Nothing New: Resources for Swapping

Resources for swapping items | How to go zero waste without buying anything new | Litterless

I didn't know we needed a toaster until we had one. We used roommates' toasters, and then when roommate-less, toasted bread in the oven or in a cast iron pan on the stove. An energy waste, and with inconsistent results, but the bread was crunchy and toasted and fine.

During my last few weeks in Chicago before moving up to Madison, I invited a few friends over for an informal stuff swap, glad to have one more chance to see each other as well as a chance pass along items to loving new homes. A friend offered up an extra toaster, and I snapped it up.

I'm a believer in secondhand shopping, but also a firm believer in circumventing secondhand shops more often than not. When items go to thrift stores, they lose the stories behind them. