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Stuff, Part III: What to do when you actually need stuff

Posted: 2:27PM January 16th, 2013 | Comments

I recently moved into my first real apartment after having spent two years living communally.  It was very exciting.  Yet, I had few furniture and kitchen items and was suddenly put up against my personal beliefs concerning buying stuff.  I needed a mattress, a couch, a 9x13” pan to bake brownies in!  What to do?  I successfully found almost all of the items I needed using the resources listed below.  And, if there are some negative stereotypes floating around in your consciousness concerning pre-used items, you will note that I am still here today, happy and healthy. 

·     My first resource became University of Wisconsin-Madison’s “Hippy Christmas,” the days before and after move-in/move-out day where students put everything from couches to mirrors to garbage cans on the curb.  Anything on the curb is first-come, first serve and FREE.  Maybe you aren’t comfortable taking a couch off the curb but treasures abound if you are willing to stop and look.  In this way, I gathered a beautiful tall, white lamp, a broom, baking dishes, a hutch for wine glasses, and, because I’m not too scared, an awesome couch.  Keep your eyes open for curbside goodies even after Hippy Christmas because, in Madison at least, it appears to be a year-round tradition.  For those of you who do not live in Madison, I’m sure your town has its own version of Hippy Christmas.  The small, farm town of 7,200 that I grew up in had “Junk Days.” 

·     For more free items, always consult family and friends.  “Oh, you’re moving? What are you doing with that shelving unit?”  Or, “Mom, I really need a 9x13” baking dish.  Do you have an extra?”  You never know what someone has sitting around, unused and waiting for a new home unless you ask.  I’ve also had success with Facebook posts requesting a certain needed item.   

·     My next best resource is Craig’s List.  Just as much as I hate stuff, I love Craig’s List.  The secret to finding what you need on Craig’s List is looking every day for about 1-2 weeks.  I found my bed frame, desk, mattress, and box spring for less than $90 total.  Craig’s List is also a great outlet for finding building materials, house wares, and other large items a homeowner might need. 

·     Find a swap meet near you!  Swap meets are get-togethers where people bring all manner of items for buy, sell, trade, and barter.  I have heard of bike swap meets, car swap meets, hand-crafted and homemade swap meets.  As far as I can tell, there is no single organization in Madison that hosts them regularly but they pop up on occasion so keep your eyes and ears open.  If you know of any, please share below!

·     Finally, thrift stores, garage sales, and antique stores are heaven for finding many of those general items such as kitchenwares, decorations, and clothing.  Note some of my favorites and more popular options below.

o     My favorite thrift store is Savers (admittedly, a national chain) where I find most of my “new” clothes.  From jeans to sweaters to coats, I believe it is possible to solely purchase clothing from Savers and never have anyone know that practically everything I wear is thrifted.  But, if asked, I am always more than happy to share that my top was from Savers and that everyone should shop there, too! 

o     Consignment stores are good options for those who want to ensure higher quality and name brand clothing items.  In Madison check out ReThreads, Plato’s Closet, and The Pink Poodle.  

o     Antique stores and garage sales are the places for finding higher-quality items such as kitchen appliances or sporting equipment that might get snagged quickly at thrift stores. Many neighborhoods throughout Madison as well as many suburbs host annual neighborhood garage sales.  Keep an eye on www.rummagewisconsin.com for the dates of these events.    

A commitment to purchasing less and pre-used means that you aren’t necessarily going to have the latest gadgets and styles.  Acknowledge that you really can go camping without a new light-weight stove as well as survive without the latest cell phone upgrade.  Appreciate the unique style that you make for yourself through thrift store finds.  Be proud of how long you can make your pair of shoes or computer last. 

Next, take note of the stuff that you buy for others and apply the same principles.  Better yet, purchase gifts in the form of event tickets, gift memberships, gift donations, or creative coupons for date nights, back rubs, lunch out, etc.  Gifts that are not “things” are usually more meaningful and also help to spread awareness. Along the same lines, request gifts for yourself that are not “things.”  If gifts as “things” are definitely needed, buy and request local handmade gifts that support someone in your community and are made from locally-sourced materials.  

Finally, allow yourself a couple exceptions.  What those may be, I leave up to you.  There is no all or nothing—we each do what we can because together we make a difference.   

Do you have any other suggestions and secrets to reducing stuff or good places to find used items?  Please share in the comment section below!

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