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6 Zero Waste Tips for Moving House

Last weekend, I moved house. And when it comes to moving, unless you can literally fit all your possessions in a single backpack, it is a bit of an ordeal. There are boxes, packing materials, stuff you forgot you owned, stuff you no longer need, things that are (or get) damaged or broken… and so it goes on.

Moving can create a lot of waste. But with a tiny little bit of planning, it’s possible to eliminate a lot of the unnecessary waste. Here’s some tips.

1. Don’t Move What You Don’t Have To

Moving things that you later decide you don’t need is a waste of time, effort and fuel in a moving truck. At the other end, when there are new homes to find for everything you do want and other bits and pieces to sort out, offloading stuff you no longer need is an added hassle.

If you know you don’t need something, sell it or give it away before the move.

I didn’t have time to go through all of my books, games, boxes of jars and other bits and pieces to assess every single thing I own on merit before the move. But moving a book is a little different to moving a kitchen island (especially one that literally wouldn’t fit in the new place).

So I prioritised the big, heavy and fragile things (like the kitchen island), listed some things I knew I no longer needed and did what I could.

Sites I use to pass on unwanted goods:

  • eBay is great for anything high-value, easy to post and listings that would benefit from a bigger (less local) audience;
  • Gumtree is great for bigger items like furniture, anything that the buyer want might want to inspect and test before buying (like electronics) and is good for giving away free stuff;
  • Buy Nothing groups are great for giving away items locally.

2. Source Second-Hand Packing Materials

There is really no need to spend a fortune (or spend anything, actually) on fancy packing materials. You’ll be able to get almost everything you need second-hand, and be able to donate it again afterwards for someone else to reuse.

Boxes: I’ve never purchased a packing box in my life and I’m amazed that people actually do! There are so many boxes already in existence that can be used.

I ask friends, family, colleagues and neighbours for useful boxes, either to borrow or to keep and then pass on. My neighbours had some amazing reusable Dutch moving boxes (they are from the Netherlands and brought these boxes over when they moved 12 years ago) that fold together and do not require packing tape.

I checked the local grocery store and got a couple of sturdy tray-type boxes with handles at the side. These are great for moving my pantry and things that don’t stack well.

Packing Materials: Keep packing materials that you receive (or find) to pack fragile items. If you don’t buy much (like me!) ask around to see what others have or put a call-out online. Shops often have a lot of bubble wrap they are throwing out, and tissue paper. Who Gives A Crap toilet paper wrappers are good too, as are old newspapers.

(Once you’ve moved, list all your packing materials online for someone else to use, or give to a store that can use it for packing their sales.)

Tape: I have a very old roll of (plastic) packing tape that I purchased in 2011 and lives on. I don’t tape my boxes shut, I fold them by overlapping the flaps, but a couple of boxes needed taping at the bottom. The fridge door also needed taping shut whilst moving.

If I hadn’t owned any tape, I’d have purchased paper packing tape, but I prefer to use what I already have.

There is a surprising level of guilt around using plastic tape when moving within the zero waste community. If you can’t find an alternative and need to use it, then use it, no guilt required. It is better to tape boxes securely with plastic tape than smash the entire contents of an un-taped box because you were trying to save waste.

Old sheets/tarp: These can be useful for draping over and protecting items transported in a truck, van or trailer – to protect from dust, grease or the elements. If you don’t have any, ask around. Buy Nothing groups are ideal for this.

3. Use What You Have

It’s likely you already have plenty of great packing containers and also packing materials at home.

Suitcases and bags are the obvious choice for containers, but your laundry basket, large pans, plastic crates and decorative baskets might also be useful for transporting your stuff.

Plus, if you happen to buy anything that comes in a box in the weeks before the move, keep the box!

Plenty of things can be used as packing materials. Reusable produce bags, reusable shopping bags, tea towels, regular towels, socks, scarves, pillowcases – all can be used to cushion more fragile items.

4. Make a Plan for Your Perishables

If you’re going to be moving the fridge an/or freezer, you’ll need to turn it off before moving, and wait a few hours once it’s in its new home before turning it back on. Which means, there needs to be a plan for the things currently in there.

Planning to use up your perishables might be helpful if you’re moving far. Personally, I didn’t want to run down my fridge too much, because I had enough to do with the unpacking after the move, and didn’t want to have to go grocery shopping also.

I asked a few friends and neighbours if any had space in their fridge and freezer, and found one place for my frozen goods and another for my fridge stuff. (I also asked some friends if I could borrow their camping fridge, but alas, they were going camping that weekend!)

Worst case, if you can’t find somewhere to store your food, you can give it away so at least it isn’t being wasted. Offer to friends, family and neighbours or use a dedicated food waste app like OLIO to find new homes for edible food.

With the fridge stuff, I just concentrated on moving the real perishables. It made finding a temporary space a lot easier. Things like sauerkraut, pickles and jars of jam can cope without refrigeration for a day, so they were boxed and moved with everything else.

5. Choose Your Vehicle Wisely

Damaging your stuff in the move is a waste, and damaging yourself by lifting too much heavy stuff isn’t great either. Multiple vehicle trips are going to use more fuel than a single trip, and then there’s your time: no-one has too much of that and there are better things to do than moving inefficiently.

Think about what you’re trying to move, where you’re moving to and what would be the most appropriate (and efficient) way to transport it all.

When moving in the past I’ve booked a man-with-a-van, used a friend’s car, rented a trailer and borrowed a van from work, depending on the situation and what was available.

This time round, I hired a truck with a hydraulic lift. That’s because I had 12 x 100 litre plant pots full of soil to lift, not to mention a wheelbarrow, a 180 litre worm farm, 3 compost bins, wine barrel planters and a 240 litre bin full of soil.

One or two things could have been wrestled into a van, but this was too much.

The furniture, white goods and boxes fitted in the truck for the first trip. The pots and garden stuff completely filled up the truck for the second trip.

There were also a few back and forth car trips, which was easy as this was a 3 minute drive between homes (I’m literally just a few minutes up the road).

6. The Bigger (or Further) the Move, The More You Plan

Because I wasn’t moving far, I could be (and was) a lot more flexible – by which I mean disorganised – in my approach.

In reality, it was very easy to load up a car and drop a load of things off in between doing other errands, as both homes are in the same neighbourhood. I got the keys on Tuesday and booked the truck for Friday, so the in-between (work) days were useful for moving things that might have got damaged in the move (like houseplants) and things I wanted to sort straightaway (like my pantry).

If I’d have been moving a few hours away (or anything more than 30 minutes, realistically) I’d have made sure everything was packed, boxed and labelled before the day.

Well, I’d have tried!

Moving is definitely stressful, but it doesn’t have to be wasteful.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Do you have any tips for moving? Do you have a move planned and are wondering what to do about certain things? Any other comments or thoughts to share? Please let us know in the space below!

