Tree lawn trash surfing 101: Where are you going to store all that stuff?

I’m no expert, but you can call this newly retired marketing manager and mom of three daughters a kooky treasure seeker.

My husband and I walk every day in our Westlake neighborhood. On one occasion, we hit the jackpot the evening before garbage day—we found an old cherry coffee table set out for trash pickup.

The objet trouvé launched a new part-time career in tree lawn trash surfing. This is how it began.

We proudly took the tossed coffee table home and showed it to our oldest and youngest daughters (who still live at home). It needed some love, so we decided to chalk paint it and use it as a nightstand in my bedroom.

I’d seen a friend post on Facebook a beautiful kitchen cabinet transformation she had done herself using chalk paint. So, off to Metheny Weir my daughters and I went to select a paint color and purchase wax to seal the project. We read the directions and watched a YouTube video and were ready to dive in. The table-turned-nightstand came out great.

Since that first chalk paint project, I’ve purchased several wooden furniture pieces at the local thrift stores to chalk paint with my daughters. Chalk paint is basically, well. chalky paint that sands very easily. Think farmhouse patina finishes like you’d see in one of the houses on Chip and Joanna Gaines’ HGTV show “Fixer Upper.”

Joanna typically finds antiques and other treasures at thrift or antique stores that she then uses to furnish and accessorize the homes she remodels. My daughters and I have also done our share of checking out eclectic stuff at local thrift stores like the Cleveland Furniture Bank, Sweet Lorain, or Flower Child.

But tree lawn trash surfing is free. After all, one woman’s trash is another woman’s treasure.

I wouldn’t say we’re regulars in the tree lawn trash surfing circles. Some people hit garbage day every day of the week in different Cleveland-area communities. Don’t forget monthly bulk pick up day in some cities too.

But we do like to go out browsing when we can.

On one recent night while running errands in Lakewood, we passed a nice-looking weathered door with nine windowpanes and cracked paint—half of it completely peeled away revealing the weathered wood.

My daughters and I wondered, “should we turn around and grab it?” and thought, “Dad will kill us.” Then, “Score!”

I’m not sure what we will do with it but maybe display it somewhere and put photographs in the windows. My oldest daughter claimed the find.

Then one day while out and about in Bay Village, we saw tons of large items on tree lawns. We realized it was the monthly bulk pick-up day in the city and we grabbed a small wooden chest and a box full of tarnished silver pieces.

Then my husband saw some awesome stuff while bike riding on Lake Road during another bulk pick-up day. He called us and we dropped everything to race over to join him, staking claim on at least 10 tiki torches and a wooden wine rack.

We had a Luau party in our backyard many years ago, so you’ll never know when you might need a ton of tiki torches again, right?

Here’s how a typical late afternoon treasure hunt goes down: Picture me and my daughters driving like maniacs to find the next “score” on someone’s tree lawn before the hundreds of other pickers doing the same.

I must say it’s a little embarrassing when the homeowner comes out and starts talking with you. One woman shared with my daughters, “My daughter used that trunk in her college dorm room. I’m so glad you will be able to use it.”

We try to be covert.

“Go, go, go,” my daughters yelled on one stop. Really, they didn’t want to be embarrassed if someone saw them loading three clear plexiglass IKEA chairs into our van. Time is of the essence with so much more cool stuff to snag before anyone else. We looked like the 21st century Beverly Hillbillies with our van loaded to the gills.

Imagine unknowingly being the stars of the show for people sitting on their front porches watching the evening entertainment of frenzied people speeding around to see what cool stuff they can get for free on bulk garbage pick-up day.

My oldest daughter just bought a house of her own. As an interior designer, I’m anxious to see how she melds garbage-picked treasures, thrift store finds, her own oil and watercolor paintings, and used and new furniture and accessories to make her new house a home.

I have no doubt it will be beautiful with a midcentury modern eclectic feel and can’t wait to see her vision come to life.

Along with my daughter’s new house comes welcome relief to my own home. Finally, our storage unit—a.k.a. the basement—with furniture and who-knows-what in bins and boxes from our daughters’ college days will begin to move on.

Then there’s our garage stuffed to the brim with a lawn-picked menagerie of treasures—a leaded glass window, two doors, four dining table chairs. With only one of our family’s many cars able to fit inside the garage, many of my oldest daughter’s dumpster dive finds occupy the area where I’d like my car to reside. I was hoping we’d have it cleared out by the first Cleveland snow, but c’est la vie.

Lisa Kay is a guest columnist for ChroniCLEs. Interested in contributing to this column? Email us and tell us why!

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