One person’s trash is another person’s treasure, and this Instagram account is making it easier for locals to give unwanted furniture a new home.
From accent chairs draped with floral prints to dark mahogany wooden desks, undesired furniture pieces are scattered throughout Richmond’s sidewalks and hidden alleyways — but usually not for long.
Trash becomes treasure for Richmond residents as they scour the city for abandoned curbside items to bring into humble homes, an activity otherwise known as “stooping.” Now, furniture scavenging is made easier with the local Instagram account @StoopingRVA.
The alleys in the Fan district have always been hidden gems for functional ottomans and dressers, as well as quirky items such as craft materials. Fan resident Sydni Lopez frequently stumbles upon free items in alleys, but at first didn’t realize there was a term for it.
“I didn’t know there was this whole culture starting to build up, called stooping,” Lopez said, “of people going out and actively looking for things, versus something I stumbled upon.”
Olivia Colom has been in the stooping game for quite some time. She said she’s always been on the hunt for cheap finds ever since she first explored Goodwill. Colom took the opportunity to create StoopingRVA in late July, when she noticed an abundance of items thrown to the curb in the midst of move-ins and move-outs. Colom was inspired by StoopingNYC, which currently has more than 88,000 Instagram followers.
“The streets were just flooded with people leaving their stuff out,” Colom said. “And I thought, ‘Well, I have too much [furniture] right now… I’m just going to make [an Instagram account]’ because there wasn’t one at the time.”
Stooping Instagram accounts have been on a rise in recent years, including accounts dedicated to Philadelphia and Los Angeles. Since its creation, StoopingRVA has garnered nearly 1,000 followers. Colom said the account reached 200 followers the day she created it.
Living room pieces like couches, loveseats, and coffee tables dominate the account’s feed, but idiosyncratic items — bowling balls, a pool table, and a DIY cold-brew coffee maker — occasionally pop up.
“There’s an army of lonely chairs out in Richmond,” Colom said. “There’s a million of them in little alleys all by themselves.” This strange trend has been documented since 2017 by an account called @rva_sadchairs, but StoopingRVA highlights the chairs still in good condition for new homes to adopt.
Running the stooping account is a collaborative effort by the community. Richmonders are encouraged to direct-message a photo and location of street finds to the account, or items they themselves are throwing out for Colom to share to her followers.
That is how college student Eliza Booke and her girlfriend scored a mint green dining chair for their apartment. The couple ventured through the alley in the Fan district searching for the furniture piece posted by StoopingRVA.
Booke is a keen stooper, and often finds abandoned items by chance, like kitchen pots and a wine glass set. She said the account is perfect for both those getting rid of items and those who want to add something new to their home.
Since following the account, Booke said she has been sending it photos of discarded curbside pieces. “I know people want their stuff gone, and people like stooping,” she said. “I feel like they’re not walking around all the time looking for items. They need people to send in tips.”
Abandoned furniture may also pose potential risks of unwanted germs and critters — like Richmond’s bedbug residents — gaining a new home. Lopez said furniture upcycling outweighs those risks, and she made sure to properly sanitize her floral print-embroidered accent chair before using it.
Colom has an Instagram highlight dedicated to proper furniture cleaning procedure. It is also home to community resource information, such as donation requests from Richmond Mutual Aid Distribution, which she believes is an important way to use the account’s platform.
“The best way to be supportive is through the excess that you already have,” Colom said. “But if you don’t have that, then you can use other people’s excess and prevent things from going to the landfill and give them to people who need them.”
The popularity and necessity of stooping has become more apparent in the midst of the global climate crisis. Not only is stooping essential for those who can’t afford to buy new furniture pieces, but for the environmentally conscious, it prevents these items from heading to the landfill.
Colom said stooping also can create a more personal sentiment to household items. “With IKEA and big manufactured furniture companies, we’ve lost this connection to a furniture piece that you’ve had to fix up yourself,” she said.
One of Colom’s most successful stooped pieces is a red Persian rug that decorates her kitchen floor. She wants followers to share their “Stooping Successes” with the account. In an Instagram highlight, she documents success stories as followers send in their prized alley finds revived in a new environment.
Stooping can sometimes be competitive, especially when a highly sought after item is up for grabs. Often, stoopers arrive at the location to discover the item has disappeared. Stooping success stories help resolve that piece of mystery, which itself can be a community collaboration.
A stooped item’s whereabouts can be chronicled from its days in the trash to its new home. Someone may witness a stooped furniture piece on top of a car, then send a photo to Colom to share on the highlight. If that makes its way to the furniture’s new owner, it can prompt them to send in a photo of its finished design.
“Anytime followers send me a picture, I put it up on the highlight,” Colom said. “That’s my favorite part, because you get to see the progression.”
To find your own alley treasure and join Richmond in the stooping movement, check out StoopingRVA on Instagram and send in your favorite finds.