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Short Stories: Forty-Two Years of Used Furniture 

new couch

In 2016, Polly and I bought a brand-new loveseat and couch. This was a monumental decision for us. Before this purchase, we had never owned a brand-new couch. Never! Over the years, we bought second-hand furniture or used family castoffs. Our thinking went something like this: there is no need to buy nice furniture as long as you have children. As any parent knows, children are hard on furniture. From spills to flops, children can turn nice furniture into something from a CSI crime scene in a few years. And then came grandchildren, and we repeated the abuse all over again. Our last loveseat and couch came from a nearby secondhand store. I believe we paid $399 for the pair. Weathering the abuse of our now-grown children and grandchildren, this furniture had reached what they call in the tech industry its “end of life.” But even then, after eight years of service, we couldn’t bear to haul the furniture off to the landfill. Instead, several of our sons hauled it out to the curb. We placed FREE signs on the furniture, hoping that someone might haul them away. Less than an hour later, a noisy beat-up pickup truck pulled up to the curb, and its passengers exited the truck, excited over their new find. One man’s junk is another man’s treasure. They quickly loaded the furniture on the truck and drove away. Mission accomplished! (Two weeks ago, we did this with an old grill. Everything we put by the road ends up swiftly disappearing.)

Polly and I love having new furniture. It’s nice, even at this late date in life, to have something new. Of course, we turned into furniture Nazis for a time, not allowing the cat or dog on the furniture, nor allowing the grandkids to get anywhere near the furniture with food or drinks. We thought if we can get our adult children sippy cups for their beer and coffee, all will be well. Looking at you, Nathan. Four years later, the new furniture has settled into the rhythm of our home. The dog and cat — both fourteen years old now — and our grandkids know it’s okay to sit on Nana’s precious (said with Gollum’s voice).

After Ashley Furniture delivered the loveseat and couch, we decided that we also needed a new end table. We did not buy a new table, choosing instead to go to the used furniture store to find a table that would match the new furniture. The end table set us back $69. Last year, we gave that table to our youngest daughter, and bought four new tables and matching lamps. My oh my, aren’t the Gerencsers up-town now! After that, we decided that we wanted to replace our massive oak entertainment center — which we gave to son number three — with something a little more understated, giving us more space in our small, 12’x20′ living room. For this purchase, we bought ready-to-assemble (RTA) furniture from the Sauder Woodworking Outlet Store in Archbold, Ohio. Polly chose a unit with colors that matched the loveseat, couch, and carpet. That she “chose” shows how far removed we are from our former patriarchal life. Thanks to a 35% employee discount, our new credenza cost $220. My oldest son and grandson put the unit together, a much more peaceful event than had Polly and I assembled the credenza. Our older children likely remember the time their mother and I decided to hang wallpaper — together. Needless to say, things didn’t go well, with both of us realizing that we loved each other deeply, but hanging wallpaper together was a sure way to end up in divorce court. After forty-two years of marriage, I am glad that we are now able to somewhat work together on household projects. Who knows, we just might stay married.

Parts of this story were written in 2016. The new couch and love seat? They are now well-worn, and our decision to buy furniture with springs in the cushions has proved to be a bad idea. And now that I spend a lot more time on the couch due to my declining health, the cushions are disfigured (and hard to straighten in their coverings) and increasingly uncomfortable. The credenza? DON’T ask! Polly and two of my sons are managers for Sauder’s. Awesome company to work for. All of my children except for Bethany have worked for Sauder’s over the years. I have nothing but admiration and respect for the Sauder family. That said, this particular unit has been problematic from the start, including manufacturing defects. Over the weekend, I installed an XBOX 360 our youngest son gave to us so we could play Tetris and a few arcade games. What should have been a simple project took ninety minutes, lots of swearing, and more than a few Bruce fits. Not a pretty sight. Our youngest son volunteered to do the installation, but I said no. “I can do it, ” I told myself. Yeah, I still have a hard time accepting that I am really sick, disabled, and can’t do what I used to do even a few years ago. Those days are over, but damn if I am willing to accept this fact. Pride is a terrible taskmaster. Another reminder of my failing health came when I repeatedly tried to beat Polly playing Tetris. Years ago, I won every head-to-head match. I beat her into submission, so to speak, every time we played. Now, thanks to osteoarthritis in my hands and declining motor skills, I was the one on the losing end. I did, however, beat Bethany. Woo-hoo, right?

