Sell your stuff. Save the planet.

Back about a year my wife and I moved back to the US in something of a hurry. Rather than move all of the stuff we had accumulated in Tokyo, we decided to take only essentials: Stuff to get us going again in the US, and items of sentimental value. This of course left a lot of things to get rid of, and eight years in a place is plenty of time to accumulate a lot of stuff.

We talked about disposing of much of it as soudai gomi, which roughly translates to “big trash”, but this bothered me. Ever since I was a kid I’ve had a problem with throwing things away. My mother referred to it as “pack-rat-ism”, but really I’m just intrinsically averse to the idea of taking stuff that once had value, labeling it useless, and forgetting about it. Rather than trash our stuff, my wife and I spent a couple of weeks scrambling around first selling and then giving away everything we had accumulated.

And we did a pretty good job. On our last night in the apartment I lugged a single old bookcase out to the curb — resplendent with official soudai gomi seals purchased from the city — to be picked up as big trash. The money we made selling other items paid for the shipping of our essentials back to the US. And I felt good knowing that the stuff that had served us well would go on providing value to others.

I also felt oddly relieved; lighter. Less stuff. It was as though old cobwebs had been dusted out from the corners of my mind. On the flight back to Boston I decided to see how much stuff I could eliminate from my life. Perhaps two items passed on for every new item in. There was certainly a lot of really old stuff in storage back in Boston that would have to go.

And so for the last year or so I have been selling and/or giving away items online. At first I used Ebay, but with it’s clumsy interface and emphasis on generating a profit or some such, I became frustrated fairly quickly. (Hey, I just want to pass on my stuff. ) Amazon’s Seller Account turned out to be far more simple and effective: I’ve sold everything from old cameras to tourists in New York City to classic computer books to geeks in Spain. I prefer to actually sell items that I, personally, still find valuable. (Or that were particularly expensive.)

Craigslist is awesome for giving stuff away, with the added advantage that folks will usually come over to pick said stuff up.  We’ve had desks, beds, and lawn mowers hauled away thanks to Craigslist.

Anyway, I decided to write this post after coming across Annie Leonard’s The Story of Stuff, an excellent, straightforward outline of the whole stuff problem, where it comes from, and where it will go if we continue to allow rabid consumerism to continue unchecked.  At the end of the twenty minute video she links to 10 Little and Big Things we can do to take action against the whole stuff problem.  Many of the actions we’ve seen before.  It’s the “big thing” in number 10, however, that I think is the most interesting and yet may seem to be the least most difficult.  Conversely, it is certainly the most simple.  And, really, it gets at the heart of the problem.

The solution?  Buy less.  In other words, stop “consuming”.  Step out of the linear materials economy.  Acquire.  Preserve.  Repair.  Pass on.  Share.

Note that this does not mean “go without”.  It means, where possible, stop feeding from the corporate-sponsored linear material economic machine.  Don’t consume, but acquire.

And share.  This is what I now realize we have been doing by passing along our belongings.  Selling one’s stuff online, or even offering it for free, adds to an ever-growing alternative material goods supply.

So simplify your life.  Sell your stuff.  Help out the planet just a little bit.  And maybe you’ll discover, as I have, that the less you own, the better you feel.

3 thoughts on “Sell your stuff. Save the planet.

  1. Very relevant: we’re moving across town to a smaller apartment in a few weeks, and after six years in an enormous apartment, there’s plenty to purge.

    I second the Amazon marketplace. I actually picked up a cheap used barcode scanner and some cute Mac software (Bookpedia) for tracking books and interfacing with Amazon. I can have something from shelf to sale in about 20 seconds.

    Some of our vast book collection will be going to storage until we have space to display more of it. The software tracks precisely which box each book is in.

    Some thought it was ridiculous to take the time and energy to list, pack, and ship so many books, particularly for small returns. But it’s not about the money. I’m just happy to pass my stuff on to someone who could use it. Having the shipping covered and a two dollars or so for my trouble is fine. Anyway, I made about $80 so far and have 60 more books listed and ready to go.

    Also, about to list some furniture, book-cases and such on Craigslist on the “take it away and it’s yours” basis.

    I don’t really consider myself a pack-rat or collector (except maybe of books), because I find purging things to be therapeutic, liberating. Finding people who want your stuff is ideal, but don’t feel too guilty about discarding. The only useful place for a modicum of guilt is at the front end: when buying stuff you don’t really need.

  2. Chris, got a link to the scanner? I could really use that. Maybe I can pick one up from the marketplace.

    Despite the progress I’ve made, I still have 20 years of books karmicly taunting me.

  3. I’m just using the CueCat that Wired magazine dumped onto the market several years back. The original device used some encoded/encrypted format that needed special software; but you can find instructions for “neutering” it to work as a generic keyboard device, and you can even find pre-fixed devices. For more info, start here: and Wikipedia. The ones from LibraryThing may not be neutered in advance, because that web service can read the encoded version directly. Look on eBay and Amazon.

    Funny thing is that I was a Wired subscriber when this thing came out, so I got one. But at the time I didn’t even have a PC with USB, and the proposed use case of scanning barcoded adverts in a magazine to connect to the vendor seemed ludicrous.

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