Second-Hand First: 8 Ideas for Buying Less (New) Stuff

I think we are all agreed, there is a lot of stuff in the world. Too much stuff, some might say. And if we want to reduce our footprint, it is much better to own less stuff, share more stuff, and avoid buying the shiny new stuff where we can.

But how do we go about that, exactly?

Answer: there are loads of places to look. Let’s start with the obvious ones, and move onto the less-than-obvious ones. Let me know of anything I’ve missed in the comments!

1. The Charity Shop

I’m pretty sure all of us have given stuff to the charity shop in our time. Homewares, clothing, toys, books… we love to donate our old unwanted things to the charity shop.

But you know what is even better than donating stuff to the charity shop? Buying stuff from the charity shop.

It isn’t enough to donate our old stuff to the charity shop, and then go buy our replacement items from the big box or department store. Charity shops only sell about 15% of everything that is donated.

The donations that don’t even fit inside the charity shop far outnumber the things on sale…

To close the loop, they need us to buy more things from them.

They don’t need us to donate stuff. They need us to buy stuff.

2. Online Classifieds and Auction Sites

Online classifieds such as Gumtree and Craigslist are a great way to find second-hand items locally, (great for fragile, oversized or heavy stuff) and online auction sites such as eBay are a great way to find items further afield (better for lightweight and easy-to-post items).

I’m a big fan of platforms like these (and I talk about the ins and outs a lot more in my book) because of the way they allow sharing of stuff – most often for a price, but sometimes for free.

3. Online Neighbourhood Networks

Online platforms allow us to connect with our neighbours – some with the sole purpose of buying selling, donating and borrowing stuff, and others with more broad community engagement over things like activities, security and pets.

Some platforms have dedicated membership sites (such as Nextdoor and Streetbank), whilst others use Facebook or Google groups (a quick search will reveal your local options).

Even where these platforms are national and international, it doesn’t mean they will be active in your area so have a look and decide if they are something to pursue or not.

4. Buy Nothing Groups

I could wax lyrical about the Buy Nothing Project all day. In fact, I do. The project is a network of Buy Nothing groups, which exist to help us share with our neighbours, and they operate via Facebook. What makes them unique is that members can gift, accept and borrow things, no money (or even trade) allowed.

And it’s only possible to join one: the one where we live.

The things that are given away would surprise you – both for how great the items are, and for how crazy obscure they can be, too. I’ve been gifted a Dell computer monitor, an almost-new pair of shoes and a desk and chair via my local group.

But it’s not all glamour – I’ve also taken a half-eaten jar of chocolate peanut spread and given away a semi-chewed dog toy. Trust me, almost anything goes.

5. Freecycle and Freegle

Similar to the Buy Nothing groups in that items are offered for free, Freecycle (worldwide) and Freegle (UK) are networks of people sharing items. The platforms are less user-friendly than social media or other newer networks, but they do the job.

6. Verge Collections

Verge collections are the stuff of (my) nightmares. Most councils in Perth allow 2 or 3 verge pickups per household per year, and offer this service for free (well, included in council rates). It works like this: residents put all of their unwanted stuff out on the front lawn, a truck comes along and squashes it into little pieces, and off it goes to landfill.

Cue, sobbing from me.

Every time, the streets are laden with stuff. People throw out 5 mattresses at a time, they throw out perfectly good kids toys. They throw out kitchen appliances, furniture, equipment and even cardboard, metal and other recyclables.

Sometimes every house on the street can have a pile like this of mostly usable stuff, ready for landfill.

Some people love to rummage through the piles and score great stuff. Keeping an eye on verge collection dates in the more affluent suburbs can mean excellent finds, but every suburb has something to offer. I rarely go on the hunt (it upsets me too much), but I’ve rescued wooden garden chairs, an outside table, a worm farm, storage boxes and heaps of garden pots (including some terracotta ones).

The downside of verge collections is that for all the great stuff rescued, there is plenty of great and still-usable stuff going to landfill.

7. Borrowing Stuff

Borrowing stuff can be formal, such as joining the library. They have so much more than books – they have magazines, CDs and DVDs and board games. If you don’t want these, tool, toy and “things” libraries also exist.

Or borrowing can be informal: from friends, family, colleagues or neighbours. If we don’t know our neighbours, the Buy Nothing groups are a great way to make a borrow request.

This is how I was able to borrow a screwdriver to fix my coffee machine (the seal needed replacing).

We often confuse the need to use something with the need to own it. Maybe we need a gadget for a particular recipe, or a hook in the wall to hang a picture. But we don’t necessarily need the blender or the drill. We just need to use them. So we can borrow them instead.

8. Hiring Stuff

Almost everything is available for hire, but these services aren’t as popular as they should be. We can hire dresses and suits, tools, furniture, glasses and flatware – and yet time and again, we buy it instead. My suspicion is that many people think hiring is a false economy – shelling out money for something with nothing to show at the end of it.

For me, this exactly the reason why hiring stuff is so great. We get to use things, then give them back for someone else to use – and we never have to worry about them again.

Not only do hired items arrive clean and ready to go; the hire company is responsible for maintenance. With glass hire, did you know many hire companies will also do the washing up for you?

We forget that it isn’t just the cost of buying stuff. It’s also the cleaning and the storage and maintenance. Because it’s only twice or three times as expensive to buy the champagne glasses rather than hire them, we buy them. We reason we will use them again. Maybe we will – but maybe not.

Once we own them, we have to clean them, and store them. We might need to buy more storage. This is how we end up with big houses with bigger rooms – to accommodate all this stuff.

There’s plenty of stuff already in the world. There’s plenty of stuff in great or usable condition, just waiting for a new owner to maximise its potential. There is absolutely no requirement to buy everything new.

It may not even be necessary to buy it at all.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Do you have any tips for finding second-hand items, or avoiding buying stuff? What are your favourite groups or networks? Is this something you struggle with, and what would make it easier or more accessible for you? Anything else to add? Please share in the comments below!

8+ Ways to Go Zero Waste Without Spending Any Money

There are so many posts out there dedicated to all the things we can buy to be zero waste. This is not one of them. Yes, sometimes the things that we buy are helpful in reducing our waste now and in the future – such as reusable produce bags or a compost bin. Buying things can be necessary. Consumables (things like dishcloths, scrubbing brushes, handwash) run out, and need to be replaced.

But zero waste is not all about buying stuff. The zero waste lifestyle is not a consumer lifestyle. As George Monbiot said, we can consume more, or we can conserve more… but we can’t do both.

If we continue to talk about zero waste living in terms of the things we can buy, and encourage more shopping and the accumulation of stuff, we’re staying on the consumer treadmill and still using resources at an alarming rate.

Not to mention, as soon as we talk about buying stuff, zero waste appears to be only for those people not trying to stick to a budget.

 

The good news is, plenty of things that lead to living zero waste can be done for free! No spend required.