How about you? Do you have any furniture stories to tell? Do you work well with your spouse or significant other? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.


Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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  1. Avatar

    I have been single now for 17 yearrs. Have remodeled my entire house, and have done most of the work myself. There have been many times I wished I had help. But there are many other times I was so glad I didn’t have to negotiate or argue with someone about decisions and changes. And some of these times have involved wallpaper. My son still quivers in fear when I bring home paint samples.

    When I gutted and rebuilt my kitchen, I bought cabinets that I had to assemble. When I had to get a corded power drill to get the screws in place, my concerns that they were flimsy or second-rate disappeared. They still look great!

    I have bought three chairs from IKEA — or as my nephew calls it, “The Icky Store, because that’s how it’s spelled.” The pictures-only instructions were a trip!

  2. Avatar
    Becky Wiren

    Bob was on a kick to have leather furniture. Well, at the time the cats were declawed but guess what? Those back claws did a lot of damage. And now 2 out of the 3 cats are NOT declawed. (We lost the other declawed cat last year and replaced her with 2.) Henry successfully argued that getting a cat declawed was wrong.

    So…cats and leather. They don’t go together. 🙂 It’s nice you got new furniture. Maybe we will too! If what you got is that picture, it looks nice.

  3. Avatar
    Karen the rock whisperer

    Your comment about wallpaper made me laugh out loud. When we were still dating, then-Boyfriend (now Husband) and I took an engineering lab together, and decided to be lab partners. It was very nearly the end of the relationship. We swore never to make that mistake again.

    Fast forward a few years, when we were two young married engineers and bought our first home. The bedroom had ghastly wallpaper, and we decided to re-wallpaper together. Shades of the engineering lab again! Nope. Just nope. The universe never intended for us to work that closely together.

    For major remodeling projects since then, we split the tasks into clearly defined spheres with no overlap. I paint, he wallpapers. I choose materials, he tiles and hangs blinds. We admire each other’s work, and make a point of ignoring the flaws that the person who did the task sees. Makes for a much better relationship. Besides, in the long run, who gives a fat rat’s patootie about a paint drip or an oh-so-slightly mismatched sheet of wallpaper? Life is too short to worry about that stuff.

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    We once did the wallpaper in my bedroom when I was a teen. It was only a small room but the amount of time it cost for the four of us (parents, me and my brother) even with some borrowed equipment of family that has a painting-wallpaper-business. We succeeded but it was hard! To get the wallpaper to match each other, be in a straight line, not overlapping, and fixing it properly on the ends….. Just awful. Quite difficult. Not to mention getting the old layers off with some steam-machine. Since then, we’ve always just hired our relatives, getting family discount instead 🙂

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    “furniture Nazis” – “adult sippy cups” ROTFLOL! giggle

    Many moons ago, Biker Dude came home to find me painstakingly chipping away at red velvet wallpaper in a downstairs family room. (Here when we bought the house.) The look on his face! He had no idea I would do such a thing. *grin*

    Poor guy. He pulled up a chair, leaned over, head in hands and was heard to say, “Where did I go wrong?”

    A call was put in to our friends, expert wallpaperists and they helped us get through it, pretty much the entire time laughing at the situation.

    Celebrated our 39th wedding anniversary this year. A miracle! Maybe there is a god? 😉

    No wallpaper for me! (In my best soup Nazi voice.)

