"Stooping" in China

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I never heard of it in America or Europe (seems to be a quite recent phenomenon — by that name — but see below for the deeper history of the activity).  Apparently it has taken off in China during the last year:

Stooping Takes China by Storm as Zoomers Scour the Streets for Junk

Cash-strapped young Chinese have developed a sudden passion for furnishing their homes with discarded items found on the street. Their parents are horrified.

By Fan Yiying, Sixth Tone (Jul 18, 2023)

Stooping has its roots in New York, where there is a long tradition of people leaving unwanted furniture on the stoops of their apartment buildings. The name “stooping” was coined in 2019 by a couple from Brooklyn, who set up an Instagram account sharing photos and locations of discarded items in the city. The feed — Stooping NYC — has amassed nearly half a million followers.


"In the name of stooping, picking up trash is suddenly cool among young Chinese"

Zhao Yuanyuan, The China Project (10/6/22)

The roots of stooping are in New York:

Stooping in NYC: Meet the couple behind the popular social media account linked to the trend

By Bianca Peters, Good Day New York, FOX 5 NY (October 24, 2022)

Good Day New York finds the anonymous people behind a popular stooping NYC Instagram account that lets people in on items left for the taking on city streets.

NEW YORK – You know the saying, "One person’s trash is another person’s treasure."

Well, one Brooklynite lives by that saying, calling herself a professional at turning trash into home treasures. Abhilasha Sinha, is part-time musician and full-time treasure hunter. She has stooped 25 items in her apartment ranging from big furniture pieces to smaller décor items.

Stooping is a term that has become popular on social media. It’s when one person throws out an item and leaves on the street or their stoop for someone else to pick up before it goes to the trash.

The problem is how do you say this in Chinese?  According to Sixth Tone and The China Project, everybody is talking about it, and a lot of people are doing it, but I have not been able to find an equivalent word to "stooping" in Chinese.  To tell the truth, I think that Sixth Tone and The China Project have hyped the dimensions of "stooping" out of all proportion in China.  I suspect that it is restricted to a small circle of persons who do it as a fashion to emulate what goes on in New York, though a lot of people may be talking about it on social media as a matter of curiosity.  Since they don't have a fixed term that is strictly equivalent to "stooping", they have — so I'm told — been resorting to nonce expressions like shíhuāng 拾荒 ("scavenge") and jiǎn pòlàn 撿破爛 /  jiǎn lājī, lèsè 撿垃圾 ("pick up trash").

I've even heard some folks suggest that "stooping" might be rendered in Chinese as wānyāo 彎腰 ("bend at the waist; stoop") or fǔ 俯 ("bow / look down; stoop"), but these are clearly fallacious folk etymologies proposed by those who are unaware of the true origins of "stooping".

One school of thought, as noted by Diana Shuheng Zhang, has ingeniously adopted a jargon term from traditional antiquarianism, viz. jiǎnlòu 捡漏 (lit., "picking up leaks"), indicating that one encounters something unsought but nonetheless valuable.  Particularly in northern topolects, the verb "picking up" implies rarity.

Bottom line:  those people in China who are apt to engage in "stooping" simply use the English word when they talk about it

My brother-in-law has been doing this for decades, and he is very good at it.  He has found some amazing pieces (fine wooden chests, knick-knacks of all sorts, etc.) that are worth hundreds of dollars.  Since he lives in Seattle, the pickings are especially rich (Microsoft, Amazon, etc.).

Here in Swarthmore, I myself found an antique chamber pot with a wooden chair into which it fit — on the street just two doors away from my house.  It now sits proudly in my attic.  I also have two magnificent floor lamps, a pair of elegant end tables, and all manner of clothing (much of it unused) that I picked up at various places in the little town of Swarthmore.  Yes, I did have to stoop to pick these things up off the ground, but the harvest was well worth the effort.  As a matter of fact, this gleaning of the streets for treasured trash is one of the reasons I bought a pickup truck as soon as the pandemic was declared over.  Now there's almost no limit to what I can haul off the streets.

Only one problem:  my house is overflowing, so I occasionally have to put some things on the street myself.  That's recycling for you.


Selected readings

[Thanks to John Rohsenow, Zihan Guo, and Qianheng Jiang]


  1. Lillie Dremeaux said,

    July 22, 2023 @ 8:44 am

    As a New Yorker who has collected items off stoops and left others out, I've never heard "stoop" used as a verb in this way.
    I wonder if the term refers more to the hunt for useful items than to the ordinary practice of putting unwanted items on stoops and picking others up.
    The fact that some Chinese are doing this without a particular name for it surprises me not at all, but I applaud their thrift and wish them well! Less in the landfills.

  2. Philip Anderson said,

    July 22, 2023 @ 8:51 am

    Leaving unwanted furniture outside isn’t unknown in the UK, but I don’t know of a name for that, or for taking the items (freecycling is a little more organised), but stooping is unlikely since that meaning of ‘stoop’ (from Dutch ‘stoep’) isn’t used here, or only as ‘stoep’ in a South African context.
    When I started reading, I guessed it referred to bending down to pick something up, so it’s hardly surprising if some Chinese do.
    The idea of picking up something of value reminded me of Autolycus, “a snapper-up of unconsidered trifles” (i.e. thief).

  3. Terry Hunt said,

    July 22, 2023 @ 9:45 am

    When I briefly lived in Moenchengladbach in the 1970's, this was a well-established practice called (in English) the "Monthly Schrank."

    On a specific weekday near the beginning of each month (if I recall correctly), residents could leave large items of furniture, white goods, etc. (a schrank being a large and heavy wooden shelf/cabinet unit traditional in Germany) on the pavement outside their dwelling for free collection by the municipal refuse collectors the following morning. Many such items were perfectly serviceable though perhaps worn, and had merely been replaced during redecorations.

    It was the culturally accepted norm for less well-off people, particularly students, to tour the streets looking for and taking suitable items to furnish their own homes.

    In the UK such a municipal service is less regimented, though not unknown, and being a solitary bachelor (and avid book collector) I have happily acquired bookshelves in this way, but most surplus furniture is now recycled via charity shops. I do not recall hearing a BrE expression for 'stooping' (which itself would not be recognised because 'stoop' is, in my experience, not used in BrE, and is familiar only from AmE literature), but perhaps local equivalents exist in our larger cities. Anyone?

  4. SusanC said,

    July 22, 2023 @ 10:34 am

    It's a common practise in the U.K., even if it isn't called " stooping".

    It was possibly more common during the pandemic lockdowns – shops, seconded hand shops, and the dump all closed, but plenty of stuff put out with "take it if you want it notices".

    First lockdown was, of course, and ideal opportunity for going through your house and throwing out all the stuff you'ld been meaning to get rid of but never found time,

  5. Bill Benzon said,

    July 22, 2023 @ 11:27 am

    The term is new to me, but the practice has been common in Hoboken (across the Hudson River from NYC) as long as I've been here, about a decade. I'm quite sure it's older than that, but I don't know how old.

  6. Xtifr said,

    July 22, 2023 @ 12:47 pm

    "Stooping"? Here in the San Francisco Bay Area, it has been common practice to leave furniture on the strip next to the curb–not on the stoop–since at least the 1960s! I have never heard anyone name this process, but I would be mildly surprised if "stooping" catches on here, as no stoops are involved. Not shocked–language does strange things–but surprised.

    Bottom line, though, the practice has gone on here for at least 60 years without a proper name, so I'm not convinced any other languages need a name either.

  7. Mike Anderson said,

    July 22, 2023 @ 12:52 pm

    Here in San Antonio, the city makes big announcements for upcoming Bulk Collection Days. Which sets off a small army of gleaners in pick-up trucks cruising the neighborhoods in search of booty. Ultimately the city ends up picking up only our most wretched bulk refuse. Win-win-win all around.

  8. mg said,

    July 22, 2023 @ 1:15 pm

    This is a seasonal event in the Boston area, timed for when students move. It's called "Allston Christmas" because that's a heavily student neighborhood (adjacent to both BU and BC). That name goes back many years.

  9. MC said,

    July 22, 2023 @ 1:42 pm

    When I lived in Brooklyn in the 1990s I would leave things out on the stoop the night before garbage pick up knowing someone would pick it up. Now that I'm a in village a bit north of NYC, the practice is to put it out near the street and post on the local facebook page with a photo of the goods and the subject "curb alert" which has become synonymous with "free for the taking".