Here’s how you can embrace zero waste living without buying anything.

1. Glass Jars

Glass jars are your zero waste friend! And even better, they are free!

Stop recycling your glass jars, and save them for re-use. Rescue glass jars out of your friend’s recycling bin. Rescue glass jars from cafe and restaurant recycling bins (this is where I scored all of my big 2 litre glass jars). Ask on your local Buy Nothing group, or zero waste/sustainable living Facebook Group. Put an ad on Gumtree or Craigslist asking for free jars.

Once you have your glass jar collection, use them for everything! They can be taken to the bulk store to buy ingredients without packaging, if this is an option for you. They can be used for food storage – taking lunch to work, keeping cookies on the counter, organising your pantry, storing leftovers in the fridge, and even in the freezer. (Yes, you can store glass jars in the freezer. More info here.)

They can be used for preserving jams and chutneys. (Eventually the lids may need replacing, but most lids will last a few rounds. Use lids with the air lock pressy button thing to ensure they are sealed.)

They can be used on the go for takeaway smoothies or coffee.

They can be used to store non-food items, like toothbrushes or pens.

They can be used as packaging for gifts (store-bought or homemade treats, soap).

They can be used as water glasses (I have a lovely set of Bonne Maman jars, with the wide mouths, for this purpose).

Glass jars replace so many other storage containers, and there is no need to buy a single one. If a jar breaks, there is a plentiful supply of more free glass jars almost everywhere we go.

2. Line Your Bin without Buying Bin Liners

There is absolutely no need to buy bin liners. Depending on the size of your bin, what you put in it and how often you fill it, there are plenty of zero waste solutions that don’t cost a cent/penny.

When I first went plastic-free, I used old newspaper to line my bin. I received a free community newspaper, and there was a cafe down the road that offered the daily newspaper for free to its customers to read, so of course the paper got covered in coffee. (More info on lining a bin with newspaper here.)

My bin was wastepaper-sized. It is much trickier to line big bins with newspaper, and some recycling collections require the waste to be bagged (mine gets tipped into a big co-mingled recycling bin, so this isn’t an issue).

It also depends on how much wet and stinky stuff goes in your bin. If you compost your food scraps and only dry stuff is going in the bin, you could use an old jute coffee sack, old pillow case, repurposed plastic food bucket, a cardboard box or do away with any kind of liner altogether.

If you need a waterproof/plastic liner, consider what other packaging you buy that you could repurpose. Some ideas are plastic bread bags, empty potato chip packets, or pet food/litter bags. If you don’t have enough, ask your friends, family and work colleagues… or put a request on the groups mentioned above.

(If you create a lot of waste, consider separating into “wet” and “dry” – that way you can use one of the ideas above for the dry stuff, and keep the plastic liners for the wet only, to make them go further.)

Better to reuse something already in existence than create something new.

3. Eat Your Food Scraps

So much food that we throw away, we can eat. I don’t mean stuff that was edible but is now past its use-by date, I mean food that IS still perfectly edible… we just don’t know how to use it.

Using scraps that we would usually throw in the bin makes the household budget go much further.

Wash potato peelings, toss in a little oil and then bake in the oven for 10 mins or so each side until crispy. Free potato chips!

Rather than chucking the broccoli stalk, cut the outer edges off, and dice or slice the soft green core. Add to pasta, stir-fries and curries just as you could the florets.

Outer cauliflower leaves can be roasted – drizzle with olive oil, add plenty of garlic and roast until the green outers are crispy and the stems are soft. Alternatively, chop and add to curries.

Save onion skins, the top green parts of leeks, carrot shavings, zucchini tips and other veggies scraps for making stock. Pop into a glass jar, freeze, and when the jar is full boil it up to make a veggie broth. (The same can be done with animal bones to make meat/fish stock).

Keep your apple cores and peels and make into your own apple cider vinegar – the only other thing you need is a tablespoon or so of sugar. Can be used in cooking, as a digestive tonic, for hair washing (yep, that’s a thing – and will save you buying conditioner) and even cleaning.

4. Compost your food waste (for free)

Setting up a compost bin, worm farm or bokashi system can cost money, but it doesn’t have to. The bins and buckets required for these things are often given away for free, second-hand. Keep you eye out on Gumtree or Craigslist, and especially if you have verge collections locally.

Failing that, it is possible to make these things with repurposed materials and minimal effort. Worm farms can be made from repurposed polystyrene boxes (ask your local supermarket for theirs) – here’s a step-by-step guide on making a polystyrene box worm farm.

Most community gardens or people with worm farms will give you a handful of composting worms for free to get you going.

A bokashi system can be made using two repurposed white builder/food buckets placed one inside the other, with holes cut into the inner one to create drainage.

If doing it yourself is just a step too far, find somewhere local that will take your food scraps for you. Community compost hubs and community gardens are everywhere, and so are willing backyard composters. The best place to find somewhere local to you is sharewaste.com.

5. Cleaning Cloths / Wipes

There’s no need to buy cleaning cloths, wipes, rags, paper towel or tissues. We can simply repurpose old fabric that we would previously have recycled as rags. Old towels, bedding, T-shirts, work shirts… even underpants, if you’re not faint-hearted.

Typically natural fibres work better over completely plastic polyester fabric.

Chop old clothing into squares to use as cleaning cloths, handkerchiefs (you can store them in a glass jar on the coffee table!) and reusable “unpaper” towel. Cut into strips to make rags.

Using sharp scissors will help prevent the fabric fraying, crimping shears will help even more and if you can sew the edges up, that’s the best solution to make them last.

Obviously, the better we are at sewing the better these things will look. Aesthetics matter to some. And whilst a few of of us might revel in the rebellious act of using old underpants to do the dishes, it might be a step too far for others.

Look at where you use disposable paper products, look at the fabric you have on hand, and do what works best for you.

6. Borrow before Buying

We often don’t need the thing that we buy, we need to result that it offers. We don’t need a drill, we need a hole in the wall. We don’t need a blender, we need to puree vegetables for a one-off recipe.

Informally, you can ask friends, family, colleagues or neighbours if they can lend you the thing that you need.

More formally, you may have access to libraries. Books, toys, music, movies, games and tools can all be borrowed this way.

I’ve just set up a local Community Dishes library for people to borrow crockery and cutlery, to save them buying new stuff at the blue-and-yellow furniture store or using disposables. There may be something similar in your area. Libraries of Things are popping up in more places, too.

7. Find for Free

If we need the thing, we still don’t have to buy it new, or even second-hand. We can find it for free. We can ask friends, family, neighbours or colleagues, we can look for ads on online classifieds, we can put requests in Buy Nothing groups, and we can trawl verge pickups looking for the item.

Second-hand means no packaging, it also means keeping existing items in circulation and reduces demand for new products, saving resources. Second-hand doesn’t always mean cheap. Second-hand and free – well, that’s within everyone’s budget.

