The Lifecycle of My Belongings & Furniture: 2020 edition (Bay Area, California)

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*Originally posted on my previous personal blog (bylydiac)

Having recently moved and left the United States to stay in Taiwan for a bit, I had to get rid of the furniture I’ve accumulated the last couple of years. I spent a couple weeks figuring out how to best get rid of my things. At the same time, it made me remember how I accumulated these things too. This post is about the lifecycle of my furniture and belongings to commemorate the life they shared with me.

A quick sketch of some of the furniture pieces I’ve had to say goodbye to in 2020.

Into the motherland of modern capitalism

When I headed to college in the United States, I knew I’d be moving regularly for the next decade, so I knew I didn’t want to own many “things”. At the same time, I also never had to think much about “owning” things before because that was something my parents dealt with. As I started college, my dad and I spent a large chunk of money and time gathering all the things I need at Target, Ikea, Bed, Bath, and Beyond. It wasn’t as cool as Harry Potter’s time in Diagon Alley before heading off to Hogwarts, but in a way, it was a coming of age moment.

What made all of this a worthy experience to remember is that I was moving from Taiwan to the United States. Most of my American peers were able to take their time with buying things or moving was relatively straightforward because they could bring what they already had at home. American peers also generally had multiple family members assist, or they had cars, or they knew how to drive, or even better the student owned a car. There didn’t seem to be much anxiety around having too many things in their dorm because they could drive it home to store things over breaks.

Moving is trickier as an international student with one family member who flies halfway across the world to spend a week (and a ton of money) to accompany you to college. This family member who has not spent much or any time in the US to come and assist and may have little to no context of American culture or norms.

Going to college involved planning the plane trip, the hotels, car rental, scheduling, while also figuring out all the places we’d have to stop by and what to even bring to college. I was lucky my dad spoke English, but he was also already quite old so it was hard to do all of this just the two of us. I can imagine it would be even tougher for those with parents who do not speak English and therefore more burden is put on the child. Anyways, basically, figuring out how to get things was a hassle, and figuring out what to do with them later was also a hassle.

asian woman illustrated dorm photo
Me on my side of my freshman dorm. Everything outlined in blue are things I still have to this day.

Throughout college, I moved dorms or houses every year, sometimes after every few terms. I had also taken terms off or studied abroad or spent the summer abroad in various countries. I accumulated things over time, and as much as I didn’t want to “own” much, it was inevitable.

It’s easy to think, what’s the big deal? You can just donate things and re-buy it. It was frustrating to witness seniors leave every year leaving huge amount of things behind and freshmen coming in just a few months later buying huge amount of new things. It is frustrating to me to know that we do not live in a circular economy where things are used until they cannot be used anymore and that the society we live in prioritizes consumption more than sustainability.

Due to my personal values, I resisted disposing my things as much as I could and tried to hold on to them for as long as possible. From freshman year of college until now. But it’s not easy to do that. My tastes have changed, my color preferences have changed, I can now afford better and nicer things. At what point do you get rid of something that is still functional? And how do you get rid of it?

An era of easy consumption

berkeley bedroom
Where do things go after we’ve bought and disposed of them?

Modern capitalism means choosing convenience and easy consumption; it’s normalized for us to easily let go of things and re-buy them when we need it again, especially if we can afford it. Even then, it’s also normalized to buy new things when we find a new thing we like, and we don’t like the old thing anymore.

It’s not so much of an issue if what you’re letting go is passed onto someone else and they get it for cheap. But more often than not, the systems for recycling and donation is informal and unorganized. Most of us end up dumping things at Goodwill anymore, who actually end up throwing most things away. In the Bay Area, instead of Goodwill, things are left on the curb and then they go somewhere. Though more often than not, the thing is left to rot on the sidewalk and so it likely ends up in landfill anyway.

It doesn’t help that buying a new Ikea lamp or nightstand or new Target lamp is quite affordable. $10 for a lamp, $30 for a shelf; not so bad, right? Reasonable to spend this cost once a year, it’s not going to break our bank accounts. But it’s not about whether or not we can afford it, but rather what happens to these things when every single household and person is buying the same mass produced thing from the same corporation, using it for a few years, then throwing it away when it’s still perfectly functional?

