Cindy’s Weekly Wisdom – One Person’s Trash Is Another Person’s Treasure

Cindy’s Weekly Wisdom


One person’s trash is another person’s treasure. That’s a saying we’ve all heard and probably have said. I first truly appreciated the saying at the first garage sale I ever held as an adult. As we raised the garage door at 8:00 am, shoppers began ducking under the rising door, eager to be the first inside. The very first thing that sold was a men’s electric razor for $5. The next thing to sell was a rusted kitchen knife for 10 cents. That’s when I first came to believe that you really can sell anything.

But, of course, decluttering doesn’t have to be about selling, as we have discussed many times on this blog.

I think there are two things you need in order to make any trash to treasure (T2T) work. 1) a place for your “trash” to go and 2) and more importantly, a willingness to find that place.

Let’s start with the easiest examples.

Have Trash: your old clothes. Make Treasure: donate them to the thrift store. That’s how you turn clothing T2T.

Okay, duh Cindy, that’s obvious, but no one would want my XX. You think not? Let’s recall some of the tougher items I’ve decluttered.

Have Trash: 3 pounds of sour cream with about 1/2 C missing and a bottle of salad dressing with one salad’s worth missing. To make this into treasure, you are probably the biggest obstacle. Your embarrassment about offering slightly used food to others is holding you back from making this into treasure. I took a deep breath and offered these two things on my neighborhood list serve. Both had multiple people willing to take them off my hands. The person who took the sour cream just happened to be having a party that weekend and was pleased to have a base for various dips. She made a sour cream cake with the rest.

Have trash: Things which can be recycled, but it’s inconvenient. To make treasure: It’s your responsibility to dispose to things responsibly and in the best way your community demands. Batteries can be saved up and returned to the battery store, Home Depot or Lowes, and probably your community recycling center. The same with Compact Florescent Lightbulbs (except they go back to the lightbulb store, not the battery store). Try this mindset: You were perfectly willing to drive all over town to acquire these items. You should put at least this much effort into recycling them. (Or you can make battery art, like this creative soul.)

Have trash: Sentimental item you dislike. Make treasure: Again, you’re the obstacle here. You have to know that it’s not your responsibility to hang onto other people’s memories, stuff from the dead, or gifts you hate. Make treasure: As we occasionally say in our house, You gotta put your big girl pants on. Be okay with the fact that you don’t want these things. Then ask among the relatives (and don’t listen to their silly attempts to guilt-trip you into keeping the item), donate to a historical society (if appropriate), give to the thrift store, sell on EBay, donate on Craigslist or Freecycle. Recently my cousin has had great luck selling on Facebook classified ads, which I don’t know anything about. She lives in the country. Her rural location does not stop her from selling and buying used, and it shouldn’t stop you either.

Have trash: A wierd, awkward, or very one-of-a-kind item. Make treasure: These things are perfect for Freecycle or the free column on Craigslist. I have Freecycled battered used wooden fencing – twice (once it was used to make a goat pen and once it was used to make rustic mailboxes), and we let people pick through our construction dumpster for a single piece of wood they needed. A broken antique mirror frame with no mirror went to a furniture refinisher. Either he’ll fix it when he’s got time or he’ll use the pieces to fix up something else. A huge box of old cassette tapes were happily snapped up by a fellow driving a really old pick up truck – no CD player in that thing. All of our pencils that had been used until they were really short, and all the pens that worked but we didn’t like for some reason went to our daughters’ school. “Pencils of shame” we call them, because they were saved for girls who forgot to bring their pencils to class.

Have trash: Dirty, torn or stained clothing. Make treasure: Call around to your local thrift stores; it is likely that at least one of them is also in the fiber business. I had a hard time finding this information in my community, but it turns out that both the Salvation Army and Goodwill take items for fiber. I just need to label the bag clearly with “For Fiber. Do Not Sort.” and drop at any Salvation Army or Goodwill location. How easy is that? Now in addition to the bag I always have for items to donate to the thrift store, I have a bag for fiber too. Make treasure, part 2: In addition, when I converted my entire lawn to garden, I smothered the grass with layers of old clothing, sheets, and blankets that I have saved over the years. It made as good of layer as the cardboard I also used. Occasionally I dig up a button or a string of elastic from the garden from the fibers that have now decomposed.

What’s your hardest thing that you think you can’t find a good second life for? Let’s work together and see what we can come up with.

For more great tips on recycling your stuff check out 365’s Recycle Guide

Today’s Mini Mission

Declutter one dust collecting ornament.

Today’s Declutter Item

I performed only one task with this mug, a task that could be performed by something else that had multiple uses. Hence this item was just wasting space in my kitchen.

Enamel Mug

Eco Tip for the Day

When doing your weekly shop put a shopping basket in your shopping cart to put your fruit and vegetables in rather than bag everything up separately in plastic bags. I have been doing this for years and only once has the checkout person given me grief about having to weigh it this way.

“In daily life we must see that it is not happiness that makes us grateful, but gratefulness that makes us happy.” Brother David Steindl-Rast

It matters not how fast I go, I hurry faster when I’m slow

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  1. Old pillows, sheets and towels that are old and/or stained that we don’t think anyone wants can go to … an animal shelter.