People often have things languishing in the back of the cupboard, and are keen for someone to take it off their hands. I’ve scored a clothes drying rack, an electric fry pan, heaps of lemons, a computer monitor and an almost new pair of trainers from my local Buy Nothing group, all for free.

8. Reusables for On the Go

Rather than buying a water bottle, upcycle an old glass passata bottle, or a VOSS glass water bottle.

Rather than buying a reusable coffee cup, use a glass jar. Make a heat band using elastic bands, or those silicone charity fundraising bracelets. Or, if you’re crafty, sew or knit a band.

Rather than buying a reusable lunchbox, use a glass jar or tea towel to wrap food, or make a sandwich wrap from fabric if you can sew.

Rather than buying a set of to-go cutlery, take your kitchen cutlery out with you. You can make a wrap to keep it neat, or wrap it in some cloth.

There you have it – a few ideas to get you started living zero waste, no spend required. Don’t buy in to the idea (see what I did there?!) that zero waste means spending money. Sure, there are nice things to buy, and many of them are useful. But zero waste living can still be pursued whilst spending nothing at all.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Do you do any of these things? All of these things? Are you new to zero waste/plastic-free and overwhelmed at all the stuff you think you need to buy? Are you a pro at using second-hand and free solutions? What no-spend zero waste tips would you add? Any other thoughts? Please leave a comment below!

5 Ideas for Donating Stuff You Don’t Need (But Is Still Useful)

We all end up with stuff that we don’t need. Unwanted gifts, stuff that we upgrade or replace, stuff we realise we don’t use or don’t like, duplicates. The list goes on.

Getting rid of stuff, when we don’t like waste, can be a challenge. Especially when this stuff isn’t really fit for selling or donating to the charity shop. Things that are broken (even if they are repairable), items with parts missing, things that have low value, stuff that has been used, opened or are worn.

We don’t want to throw it out, but we know in our hearts that the charity shop doesn’t really want it either.

The thing I love about challenges is that whilst they can be difficult, they are not impossible. Someone, somewhere, will want what you have. Whatever it is. (I mean that. You’d be surprised.) The challenge is finding that person.

It can take time, and effort, but if you succeed it is such a good feeling. You’re saving something from landfill, and making someone happy in the process.

Remember: it’s only waste if you waste it.

I’ve put together a guide of what to do with some of the random bits and pieces that you have that you know are useful… but don’t know how to find them new homes.

Ideas for Rehoming Items Responsibly

Donating to the Charity Shop

This is most people’s go-to when letting go of unwanted stuff. But that doesn’t mean that it’s the best place for the stuff. Most of us would rather donate something than throw it in the bin, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the charity shop will want it.

Charity shops want things that they can sell! If you wouldn’t buy it, and can’t imagine that anyone else would either, don’t donate it. Charity shops get so many donations – far more than they can handle. In Australia it’s estimated only 15% of all donated clothes are resold.

Don’t kid yourself that the charity shop will want your moth-eaten old clothing with buttons missing.

Two ideas when donating to charity shops to ensure a better chance of the item being onsold:

  • Call ahead and find out if they take (and need) the things that you’re donating. Some charity shops have the capacity to test electrical items and will accept them for resale, others don’t. Some don’t have space to take toys, or may have a shortage of certain things. Calling ahead is a good way to find out what they need – and what they don’t want.
  • Think seasonally. Stores need to turn over goods fast to make money. Donating winter jumpers in summer or Christmas branded items in February will mean stock sitting around, and it may end up in landfill, even if the quality is good.

Donating on Gumtree or Craigslist

Gumtree, Craigslist and other platforms allow us to list items for free for others to take. How effective this is can be dependent on where you live (it’s easier in urban centres than rural locations). It’s also more effective for certain types of items, such as homewares, furniture and electrical goods.

That doesn’t mean that what you have won’t be wanted though, so it’s worth listing things anyway. Things like spare coat hangers, old bubble wrap, moving boxes and crates of old jam jars all shift surprising well.

Bear in mind that the more obscure the item, the longer it will take to shift.

(If you’ve never listed anything on Gumtree before, I’ve written a guide to selling second-hand to help you get started.)

Buy Nothing Groups and Local Online Community Networks

The more local something is, the easier it is for others to collect it, and the more likely it is to find a new home. That’s why community exchanges work so well. My local area has very active Buy Nothing Groups (a group that operates through Facebook, where goods can be taken and offered for free, with council boundaries determining whether someone can join).

Other Facebook groups include Swap & Barter groups and Zero Waste groups, or groups for exchanging specific items (fishing equipment, childen’s toys, craft supplies).

Outside of Facebook, my parents (who live in the UK) use and love a local community network called NextDoor, which allows them to connect with other members of their village.

There’s plenty of others, so explore what is local and active in your area. The global platforms might have better looking websites and thousands of members worldwide, but if there’s only two people living within 25km of you, that isn’t going to work.

If you use Facebook, that’s a great way to track down local and active groups. If not, see if you can contact community groups and ask if they have any knowledge or suggestions.

Real Life Community Groups

Community groups are another great place to consider. Craft and arts groups may be collecting certain items for projects (broken crockery is great for mosaic making, half-used paint tins may be wanted for other projects), community gardens may be able to use offcuts of materials or old tools, playgroups will accept all sorts of things for children to play with (small boxes that held electronic items are popular, as are old plastic loyalty cards (for playing “shop”).

For specialist equipment for a particular hobby, it may be worth finding an enthusiast’s group and finding out if any of their members can use what you have. For example, finding an Apiarist’s society to donate beekeeping equipment to is a much better match than simply listing on Gumtree or donating to the charity shop.

Charities and For-Purpose Enterprises

Different charities have different needs, and can be a great way to pass on unwanted items that aren’t suitable (or are too “niche”) for charity shops. Some ideas include:

  • Animal refuges often accept towels, sheets and other bedding, pet food and possibly other equipment and accessories;
  • Refugee centres accept donations of clothing, books, food, furniture, whitegoods and more (here’s a list of refugee organisations in Australia and the donations they accept);
  • Women’s refuges, homeless centres and hostels accept clothing and blankets and may accept toiletries and sanitary items (be aware that refuges do not publicly list their addresses for obvious reasons, so you will need to connect with a local charity serving these centres to find out what they will and won’t accept).
  • Charities (such as Fair Game in Australia) accept used sports equipment and clothing to redistribute to underserviced communities.
  • Opticians often accept used glasses to send to underserviced communities.
  • Food banks accept food but at Christmas or other times of year may accept toiletries, sanitary items and other non-food items – check with the individual organization.

Thoughts on (Shabby) Second-Hand Donations

Whilst I think it is brilliant to donate second-hand items, I also think that it is important to be mindful of their condition and respectful of where we donate them.

