I yanked the intercom phone off the wall. "Yes?"
It was my super, bless his heart. My long-suffering, totally cool, just-doing-his-job super. "What's going on up there?" he asked.
I looked at the chaos before me. Two dudes wrestling with an IKEA couch, several women pawing through framed pictures, throw pillows, and other cheap decor items piled dozens deep in one bedroom, and my boyfriend helping another women carry pieces of an IKEA closet out of what used to be my bedroom. Moments earlier I had helped another woman roll an IKEA table out the door and into the elevator.
"Oh, not much. I'm just getting the last of the furniture out of my apartment," I nonchalantly replied.
"You cannot be moving out right now. Moving hours is over." he said.
"Garreth," I pleaded. "What do you want me to do? I'm supposed to be out of the apartment today, and I've been trying my best to get rid of all this stuff, but no one wants it!"
"There are supposed to be blankets hung in that elevator. If I find one scratch in that elevator, one scratch, you're getting the bill for it."
"Well, I'm getting charged either way, aren't I?" I growled.
"No need to get cheeky," he said.
I swallowed hard and leaned my forehead against the wall. I didn't want to cry in front of all these strangers.
The Ikea Curse
A little over two years ago, I posted on Facebook that I was looking for a roommate, and within minutes, I was hooked up with Eleonora. Eleonora was everything I wanted in a roommate: drama-free, sweet, smart and fun to be around. Plus, she lived in a two-bedroom apartment just five blocks north of where I was living at the time, and her roommate was leaving just a few days before I needed to move in. Perfect. The roommate was off to Spain, so she sold me all of her bedroom furniture, plus half the value of the shared living room furniture and kitchen stuff.
In addition to the furniture, she left behind an assortment of random stuff: Saks 5th Avenue Fur Salon hangers, special cups for poaching eggs, an extra set of dishes and cups, a rack of spices, stupid refrigerator magnets, Spanish-language DVDs, coffee table books, pillows, sheets, towels, artwork, and lots and lots of stuff from IKEA. About a quarter of the crap was random promotional stuff you get handed for free, a quarter were pretty objects that I guess she had hoped with make her a better person (coffee table books, mainly), and the rest had clearly been picked up in an overenthusiastic trip or two to IKEA and Bed Bath & Beyond.
I'm really OCD about having extra stuff around, but I managed to hold myself back for a whole month before I gently inquired with Eleonora about how much of this stuff was hers. She gave me permission to purge, and purge I did. Boxes and boxes of stuff went out the door and down to the buildings recycling and swap area. Still, I'm human, and I fell prey to the "It's here and maybe it will be useful so I'll just keep it," urge.
A year later, my roommate moved to England. She wasn't a big shopper and she did a good job of cleaning the apartment out, but again, I was left with some items I found neither useful nor beautiful. I purged again.
A new roommate moved in, and went on some enthusiastic trips to IKEA and Bed Bath and Beyond. She bought everything she needed for the bedroom, plus more throw pillows, art, blankets and artwork. She brought in a ridiculous amount of cleaning supplies, because her sister is a sales lady for an Avon-type cleaning company. And she was sort of trying to be healthier, and had a lot of protein powders and "health" food accessories. Then she had to move back home for personal reasons and left it all behind, because why not? This time, I just sort of stuffed it all in the closet. I turned to AirBnB to rent out the extra room and make some extra cash, and my assorted guests brought in and left a wide variety of toiletries, books, and accessories.
Finally, it was my time to move.
Other People's Stuff
Unfortunately, as the last roommate standing, I was left holding a big bag of crap. Not only did I have the leftovers of three people, I also had all the gifts I've been given by well-meaning relatives and friends: art, jewelry, clothing, and accessories. You know, all those well-meaning friends and relatives who don't truly understand what it is like to live in a tiny New York City apartment without a car. Every item, every object, every piece is a trial to deal with. Like coffee table books! They are so heavy and huge and no, I don't have room for them but, Jesus, they are so heavy and I will hate hate hate schlepping them to The Strand for selling/donation.
I packed my apartment ruthlessly. Every day when my boyfriend came home, he would be impressed anew at the amount of items that had disappeared, either into moving bins or downstairs to the recycling area. It helped that I am a continual purger. I don't save up my purging for once a year--I always have a pile in a corner of stuff I don't want anymore. But even so, there was still so many things that I didn't want in my new apartment.
Related: How to Clean Out Your Closet Like a Sustainable Boss
I posted an exhaustive list on Craigslist, illustrated with gorgeous pictures, of all the things I wanted to sell. I got deluged with emails. Of those, half weren't spam. Half of those emailers responded setting up a time to come by. Of those, several showed up hours late, or flaked at the last minute. One came, picked out four pieces of furniture he wanted, and promised to come back on moving day. When he did come back, he said he only wanted the couch. "Do you know how many emails I got about that tray table?" I practically shrieked at him. "That was a hot ticket and I held it for YOU."
He took the tray table.
Two people came by, and started off a round of emails culminating in, "I want it, but since I can't fit it in a cab, I can't take it."
