A&E has a show called Hoarders. They are the people who have massive amounts of stuff and never throw anything out. I don’t think I’m a hoarder. I just can’t see throwing out things that have intrinsic value, and will take up valuable space in landfills. I try to donate stuff to charity when I’m done with it. But they won’t take just anything, and it can be an effort to donate. For example, I found a ten year old computer scanner in my office closet, and brought it to The Salvation Army. I hadn’t taken the time to search my stuff for the software disk that came with the scanner, or the cords needed to run the thing, so the Salvation Army rejected the item. “It’s worthless without the software and cords,” said the volunteer at the dock. Worthless? It must have some value to somebody, I thought. Isn’t there a computer chip or other stuff of value in there somewhere? Can’t it be retro-fitted to be an up-to-date scanner?
Or what do you do when you have an electronic item and it just needs a small part, but finding somebody to fix it is a challenge, you may have to ship it somewhere, and the labor costs make buying a new one a much better deal? My 14 year old recently blew something on his Fender guitar amp. Luckily, his guitar teacher said, “Call ‘Rich the Amp Guy’ in Redding. Rich is a retired electrical engineer and amateur guitarist who fixes guitar amps in his basement. Rich told me it needed a part that he would have to search for and that it would cost me $75 for him to fix the amp. I went to the local guitar shop and saw my amp new, on sale for $99. I probably should have just tossed the amp and bought the new one, but it seemed like such a waste! The old amp wasn’t old at all–maybe six or seven years old, but since I bought it used there was no warranty.
I’m sure, buried here in all of this is a study in the international labor market. The Fender amp is most likely mass manufactured somewhere where the workers aren’t paid very much at all for their time. Rich probably charges close to $75 an hour, and has to pay a mortgage in tony Redding, CT.
I’ve often thought communities we need to develop an organized system of sharing stuff. Places to drop off stuff we no longer want and take stuff we’d like. I give you the books I’ve already read, and you give me the books I want to read. That’s fair, right?
I think the “freegans” are onto this problem. I never heard of freegans before the other day when I read a blog written by Deidre Sullivan of Snap Dragon Consultants, about a “dumpster dive” attended in New York. That’s right. Freegans are dumpster divers who rescue furniture, clothes, household items and even food thrown away by others. Although freeganism is not an official organization, they have a website that publicizes their meetups, which serve as the movement’s hub: http://www.meetup.com/dumpsterdiving-4/. Freegans believe that consumerism destroys the environment and is bad for us as a society. They believe that deforestation, factory farming and unfair labor practices are a natural result of a profit-centered culture. Most importantly, they think that working and buying give implicit approval to capitalism and its sometimes unpleasant side effects.
So freegans choose not to buy. They resist the latest electronic gadgets and changing fashions. They repair what they already own and trade amongst themselves. They scavenge for what they need. Since most industrialized societies produce so much waste, freegans can usually get by quite comfortably with only the occasional purchase.
I am not as anti-consumerism as the freegans, nor do I think eating out of the garbage is a good idea; it’s rather sickening, actually. But we do need to figure out how not to waste nearly as much as we do, how better to recycle, and to share the things we no longer need or want. Or we’ll all end up on Hoarders.
Note: Jim Cameron and Mimi Griffith of Darien, CT report on an experiment with sharing unwanted items in their town, The Swap Shop: http://darien.patch.com/articles/the-swap-shop-widely-praised-but-not-problem-free