Like most people, I hold onto my possessions longer than I should: that butcher block my wife hates, jammed in a corner of the dining room. That red chair in our foyer that really doesn't match the style of the house. I'd probably be lighter and freer if I could give them up. The house certainly would be less cluttered. But as Walt Whitman suggests, they own me more than I own them. There is another way, as Caren Jeskey illustrates in her post today.

            “Luxury is not a necessity to me, but beautiful and good things are.”                                                                                          ― Anais Nin

     As I look around my home now, I see that it is filled with gifts. A cedar wardrobe friends in Texas brought to my home in the woods in 2016, that other friends drove back up to Chicago for me. A rug from a neighbor. A leather storage cube, and an orange poof to sit on.
     When I left Austin I gave away a beloved cedar chest, a memory foam mattress, frame and bedding, a full dish set and so much more. I miss these things sometimes, and then I remember that people like us will always have all we need, and much more— even if we don’t realize it at times.
     Giving and receiving possessions, as needed, makes more sense than clinging to them always. That's the genius of Buy Nothing, a movement that promotes creating a hyper-local gift economy.  I joined my first group in Texas a couple years back. Buy Nothing operates on Facebook and other social media platforms, and they also encourage groups.
     Buy Nothing is where I received gift cards last March when I abruptly lost my job and then my rental home. It’s where I met neighbors who came to find me sitting in a park, garnishing fresh eggs from their backyard chickens. This same pair offered me a below market rental — the charming tiny house I’ve shared about in previous posts, like this one, to bail me out during a peak of the COVID crisis.
     It’s where I met neighbors who dropped off bag after bag of masks, food, sanitizer, backpacks, blankets, clothes and more on my porch, which I then passed out to a group home and folks living on the streets in our neighborhood. A member made extra Thanksgiving food and offered it to those who were without families in November of 2020.
     Funny thing is that even with all of this goodness there were problems. Who was it who said “put two people in a room together and you have a problem?” There was the neighbor who was unhappy that I was giving hand sanitizer to folks he said were sure to drink it. Neighbors who were rigid and unwilling to have conversations, and pretty much trolled others rather than coexisting harmoniously.
     I decided to start a local Buy Nothing group in my neighborhood here in Chicago and already have people mansplaining incorrect things to me and criticizing the way I am using one of my new gifts— a fabulous piano-room-red velvet sofa.
     It started with a post on another giveaway group called Free Box. A person posted a photo of the couch with its approximate location in an alley, and I immediately jumped into action. My emergent root canal earlier that day would not stop me from scoring this baby. When I got to her I knew she was mine. Don’t worry! I’m not interested in a bedbug infestation either.
     I rang the bell of the impressive Frame Two Flat home with a Victorian feel, which I learned was built in 1890. 
A kind man introduced, who himself as Mr. Reece, and his little princess dog greeted me.  She vetted me, and he graciously wrapped up a call to give me the scoop. The couch came from Domicile and has had several incarnations. She’s lived in two offices of a food designer and more recently their backyard, which was set up for an outdoor soiree. She has not been touched by bedbugs.
     After her party debut where the guests marveled at her beauty, it was time for her to say goodbye to the Reece’s. She was standing up on her end, leaning against a garage. Mr. Reece gingerly placed her back down on the ground so I could sit on her while I figured out how to get her home. He also brought me a cup of ice and a Diet Coke.
     As luck would have it, new friends who work on the block where I live were able to come to the rescue with their landscaping truck. They were all the way on 31st and California dumping trash, and I was in the Lakeview area. It was 4pm on a weekday. I settled in for the wait. An antique coffee table came with the couch, so I sat down with my Coke on the table and enjoyed the smiles and laughs from a copious amount of alley walkers and drivers who passed by.
     When we got the couch to the back porch of my 3rd floor walk up it would not fit into the undersized door frame. We took the legs off and the couch was still several inches too wide and too tall to make it happen. (Please don’t suggest what we could have done. It won’t fit, and a professional couch disassembler has quoted me at $700 if I want them to get it inside). My friend said “why don’t you just leave it on the porch?” Aha! Solution. Along with my patio chairs I now have a perfect COVID visiting spot.
     Now I have a regal sofa where I spent all day yesterday working from home. Some folks in the free groups are criticizing me for leaving a couch “that nice” outside. Well it’s my choice and I love it there. She’s awkwardly covered with plastic bags right now since there’s a threat of rain, and her permanent, waterproof, forest green cover will be here soon enough. She and I can survive what’s sure to be a colder damper winter than I’m used to in Texas.
     Happy lounging y’all.


  1. That couch absolutely belongs right there. I could spend hours sitting on that, playing my old Martin. Bliss......

  2. That's lovely. Our local Buy Nothing group was a godsend when I was clearing out my mother's house. Habitat for Humanity doesn't want appliances older than 15 years and the realtor wanted the kitchen empty. Nothing lasted more than 24 hours after I posted it.

    1. Some Habitat Re-Store outlets specialize in vintage appliances, especially in older towns with older homes. Depends on where you are and what store. I have seen stoves from the Twenties and the Thirties. It's not the age that matters, it's the condition they're in. I needed a new stove and found a 1948 Magic Chef gas stove in pristine condition, and perfect for my Forties bungalow. But when I got it home I learned that one of the burners was cracked and couldn't be fixed or easily replaced. It would have blown up the kitchen if I'd hooked it up to the gas line.

      They took it back and I got a refund...but that's because I work there. It was later sold to a place that supplies props for movie ands stage sets. They needed it for a live production that was set in a kitchen in the Fifties. Bottom line: Depending on where you are, Habitat can be a gold mine for antiques and vintage stuff, especilly in older cities. I'm in Cleveland.

  3. When I first saw the photo of the couch on the porch, I thought, "How nice, if a bit at the mercy of the weather." Then I spotted the photo with the couch upended and obviously destined for the garbage and said to myself, "Oh, no!" Glad I was wrong about the destiny -- it looks great on the porch.


  4. I'm wondering what qualifications, prerequisites and licensing requirements there are to be a "professional couch disassembler." (C'mon, this is Chicago; you just know that a license is involved.) Many aspire to advance to the level of assembler as well, but few are chosen.

    1. Ha! Well I would not be able to take this beautiful upholstery off and get it back on adequately, so wouldn’t mind paying for it to be done correctly. Can’t justify anything close to $700 though.

    2. I sir am a professional couch disassembler. Currently taking apart 90 of them for a local hotel. Hidabeds no less.

      No licence required.

  5. The Swede’s have a tradition called döstädning which loosely translated means death cleaning and has to do with decluttering in your later years so as not to burden your children with lots of virtually worthless stuff after you die.
    We are doing lots of that and it feels good to get rid of things and donate them to worthy causes.
    Thanks for the Buy Nothing Project info.


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