Having lived out of one backpack for a prolonged period of time and combined with moving to a new room or place every 1 year did make me never want to truly “own” anything. When I moved from college to the Twin Cities, it was less than a 1 hour drive away so I tried to retain as much things as I could.

The college had a Lighten Up post-school year which is when everyone leaving gives away their unwanted things and the people sticking around the area can go and get what they want for free or for a low cost. I spent a couple of days sorting through the huge mounds of abandoned things across campus lounges to find things I wanted to keep. There were a lot of really nice and new things. I guess that’s what happens when you put a lot of well off kids in one place and buying new things is the easier thing to do when they move.

I had to move from the Twin Cities to the Bay Area in 2018. Without knowing how to drive or having much $ in my pockets, I had to figure out how to do it affordably. I was living with my partner for a year and we had accumulated quite a lot of furniture and household appliances that I was sad to give up (think Instant Pot and Air Fryer). We had a few pieces of nice and affordable furniture we had gotten from Ikea the year before. I couldn’t help but feel kind of guilty about it all, that we barely used the things we bought, like a nice red sofa and TV.

I tried to be proactive with getting rid of these furniture and appliances and finding new homes for them. I wished I could have figured out all the people on their way to Ikea about to buy the same things we owned, jump in front of them and yell “HEY I CAN SELL YOU THE SAME THING FOR CHEAP OR GIVE IT AWAY FOR FREE”. Why buy one, why spend money, why waste more things when there is someone trying to give away the same thing?

We don’t live in a circular economy. Ikea wants us to buy from them. It’s capitalism. Why would they want an economy to exist outside of them? The best I could do was to post on Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist and hope someone wanted to get it from us rather than buying it new.

I ended up bringing 4 luggages from Minneapolis to San Francisco. A lot of the contents in these luggages, besides clothes, were things I had accumulated over time since college. As someone who’s always wanted to be a minimalist, in the sense that I don’t own a lot of things, 4 luggages was great! But could I keep it up for the next couple of years? Especially knowing I wanted to move somewhere else again?

taiwanese american luggages sfo
A very tired me standing outside of SFO waiting for the uber to head to a room I’ve only ever seen through a webcam.

Some things I retained from college years include… my pillow (along with the exact same pillow case), a Target fleece blanket, a small rice cooker that had come in a luggage from Taiwan, souvenirs I’ve collected from travels around the world, and as many kitchen utensils and spices I could store in my luggage’s extra space. I later even had my partner spend a couple hundred dollars to ship over my bicycle to the Bay Area; a bicycle I ended up never riding and got stolen. That was a big lesson for me… Sometimes trying too hard to keep things that you owned, but may not have loved, isn’t the better choice.

While in the Bay Area, I lived in various rooms and though the first room was fully furnished, the next room only provided a bed, and then the next room was unfurnished. I had to start buying things and keeping them. Though I knew I didn’t want to stay in the Bay Area for more than 2 years, I had to start purchasing items.

moving boxes
All of the things I had to move from my first room to my second room.

I scoured the internet for second hand things because I refused to buy anything new. Yes, the priority was to save money but the main reason was to avoid buying new things when I was likely going to get rid of it in a few years, and you know, to live according to a circular economy as much as possible. Below, I’ve written a few stories about various things I’ve owned and had to say goodbye to when I moved in 2020.

Stories of furniture I’ve said goodbye to in 2020

External Monitor

illustration monitor coffee table
My favorite set up was eating instant ramen while sitting in front of my monitor watching a show or surfing the web.

I had a desktop monitor that was passed on to me from my partner. He had paid maybe 100 bucks from a college friend in 2015 who had purchased the monitor for gaming and got it for a few hundred bucks. I brought the monitor with me to my college dorm and wrote my senior thesis with it. I lugged it back to Minneapolis and used it when I tutored online every evening. I used it to write job applications and connected it to play games with it. I shipped it in a box to the Bay Area and watched Korean dramas on it while eating dinner as I adjusted to post grad life. I wrote more job applications, watched more TV shows and movies on it.

It was my TV and my solace in my bedroom in a house shared with roommates who were strangers. I got a Switch in 2020 and was able to dock it to this monitor and I played Breath of the Wild and spent my time on the Great Plateau with this big screen in front of me. Finally, not knowing where I’ll be off to in the future, I put it on Facebook Marketplace for $20. I got many inquiries for this monitor and I went with “first come first serve” mentality.