    There is an answer out there if only you’re willing to take the time to look.

  2. I agree that one shouldn’t fear a little hassle to get rid of things. However, there have been some things I trashed (or recycled) straightaway, even though they were practically new. I’m thinking in particular of some cheapish plastic items I got as presents that didn’t loose their distinctive smell even when aired. I deem them a health hazard and wouldn’t want anyone buy such a thing at a thrift store.

    • Exactly! Someone gave me a Bible cover that had a certain nasty chemical smell. I put it aside so it would ‘air out’ but a few weeks later, it still stank. So I happened to see a label on the box stating that it ‘contains chemicals that are known by the state of California to be carcinogenic.’ Well, I don’t live in California, but shucks, I still figure those chemicals are carcinogenic in any state, right? So, into the trash it went, even though it was a thoughtful Mother’s Day gift.

      But I do take exception to toxic items being forced upon us, such as CFL lightbulbs. Now, why are these toxic lightbulbs going to totally replace regular light bulbs? They save a little energy but they’re toxic if you break one? Surely there was another option available to save some energy. And, they don’t last all that much longer than regular bulbs.

      • On the light bulbs: CFL light bulbs actually release less mercury than incandescents over their lifetime and aren’t that toxic if broken. I can understand the concern (especially if you have kids), but it’s not as big a deal as many people say it is.

        LED is the way of the future though, and they are AWESOME. Longer life, less issues, less energy. They are more expensive upfront, but they save a lot in the long run.

        Also, just about every chemical is carcinogenic to some degree. I agree that if it stinks and needs massive airing out while still smelling terrible that you don’t need it, but that label is a little ridiculous and overused.

    • I remember airing my daughter’s car seat in the garage for a week. that grossed me out!

  3. Thank you for all that great information! I’ve learned some new tricks today. Keep up the good work.

  4. good one. I often use this phrase if I tell people about freecycle (I think I spread the word sustainably), meaning to encourage people to get rid of items – but recently it backfired, when a friend of mine refused to trash the ugliest old laundry basket (made of not so white fabric anymore), because someone could maybe still used it. he used that phrase, straight back in my face… I need to accept that some people just dont have any scruples to offer trash to other people. and then I need to learn to not teach packrats catchy phrases, that they can use to save trash…

    • oh and colleen, I fell in love with that mug. I had exactly one like that back in the days when we went on camping holidays.

  5. Thank you for this post – I got all high and mighty with recently when they suggested ‘trashing’ anything you hadn’t re homed in a week. I was aghast – as you say, if you’ll drive to get new batteries/globes, you should darn well sort out their end of life (I go to Ikea almost weekly it seems, as they take CFLs, batteries, all other light globes etc).

    Ten thumbs up to the article – I feel part of a great community!

  6. What a great post! 🙂

  7. T2T – I love it! Here in NZ someone has just started a site called just like freecycle but allows you to put up pictures as well.

    Also I have noticed that people are putting items on the ground beside the donation bins, especially items which could smash being dropped into the bins or could injure the person who clears the bins. Our local one is in the supermarket carpark and I was waiting for Adrian. I saw a lady drop off a box of crockery and about five mins later someone else came along to drop off a bag of clothing and left with the box of crockery.

  8. Hi Cindy, another great post, thank you. Not only is it the right thing to find home or recycling possibilities for our unwanted stuff but it can be a fun challenge to undertake. Like you I have found homes for some strange stuff over the last few years of my mission.

    It seems thought that our readers aren’t aware of the Recycle Guide in the guides section of the blog. Perhaps one of my Simple Saturday posts would be well used pointing out the great guides that are available to them, such as the Tactful Request Formula or the Uncluttered Gifts Guide

  9. Yes it it can be an effort putting things on ebay or distributing to the right place for recycling or to the appropriate charity – but once its gone, its gone forever.

  10. Good post Cindy. It is amazing the things that people might want. I’ve had people take things because they are going to use them for pets, for the kids to play in the dirt with, to use when they work on their car (rags, old towels), etc. I have found very little that I can’t get rid of in some way that keeps it from going to the landfill.

    • I once heard of a mother giving her young daughter a pile of rag towels, a hammer, nails, etc. when she was launching into independent living. The mother’s rationale was that she’d otherwise have new towels and shouldn’t use those for drying the pets or washing the car or whatever.

  11. Great ideas, Cindy. I took a truckload of stuff to Goodwill today, but they wouldn’t take a piece of exercise equipment. So I came home and put it by the road in front of our house with a “free” sign on it. Within three hours, it was already claimed.

