OT: Secondhand: Travels in the new global garage sale

“Secondhand: Travels in the new global garage sale,” by Adam Minter, Bloomsbury Publishing, NY, 2019. This 300-page hardback is the story of all those discards. Downsizing, settling an estate, what happens to all that stuff? Minter takes us through 12 chapters of answers.

Services are available to deal with your “stuff” many places. For most only about 15% can be sold. The rest gets sorted. Can Goodwill or a similar agency take and sell it? We learn they exist mostly to employ the needy who want a job. Items that don’t sell are quickly moved on to others. Much clothing is sorted and shipped various places where it can be sold as used. Sometimes it is repaired or dyed. Sometimes sold as new–often in dollar stores.

Much used clothing from the US goes to Mississauga near Toronto for sorting. It is one of the world’s hubs for secondhand textiles. China is fifth largest exporter of used clothes after the US, UK, Germany and South Korea. Their exports are expected to increase.

Salvation Army was founded in London in 1865. It employed the indigent to collect, repair and sell unwanted goods. It expanded to New York in 1897.

Goodwill began as Boston’s Methodist Morgan Chapel and adopted the name Goodwill in 1915. Burlap coffee bags were distributed to middle class homes to collect used clothing. Sorting and knowing what sells is very much part of the business. Items too pricey for one store may do well in another.

Ebay was founded in 1995. Initially it was very successful selling used merchandise at auction. Now the focus is on new. Most items, 84+%, are new and fixed price.

Minter notes that lower cost clothing continues to arrive from Asia. The result is lower quality and shorter service life. Some groups are more fashion conscious and more likely to discard clothing. A survey found Millennials are more likely to discard a garment after one to five wears. Cultural differences apply. In Chinese culture, there’s shame if you use second hand. Chinese New Year is all about new clothes.

From Japan used items are often sold in the Philippines. As standard of living increases the market shifts toward new items. Next was Thailand, and now probably Cambodia. Afghanistan. Nigeria. Pakistan. Malaysia.

The term “garage sale” originated in 1967 to distinguish individual sales for profit from rummage sales for a charity. Collectors enjoy programs like Antiques Roadshow and American Pickers that celebrate valuable finds. Antique stores once were numerous but now they are in decline. Prices are down 50 to 70% from their highs. From the 1990s antique shops are closing and relocating to antique malls. The largest is Midtown Antiques in Stillwater, MN. Hummel figurines used to sell for $300 and up. Now they don’t sell. In the ‘90s dolls were hot; now they don’t sell. Ditto stamps and coins. Poloroid cameras are coming back. Now worth $200.

In Arizona, Goodwill operates a Youth Restoration Program. Young people are employed to refinish furniture that would otherwise be landfilled. The program is good for the youths but is not profitable.

Textiles not otherwise saleable can be used as wiping rags, but specifications are demanding. Cotton is preferred for its absorbency, but pure cotton is increasingly rare. About 30% of used textiles in the US are converted to wiping rags. They are widely used by hotels, bars, and restaurants, but also by painters, car washes, health care, etc.

Alliance Laundry Systems makes commercial grade laundry equipment under the Speed Queen brand name. It is made to last and thoroughly tested. Consumer equipment is made cheaply to be competitively priced, but the result is shorter service life. Planned obsolescence.

A chapter tells of car carriers for children. Parents are advised not to use them after their “use by” date, but there is no evidence of deterioration. It’s merely planned obsolescence to encourage new sales. Many are shipped to Mexico for resale.

Used electronics are sent to Ghana for repair and sale in third world countries. That includes TVs as old as 20 years. Those that can’t be repaired are scavenged for parts. Parts are marketable or are used to repair others.

Too much “stuff” winds up in landfills. This books tells of efforts to find uses for discards. Sometimes with remarkable success. An interesting topic to read about. References. Photos. Index.