I once met an enthusiastic and well-meaning guy who was trying to set up a shoe enterprise donating second-hand shoes to Africa. He had collected thousands of shoes but didn’t have a warehouse, and was storing them in his garden in the open under a tarpaulin. They’d been there for 18 months.

He hadn’t given that much thought to where he would send them, whether there was an existing industry in the country that might be adversely impacted by an influx of shoes, or whether the shoes were appropriate for the climate or recipients.

His colleague said in the presentation “people in Africa deserve high-heeled shoes too!” That might be the case, but the intended community where these shoes were to be donated hadn’t actually been consulted as to their needs.

I don’t know what happened to the enterprise, and I hope they were able to have a positive impact. I think sometimes enterprises can be well-meaning but ill-considered. Sometimes we can be guilty of not really thinking through our choices.

I do think it’s important when donating to charity to consider if the recipients will really want our stuff, as tempting as it is to want to keep things out of landfill.

For example, I know that there are charities that collect used bras. I personally wear mine until they are stretched, misshapen and there is barely any life in them. I do not consider it appropriate to then donate it. That’s my opinion and my choice.

I think it can be tempting to fall into the trap of thinking that underprivileged people will want our shabby stuff. Actually, they might not.

Final Thought on Donating Unusual Items

This is not a complete list by any means, and with enough grit and determination it is possible to donate most things – not always for the purpose they were originally intended, but a purpose nonetheless. If you have something that you think is too good to throw away, get creative and start asking questions (zero waste Facebook groups are great for this).

You may be happily surprised.

Now I’d love to hear from you! What’s the craziest or strangest thing you’ve successfully donated to a happy recipient? Any other tips for where to donate unusual items? If you work in a charity shop or a for-purpose enterprise, are there any “no-no”s that you see donated often that aren’t suitable? Anything else to add? Please comment below.

The Zero Waste Lifestyle is the Second-Hand Lifestyle (A Guide to Buying and Selling Second-Hand)

When people think of the zero waste lifestyle, they tend to think of mason jars, bulk stores and unpackaged goods. Not everyone has access to bulk stores. Many people draw the conclusion then, that without access to a bulk store, they can’t live a zero waste lifestyle.

The truth is, the zero waste lifestyle is about much more than bulk stores and mason jars.

Groceries aren’t the only thing we buy. Furniture, toys, electronics, clothes, books, decor, equipment, household items: “stuff”, in other words.

At some stage in our lives we buy these things. With all of these things, we have a choice. We can choose to buy new, or buy second-hand.

Not everybody has access to bulk stores. But everybody has access to second-hand goods.

Choosing second-hand not only uses less resources, it’s unpackaged and it helps keep existing items in use and out of landfill.

The zero waste lifestyle is very much the second-hand lifestyle.

With the internet, access to second-hand items has become a whole lot easier. Yet some people still find the online world of buying and selling a little bewildering.

I’ve talked about how to sell items online in my eGuide Hoarder Minimalist, but I didn’t talk about buying. (It is a book about decluttering after all!) To live a zero waste lifestyle, buying second-hand is just as important as finding new homes for items we no longer require.

Whilst my husband and I don’t buy absolutely everything second-hand (hello, brand new underwear), all of the furniture in our home is second-hand. There is plenty of second-hand furniture out there to choose from.

We’ve bought almost all of our second-hand furniture using Gumtree Australia. We also use the platform to sell things that we no longer require. Recently Gumtree got in touch to ask if I’d be interested in collaborating. For me, the real questions are: do I believe wholeheartedly in what they do? And do I think writing about Gumtree is of real benefit to you, my readers?

The answer to both is yes.

Gumtree is a great platform for buying and selling online. It’s simple to use and free to buy and to sell: there are no hidden charges or fees. (There are some fees for premium features, but I have never used these.) It connects those with stuff they don’t need with those who want it. So yes, I want to encourage people to use it.

If I can convince more people to start buying second-hand, and sell (or gift) unwanted items rather than landfilling them, that’s wins all round.

If you’re new to the world of online buying and selling, this guide is for you.

How to Buy and Sell Online with Gumtree

Gumtree is an online listings/classifieds platform allowing users to buy and sell items online. It focuses on local trade, meaning most people will go directly to the seller’s home or workplace to buy the item.

The local approach means no shipping costs, lower carbon footprints and zero packaging. People buy and sell from other people within their local community. You get to inspect items before you actually buy them – so no receiving items that aren’t quite how they looked in the picture. No worrying about returns, either.

Using Gumtree: The Basics

To buy or sell you need to register, but the information you need to provide is basic. A name, email address, phone number and location (which can be a suburb). There’s no requirement to provide credit card or banking details.

You don’t need to be registered just to browse.

How to Search Effectively

People who list items on Gumtree want them sold – the sooner the better. I always search by “most recent items” and work backwards. Good value items and bargains rarely hang around!

I prefer well-made, quality items to the cheapest option, but searching by price is possible too. Importantly, it’s possible to search by suburb, local council area, urban area and state.

The categories are quite simplistic. If there’s a dedicated category for what I’m looking for, then I might search by category, but I tend to use the search bar. The search bar is also useful for searching by brand.

Using different search terms for the same thing will give different results. Searching by abbreviation as well as the full name of an item will give more results.

We bought this kitchen island second-hand a few months ago from Gumtree, and added these stools more recently. If you’re after something specific, find out if there’s a style or brand name to search for (these stools are Tolix stools). Not everyone will know the brand or model name, so use different descriptive titles too if you can’t find what you want (“bar stools” and “barstools” give different results, for example).

How To Create a Good Ad

Many people start out selling on Gumtree before they buy. It’s a good way to test the waters and find out how it works. Once you realise that other Gumtree users are friendly people wanting the stuff that you have, it’s easier to embrace the idea of buying.

When creating a listing, the first thing to do is choose a category. The categories are fairly simplistic and quite limited. I use “Home & Garden” the most, and then the appropriate subcategory. Avoid “Miscellaneous Goods” or “other” if you can – they are too vague.

Next you’ll be asked for the type of ad: free or paid. I’ve always used free ads. Paid ads have additional features, but I don’t find them necessary.

Free ads allow you to add 10 pictures. Use as many of them as you can! Don’t just take one out-of-focus picture. Take the front, the back, the sides, a close-up, and any nicks or damage.

When choosing a price, put what you think is fair. You can always edit it later. If you’re not interested in negotiating, write in the ad description “price is non-negotiable.”

When choosing a title, use all those characters! Put in all the words that relate to the item. It’s not meant to read well, it’s meant to attract buyers. For example, “sofa chair lounge armchair seating” will match far more search requests than “comfy chair”.

Also, think about typos. There are almost as many “draws” listed as there are “drawers”! Mention colour, material, and a brand or model name if there is one.