  12. In terms of trash vs. treasure, I am now in the “free food and freebie fest” that happens at the start of each school year. I only take the nicest freebies (this year is collapsible water bottles, reusable tumblers, and nice convertible cloth bags and keychains for my mom who collects them) for Christmas presents (my parents and family are die-hard supporters of my school). On the other hand, I saw people at the event with MULTIPLE plastic back scratchers, six or seven water bottles, buttons for EVERY group on campus, and goodness knows what else. While I’m sure some people are like me and have a use in mind, many of those are just first time students excited for free stuff.
    However, the food is another story. An event I was at today was catered, and the company composts all leftover food at the end of the event. I knew I couldn’t save EVERYTHING (there were about 20 cut up cantelopes), but I did manage to rescue about 4 pounds (~2kg) of pulled pork. It’s ridiculous the waste, but I calculate about 20 meals will be made out of it for us.
    I really wish places that serve food like that would ANNOUNCE that they were dumping the food at the end of it. I only know that they do because I’ve worked with them before. There was at least another 3-4 (~1-2 kg) pounds of meat that I just didn’t have room for, as well as 4 or 5 liters of potato salad and the aforementioned cantelope. CRAZY.

    Side note about the weirdest thing I’ve gotten rid of: Used pillows with no life left in them…. Use the stuffing for new projects, and fabric scrap the outside of it.

    • I’ve cut up my old pillows to reuse the stuffing as well.

      The cleverest thing I’ve ever seen at a catered party: doggie bags. When everyone seemed to have eaten their fill, the business brought out left over containers and encouraged everyone to take home whatever they wanted. I loved it!

      • Now that is truly amazing and a grand idea!!! Handing out doggie bags – marvelous!!!!!

      • That would be incredible! I was joking that I’d take a plastic grocery bag full of fruit home if I had one! The waste was atrocious. I can only imagine what it’s like elsewhere on campus, with welcome banquets every hour for different groups. I did the best I could with what I had though. Already made four meals out of it (dinner for two and lunch for two) and froze 1.5 pounds for later.

        With the amount of resources (11 times the fossil fuels as grains, 16 pounds of grain per pound of meat, 100 times the amount of water) that go into meat production, I figured that was the best save, both for my wallet and the planet. I’d rather not see any of it wasted, but better to waste something that requires less energy.

  13. What about old shoes? especially old tennis/walking/running shoes? And undergarments?

    • Old shoes can be recycled. Look into it in your area – I know Nike does some, but local shoe stores might.

      Undergarments: Bras can often be donated if they are still in ok condition (or posted to craigslist/freecycle). Undies are something I usually toss though. I suppose if they have enough fabric to be scrapped for fiber they could, and I pull any large pieces of elastic. Other undergarments may also be donateable/craigslistable.

      • My mom takes old cotton undies and cuts off the elastic. Then she soaks them in bleach, washes them and keeps them for rags. SHe did the same with my Dad’s briefs when he was alive. They are especially good for cleaning glass or anything you don’t want to get scratched.

  14. “Pencils of shame”, LOL!!! I loved that!

    Great ideas Cindy, thanks for your weekly wisdom!

  15. Excellent post, Cindy.

    I have to comment on the offering of the already-opened food on the neighborhood listserve. I’m squeamish, and the thought of getting already-opened food from a neighbor would gag me.

    We’re all different though, and that wouldn’t bother some people in the least.

    • To me it would depend on the food and the person. What Cindy mentioned, I’d likely take the salad dressing, but pass on the sour cream unless I had a good use for it right then. The more “finger food” the food, the less likely I would be to take it from people, unless I knew them well.

  16. Dust collectors are my biggest issue and largest contributor for my To Get Rid Of pile. They are constantly being analyzed (although the act of doing anything gets sidetracked at times).

    “When doing your weekly shop put a shopping basket in your shopping cart to put your fruit and vegetables in rather than bag everything up separately in plastic bags.”
    –I actually just received in the post from a lovely shop in Etsy where I got my linen “napkins” a bag of mesh bags for fruit and veg. I used one for the first time today. The cashier didn’t seem to care/mind since the tag was visible after being properly weighed. Oh….when the “skin” of the fruit/veg isn’t eaten (like with onions or cantaloupe), the sticker goes right onto the item and the item goes bagless (I figure the skin’s getting tossed anyway).

    Sometime back, I decided (hubby went along thank Heavens) that we used too many paper napkins and paper towels. Soooo after reading one of my “must read” blogs that mentioned re-useable ones in the form of cloth, I wanted to try at least. Our paper napkins have been replaced by white linen napkins (hubby likes the linen ones); the paper towels have been replaced by 3 packs of IKEA bar towels. Instead of covering a bowl or plate with paper, it’s a bar towel. Tip: They stopped “dropping” threads after the first wash. We still have a mostly used roll of paper towels, but haven’t used one in ages.

  17. Seems I am always trying to come up with creative home for some things. Some of the more unusual (to me) include:

    -New syringes/needles: I had bags of these left from when I was doing IVF. I offered them up to our local no-kill animal shelter. They were thrilled for the smaller ones and the bigger ones were given to a horse rescue.

    -Bubble wrap and packing peanuts: UPS will take the peanuts but I wanted to go more local if possible. I put them on Freecycle and had a woman who wanted them for a sensory room they were making for children in special ed. Then I started giving them to a local business owner who makes carved wooden items and ships them to customers.

    -Broken electronic items: I’m amazed at how many people will take these. They have the skills and desire to play around with them and try and fix them.