Recently I hit up the Bins, the big Goodwill outlet south of Portland. Why is it called the Bins? Because there are bins there–dozens of them–full of stuff. The Bins are where the rejected items end up, either the ones that didn’t sell in the retail stores, or that never made it there in the first place due to damage or other problems. Most things, other than books and furniture and a few miscellany, are sold for a dollar and change per pound. You can get clothing, appliances, kitchenware, art and art supplies, even toiletries there. You just have to not be too choosy. Some people refuse to shop in any thrift store because they feel secondhand items are “dirty” or “worn out”. They’d never set foot in the Bins.
And yet, it’s one of my favorite places. I’ve found perfectly good clothing there–maybe it needs a tiny bit of repair and a good cleaning, but it’s not shabby. Many of my dishes and other housewares were salvaged from the Bins. And I find all sorts of random art supplies–this last time I found an old weathered wooden picture frame that I have plans for, and a small real mink fur stole. Sometimes I luck out and find a leather coat I can cut up for supply. Other times it’s a bag of yarn, or feathers. And there are so many other things I’ve had to turn away because I just don’t have enough time for all the art–books that beg for alteration, clothing that could be revamped, found objects to put together into amazing amalgams of art. It’s really a creative artist’s paradise, if you know what to look for.
However, I also found it to be incredibly sad on a certain level. For every item that I or other people took away with us, there were countless ones that met the end of the line, to be thrown out at the end of the day. Here’s a picture of many, but not all, of the Bins themselves, along with a fraction of the furniture:
And just a tiny number of the books:
Clothing and exercise equipment:
These pictures? Show just a tiny fraction of what goes through those bins every day. Every hour they’re switched out, with leftovers taken away, and new items rolled in. What you see is some of just one hour’s worth of stuff, in one day, out of seven days a week, fifty-two weeks a year, in just one Goodwill outlet store in one city. While occasional items may end up going through multiple owners and happening to end up back here a second time, generally everything you see here is on its first–and only–trip to the Bins.
In addition to all this, imagine how much stuff gets either bought or thrown out from Portland yard sales, or from other thrift stores. Think about damaged items, including food, that Fred Meyer and WinCo and WalMart toss out, just in one metro area. Consider all the perfectly usable items people throw away in this city every day, simply because they don’t want to get up and find a donation location, or because they feel that somehow these items are no good, or that they don’t want someone else owning something that was theirs (yes, I have run into this attitude before).
And then think about this in all the cities, towns and rural areas just across the U.S. Landfills. Incinerators. Illegal dumps.
What I picture above isn’t even a drop in the bucket. It probably isn’t even a molecule. And it’s immense in the face of what I was able to take home that day.
This is what gets me going again. I am dismayed by the waste. I am angered by the gross materialism. I am disgusted by the snobbery that says “secondhand is trash, I deserve the BEST”.
So I live my ideals to the best of my ability. Maybe a dozen items in my wardrobe beyond underwear were purchased new. Almost all my books (other than some textbooks that I had to buy new) are secondhand. After my divorce last year, I restocked my kitchen in Goodwill’s aisles. And my art supplies? Sure, there are the pretty fox tails and wolf hides that are byproducts, but most of what I have comes from fur and leather coats, secondhand jewelry, random reclaimed tchotchkes, and the like. If I don’t get it from thrift stores or SCRAP, I’m buying other crafters’ leftovers. Almost everything I make has at least some secondhand component to it. Hell, sometimes I even buy supplies at the Bins to donate to SCRAP, just so someone gets to use it.
And yet, my efforts don’t even really register in the grand scheme of things, which is why I need to look at a more local, starfish story level just to keep from getting all despondent and overwhelmed by it all. But sometimes it’s good for us to get overwhelmed a little, to realize just how much there is to do and why it’s so urgent. We are wasting resources to an unprecedented degree–and it all comes down to the choices of individuals that add up cumulatively.
So: is there a trip to the Bins or their equivalent in your future?