Be as descriptive and honest as you can. If the colour differs in real life to the photos, say so. If there’s damage, however minor, mention it. People would rather know the condition before they arrive at your place.

If it’s a current model, consider providing the link to the store for browsers to compare. Give dimensions; state where and how it was used. If you smoke or have pets, say so.

Finally, add your details. There’s no need to write your exact address, but give buyers an idea of your location. We put our road, but omit the street number on the listing. Whilst you need to give your phone number and email, if you prefer contact via a particular method, write it in the ad description.

How to Communicate:

Gumtree allows users to communicate directly with other users, by mobile phone or email. When contacting someone, be as specific as possible. As a buyer, add in when you’re free to drop by. As a seller, if someone asks “is this still available?”, don’t just respond “yes”. Ask when they want to come and look, let them know when you’ll be home, give a contact number or even the address.

Make it easy for people.

(Also, use your actual name. It’s much more personable.)

If you think something is a bargain, agree to collect as soon as possible.

We needed a bedside table and lamp for our spare room. I’d like a wooden stand, but nothing was available, and we thought this would be a good stop-gap. The great thing about second-hand items is that if you change your mind, you can often sell them on again at the price you paid.

Price (and How to Negotiate)

Ultimately people will pay what they think something is worth, so overpriced items won’t sell. If the price is keen, the item will be gone in less than a week (and sometimes in a matter of hours).

Sellers: if you want something sold quickly, advertise at a low price. If you want more money, be prepared to hold out for longer. Remember – just because you paid a certain amount for something, that doesn’t mean it was worth the price.

Personally, I think it is bad manners to arrive at someone’s house and then start negotiating price. My policy is, if buyers try to negotiate at my house, the answer will be no. I’m always completely honest and overly descriptive in my listings, so there won’t be any surprises when they arrive. They can buy at the agreed price, or leave empty-handed.

Don’t feel pressured to accept less than you want. If they decide not to take them item, someone else will.

Sometimes people arrive with no change. I point them to the nearest ATM/petrol station. If that isn’t practical for you, ensure you have change on you. Some people genuinely forget; others are hoping you’ll round down.

Buyers: don’t feel obliged to negotiate. If you’re happy to pay the price advertised, then pay it. If you try to negotiate a keenly priced item when you’re happy to pay the full price, you’ll likely end up outbid by someone else and losing the item.

There’s no harm in asking if the seller is flexible on price before agreeing to buy. They’ll let you know if they are open to offers or not.

A good indicator if someone will be willing to negotiate is how long it’s been listed. If the listing has been active for 3 hours, chances are a lot more slim than if it’s been listed for a month.

If you arrive to buy and are not comfortable, the item isn’t as described, or you change your mind about the item, don’t feel like you have to go through with the deal. Apologise, say it is different to what you thought, and walk away.

Timing

In my experience, the weekend is when most things are bought and sold. If you list items on a Saturday morning you will have the most chance of success. If you’re looking for bargains, Saturday morning means the least chance of success as everybody else is online too.

Safety and Security

This is a personal consideration. I’ve been using Gumtree for many years without any issues. I’ve sold items late at night, early in the morning and during the day. I’ve had buyers prefer to do the transaction on the doorstep. Others come in (sometimes that is practical and necessary).

I’ve bought items where the seller has handed me the item on the doorstep. I’ve been invited in to collect the item. I even met one seller in a car park!

If you won’t feel comfortable with someone collecting items late at night, put preferred hours on your listing. If you’d rather not go alone to someone’s house, ask a friend to come along. If it’s possible, consider asking the buyer to collect from your place of work.

Other Practical Suggestions

If you’re buying anything big, heavy or bulky, ask if there’s easy access to the front door, if there are any stairs and if there will be anyone to help you move the item. Ask if they have a trolley, and find out the actual dimensions before you get there!

Similarly, if you’re selling, let potential buyers know what they’ll need to bring.

Don’t be scared to ask questions. Ask for more photos, model numbers, measurements, a condition report, where the item was purchased. Better to find out before than make a wasted trip.

If an item is electrical, ask to plug it in. If it’s furniture, sit on it. If it’s already been neatly packed for you, don’t feel bad about asking it to be unpacked so you can look at it properly.

We bought this bed because it was exactly the same as our existing bed (but in white), so we knew exactly what it would be like. (The old bed, also bought on Gumtree, is now in the spare room.) I told the seller I was interested but needed to arrange a trailer. He was moving overseas and had hired a ute, and offered to drop it round to ours for no extra charge! It meant he got to keep it until the day he wanted to move, and we got a hassle-free delivery!

Second-Hand Doesn’t Mean Shabby

People get rid of stuff for lots of reasons: marriage, divorce, moving home, moving country, children, pets or simply because they redecorate. There’s plenty of good quality, well made stuff out there in the second-hand market. Some of it isn’t even very old.

This lamp was only a few months old, and cost a fraction of the price it would have cost new. Second-hand doesn’t have to mean bedraggled.

For quality items, search for reputable brands. You can take it to the next level and go to the actual shop, write down what you like and then find it all on Gumtree. (I have a friend who did exactly this, and furnished her home at a fraction of what it would have cost new, with everything second-hand.) This works better with chains rather than boutique stores.

If you haven’t embraced second-hand furniture shopping, I thoroughly recommend you give it a try. Compared to most furniture shops, you don’t make a choice and wait 8 weeks for delivery. You get to use things right away.

Once you start finding great, useful items that you need at a fraction of the price you’d have paid to buy new (and without all that packaging) it’s very hard to go back.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Have you used Gumtree to buy or sell furniture or other items? How have your experiences been? What has been your best find – and what was your worst? If you haven’t shopped online for second-hand, is there anything that you’re worried about or that’s holding you back? Any other questions? Anything to add? I’d love to hear your thoughts so please comment below!

This post was a collaboration with Gumtree Australia.

Sold the Toaster, bought…an iPad?!

Inspired by Tiny, the movie I saw a couple of weeks ago, and reinvigorated to declutter, I’ve been listing things on Gumtree this week and I’ve had some success. People want to buy my old stuff!

I’ve talked before about why I think selling stuff can be better than donating it to the charity shop. There’s no guarantee the charity shop will want it, and with electrical goods, not all places will accept them as they need to be tested. If you can find a new owner yourself, that is the best outcome from a waste point of view. If you give something away for free, it’s harder for people to say no, even if they don’t actually want it – they see a bargain!

Toaster

We put the toaster in a cupboard six months ago as a test to see if we really need it. After all, we have a grill, and we had a small kitchen with limited bench space. Now we’ve moved, we have even less bench space.

BREAKING NEWS! The grill will make toast just as acceptably as a toaster! Who’d have thought it?!

We don’t eat bread very often, and when we do, the grill is perfectly adequate for our needs. I’m the kind of person who stands over the toaster, impatiently popping it up to see if the toast is ready, so having to watch over the grill isn’t a problem. It’s not like bread takes a long time to toast!