Unluckily, the first guy who messaged me was very particular with his technology. He had wanted to see it plugged in when he came, but I told him we’re in the middle of a pandemic and my roommates would not be comfortable with a stranger coming in. So I plugged in my Switch and took a couple photos to show him. He drove here to pick it up.

When I met him outside my apartment, he examined the monitor and found a scratch at the bottom right of the screen. One I had never seen before… I did not know this monitor was scratched. He looked at me, disappointed, saying “I knew something was off, I think I could see it in the photo”. At this point I was just desperate to empty my room so I told him to pay what he’s comfortable and so this precious monitor of mine was sold for $10. At least it was given to someone who values their technology!

Coffee Table

When I moved to my second Bay Area room that only provided a bed, I knew I needed a desk. I like writing, drawing, and journaling and needed a hard surface to do those activities on. The thought of buying a full desk and chair seemed like too much work though, so I searched for a low table that I can use while sitting on the floor. Searching for a simple coffee table was hard. Most offered on Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist were vintage wooden tables and were not functional for my uses. After a few days of searching on these websites, I came across a nice low white coffee table offered for $45 that I would have to pick up from Berkeley Hills. Google Maps indicated it was a 25 minute walk away – jackpot!…so I thought.

I walked to this location around dusk and quickly realized it was a steep climb and that they lived hidden in what felt like the woods. It was already dark by the time I got there. The path was empty and barely lit. Finding the person’s house was hard. Turns out I had to find a path hidden in brush and walk down stairways to the entrance of their house. When I knocked, it was a different person who answered the doorbell from the one I’ve been messaging. He called his wife who said she would be right there.

I waited for 5 minutes on their doorstep and his wife showed up with the coffee table. She must have assumed I had a car and was parked and I’d drive the table back because she did not seem to care much that I was standing in front of their house drenched in sweat. I gave her the $45 and started carrying the table. Damn. It was really heavy. There was no way I was going to make it 25 minutes down the hill with this heavy wooden table. I didn’t even know if I could make it out of this dark hilly pathway alive.

I put the table on my back and used all my muscles to walk slowly and carefully back up the stairs and made my way down the dark path. No lights, no cars, and no people to be seen. I had barely walked 5 minutes when I basically gave up and pulled open Uber. Please let there be someone who is close by. Luckily, there was one! He also had a SUV and was very kind to help me carry the table onto the back of his car and drive me back.

buying furniture on the internet illustration
I drew this on the night I had to bring this coffee table home. It was not a fun experience so drawing it out was my one coping mechanism.

The table served me well for the next 1.5 years. My monitor sat on it and I did a lot of my writing and journaling on it. I also ate many dinners on the table. Though my feelings towards it was always kind of salty… I despised the journey I went through to attain the table. When it was time to get rid of it, I knew I didn’t want to put someone else through that. It’s also a weird shape so I don’t expect it to be the most desired. I posted it on FB Marketplace for free and got like 1 inquiry.

We picked a time, I dragged the table down and she did not show up. I left it on the curb and messaged her she can come pick it up anytime. 3 days passed and my table was still on the curb. I kind of felt bad for leaving it there, but there was no way I was bringing it back upstairs. On one of those days,

I was returning from an errand and found two women holding the table up, turning it on its side with inquisitive faces. It looked like they were asking each other “what is this???” I walked up to them, told them the table used to be mine and it’s actually a table. “Ah, la mesa!!” I don’t think they ended up taking it. But hey a day later, the table was gone. Either the original person came to pick it up or Oakland Waste Management took it away. I guess I’ll never know. Good riddance.

coffee table thought bubble
I left it on the curb. I sincerely hope it went to another home instead of the dumpster.

IKEA Shelf

bedroom and belongings poem
Same things. Different room.

I had one of those 4 cube Ikea shelves. My partner and I had owned a 9 cube one in Minneapolis and I found it versatile for fitting all kinds of books and items in it and on it, so I thought it’d be a nice add. I searched on FB Marketplace and found a few people getting rid of this. Someone was selling it for $20 and warned me that there was a huge dent on one side. I, of course, didn’t care! I just needed something for storage. She was also kind enough to offer to drop it off, if I was willing to pay $5 more. I also gladly said yes, made more sense than paying for a Uber ride.

