Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Life in The UK: Jettisoning the Loveseat: A Case of Too Much Furniture

#2, reading on the loveseat in our apartment in Korea, where it fit.

When we learned we would be moving overseas in 2011, we were living in a typical suburban single-family home in a large-ish city in Texas.  For those of you who have never been to Texas, things really are larger there, owing to the fact that there is a lot of space and probably also owing to the 'everything's bigger in Texas' mentality.  The point is, the house we lived in was fairly typical of all the other homes in our neighborhood, but was remarkably spacious compared to similarly-priced homes in many other parts of the US.  By Asian and European standards, it was probably ridiculously oversized, especially when you consider that we were only a family of 4. We had (to put it mildly) a Lot of Stuff.

In any case, we were at least smart enough to realize that our Texas-sized furnishings would be unlikely to fit in our high-rise apartment in Seoul, and, accordingly, put most of our belongings into storage, with the exception of some beds, desks, and living room furniture.

Since MrL and I had grown up with furniture that had been gouged, dented, and dropped throughout Asia and Europe around the world a few times, we knew that even the most painstaking international moves usually result in a casualty or two. And this does not even take into consideration every expat's worst-case scenario (note:   MsC always considers the WCS,) where the moving truck bursts into flame en route, or the shipping container holding all the family's worldly goods tumbles overboard and sinks to the bottom of the sea whilst rounding Cape Horn in a fierce gale.  For that reason, we stored the good china, the family heirlooms, and our better furniture, and packed only what I thought of as 'disposable' things.

This brings us to the living room furniture, which consisted of  2 small armchairs, a sofa, and a matching loveseat.  It was upholstered in fairly resilient, dog-proof, kid-proof leather, and  had managed to withstand the childhood and adolescence of our boys, their friends, and several labrador retrievers.  No longer particularly new, it was, in fact, beginning to look distinctly worn in places.  We were fairly sure it would fit in our Korean apartment, but we also reasoned that, if it did not fit, we wouldn't feel bad about passing it on to another expat family and/or leaving it behind completely. It had served its purpose, and if it happened to make it back to the US, it would most likely be consigned to the game room to live out the rest of its natural life anyway.

Fortunately for us, it turned out that both of our apartments in Korea accommodated all of our furniture, and, as our 4th year approached, it looked like the sofa and its companions would, indeed, be making the journey back to the Lone Star State (or wherever else the company indicated) with us.

Then, in one of those shocking delightful twists of fate, we found ourselves moving to England, to a 115-year-old terraced house with a sitting room designed for Victorian-sized people and their Victorian-sized things: delicate chintz sofas and soft brocade armchairs, petite side tables and needlepoint footstools.  It quickly became apparent that the sofa and armchairs would fit - but the loveseat would not.  (Note:  finding a house to rent that would permit us to have a dog severely limited our options, which meant that we didn't dare hold out for a bigger place - since one might not ever appear. In the end, we preferred having the dog to having the loveseat, so all's well that ends well.)

So...in accordance with our original plan, we decided to sell the loveseat, which had been around nearly as long as the children and - as MrL so eloquently put it, "didn't owe us anything." If we listed it for a few weeks and didn't find a buyer, we would get rid of it some other way - but the point was, it was going to be going, and soon.

Now, in the US, it is fairly easy to get rid of furniture, even if no one wants to actually buy it from you. Most of the time, all you have to do is drag it out to the curb/kerb and within a few hours, someone with a pickup truck and a few burly helpers will show up to spirit it away. In Korea, it wasn't much different:  if you didn't have a vehicle that would hold a sofa, you could always find some enterprising ajossi (middle-aged man) with a Bongo II (small truck) who would be thrilled to collect the items and transport them across Seoul for a very reasonable fee.  So we were completely unprepared for just how difficult jettisoning our loveseat would prove to be in the UK.

 In the first place, very few people in our part of the UK seem to own a vehicle big enough to carry a loveseat - and why would you, when you're paying $8/gallon for petrol and parking space is always at a premium?  Our plans for selling the loveseat for a few pounds to a young couple or some strapped Uni students evaporated quickly as we discovered that the UK is brimming with sofa-albatrosses that are free to a good home if someone (anyone) will just come and take the damned thing.   Realizing that hell would freeze over before it was unlikely that anyone would ever pay us for the loveseat, and quickly realizing that dragging the thing to the curb was not an option, I called the British Heart Fund (who sell furniture in some of their charity shops and -this is more to the point - also have a large van) and made arrangements for someone to come and collect it.

By now, we'd been living in the kitchen and our bedrooms for weeks, unable to access the living or dining rooms except on narrow trails, like hamsters, so you can imagine with what enthusiasm we were looking forward to the arrival of the Heart Fund Guys.  When the van arrived (3 weeks later, since their docket was -apparently - full of other people who also had extraneous furniture), the men examined my loveseat and then kindly explained to me that, while they would love to take it,  no upholstered furniture could be resold in their charity shops without a special fire safety tag (which is mandatory on all furniture sold in the UK) and, since our US-made loveseat didn't have one, they couldn't take it (England is the Land Of Safety, which is another entire blog post in itself, and something I was not aware of - more on this another time.)

 So.

The loveseat - which, at this point, we now loathed the sight of - stayed, and we were back to square one.

We decided, then, to take the sofa to the dump (i.e., the Council Recycling Centre) but obviously, the sofa wasn't going to fit in the back of the Mini, so we had to look into renting a van to drive it there, which, naturally, wasn't going to be cheap.  And, of course, we needed a special form to prove that we were council taxpayers before we could access the Recycling Centre, so processing that would take a bit longer. Through it all, the loveseat sat there, leering at us (or so it seemed) and preventing anyone from using the living room except the dog, who liked to walk across the backs of the tightly-crammed sofas and chairs to look out the window.

