Blog On New Feature: Selling, Giving, Re-using And Recycling Nearly Everything
One of my most deeply-held values is that we should all own only what we need, when we need it, and only for as long as we need it. This has a number of consequences on how we should aspire to live our lives:
- I believe in owning as little as possible, and using everything I own as intensively as possible for as long as possible, as long as it makes economic sense to do so.
- If I can buy something used, as opposed to new, I will do so.
- If I can rent something, instead of buying it, I will do so, again, if it makes economic sense.
- Once I have stopped using something, I will try to put it into the hands of someone who needs and values it more than I do.
- Once I dispose of something, I will try to avoid, as much as possible, having it end up in a landfill.
Because of how horribly busy I have been, and also, because I have not known how to get items to people who needed them more, I have not fully practiced what I believed. However, as a recent retiree from my primary occupation, not only have I started to put my beliefs into practice, but I am trying to find ways of sharing what I have learned with others.
Four factors have come together to refine my thinking:
- I have been a strong believer in the value of online commerce to match individual buyers and sellers that would have never found each other before. Online commerce has created markets that never existed before, simply because of reduced geographic limitations on buying and selling. Obviously, as a strong advocate for the value of the mailstream in online commerce, I have been particularly passionate about participating as much as possible in the shipping process.
- I have seen how great non-profit organizations have been able to use items which other organizations have not understood how to value and use. I recall a CEO of a non-profit that furnished almost her entire office space on furniture and furnishings for which Pitney Bowes had no use.
- I have also seen more recently how used items could be the raw material for micro-businesses in emerging markets. Many items which people in America would discard would be refurbished or even rebuilt by more resourceful and lower-cost labor in other countries.
- I have always believed strongly in the environmental precepts of reduce, reuse and recycle. Today, there is more emphasis than ever on sustainability, and the need to conserve the earth’s resources, especially since we are trying to reduce the volume of waste entering landfills.
With these factors top of mind to me, several events shaped my thinking and led to the creation of this feature in my blog:
- When I was cleaning out our garage, I noticed that we had kept baseballs and baseball equipment that our younger son used when he was in Little League. Since he is now 18 years old, I realized that he and our other children would never use these items again. As I recounted in an earlier blog, I learned that there were some items the town baseball program could use itself, and there were others which would become raw material for micro-businesses in Poland.
- I started to learn about micro-business opportunities, and, as I recounted in another blog, I began to think about how to give shoes to Soles for Souls.
- In January, at a dinner with friends, one of our friends commented that economic times were so tough that she was buying used books on Amazon.com, instead of going to Barnes & Noble and buying new books in the store. That gave me the idea of having my son sell books, records, CDs DVDs, and other items on Amazon.com, Ebay, and Craigslist.
- I learned about the wonderful re-use of tennis balls at nursing homes, as well as other uses of tennis balls after they lose their ability to be used as tennis balls.
- I learned that old cell phones are prized by non-profits that work with victims of domestic violence, because they are able to be re-used by people who simply need the ability to call 911.
As time went on, I became curious about other possible destinations of those possessions I no longer used. A deflated soccer ball and about four frisbies ended up going to an organization called Any Soldiers’ Inc., thanks to my recently retired assistant Connie Telesco. Any Soldiers’, Inc. has found homes for these athletic items in villages in Afghanstan and Iraq.
I also provided toys and games to a group home and community center for young people who either have no parents at home or who come from very challenged home environments, thanks to a wonderful organization called DOMUS.
What’s been interesting about my journey is that it has led me to ask the basic questions about who needs what I have, but do not use, more than I do, and what is the best way of getting it to them. I am now obsessed with the idea that I should be able to avoid discarding almost everything I have.
I even learned that the little shampoo and conditioner bottles I take home from hotels are prized by domestic violence crisis centers, as well as homeless shelters.
For these reasons, I am going to set up a little site within a site, to the right of this blog, both to share what I have learned, as well as to solicit your ideas on how to sell, give, or re-use just about anything.
However, I want to share some insights about this journey to sell, give, reuse or recycle everything I do not need:
- It is more difficult to find out where to donate items to a person or organization for whom the item would be most valuable than I thought. Internet searches are not particularly productive. Many non-profit organizations which appear to want a particular kind of donation do not make it easy to contact them, and do not return calls or e-mails.
- Despite the belief that one can sell anything on eBay or Amazon, the reality is that these markets are as imperfect as any other. Some used books sell for a lot of money. Others, which often are of high quality, will sell for a penny, plus the cost of shipping. In effect, a sale is really a giveaway. Some items, like used vinyl records, are very expensive when you buy them from vintage record shops or wholesalers, but it is very difficult to sell them directly to a collector.
- There are certain kinds of items for which a donor has many choices:
- Adult clothing;
- Athletic goods; and
In these cases, the donor can decide what charitable cause he or she wants to help most.
- Although it would seem that organizations which need similar kinds of items could cooperate to get them, few, if any, cooperate. The non-profit community is remarkably fragmented and siloed.
- It surprised me that tennis balls which are so deeply valued by nursing homes and schools remain in peoples garages, closets, and basements. Even the tennis clubs are unaware of the opportunity the nursing homes present.
I hope that this initiative, at least, will be a more efficient sharing of my knowledge, and, over time, will be the basis for others to comment and give me additional insights on where to sell, donate, re-use, or recycle everything.