Question: I’d like to save resources (both mine and the planet’s) by re-using items that others have purchased. But I don’t want to spend my days at garage sales. How can I find good-quality secondhand products on the internet?
[Note: this answer is a reprise of an article written by Steven Krieger last March.]
Answer me this: What is better than saving money on products that you are going to buy anyway? Getting those products for free! Our consumption of material goods is quickly depleting the natural resources required to create these products from scratch. Recycling is helpful, but reducing consumption levels and reusing products is much more effective (it is no coincidence that “recycle” is the last option in the “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” motto). Fortunately, there are three, fully operational websites that allow you to “consume” secondhand items in order to reduce consumption and conserve precious nonrenewable resources. In my experience, one can easily find the desired products in excellent to very good condition at or below half the original retail price.
A nation wide poll commissioned by the Center for a New American Dream found that “77% of Americans believe we should use our possessions longer instead of buying new things.” [The poll was conducted by Widmeyer Communications of Washington D.C. and surveyed 1269 people.] If you are part of that 77%, but unsure exactly how to avoid “buying new things,” check out one of the following three websites.
Craig’s List was originally started in the San Francisco/Bay area and now has websites for over 65 U.S. cities and over 30 international cities covering five continents. At http://www.craigslist.org you can select your city to explore hundreds of possibilities from categories including: for sale, housing, community, jobs, personals, discussions, and forums (all cities have the same interface). The “for sale” section is right in the middle and you have the opportunity to select a specific subsection or view all items for sale.
Additionally, this category has a “free” and “wanted” section, where you can snap-up items people are giving away or post a listing explaining exactly what you are interested in buying. Often, especially in major cities, the Craig’s List community is very transient and cannot be bothered to move all their “stuff” around the country. Thus, with a sharp eye, you could easily become the beneficiary of their year old furniture or other lightly used items. However, beware of spam listings that promise you free computers, TVs, jewelry, or other expensive merchandise. Fortunately, Craig’s List does have flagging system in order to minimize these postings, but they do sneak in from time to time.
Freecycle (http://www.freecycle.org) is a more focused version of the Craig’s List free and wanted subsections run through a website bulletin board and listserve (similar to way this newsletter is distributed). At the time of writing, there were 2,460 freecycle communities (specific geographic areas) with 987,122 members enrolled. The biggest communities have between 5,000 and 14,000 members, but with over 2,000 communities, there’s bound to be one near you. Freecycle, as the name indicates, only allows you to post free items; but it allows you post items you have or want. After you join the community (listserve), you will select an option to view the listings. Possibilities include receiving email updates all day, once a day, or not at all. I chose not to receive any emails, so I check the listings on the web regularly. After you list one item in your freecycle community, you are allowed to request items. There is a wide range of products listed and the communities tend to be very prompt about updating the listings with regard to the item’s status (i.e. interest, pending, gone).
Throwplace (http://www.throwplace.com) was designed to facilitate the “exchange and reuse” of items between people and charities, although it is open to businesses and individuals as well. Items are designated in four specific categories: U.S. Charity, International Charity, Business, and Up-For-Grabs. Only charities and non-profits (who are recognized by the U.S. I.R.S.) may submit “take requests” for items listed in the charity sections and are required to send a receipt (for tax deduction purposes) upon receiving the items. Anyone can submit a “take request” for the remaining sections (Business and Up-For-Grabs), but the giver selects the most favorable request. Throwplace is significantly more formal than Craig’s List or Freecycle and requires a minimal membership fee ($5 monthly or $20 annually for an individual). However, you are not geographically restricted (people arrange and pay for shipping) and you have access to a much wider variety of products. Craig’s List and Freecycle occasionally have excess inventory or office supplies posted, but most listings are from the individual for the individual.
The best products go very quickly. Keep an eye on the sites and be proactive in your search. You may not get exactly what you want immediately, but with a little patience, you will find your treasure for an excellent price. Plus, most importantly, reusing these items keeps usable goods out of landfills and reduces your consumption of new products, which conserves our natural resources-good for you!
Originally posted in “On Eagles’ Wings” October 21st 2005