“Remove all things that don’t spark joy.” Sound familiar? This was pretty much a rallying cry in 2019. With the declutter frenzy that cleansed the soul of thousands, maybe millions of folks across the United States, products of all kinds were thrown away to make dwellings clean and clear of psychic and physical clutter.
But, where does all this “stuff” end up going?
- Thrift stores
- Yard sales
- Unknown black hole where solitary socks go
Mostly, ‘stuff’ ends up in landfills only to sit there and decompose (or not). That’s a problem. Let’s dive in and find out why.
Taking Pleasure in the Old
I grew up in a small town with a giant Salvation Army in the middle of downtown. It was dark and full of treasures and unique clothing I couldn’t find anywhere else. As a former drama kid with a unique sense of style, I delighted in not dressing in the same basic uniform of a polo and acid-washed jeans (it was the 80s). Instead, I wore prairie and wrap skirts from the 1960s, A-line dresses from the 1950s and bell-bottom jeans straight from the 1970s. I became a walking timeline for fashion.
My friends caught on and before long, I had an entire tribe of teenagers shopping at the “S&A Boutique.” Some were quite proud to announce that they had only spent $15 on an entire garbage bag of clothing. Some were a little shyer and quickly added their own flourishes to camouflage a more dated look.
Personally, I loved going through old romance novels, beaded necklaces and faded planters that became incense burners (to my mother’s chagrin). These old treasures had a past–a story!
And, once I figured out a $20 bill could help me decorate my bedroom, dress up or dress down my whimsical fashion stylings and make me stand out in school, I was a staple at the S&A Boutique in the older part of town.
Little did I know, I was honing skills and values that would help me in the future. Saving money is always a priority in most young peoples’ lives. But, I was also interested in keeping valuable and usable “stuff” out of landfills.
Now, as an adult, I’m able to easily identify–almost intuitively–what would be valuable in my everyday life when I’m thrifting at a thrift store, yard sale or estate sale.
A lot of biological changes take place within a landfill as products break down. Seepage spews out, gases are leaked into the atmosphere and wastewater is moved on to be treated. In addition, we humans work to cover it and try to make sure that sealed landfill acreage doesn’t go to waste. It’s almost a game of staying on top of the garbage we create.
The numbers can be mind-boggling and can keep us in a paralyzed analytical state. This leads to the thinking that “there is so much pollution, there’s no way I can do anything about it.” It’s easy to understand this when you learn that U.S. industries move, mine, extract, shovel, burn, waste, pump and dispose of 4 million pounds of material in order to provide one average middle-class American family’s needs for one year.
Here are some more illuminating stats about waste:
- Americans throw away enough aluminum to rebuild the entire commercial air fleet every three months, enough steel to reconstruct Manhattan, and enough wood to heat 5 million homes for 200 years.
- The U.S. alone sends about 21 billion pounds of textile waste to landfills every year.
- Rubber-soled shoes (aka, sneakers) take about 50-80 years to decompose.
- Clothing can take up to 40 years to break down.
This is pretty overwhelming info. But when you think about it, this is basically what our everyday “stuff” and household materials are made of.
When you add the alarming stats outlined above along with the fact that most middle-class Americans agree that they do in fact have too much stuff, there’s a really great solution: thrifting.
Navigating the Thrifting Experience
There are three common ways to “thrift”:
- Thrift stores; either run by a charity or through a Salvation Army
- Yard sales
- Estate sales.
All three have their benefits, can help you recycle your own “stuff”, and also offer a place to shop for new (to you) stuff that you may actually need!
Thrift Stores are your best bet if you are looking for something specific. They are set up just like typical stores and are organized by home goods, clothing and decorations. Some thrift stores have special “tag days” when a certain color may be even more percent off of the already low price. In addition, thrift stores generally exist to help a charity like a Humane Society or the Salvation Army.
But what happens to clothing that ultimately doesn’t sell? It’s true. Americans do end up sending clothes that can’t be sold after a long process to landfills. Unfortunately, a typical person will throw away 81 pounds of clothing in a year. This is due to the misconception that no one will wear their old clothes and it’s just easier to throw it all away instead of donating.
Typical Goodwill stores take donated items through a long and arduous process of getting that clothing ultimately donated, sold or even recycled to be made into rags or other insulation. In some instances, clothing will end up in developing countries to be sold at the micro-level to assist with local economies.
Yard Sales are just icing on the cake. I look at them as fun surprises that enter my weekend like old friends who I haven’t seen in a long time. You don’t necessarily know what you need, but when you see that handwritten “Yard Sale” sign, the hunt is on! Great for holiday decor and random t-shirts.
Estate Sales are the grand marshall of the thrifting parade. You can find them listed in your area on websites like estatesales.com and then filter using your zip code. You can even look for estate sales that are auction only or online only.
My personal favorites are ones when older people have either passed away or have moved into a nursing home. I realize this does sound morbid, but I have found that when people take care of their things, they last a lot longer than they have. If I can give some stuff a new home and another life, I’m happy to do so. Estate sales are great for finding furniture, tools and even clothing.
Donating: Contribute to the Thrifting Cycle
Just like these outlets are great for shopping, they are also great for you to recycle your stuff too. Too busy to organize a yard sale? No problem! Take it to a thrift store. Most will give you a tax credit for your donations. If you do organize a yard sale, try to get some of your neighbors in on it. More yard sales equal more traffic.
Estate sales are typically organized by companies that specialize in these sales for a living. Organizers will come into the home and evaluate the belongings and then hold a sale. They will take a percentage of the profits made from the sale of the belongings as their profit. The ultimate win for you will be the sale of any and all valuables so you can end up with a clutter-free home ready for sale.
Better than garbage? Of course. You never know when you’re going to find a first edition run of your favorite author’s book or the perfect cookie jar that fits your taste. You’ve saved these things from the landfill and only spent $5.
So, try thrifting rather than buying new, give to thrift shops and help save the environment one estate sale at a time.
Steady Glow Digital Thrifting Recommendations in Phoenix
Below are some of Jen’s favorite places to go thrifting in Phoenix
- White Dove Thrift Stores: Run by Hospice of the Valley. There are several locations across the Valley and they are hands-down my favorite go-to place. The Scottsdale location is the biggest but even the small Glendale location has a lot of great treasures. I go here especially for dishes, housewares, plant pots, furniture, picture frames and around Christmas time, decorations.
- Goodwill: Found all over the country, Goodwill seems to be an even more amazing place here in Phoenix. Again, some locations are better than others for certain items. For instance: I’ve found that the 17th Ave and Camelback location always has good furniture options (and space for it) but the 16th St. and Indian School location has lots of everything. I got all my newest Halloween decorations there.
- St. Vincent de Paul: These locations can have an odd mix of items and I have yet to figure out how to get into the one that’s south of downtown but I found some great plant pots and dishes in other locations.