  10. Jen said,

    July 22, 2023 @ 4:55 pm

    In Australia it's called hard rubbish – many local councils have an official collection day/days each year when putting out all your large items on the nature strip/ footpath is condoned, but the terminology then extends to people putting things out at any time (which is not strictly legal and can be called dumping). My nephew thought it was called hard rubbish because he found it hard to decide which items to choose to take home.

  11. Kevin said,

    July 22, 2023 @ 9:54 pm

    I'd mildly surprised it's not called 淘寶.

    @Jen, hard rubbish, once placed on nature strips, is technically council property in at least some councils. https://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-09-14/kerbside-collection-and-hard-waste-tips/10039128

  12. Francis Boyle said,

    July 23, 2023 @ 6:44 am

    I'm Australian and I've never heard the term 'hard rubbish'. In Brisbane we have regular "kerbside collections" and while loose material is definitely not welcome, mattresses are a popular item in the piles, and I certainly wouldn't describe them as hard. Of course, in the end, it really depends on what piece of bureaucratese the relevant jurisdiction chooses to use.

  13. Victor Mair said,

    July 23, 2023 @ 8:57 pm

    From Yijie Zhang:

    I think one of the best possible ways to translate “stooping” into Chinese would be "shíhuāng 拾荒" ("scavenge"), which literally means “pick up the waste”, or “glean and collect scraps (to eke out an existence)” in the dictionary. In it, “拾” refers to “(stooping down/bending down to) pick up” and “荒” refers to “waste” or “things that are no longer needed/ thrown away”. At the same time, just like the word “stoop”, “拾荒” is more literary and gentle comparing to other words that share the same meaning.

    I’ve read some Chinese articles on this topic, and “stooping” has indeed been a popular phenomenon in major cities in China:


    [VHM: the above cited article refers to "stooping in Chinese" as wānyāo 彎腰 ("bend at the waist; stoop")].

  14. Ralph J Hickok said,

    July 23, 2023 @ 9:43 pm

    In at least some areas of the U.S., people have found that they get rid of stuff faster if they put a nominal price tag (typically $5 or $10) on it when they put it out on the curb. Evidently people would rather steal something with an apparent value than taking something that's apparently valueless.

  15. Benjamin Massot said,

    July 24, 2023 @ 7:38 am

    Where I live in Germany, this kind of trash is called Sperrmüll, from Müll ‘trash‘ and sperr- ‘unwieldy’ (the verb sperren means ‘block/lock/ban’, and I find the shift in meaning not so trivial). Collecting Sperrmüll is called Sperrmüll sammeln, and I would call me a Sperrmüllsammler because I like to collect such stuff. Municipal services organise collecting dates.

  16. Drew C. said,

    July 24, 2023 @ 2:32 pm

    The term "stooping" might originate in New York, but the practice of leaving unwanted-but-still-serviceable homegoods by the sidewalk (or between the sidewalk and the street depending on how your infrastructure is laid out) has been SOP in every neighborhood I've lived in (except where banned by HOAs).

    But I've never had a specific term for the practice. I've never had a stoop; so the term was pretty opaque to me on first reading.

  17. Andreas Johansson said,

    July 25, 2023 @ 1:14 am

    OTOH, nothing like this (unless garage sales count) has been a thing anywhere where I've lived.

  18. Craig said,

    July 27, 2023 @ 1:58 pm

    My experience is that leaving furniture and other goods out to have them taken seems very common in New England. My husband got most of our bookcases and all the furniture we used to stage our last house that way.

  19. nbmandel said,

    July 28, 2023 @ 8:12 pm

    I live in brownstone Brooklyn, really the perfect urban pattern for this activity, and have over the years collected at least fifteen items of furniture from just the four or five surrounding blocks, plus small appliances and innumerable kitchen items, books, and textiles. I call it "stoop-shopping," but this is not a general expression, although it is possible a friend or two may have used the phrase. I am not a cool young person and have never called it "stooping" and don't think I ever will, but I do find the pattern of reduction interesting.

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