Monday, April 7, 2008

It's new to me!

Free hugs, anyone?
Originally uploaded by huong-lan
I think most of us are in the habit, when we need something, of jumping in the car, running to the mall, and buying it. When we don’t need something anymore, we either stash it away in a closet, garage, basement, or attic to collect dust, throw it away, or maybe, if we’re really good, donate it to a thrift store.

I’ve been doing some massive de-cluttering lately – more on this in the near future. For now, I have a HUGE pile of stuff that I need to deal with.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with donating to charity shops, but I do feel like it’s kind of still the "out of sight out of mind" mentality. I did a quick search to find out what happens to stuff that doesn’t sell and am uncomfortable with shipping more stuff we don’t want off to third world countries. I do some volunteer work with the IRC, an organization that helps refugees get resettled in the area when they arrive here. They host an event each Thanksgiving where they set their offices up like a store, with sections for clothing, kitchen items, linens, toys, etc. and their clients come in and “shop” at no charge for items they need. That’s where I’m donating many of my unwanted items this year. I know it will be going to somebody who can really use it.

Of course, if you find something that has some significant value that you don’t need, there’s e-bay or craigslist. I currently have a few items listed there. Getting the stuff mailed out though can be a pain, and there has to be a certain minimum value to the item to bother selling it in the first place, so I’ve chosen to limit my use of these types of site.

Then there’s freecycle. Made up of small groups all over the country, members post items they are willing to give away, and people who are interested reply that they are willing to give the item a new home. There’s no monetary incentive, but you are ensuring that the item goes to somebody who actually wants it, and you’re preventing the production of a brand new item that person now does not need to purchase. I put together four boxes of like items yesterday (clothes, garage, office, and kitchen) listed them last night, and they’re all gone already! I got tons of responses from people who really wanted the things I don’t have any use for. Since there's no money exchanged, you don't have to hassle with coordinating schedules. I just replied to the takers that I'd leave the items outside, and they came and took them while I was out.

There are other websites that do more or less the same thing. I haven't tried them, but they include the ones that are linked to here, here, and here. Let me know if you have tried them, or do so in the future.

In the last few weeks, I’ve also come across some really creative, innovative sites that offer simple new ways for you and others to buy less. One that I’ve already mentioned is paperbackswap. Two others I’ve come across recently that are really neat are Neighborrow and Nuvorent.

Neighborrow is a site that allows you to list items that you’d be willing to loan to your neighbors – books, movies, cds, or anything else. Maybe you’re just not ready to freecycle it and say goodbye forever, but you don’t use the item all that often. You list your item, and others browse for things they’d like to borrow that they don’t necessarily think they’d use often enough to justify purchasing. I’ve listed about ten books and dvds so far, and hope my neighbors start borrowing soon! I think this site could be especially cool for those of us who live in relatively dense areas where we may not personally know many of our neighbors.

Nuvorent is similar, but with a cool added opportunity to make a little cash. You list items you would like to rent to people in your area. In my case, I’m listing items here that are more expensive, such as tools and camping gear. Again, I don’t want to get rid of this stuff, because I do use it occasionally. These things will need to be replaced after a certain amount of use, so I may not necessarily want to just loan them out to strangers, but I can rent them, earn a few dollars, and save somebody else the expense of buying their own (or renting from a rental store, which is almost guaranteed to be more expensive). I’ve listed my cordless drill, a pet taxi, an air mattress, an internal frame backpack, and a few other items.

What I like about these two sites (as well as freecycle) is that in addition to helping us all consume less, which saves us money and conserves resources, it offers a great opportunity to interact more with my community. That’s something that is always positive.

One final option to consider is a tool lending library. I read about this on the fake plastic fish blog. I don’t have one in my community, but there is a list of places that do on wikipedia.

Reducing our consumption is like everything challenging in life: there are no easy answers. In trying to consume less, borrowing or renting from a neighbor is a great option for an item I might want to use once or twice a year. Realistically though, I can’t just say I’ll borrow everything. There are some things people won’t want to lend. Sometimes I’ll want an item to keep. Freecycle is a great option for these sorts of things, as are ebay and craiglist if I’m not able to wait.

What is clear is that with a little effort, homework, and thought, I can easily find ways to reduce how much I buy. None of these alternatives is more expensive than my current habits, and most will save, or even make, money. Best of all is knowing that all will reduce my impact on the planet.


Debbie said...

As you know our small town closed down the 'swap shop' at the transfer station because it was found to be a 'liability'. In my opinion it is a liability to not have a swap shop! It was the perfect way to get rid of items you no longer needed. I have written one open letter to the town selectmen and to the town online newspaper and I had positive response from community members but no words from the powers that be. Guess it is time to form a committee to help me get the swap shop reopened. I have a pile of items waiting to find new homes.

Green Me said...

I am not sure if this addresses your concerns...and I obviously can't speak for everything shipped overseas. However, in The Gambia and Madagascar, I've seen only clothes being sold. Also, I know that in many African countries in general the people are very creative and let very little go to waste. It my be surprising what someone with very little but creativity can do with our junk! In other words, shipping Goodwill leftovers overseas might actually be a good way to recycle.