So many of the shiny new gifts and gadgets we have just received over the holidays, as well as everyday products, are fleeting; built with planned obsolescence in mind or disposal after one use. Even if we want to repair an item, it seems impossible to find a local repair shop or the price to ship it out for repair is exorbitant. Once an appliance does not work, we dump it. We use a plastic knife to spread cream cheese once and then we throw it out. A flimsy plastic shopping bag carries one item that we could have carried out in our hands. With all the non-biodegradable waste we toss out, humans have created swirling floating islands of garbage in our oceans, one in the Pacific Ocean that is larger than the state of Texas! Our landfills are filled to the brim with toxic materials that pollute our soil and water and if the trash is incinerated, the air. Our consumption is a bit reckless.
However, there is a movement afoot to be more thrifty and creative by reusing, repairing and buying secondhand items at a much-reduced cost. The technological age in some ways has made people more isolated, but when it comes to sharing or buying items, the world is small and the connections for free items are astonishing. Freecycle (www.freecycle.org) is a site where people post items they are giving away or items they need. Everything is free. There are 5,082 groups, so you can sign up for a local group for easy pick-up of items. Things to donate or take range from furniture to building materials to anything that is legal, not a weapon or pornography, etc. Several years ago, we had a bulky computer, keyboard and tower that neither our friends nor we wanted. We posted it on Freecycle and within a day we had a mom at our doorstep, thrilled to be providing her son with a full computer set-up. Craiglist (www.craigslist.org) also has incredible secondhand items for sale and some items for free.
Another clever online site, Front Porch Forum (www.frontporchforum.com) was started by a couple in Burlington, Vt., who wanted to help neighbors "connect and build community." Nearby neighbors post everything from lost cats, requests for people to help with a move, reports of car break-ins, plumber recommendations, gardening work help offered, block parties, yards sales and free items. Most of the groups are in Vermont, but they have a "how to" section on their website if you want to set up a Front Porch Forum in your neighborhood. One member exclaims that every neighborhood in America needs one!
If you search around, you can find repair people. I wanted to fix my sturdy 35-year-old sewing machine and avoid trashing it to a buy a new one. I found Carl, a sewing machine repairman, online with a quick search. He came to my house, fixed my machine and offered me great tips on how to adjust the machine settings and what thread to use. Curious, I asked him how he ended up in this job. He said he was an engineer and the company he worked for wanted him to build rockets, so he went into sewing machine repair instead. I asked why he did not want to build rockets. He said, "Because rockets kill people!" I was very happy to support a local business and keep my "new" old machine.
Ask around. I found a teenage neighbor who was a whiz at fixing electronic devices for next to nothing. It gave him spending money and we did not have to throw out our phone, navigation system and DVD player, since it would have otherwise been cheaper to buy new devices than have them fixed.
If a repair person cannot be found, often parts can be ordered. The Internet is filled with step-by-step instructions on how to fix almost anything. If you need a visual, check out the multitude of YouTube how-to videos. My blender broke and to have it repaired I would have had to ship it across the country for $90 and the part only cost $8. I ordered the part, which came with instructions. It was easy to install and worth the try.
Books are perfect items to purchase secondhand, especially if it is an impossible-to-find, out-of-print book. It saves trees. Amazon and Better World Books offer almost any book used other than new releases. There are descriptions of the condition of each book, with many almost like new. Electronic readers can be wonderful for traveling and buying books, but sometimes it is nice to hold a paper one in your hands.
Then of course there are the old-fashioned yard sales and thrift shops. One person’s trash is certainly another person’s treasure. Incredible clothes, household items, materials for crafts and the perfect unique find are just around the corner.
Anne Mazar is an environmental advocate and a member of the Mendon Land Use Committee.