One Man’s Trash…

When my husband and I got our first apartment together in 2001, we combined two very small “sets” of mis-matched dishes.  We used those for several years until one of my friends upgraded her dishes and offered me her old ones.  They were well-used discount store dishes, but we liked them better than our hodge podge collection of dinnerware, and they all matched!  We donated our old dishes to the thrift store and stared using the new ones right away.  They served us well for several years.

But we recently upgraded to a much nicer set of dishes.  My mother gave us a full set of Pfaltzgraff dinnerware that she had collected over the last few years.  She found all the pieces at thrift stores for a tiny fraction of what they would cost to buy them new, and they’re all in excellent condition.  It’s a pattern I love, and the pieces were obviously much better quality than the dishes we had been using.  We’ve had them for a couple months now, and we love them.

There was no way that I was going to stash them away somewhere and only bring them out when company came over.  Every day is a special day – might as well use the nice china everyday, right?  So that meant that the old china in our cupboards had to go in order to make room for the new dishes.  Normally, I would just donate stuff like that to the thrift store, but our collection had acquired quite a few chips over the years and I wasn’t sure Goodwill would accept them.  I’ve never seen chipped china for sale there, and I thought that it might just end up being more work for them if they had to toss it anyway.  Plus, I was hoping that someone could actually use it.  Although there were several chips, the dishes were still very usable – we had been using them up until we got the Pfaltzgraff set.

I packed the dishes into a couple boxes, and yesterday I posted them for free on Craigslist to see if anyone was interested.  I mentioned the chips and included a couple pictures in the listing.  Very soon after I posted them, I got a reply from a lady who said she’d love to have them.  I put them on our porch for her and told her she could come and get them whenever it was convenient.

This morning I got an email from her saying that she had picked up the dishes.  It said “thank you from the bottom of my heart” and how much it helped them to have the dishes.

I always try to avoid throwing stuff away if I think that there’s any possibility that someone else could use it.  I donate a lot of stuff to Goodwill, but I’m aware that they end up throwing away stuff that isn’t in good shape.  When I have things that aren’t good enough to donate to a thrift store, I always try listing them for free on Craigslist.  I almost always find someone who can use whatever it is that we don’t need anymore.  Baby stuff that has seen better days, boxes we used to pack our stuff when we moved, a broken lawn mower… all sorts of stuff that might normally end up in a landfill was happily carted home by people who had a use for it.

I feel like this is a better solution for things that aren’t in great shape than just dropping them off at a thrift store.  Sure, that method is faster and easier, but it also creates more work for the sorters at the thrift store who have to separate out the stuff that they can’t sell.  If it just ends up getting thrown away, it’s no better than throwing it away yourself.  Listing that sort of stuff for free on Craigslist allows people who actually have a use for it to come and get it, and doesn’t burden thrift stores with goods that they aren’t able to sell.  Plus, it gets it out of your garage or basement.  Win, win, win.

We’ve also benefited several times from other people listing stuff for free on Craigslist.  A few days ago we scored a baby wading pool for free.  Our boys are loving it, and it’s no longer taking up space in someone else’s garage.  It was no use to them anymore, but it’s perfect for our family.  So glad they didn’t just throw it away!

Before you throw stuff away, do you consider whether it might be useful to someone else and offer it on sites like Freecycle or Craigslist?  Obviously, some things are truly trash and nobody is going to want them (if you don’t get any replies to your free listing, that’s a pretty good sign that it does belong in the trash).  But you might be surprised at how often your trash is someone else’s treasure.

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  1. Becky says

    We just listed a bunch of items for free on Craigslist a few weeks ago.  We always do a big rummage sale with my husband’s family, but it is at his aunt’s house 1.5 hours away.  We had some big things sitting in our basement that were only worth a few dollars a piece.  We decided it would be easier to give them away on Craigslist rather than cart them to my husband’s aunt’s house.  They went quickly and we were glad to get them out of the basement immediately so that my husband could start working on a project.  A big win!!!

    I also agree about not saving nice china.  I would never remember to get them out for special occasions, anyway :)  My husband gets teased at work when he brings our fancy “gold” silverware to eat his bagged lunch, but at least it’s getting used!

  2. Kate says

    I hate throwing stuff away but I’ve had bad experiences with freecycle.  The problem with giving stuff away for free is that the people who email to enquire are not very committed.  We’ve had several people who said they’d come pick up somthing and then they would never turn up, and I’ve had wasted part of my evening waiting at home. 

    Who knew trying to give away things for free can be such hard work!

    • Frugal Babe says

      I’ve found that it works well to just tell people that I’ll put the item on the porch for them, and then they can come whenever they want and I don’t have to sit around and wait for them.  If they don’t show up, I can just offer it to the next person who emailed.  The longest I’ve ever had something sit on my porch was about 24 hours. 