So when the movers showed up, I still had a whole lot of crap in my apartment that I did not want. Which was so frustrating, because I had not picked out almost any of that crap. I hadn't chosen any of the IKEA furniture. I hadn't brought home the throw pillows. I hadn't asked for the artwork. I hadn't wanted or used the matching set of oddly-shaped IKEA bowls and trays. All this was other people's doings, so why did I have to deal with it?
God, I hate stuff.
"Dump it on the curb," I told the movers. I reasoned that someone would take it if it were free.
The movers came back upstairs. "The super wants to talk to you," they told me.
I headed downstairs, where the sympathetic but unbending super told me that, yes, he understood my predicament, but in a huge building full of transient 20-somethings, they were "getting fucked" with IKEA furniture four times a week and so no, I could not put it in the back or on the front curb. Oh, and if my rental agency found any furniture sitting in my apartment, they would take $500 out of my security deposit. My movers told me that no, they would not dump it in a random place in Brooklyn. If they got caught, both they and I would be in trouble.
"EVERYTHING FREE TAKE MY FURNITURE" I posted on Craigslist. I told my boyfriend to rent a Zip van, and told the two people who wanted but couldn't transport the furniture that if they paid him $50, he would drive it to their place. Sold. Then I told every non-spammer who emailed me to show up at 7:45 and take whatever they wanted.
Which is how it came to me standing in the middle of a scrum of NYC oddballs in my apartment, fighting with my super about how the hell to get all the stuff out of my apartment.
In the end, I decided to try to fudge the move-out date a bit. At the end of the night, there was still a queen-sized mattress, a rug, some side tables, and a few odds and ends leftover. My boyfriend and I schlepped our personal belongings to the van, out to Brooklyn to our friend's apartment where we would be crashing for a week, up to his fourth-floor walkup and collapsed.
The next day, we went back to the apartment and sat around for three hours waiting for the two women who said they were, "on my way!" to show up. (Liar liar liar liar liar.) We walked the side table, which I had bought from Housing Works three years before, back over to Housing Works to donate. We wrapped the mattress up in a mattress bag and put it in the back after getting permission from the porter. And I finally emailed the two women and said, "The two little side tables and the rug are in the back." We put the rug in the textile recycling bin, tip toed over with the side tables and put them in the swap area, dropped the keys off at the front desk and left. GOODBYE GRAMERCY.
I am not doing that again. Suddenly, a monk-like existence seems appealing. I even considered decorating my new living room with just an assortment of pillows, putting our mattress right on the floor of the bedroom, leaving the walls a bright, refreshing white, letting my beautiful reclaimed wood floors take center stage without any rugs, and not buying a stick of furniture.
Of course, that's not a sustainable solution. But as I go about equipping my new home, I definitely won't be going to IKEA. Because I am so sick of that place. Instead of buying furniture that lasts, instead of buying used but good furniture, instead of thinking carefully about what they need, everyone now is just buying a bunch of flat-pack stuff, then throwing it away. Buying it again, and throwing it away.
So every single thing that comes into my home will be chosen with love and care. My new rules:
- Don't rush. I get it. Shopping at IKEA is easy and quick. But I'm OK with sleeping on a mattress on the floor while I check Craigslist every day, scour used furniture stores and prowl the ABC Home warehouse in the Bronx for the Perfect Bed That I Will Love Forever.
- High quality. It has to be a good furniture. Not good enough, not good enough for now. Not, "sure, that works." It has to be good enough that ten years from now when I move, I will say to the movers, "Please be careful with that dining room table. I really do love it."
- Buy it used. Looking at the sheer amount of stuff I gave away, or sold at a deeply discounted price, made me feel really dumb for buying it new. I sold a $350 Ikea closet for $50 and threw in moving services. I gave away a three side tables and a rug. People like me are moving out of apartments every day in NYC, and they are just as desperate to get rid of their stuff. It just takes a little patience, a Zip van, and some scouring of Craigslist and I will save hundreds, if not thousands of dollars.
- Walk away. If you are buying new, and that mostly applies to art and objects used to decorate your home, never buy things on first sight, because that is how you have regrets. Trust the universe. Trust that if it is right for me, it will still be there if and when I can't stop thinking about it and decide to come back. And if it's not there when I come back, let it go. Because it is just an object.
- Say no. I'm not taking it, so do not bring it. Don't buy my coffee table books, clothing, art, jewelry or accessories. I do not want it. I promise. Unless you have spend the past 27 years inside my brain, which you haven't, you will not know my taste or wants or needs. Even if I post about it on EcoCult or put it on Pinterest, chances are, I posted it because I thought some of my readers would like it, not necessarily because I want it in my home. So unless I say, "I really would like X thing by Z brand in cobalt blue but I cannot afford it" and wink at you and then put it on my Christmas list which I then send to you sealed with a wax stamp, do not buy it for me. I will turn around and consign it or donate it and I won't feel the least bit guilty about it. In fact, I will be annoyed, because now I have to schlep that stupid thing over to Second Time Around and you just wasted my freaking time.
If you want to spend money on me, buy me an experience. And I shall do the same for myself. And we will all be happier for it.