When I posted this shelf on FB Marketplace, I also got a lot of inquiries. It went away to someone who showed up on time and paid me the $10 I asked for. No strong feelings about this shelf, except that it served me well!

Nightstand Lamp

Not much of a story for this one, except that I bought it brand new from college. I had a mustard yellow one in college and decided to get a dark blue one this time around. At some point I had put something on the lamp that made it super sticky. You know, that consistency after you remove a sticker? It wasn’t donate-a-ble really, so I kept it until the last minute and left it on the curb. Not sure if it was disposed of or someone took it, but it was a great lamp that kept my room lit every single night until it was time for bed.

illustration nightstand and lamp
Illustration of my lamp that brought me light in all these rooms that did not have any ceiling lights.

Bed & Box Spring & Wooden Bed Frame

bedroom with illustrations of year I got the items
My Oakland bedroom at its prime.

The first two rooms I stayed in provided a bed so I was set. I had hoped I would never have to purchase a bed until I was ready to settle down long term or at least until I got a car. Unfortunately, I ended up moving into an unfurnished room and had to figure out how to get a bed. At this time I did not know how to drive and also was not interested in buying a brand new bed/mattress and having it delivered.

I’ve witnessed others buying brand new mattresses online or through Amazon, getting it in the mail rolled up then having issue with disposing it. I’ve also witnessed plenty of mattresses left to rot on the sidewalk. Every time I see such a sight, I wince thinking how new mattresses are continuously being made and shipped and they can’t even be recycled properly. What a waste.

I knew many people personally who were reluctant to buy second hand mattresses because it seemed uncleanly. I couldn’t care any less… As long as it didn’t have bed bugs with the previous owner, I’d prefer buying a used mattress than spending hundreds on a new one and getting rid of it a year later. I’d rather give a used mattress another home before it couldn’t have a home anymore.

I was looking for a mattress around when university semester was over so a lot of UC Berkeley students were about to move out. I managed to land a nice deal for a mattress, bed frame, and box spring from a student living in downtown Berkeley. She was selling it all for $75. When I asked what the original cost was, she mentioned her boyfriend bought it for her and cost around $600-$700 from Macy’s. I was a bit stunned but happy to be getting a good quality bed.

webcomic moving boxes
A webcomic I made for the 100 day project I did in 2019. This was drawn on the day I moved. I felt very accomplished.

The main problem was transporting it though… I was pretty stressed about moving everything from Berkeley to Oakland, and the fact that I didn’t have a driver’s license meant I couldn’t do it on my own with a Uhaul. I ended up hiring a Task Rabbiter with a truck. We moved all my stuff from Berkeley to Oakland and picked up the bed from Berkeley as well. I had to assemble the frame on my own (it was basically many pieces of wood with some holes for screws), but I was able to figure it out once I got my hands on a wrench set.

The bed was awesome and I had really good sleep for the rest of the year. When it came to say goodbye to it in the middle of the pandemic, I knew a lot of people were already leaving the Bay Area and not a lot of people moving in. I wanted to do my part in recycling the bed rather than leaving it on the curb to rot.

I first googled “mattress recycling” and called a company that was charging me $180 to just come pick up the mattress. I was horrified at the cost and still agreed to make the appointment. It wasn’t until I called around and did my research that I learned the city actually does bulk pick ups to recycle beds. So I made an appointment with Oakland Waste Management to come pick it up for free and cancelled my $180 appointment.

In the end, I had to disassemble my bed and frame and carry each item downstairs. It was a lot of work because the wooden frame was really heavy. Overall, I was just glad that it was going somewhere and being recycled. But I can’t help but wonder… what does “recycling” a bed even mean? Was it going to be taken apart? Was it going to help create a new bed? Or is it also just thrown in some recycling landfill…? There is so much we don’t know about the systems we participate in everyday.

Alright, I’ve written enough about my thoughts on furniture and was able to tell the story of the things that served me well the last couple of years. I hope our world can slowly prioritize a circular economy and find value in prioritizing reusing things rather than consuming conveniently and newly made things. I wait for the day DIY-ing our own furniture is an accessible and widely learned task rather than purchasing from the same 1 or 2 corporations.

bedroom with text overlaid on top
The image of my room above really does define what my early 20s felt like. Fragmented. Messy. A construction of various things put together. The opposite of aesthetic bedrooms you see on social media. But this is the room and these are the things that got me through to where I am today.
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