Chicago woman’s ‘endless treasure hunt’ gives thrown-out items a new home


CHICAGO — Like many others, Kelly Pickering and Dan White went for a lot of walks during quarantine, which is where Pickering’s hobby of finding discarded items and putting them to new use began.

Newly pregnant, she found a couple of high chairs, one of which she kept, while giving the other to a friend.

From there, the practice continued for the Old Town couple and is now a daily routine outside the hours of her physician assistant job. Pickering would find everything from patio furniture to dumbbells to picturesque wedding backdrops, selling the things she didn’t need. As a thrifter and sustainability enthusiast, she regards it all as “an endless treasure hunt.”

Pickering chronicles her findings, refurbishing and sales on her ongoing Instagram story reel, “AlleyFinds.” There, she shows before and after photos of rugs she finds and cleans, tables she decorates with potted plants before listing them for sale, gas grills, vacuum cleaners, kids’ toys and much more.

“The coolest thing I found was probably this antique marble top buffet from the late 1800s” that was only in production from the 1870s to 1900s, she said. Pickering was able to date it because of the Knapp joints where the drawer is formed, a type of joint that was developed during the post-Civil War period.

Though she would have kept it for herself if she had the space, she “sold it to an interior designer who’s putting it in her office, so I know it’ll be appreciated,” she said.

Pickering finds a plethora of unique items, saving them from the fate of ending up in a landfill instead of a home where they will find a new meaning. She recalled one of her favorite finds, a 1984 framed art fair photo, which she gifted to a friend who collects such items.

“I gave it to him, and it turned out it was the only one that he didn’t have,” she said.

Another favorite was a surprising find in a plain desk that was being thrown out. Inside one drawer was a $194 gift card to a fancy downtown hotel, which she gave to her co-worker.

Aside from it being a fun hobby and making her some extra cash — she has made more than $3,000 from her endeavors this year and last — Pickering feels like she’s “rescuing stuff from the landfill,” bringing in unique additions to her home, gifting her friends with things she knows they’ll like and donating the rest.

Pickering sells many of her finds on Facebook Marketplace, using her interest and experience in interior design to come up with price points.

On her Instagram story she gave a shoutout to her husband, whose Facebook account she uses to sell her finds. He also meets people outside the garage while she “brokers deals” and helps lug her findings back to their garage while she pushes their baby girl in her stroller.

“I don’t try to get every dollar out of it, just ‘cause I’m trying to sell it fast,” she said. She prices most of her items between $40 and $80. She says the end of the month in the summer is the best for finds, because that’s when people are moving out and getting rid of their things.

And many of the items Pickering finds get donated. She is a big fan of the organization Digs With Dignity, a Chicago organization that helps families transitioning out of homelessness by designing and furnishing their new homes with gently used donations. It’s a zero-waste charity that often repairs donations.

“We really need to care for stuff from the beginning of its life to the end of its life, and donating stuff to Salvation Army is good, but ultimately those places are kind of overrun with stuff. So if you could mindfully re-home items by being very intentional with the charities you choose or selling it, it often extends its life cycle for longer.

“As the saying goes, one man’s trash is another woman’s $50 Facebook Marketplace coffee table,” Pickering said.

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