  6. Avatar

    Congratulations on the new furniture!

    My husband once put together an Ikea shelf/TV stand by hammering in the little, metal connecting rods with a can of soup. (The manual recommended that we use a hammer, but we didn’t own one).

    It was funny to watch, but it worked really well. We still use that piece of furniture to this day! LOL.

  7. Avatar

    Joint projects? Not on your life. I did all the wallpapering–which may be why we have none in our current house. I’m older now, by quite a bit, and there’s no way I’d let my husband near it. Even our “joint” projects are sequential: we tiled the kitchen, dog’s years ago. The only way we could get through it was to spell each other. When one of us got tired, the other took over for a while. It’s still there, though, and still looks good. The only thing we seem able to do together is leaf-clearing. He rakes; I bag; we don’t end up swearing at or about each other.

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    Ha! We had new furniture, a leather sofa and leather recliner. We are on our 3rd leather recliner now and it was a steal from the Goodwill. But we have 5 cats, and our son presented an ethical reason to NOT get them declawed. Hence…let’s just say we want new furniture, but with our little terrors around we probably won’t get brand new stuff. 😉

  9. Avatar
    Karen the rock whisperer

    The city that I live in has a city-wide cleanup week every year. You put out on the street whatever you want to get rid of that isn’t hazardous waste (there’s a place where you can make an appointment to take that stuff, year-round). Residents are expected to separate appliances from electronics from tree and shrub branches from other stuff, and different collection teams come around during the week.

    Anything at all we put out that’s serviceable gets picked up by gleaners, who drive around the neighborhood all weekend. The stuff that actually makes it to the dump is unusable. The appliances and electronics are recycled, the big yard clippings are chopped into mulch for the city’s landscaping, and very little goes to the dump, which is the point. But it makes getting rid of stuff a guilt-free experience.

    • Avatar
      Bruce Gerencser

      My dad was a religious trash picker, as was Polly’s father. Embarrassed the hell out of me as a child. 😂😂 These days, I’m glad someone else can get some use out of my cast-offs. I can’t bring myself to dumpster dive, but I do have a better understanding of those who do.

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    I admit, I have been well-served by some of the stuff I have picked up from the side of the road on trash days, and I hope other people have been happy with stuff I have left out that disappeared, too. But actual dumpster-diving? Considering what some people put in dumpsters, despite all the warnings, don’t do it. No point in risking your health.

  11. Avatar

    went from used, which I tore apart in a fit of anger and frustration. We got a nice new set. and I’ve kept up with my tradition of taking out my frustrations on furniture ever after.

    definitely time for a new set. Hopefully this fall.

  12. Avatar

    I can’t tell you how many big plastic toys we picked up for our kids, then put back out for others when the kids outgrew them.

    My husband and I were discussing recently that after 19 years and with the 2 kids in college, it may be time for new living room furniture. We can even let our son have “his” couch (aka the love seat) for his room.

    My husband and I can’t handle too many projects together. I don’t like the terse instructions and will respond harshly in a “don’t talk to me that way” manner.

  13. Avatar

    Oh boy, Bruce. Bob got me into using things he found that were in remarkably great shape from dumpster picking. Years ago, he found 2 boxes of nice leather, comfortable women’s shoes in my size. Brand new. I wore those shoes until they wore out. They were actually probably some of the best shoes I’ve ever had.

  14. Avatar
    Troy Heck

    One thing you might have considered is reupholstery. Modern furniture is typically junk made of soft wood and cushions that aren’t removable, but older stuff in many cases has really good bones and it isn’t that much to get it redone. Look for Luxe Suede II, it has a leathery feel but is pretty much indifferent to a cat’s front claws.
    I like that term “Bruce Fits”, I call it “swearing and clashing of swords”, a reference to an ancient computer game text adventure called “Zork”.

