When we moved to California, we were mostly starting from scratch. We knew it would be a temporary stay, but not so temporary that we would live the way we lived when my husband was in grad school, with furniture from our roommate’s mom’s basement. Besides, even if we’d wanted to, we didn’t have anyone on the West Coast to take furniture from. Our Bay Area contacts were a few friends from college and cousins who were either too old or too young to want to hang out with us for more than the occasional birthday dinner. We’d gotten married earlier that summer for the first time, it really felt like it was just the two of us.
Our arrival in California was a cleaner slate than we’d anticipated. UPS lost two bags of clothes in the move — my husband’s suits and dress shoes, and all of my casual clothes. We’d been worried about storage space and purged anything we didn’t want or need anymore before we left Boston, so this loss felt particularly acute. Our apartment was mostly empty and remained so for our first months here.
We’d held our registry items until we got our new address. The first few weeks of being in our new place was unboxing spatulas and wine chillers, salad bowls and pie dishes, the big-ticket Le Creuset dutch oven and Kitchenaid mixer (compact for counter space flexibility). I gingerly removed them from their packaging and put them in their new homes, then wrote “thank you” notes with too much feeling. I kept my job from Boston and worked east coast hours from home, making complicated recipes enabled by our new kitchen tools and my anxious, lonely hands. We ate our meals sitting on the living room floor using my grandmother’s hope chest as a table.
Eventually, the couch we ordered came—the first one we hadn’t inherited—and then our bed (the right half, then a week later the left. Thanks, West Elm!). But, that was as far as we’d gotten. This was mostly due to financial constraints. My husband is a postdoc and I’m a writer. Each of us is assumed to have a tech spouse. The money issue was compounded by the fact that this was our first real home together, and the first one we’d decorated at all. I wanted it to be beautiful, livable, to feel like us. I inflated the stakes too much to go to Ikea.
This is when I discovered the pure joy of Bay Area Craigslist. I didn’t initially jump to secondhand because in every other city I’d lived in, getting what you needed had been a waiting game. Finding the gems required passive monitoring over weeks or months, and I was tired of making coffee on the floor. But, in San Francisco, the rapid turnover of the city and pervasive basic taste (sorry!) is a delightful feature, not a bug. People with more money than us bought full catalog pages of CB2, Pottery Barn, and Crate and Barrel, and then moved cities—almost always New York—or in with a partner and posted the redundancies.
Once I started Craigslisting, it took only about two weeks to get everything we needed. We got the Blox table for $200, plus dining chairs it was clear the previous owners hated, a kitchen island, and a black powder-coated TV console, plus bookshelves, an end table, and a picture frame the sellers just wanted to get rid of. I explored the city like a scavenger, my only concern being if whatever I was buying would fit in the back of a Prius. This felt like a quintessential Bay Area concern. I drove to new neighborhood after new neighborhood, table legs rattling against each other on the way home the sound of victory.
The furniture is boring and imperfect. Our kitchen island has a gouge in the metal, and two of our dining chairs will tip us forward into our bowls if the weight distribution isn’t quite right (I see why the previous owners hated them). Mid-century modern furniture seems to be designed to be ignored. But, it all matches the way neutrals tend to, and because it feels like everyone has something similar, the pieces feel ahistorical and contextless. When I buy vintage clothing or used books, I like to imagine their previous lives and owners before me. With my SF Craigslist furniture, I don’t think about that at all.
I resist the notion that aesthetics are not worth time and attention. I do not want my entire life to be Allbirds. But, having lived with this furniture for a few years now, I know that the thing that makes our home feel like us is the art we’ve hung, the books and plants crowding every surface, even the dog hair that collects in the corners. Besides, what does it mean to have a dining room table that “feels like us”?
If I were sentimental, I’d say it’s the people around it. But right now, no one is sitting at it. It feels like ours for the trail of Maldon from last night’s dinner, the wilting bouquet from last week’s farmers’ market, and the abandoned coffee cup my husband will put away tonight even though it is always mine.