  3. Jenn says

    I know this wouldn’t fly in all neighborhoods, but in ours it’s very easy to get rid of un-donate-able stuff by setting it out on the curb with a “free” sign on it. In one day last summer we got rid of two infant car seats (perfectly fine but not legal to resell), a fan with a broken base, and a broken stereo, none of which would have likely gotten any bites on craigslist or freecycle. I couldn’t bring myself to put any of that bulky stuff in a landfill, and I like to think that someone may have gotten some more use out of it.

    • Frugal Babe says

      Yep, we do that a lot too.  We post a CL listing letting people know about the stuff on the curb, since we live on a street that gets very little traffic.  I don’t think we’ve ever had anything sit there more than a day.

  4. kat89 says

    I never thought about Craig’s List for free stuff, although we’ve bought several things from people there. I usually use Freecycle, do the FREE sign at the end of the driveway or ask around to friends and family. As for dishes specifically, right now I have chipped dinner plates under potted plants for water drainage and I’ve given chipped up dishes to someone I know who was doing a mosaic project. I’m also growing some herbs in chipped coffee mugs and they look really cute. (I keep the chipped part in the back).

    • Frugal Babe says

      We still have some of the chipped dishes being used at plant trays too.  I love the idea of growing herbs in chipped mugs!

  5. Kaytee says

    Just about everything we’ve purchased for our baby has come from craigslist or a nearby used kids/infants store. The few things we’ve bought new, we did so because we couldn’t find them used or for sanitary reasons (breast pump tubing, for example). It’s been much harder to try and keep friends and family from purchasing new things, usually clothes, for our baby. We’re determined to minimize our baby’s environmental footprint. We’ve found that people get so excited about a new baby that they just want to buy things. Especially when you have a girl, because apparently baby girl clothing is adorable and hard to resist. (we shop in the boy’s section for gender neutral stuff, the baby doesn’t care as long as it fits and isn’t wet) It’s been hard to say thanks, but no thanks. So, I’ve got a growing pile of new clothing that we’ve been accumulating to donate to a local non-profit that provides housing and job training for teenage mothers. I did keep the superman onesie, though :)

    On the other side, because we live on a busy road, we usually just put the unwanted item on the side of the road with a free sign. Or we donate usable items to goodwill. I think the only thing we’ve taken to the landfill in 6+ years was a 12 year old futon mattress. Someone probably would have taken it for free, but it was pretty dead and that’s the one thing that gives me the heebie-jeebies, especially since we had a bad infestation of fleas last year. (And I work with wastewater!)

    • Frugal Babe says

      Kaytee, I know exactly what you mean.  Actually, we only have a few people who love to buy stuff for our boys.  Some of it I donate right away and some of it they wear – it basically means that I very rarely buy clothing for our boys, since I prefer that their closets not be overflowing.  Since we have two boys who are three years apart, the younger one has no need for new clothes (or new used clothes) at all – he has all his brother’s hand me downs.  But my MIL still likes to buy clothes for him.  Since it’s only a few times a year, I don’t really mind.  Compared with a lot of the grandmas I know, she’s actually pretty restrained with the gifts.  My own parents never buy things for the boys – they just come and spend time with them instead, which I love.

      We’ve done the free sign on large stuff at the curb several times, but we live at the end of a street that gets almost no traffic, so we also list the stuff on Craigslist when we put it out there.  It’s usually gone within a few hours that way.

  6. Bogart says

    Our town has at its central (actually peripheral, but, main) recyling drop-off a shed where one can leave usable but unwanted stuff.  I have gotten any number of great things there; we use it as something of a toy library, and there is also a book shelf.  That is great as far as it goes; the staff do clean it out regularly (meaning they throw unclaimed stuff in the dumpsters), so stuff can still end up in the trash, but hopefully only if it’s truly unwanted.  The two downsides to the set up are (a) it’s not readily accessible by public transport (nor, really, by bike or foot, unless one is truly motivated), and (b) judging from appearances (of cars loading up), there are people who hoard who use it as a source for (more) stuff to hoard.  On the other hand there are also people who, e.g., come gather metal things to sell for scrap, or kids items to sell, so it offers not only use but also a modest source of entrepreneurship.  Long and short, it’s not perfect, but overall I think is a good thing.  I do also donate to Goodwill (etc.), but as you say, some things are usable but maybe not appropriate to donate.

    • Frugal Babe says

      In our old town, the recycling center had a similar area.  I especially liked the book bin, since the library I worked at had a book store to raise money for the library.  I once found about 30 hardcover, perfect condition, recently-printed Stephen King books in the recycle book bin!  I schlepped them all over to the library and added them to the book store.  

  7. says

    This same thing happened to me! We upgraded our pots and pans and I listed the old ones, with a detailed description of their condition and possibly photos, and they were picked up within 24 hours and I received a thank you email later. I love thinking that my old things can help someone else out.

  8. says

    Where I live, people are pretty good about hauling off your trash if they like it. I recently encouraged my Mom to downgrade her “everyday china” so she could have room for spices. But I haven’t been able to convince her to give them away yet. They are still in a bag on the floor in the house somewhere. But she isn’t afraid of Craigslist so we shall see.

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