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Unwanted Old Things

(reposted from Rabbi Nina Beth Cardin's blog: http://blog.bjen.org/, dated February 22, 2012)

When my son moved to NYC last summer, he took the furniture from his DC-sized area apartment to his Manhattan-sized apartment. And – unfortunately – discovered that it didn't all fit.

So, like the native New Yorker he is, he put the excess furniture out on the curb. Three hours later, it was gone. I had earlier seen a man on the street stop, set his briefcase down beside my son's flotsam (or more properly, jetsam), call someone to describe his find to, all the while assuming that protective, this-is-mine-don't-even-think-about-it stance.

When I went back outside a half hour later, the furniture, and the man, were gone. You gotta love New York.

It handily solves one of life's persistent questions: What to do with things we don't want, perfectly good things that too often find their way to the trash, or clutter up our otherwise perfectly fine homes, all because we don't know how to properly get rid of them.

Thankfully, more and more, across the world, we are re-creating the best of New York City's casual street trade in a more organized, yet equally robust recycling, re-using, and re-purposing marketplace.

I recently read about Bookcrossing.com, a way to recycle your books, track where they go and see who else reads them in a worldwide book-sharing community. (You go to the site, download bookcrossing ID labels, slap them on the books you want to give away, and then either release them into the wind or register them on the site for others to request).

There is of course the old standby, Freecycle.org, the local on-line neighbor-to-neighbor free marketplace that allows you to post stuff you want to give away and find stuff you want to get. It is, according to their website, made up of "5,022 groups with 8,878,732 members around the world." Pretty impressive. And you can get anything from open bags of kitty litter to living room suites.

Baltimore also has our very own Loading Dock, a national model for re-cycling and re-using building and construction materials. You can get or donate windows, appliances, flooring, paint, most anything that is still in good working order that you would otherwise have to pay to haul away. (Baltimore County, at least, does not collect construction debris in its trash or recycling rounds.)

And there are of course the old stand-bys: flea markets and garage sales.

There are some folks who worry about lost manufacturing jobs and a hit to the economy that such re-use might have. The truth is, as long as the population is still growing, we will need more – not just re-used – stuff. But we also know that we cannot keep digging things out of the earth for materials and energy and think that is the best way to give people jobs.

Re-cycling and re-purposing can also be a growing jobs sector. Someone has to drive the trucks and manage the inventory and keep the books and do the advertising; and someone has to demolish the old and rebuild the new.

What is wonderful about many, if not most, of these enterprises, is that they start out home-grown, work through the affordable services of the internet, and build community at the same time. They don't take an MBA or lots of start-up capital. They take passion, caring and faith in the goodwill of people.

I do have one question though: What do people do with their old, shabby clothes? Not the kind that you can give away to Goodwill or take to the Hadassah re-sale shop. And certainly not the kind that you can sell via a consignment shop.

I mean those socks with holes and t-shirts that are threadbare… those things that years ago might have been made into rag rugs or used to clean silver.

I have enough cleaning rags, thank you. And we have enough quilting squares to keep my daughter busy for years. So the question remains, how do we recycle fabric that otherwise just goes into the landfills? Old kitchen towels, underwear, totally unwearable and unsaleable stuff hanging in closets.

If you have an answer, or better, a vendor, who can solve this dilemma for me, please do let me know.

I will gladly share the advice.

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1 Comment
1 Reply
  • Jesse Glickstein
    March 2, 2012 (5:55 pm)

    Great post and really great websites. Thanks! I have the same question as you in terms of old socks, underwear, and shirts. I can also say that anyone looking for a great deal on some really nice furniture should check out these places as well. In college I found some amazing wooden furniture for less than I would have spent at Ikea.


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