Besides the toaster, we’ve had $2 here and $3 there, and amused but happy people removing clutter from our house this week. The toaster lady was looking for a toaster for her workplace, and thought to check Gumtree before buying a rubbishy cheap one from the store. We sold our dustbuster vacuum (something my boyfriend has owned for years) which was fine for floorboards, but completely impractical for our carpeted flat. The guy who bought it had just purchased a cheap vacuum for $40. The first time he used it, it died (taking planned obsolescence to the extreme?!). So he checked on Gumtree, saw we lived round the corner and gave us $5 for ours. He was blown away by the fact he could buy a vacuum for $5! An Electrolux, no less! We were happy to be rid of it, but I also hope that these transactions inspire people to look on Gumtree or eBay for what is available second-hand before buying something new.

Which brings me to my next confession…

We’ve bought an iPad.

ipad

I would love to say we don’t need one, but after much debate (probably a year’s worth!) we gave in and decided to get a tablet. We only have one laptop and no TV, and my boyfriend likes to watch DVDs on the laptop. I like to use it for all my blogging, research and other projects. Rivalry!

My phone is so completely useless it barely does anything other than make calls, and I thought a tablet might be a practical alternative. Laptops really aren’t that portable, are they?

I looked at all the second hand sites, but as I was buying something that expensive (second-hand ones sell for almost as much as new ones) I wanted the guarantee it wasn’t stolen or faulty.

I actually found a compromise via the Apple Store. They sell refurbished products (my sister bought a refurbished computer from them a while back and it’s been perfect). A refurbished product is basically a pre-owned product that has been returned to the store and repaired for reselling. Buying from Apple means it still comes with a guarantee. I’d seen other stores that offer this too, but customer comments told me that replacement screens were often cheap knockoffs, and not very good, and the guarantees are much less.

I think my boyfriend was expecting a beaten-up old thing to arrive in a bashed-up cardboard box. But no, it arrived looking just like new. It even had the unhelpful plastic cover wrapped around it!

Sad face : (

Stupid plastic protective iPad Cover

Despite the plastic cover and my guilt over questionable ethics (you can read an article I wrote about ethical electronics here), I have to say, I’m actually blown away by how clever, fast and useful the tablet is proving to be! It’s much easier to read from than a laptop, it’s better for looking things up, and it means I can finally get round to learning how Twitter works! (If you’re on Twitter, follow me at @TreadMyOwnPath, and feel free to give me tips on how it all works – I’m a newbie!)

So out with the old, and in with the new. Overall we still have less than we started with, and the iPad is something we actually use, so I feel like we’re still heading in the right direction. Plus, I sold the toaster using the iPad! That’s some consolation, surely?!

What do you think? Am I just kidding myself ?! How do you feel about splashing out on new technology? More importantly, could you get rid of your toaster?!

PS Whilst the decluttering is going well, I still haven’t tackled the wardrobe. I’m putting off, I mean, putting it back to next week.  : /

One man’s trash is another man’s treasure

I sold my glass jug blender today on Gumtree. Not exactly front page news, I know, but bear with me.

When I got my new kitchen robot I listed my Magimix food processor and my jug blender on Gumtree straightaway. The Magimix sold almost instantly for the money I asked; they are solid gadgets with fantastic motors and I knew it would be easy. I did not have such optimism for the blender. It’s not a bad blender and it still works, but it wasn’t a great brand, it didn’t have a massive motor and it was a few years old. There was only one other same-model Magimix on Gumtree when I listed mine; there were hundreds of blenders.

I listed it anyway, and after a week, rather unexpectedly, I got a call. Someone wanted to buy it, and offered $20. Rather amazed that I’d even got the call in the first place I agreed (I’d listed it for $30).

When the guy turned up, he explained that he had the same blender and the glass jug had fallen off the kitchen bench and smashed. He’d called the manufacturer who’d told him the price of a new jug…and the price of a new blender. Guess which one was cheaper? Yep, the whole unit. They actually advised him on the phone to just order a whole new unit. But rather than buy a new one, he’d checked on Gumtree first, and there was mine.

It makes me so mad that companies do that deliberately. One bit breaks and you have to replace the whole thing. It’s so incredibly wasteful. Of course it doesn’t make sense that a whole unit would be cheaper than its parts. Yet it always seems to be that way. I feel like they’re trying to condition us to never try to repair things or replace parts, but mindlessly buy new ones instead.

We don’t have to stand for that! That’s why sites like Gumtree and eBay are so useful. They give all the people who need replacement parts access to loads of people who have replacement parts. We don’t have to let these companies have their way!

If I’d have sent that blender to the charity shop, there’s a chance it would have gone to landfill anyway. Not all charity shops accept electrical goods, and they also need to be able to test them for electrical safety. Plus I sometimes feel that sending stuff to the charity shops is shirking our responsibility a little bit. It’s too easy to dump our unwanted stuff and feel good about giving to charity when there’s no guarantee they’ll actually want what we’ve given them. This way I can be sure that the item I’m selling has gone on to a new home where it will be used.

People sometimes think I’m crazy for listing things on Gumtree for such small amounts of money. (I have listed things on there for free, but the lowest price I’ve listed something for was 50 cents – and it got a buyer!) But it’s not about the money. It’s about diverting something from landfill and stopping somebody else buying something brand new when there’s a suitable second-hand alternative. Double win! The argument that you haven’t got the time? Seriously?! You need to take a photo, upload it and write a short description. You can do it from your mobile phone in about 1 minute. Not exactly labour intensive!

I’m feeling pretty smug that I thwarted the electronic company’s attempt to get a new sale, pleased that I was able to give the guy exactly what he was looking for, and glad the blender isn’t stuck on a dusty shelf in a charity shop or heading to landfill.

If you’ve got stuff that’s broken or got parts missing, it’s doesn’t mean no-one will want it. I bet for every functioning blender with the glass jug broken, there’s another with an intact jug but a burnt-out motor. Even if you think something’s beyond salvage, someone else may find it useful for an art or sculpture project. Before you chuck it in the bin, give it a go on the second-hand listings sites. You’ve got nothing to lose!

My 100 Things Challenge

I’ve been feeling a little overwhelmed this week. It started with the washing. But it’s been a busy week too. I’ve had meetings, I’m currently participating in a course, I’m working with a couple of organisations on two different projects, I’m presenting next week on sustainable transport, all on top of all the regular stuff I need to do and all the things I want to do. I like to fill my time, get involved and keep busy, but then sometimes I stop and look at everything I’m planning to do, and I get that ‘whoah!‘ feeling where I don’t even know where to start.

