The Dark Art and Soft Science of Scavenging: The Drawer

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My style of homesteading is the down-and-dirty kind. That’s not to say I’m struggling to survive or living in filth; quite the contrary, actually. But you won’t find me showing you how to make jerky out of a gorgeous D’Artagnan whole filet, no matter how good Ross’s looked. And boy, did it look good.

I’m too cheap, too broke, and too habitually tinkerish to do the kinds of otherwise homesteady things that require lots of purchased inputs. What I hope to share here are stories of creative problem solving with a minimum of brand-new, bought things and a maximum of, for example, “Did you see all that old wood piled up on Broadway?” That means lots and lots of scavenging.

Scavenging, or the art of finding – either through gritty determination, pure luck, or both, plus alcohol – gems among refuse, plays an important role in many homesteads, mine included. Among its children are some pretty polar extremes like dumpster diving for edibles (which gives some people the willies) and buying ludicrously-priced vintage designer clothing and accessories at small LES boutiques (which, I guess, gives some people the willies too, come to think), with lots of stuff in-between. For me, scavenging usually takes the form of finding useful materials on the sidewalk or in dumpsters, and there are few materials more useful, in my view, than the humble drawer.

I first truly considered the drawer after swapping some furniture with my roommate, Ariel. I had no space in my new bedroom for the big ol’ dresser I’d found on the street in Park Slope (a scavenger’s furniture goldmine, by the way), so I traded it to her for two small white Ikea dressers. I used one appropriately and ended up looking at three left-over roughly cubic foot drawers, thinking, “What the hell else can I do with these”. The rest is history (see “planter”, below).

The drawer can be made into all sorts of goodies:

At easiest re-imagining, the open-topped box is great as-is, as a storage box, under-bed or otherwise. Think…

Turned bottom to the wall and properly hung, shallow-ish drawers make cool shelving for all of your Tami Hoag and James Patterson thrillers.

With a few holes drilled in the bottom for drainage, a drawer becomes a nice planter for your container garden. Lettuces, I’ve found, particularly enjoy this kind of digs.
(Important: keep in mind the actual drawer material here. Better to stick with solid wood or plastic for planters, as particle-board (or worse) bases will rot and you won’t be able to move them without the bottom falling out. I speak from experience…)

Drawers can usually be disassembled fairly easily into flat boards for other uses…

And don’t forget about the pulls. You can do all sorts of shit with pulls: coat-hangers, towel-hangers, jewelry, more jewelry.

Like with mushrooms, it’s said, once you’ve learned how to look for drawers, it may seem they’re looking for you. As always, keep your eyes peeled, especially on trash day – or, better yet, the night before. Focus on large apartment buildings, which are more likely to be constantly tossing furniture items. If you are new to scavenging bigger items and, like me, don’t own a car to haul them away, remember not to take more than you can carry home. Carrying a large and awkwardly-shaped treasure, even if it’s light as a feather, can get real old real quick.

Speaking of real old real quick, why on earth all this drawer talk? Firstly, I just really love drawers because they’re so useful. Secondly, the other night, the Homestead Fairy hirself gave me an early Valentine’s Day present: two clear plastic drawers in a pile of rubbish on Willoughby and Lewis Aves.

cats and drawers.png

I’m going to try something new with these beauties: “cold boxes” for my garden, to help my crops get a head-start early in spring. They’ll act as mini-greenhouses, turned upside down with a hinged top flap, protecting seedlings against the chill. But that’s a project for another post.

Folks are always throwing away drawers. Give one a new life on your homestead.


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