For a while, it looked like we were stuck with the loveseat forever, but eventually, after a certain amount of tooth-gnashing (on MrL's part) and research (on mine),we learned that there was a solution - but (naturally) it would cost us.  We could call the Council and pay them to come and take our (perfectly good) loveseat to the recycling centre for us- not for 3 or 4 weeks, mind you, but still, the point was, they would do it - which they eventually did.  Of course, it was 3 months and £55 after we'd moved in, but they did it.  In the meantime, we worked on our assimilation into British culture by maintaining Stiff Upper Lips and Working Around the Situation To the Best of Our Ability Without Whinging very much. 

There is no moral to this story, except that we now can use our living room and, if you find yourself moving to England, you might wish to consider leaving all your furniture in storage.  Either that, or don't bring the dog.



10 comments:

Trish Burgess said...

It's sad when you end up having to pay people to take things away rather than be paid for the item. This has happened to us with my aunt's furniture when she moved to a small retirement flat near to us. An auction house took everything she left behind - we paid for them to remove it and this was offset a little by them auctioning off some of the more valuable items. We were still owing them at the end of the day!

MsCaroline said...

Well, it was probably a bit harder for you - I imagine your aunt's things were worth far more than our tired old loveseat, but the principle is still the same. We were actually quite surprised at how much 'free' furniture was going on Gumtree - as long as people would just come and pick it up! In the end, I suppose it really is worth it to pay a little and have it all sorted and taken care of, isn't it?

Elizabeth Musgrave said...

This is such a tricky one! On the one hand there is the furniture you can't get rid of in the UK (see wardrobes, leather sofas, love seats) and on the other is the furniture you think you can't get rid of but which is actually quite valuable (see 60s G plan and Ercol stuff). Daughter in who is supposed to be a doctor but is far keener on buying and selling furniture has just made a vast profit on a sofa and chairs which I would have taken to the tip ( aka recycling centre and we have a land rover and a trailer). Do I understand? No. Must be getting old just out of touch with the zeitgeist. Still, your story has a happy ending, of sorts! You can reach the window. Maybe you can dance, tidily, in your living room?

MsCaroline said...

The worst part is, now that we've gotten rid of all the things that don't fit in this place, I am the one out trolling through the antique and charity shops looking at all the things that catch my eye (taxidermied owls, fabulous old books, strange art.) Your daughter is clearly in touch with the zeitgeist (as you say): I see the 60s deco stuff all over the place and it is incredibly expensive! I'm just happy that I have space in the living room so I'll be able to sit by the fireplace once it starts getting cold again this winter!

Nance said...

Oh my. It's almost as if Inconvenience is worse than Tragedy when it comes to things such as This because you cannot even get Audiences worked up enough to truly feel Profoundly Sorry for you. After all, it's not as if you have a Terrible Disease; you don't have a poisonous Mold Situation or terrifying Rodent Infestation; you're not being stalked or harassed by a Demented/Dangerous Lunatic Neighbor. You're simply held hostage by Unwanted Furniture.

*I* see how awful and sad it is, but some others might say, "Just get a chainsaw and hack it to bits."

As if that would fly in England. Now, in TEXAS...well, we both know it's Been Done. ;-)

MsCaroline said...

Nance - I would say that sums up the expat experience nicely: nothing awful, just inconvenient, like trying to get your sick dog to the vet without a car, or trying to pack your own groceries fast enough so that the cashier (and next 5 patrons in line) aren't standing there starting at me as I try to throw everything in quickly but without squashing my bread or crushing the strawberries. Trust me, I did really entertain the thought of hacking it to bits, but trying to convince MrL to invest in a chainsaw just for that would have been a tall order. And then we would have had to find somewhere to store the chainsaw, not to mention we'd still have to get that pass to the dump ('tip') in order to dispose of the pieces.

nappy valley girl said...

Getting rid of furniture is definitely not easy here. There are all sorts of environmental regulations and usually what you did, ie getting the council to remove it, is the only option.

I know what you mean about America - we just left things outside and they would just go. The weirdest moment, though, was when we tried to give away (note, not sell) a sofa to a neighbor on Long Island. They spotted it at a yard sale and we told them they could have it for free but at the last moment decided at the last minute they didn't want it. This was a little annoying, but we just did the above and left it outside in the street overnight as we were moving the next day. Lo and behold who did my husband see descending later that evening in the dark and taking it away? The very same people. Clearly they just couldn't resist....

MsCaroline said...

NVG - Now, see, this is the sort of small cultural detail that I would never have been able to anticipate! Who would think getting rid of a gently-used (and in reasonable shape) sofa would take so long and require so much work? So funny about your LI neighbors - maybe they were too proud to haul it away in daylight? I'm sure that doing it this way is far better for the environment, but it definitely makes getting things done a bit of a challenge.

BavarianSojourn said...

We always used Freecycle in SW London which worked pretty well 9 times out of 10... We have been vastly spoiled both here and in Denmark in terms of house size, I imagine we will have quite a lot of adjusting to do when we eventually come home! :D

MsCaroline said...

I didn't even think of Freecycle - probably because Gumtree had so many items also 'free to a good home' that didn't seem to be going anywhere anyway, we didn't even bother to look! We finally figured out that we have about the same space here in England that we did in Korea, but it is configured very differently - which is why nothing seems to fit!