And if my schedule is feeling cluttered, so is the physical place of my life, my tiny flat. I think, maybe, that when one aspect of your life is busy or cluttered you look for solace in the other parts. Well there’s no solace in the tiny flat! I talked a bit on Monday about how slowly I’ve been accumulating clothes, but it’s not just clothes. Yesterday we picked up our new sofa. It’s not actually new, but a bargain find from the Salvation Army charity shop, and we’d needed a new sofa since we sold the old one. (The old one had to go as it took up half the flat, literally, which I hadn’t realised when I bid on it on eBay because I didn’t actually bother to check the dimensions.) The new sofa allows us to seat people whilst leaving enough space in the tiny flat to fit in some storage so we no longer need to keep piles of things on the floor. Since losing the old sofa we got also got a set of drawers to put all the stuff in. Which is great…

Except the piles of stuff are still sitting around the place, or shoved in the drawers. They’ve not been sorted. I have that uneasy feeling that comes with not being entirely sure where any of your stuff is.

And the other thing that makes me uneasy, is this word ‘need’. We ‘needed’ the sofa. We ‘needed’ the drawers. We ‘needed’ the glass pyrex storage containers that I bought last week because we don’t have enough food storage. I feel like I’ve been spending like crazy and accumulating stuff, and when I look around the flat and in the cupboards I see too much stuff. It’s so easy to justify everything, to think it will make your life better, or easier. But all that stuff needs sorting, and tidying, and cleaning, and finding again when I’ve tidied it away and don’t remember where away actually is. And for all the new stuff that I ‘need’, there’s plenty of stuff that is no longer useful.

I love the idea of simplicity, but I am a natural hoarder. It’s a constant battle. I want to believe that those things will become useful again. Something has to tip me over the edge and push me into action. Well this week, that has happened. So whilst I’m still in the moment I’ve made a pledge. I’m going to get rid of 100 things.

I have no idea which 100 things. I have no idea if that’s a lot, or once I get started I’ll be able to get rid of 300 things. (Wouldn’t that be nice?!) All that stuff in the kitchen cupboards that I haven’t used since we moved in? That’s going. The clothes I haven’t worn since arriving in Australia? Out. The stuff in the bottom of the boxes that never got entirely emptied when we moved in? It’s not staying.

I’m going to give myself a month. And I’m putting it out here in a public forum because it should motivate me to actually go through with it! I’m hopeful that less clutter will mean a more positive environment, less stress, fewer chores (more time!) and more freedom.

Remember the film Fight Club? My friend and I were obsessed with it in school, particularly because of all the great quotes (there are many). Even now, I can remember many of them. I wanted to finish with one because I think it’s so true. It’s another reason to de-clutter your life.

“The things you own end up owning you.”

The weekend and the washing

laundryjpgI had a really great weekend. Friday night sushi and a rare trip to the theatre with my boyfriend (Death of a Salesman by the Black Swan State Theatre Company), a Saturday afternoon afternoon trip to Fremantle then dinner with friends on Saturday night, and lunch with family on Sunday afternoon. Busy, fantastic company, amazing food, loads of fun. Read more

The Joy of Second-Hand

This weekend we were able to borrow a car for a couple of hours, and took the opportunity to go furniture shopping. I wanted a desk to be able to work from and as we recently sold our sofa to free up some space in the tiny flat, we now actually had room for one.

When we moved into our (unfurnished) flat 15 months ago, we decided that all the furniture we purchased would be second-hand. There were a number of reasons for this. The environmental factor was a big one, of course. Why buy something brand new when we could buy something old and give it another lease of life? New items are also always ridiculously overpackaged. Having just come from the UK, we had recently experienced selling a number of (once-new) items for significantly less than they had cost to buy. Not only did we realise the depreciation of new and shiny bits and pieces, but having seen the smiles of the people who were walking away with our stuff bought at cheap-as-chips prices, we realised that second hand furniture didn’t have to be rubbish and there were bargains to be had.

Our first purchases were a washing machine (I researched the top water efficient models currently on the market, and then looked for a second hand one) and two old but clean and surprisingly comfortable green armchairs which cost just $10. We have since added a bed, mattress and two bedside tables, a dining table and four chairs, the sofa (which we have just re-sold) and now the desk. I have also bought a couple of second-hand kitchen appliances. We’ve saved a few trees (and a lot of plastic packaging!) as well as a few dollars, and we’ve had only good experiences with everything we’ve bought.

Now I can’t imagine buying brand new furniture. That’s not to say I never will, but whilst there’s so much great pre-loved furniture out there just waiting for a new home, there just doesn’t seem to be any reason why I would.

Nine reasons why second hand furniture shopping is great:

1. Sustainability

In a world of finite resources, why waste what we have making new things when there are old things that can do the job perfectly well?

2. Plastic free

Second hand furniture never comes cling-wrapped or bubble-wrapped, there’s no individually wrapped drawer knobs and door knobs and screws, and there’s no plastic wallet for the ‘instruction manual’. In fact, there’s no instruction manual as it’s already been put together. Hurrah!

3. Individuality

Second hand furniture is a chance to find exactly what you want – quirky, functional, antique, ethnic, bohemian, sensible – in the colour, material and size that you’re looking for. Rather than in the shops, where what you can buy is dictated by what the powers-that-be have decided is fashionable this year.

4. Better quality

Things that are made to last – guess what? – last. Things that are made to be cheap usually don’t. For the same price as you’d pay in the cheap mass-produced furniture warehouses you can buy solid items that will last much longer. And, as an added bonus, you don’t have to traipse around a mass-produced furniture warehouse clutching a colander and some wooden coat hangers that you’re sure will come in useful.

5. VOCs

You how those new items you buy smell so…new? Well, that would be the volatile organic compounds, and you’re breathing them in. These are chemicals found in paints and coatings with low boiling points, which evaporate into the air. Because second-hand furniture is older, they will have less VOCs.

6. Money

Second hand furniture is invariably going to be cheaper than its brand new equivalent, and rare antiques aside, most furniture will depreciate. Scuffs, knocks and scratches are bound to happen in time, so why pay a premium for scratch-free? People sometimes need to sell stuff in a hurry, and it’s possible to find real bargains. In fact, people give away items that they no longer need if they are going to a good home.

7. Glimpses into the lives of others

It’s not often that you are welcomed into a complete stranger’s house. I love getting to see new neighborhoods and briefly glimpsing the lives of people whose paths would probably never cross with mine, were it not for this brief transaction. Whilst that may sound a little odd (!), it’s really surprising how often people ask about your plans, or share their own history, and you make a connection.  After all, you’re taking a tiny piece of their life, and placing it in your own. That’s how I feel, but maybe that’s just me!

8. Convenience

No traipsing round the shops with half the local population at the weekend. Instead, browsing online from the comfort of my own home at a time that suite me and making a quick phone call or two.

9. Freedom

There’s a quote from the movie Fight Club that goes “the things you own end up owning you”. I love the way that second-hand items feel transient… they might be mine now but they belonged to someone else before me and they’ll probably belong to someone else after me.