  15. Avatar
    MJ Lisbeth

    I have never been a dumpster diver because of the icky stuff—and health risks—in them. I am, however, an inveterate curb trawler. It has always amazed me what people, especially the rich, throw away. (I scavenge locally but I sometimes took trips into the Upper East and West sides.)

    My best “scores” were a pair of file cabinets and a door. After I trimmed the door and painted it and the cabinets, I “bridged” the cabinets with door. That was my desk and work table for many years!

    Possibly the biggest mistake I made in home furnishings came around the same time I found the file cabinets and door. I bought my first pieces of new furniture: a pair of cream-colored leather arm chairs. The price was too good to pass up. But I soon realized what a mistake having anything in cream-colored leather is!

    Oh, and I compounded that mistake by adopting my first cat about a year later. She was great—for me, but not the chairs. It all worked out, though: I still remember her, but I hadn’t thought about those chairs in a long time, until I wrote this. Oh, and I have adopted five cats—including my current feline companion—since then.

  16. Avatar

    Oh, wow! Funny to see my comment from 2016!

    In May 2019, I sold my house and moved into an apartment, the people who bought my house had lost everything in the floods that spring, so I sold them most of my furnitureand got all new stuff for my apartment. Had to out together 6 new things in addition to moving, which I would NOT recommend.

    My son had worked 3 years assembling furniture for Nebraska Furniture Mart. He vame over one Saturday and put together the TV stand, which took him 5 hours! While he did that, I assembled my dresser.

    Never again.

  17. Avatar
    Barbara L. Jackson

    Thanks to everybody. This makes me feel better about our “shopping disability”. We have a hard time picking out what we want and spending the money.

    Thanks alot about Luxe Suede II. We have 2 cats and we need to re-fabric our dining room chairs.

  18. Avatar
    MJ Lisbeth

    I’ve never been a dumpster diver. I have been, however, a curbside scavenger. I am amazed by what people throw away, especially in affluent neighborhoods or areas with office buildings.

    As an example, I once picked up two three-foot-high file cabinets and a door. I trimmed the door, painted it and the door and, after everything dried, I “bridged” the file cabinets with the door. That became my desk and work table for many years.

    Ironically, around the same time, I bought my first new pieces of furniture. They were an impulse purchase: the price was low. Buying them, however, would be the first major mistake I made in apartment furnishings.

    I bought two armchairs—in cream-colored leather. They looked so good but, as I would discover , buying anything in cream-colored leather is a mistake unless you are very wealthy.

    I compounded that mistake a year later when I adopted my first cat. The cat wasn’t a mistake : I haven’t been without a cat ever since. But she and those chairs should not have been in the same apartment!

  19. Avatar
    Yulya Sevelova

    I loved your recounting the furniture adventures you had with Polly and family, Bruce. Shopping for new stuff IS fun. I once actually furnished my apartment with curbside leavings, cleaning and refinishing where needed. I found just what I needed, and it made my place cute and cheerful. Almost 15 years ago was when I did that. I won’t bother with used clothing though. I was raised with hand- me- downs, so I won’t go there. One can find some real gems at times, out at the county dumps when we went on runs for salvage. On one of those excursions , we found and adopted a tiny gray kitten. We had him for 14 years until he passed away. Commercial cat food has salt added, has a high ash content, not good for them at 7 years and older, which we found out too late. The kidneys atrophy. My cat loved to use sneakers instead of furniture.

  20. Avatar

    Seeing as I found so much stuff this way, I recommend trolling a college town on move-out weekend! The fancier the college the better the pickings!

    When we moved into our condo there was pink carpeting and pink flowered wallpaper in the master bedroom. The pink carpet left when we got a deal on used hunter green carpet that my in-laws tore out of their house. But the wallpaper remained until we sold the house. Our current house, which we built, has wallpaper in 3 rooms, I found a card in the hardware store of someone who would come in and hang your wallpaper, we considered that an excellent investment!

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Bruce Gerencser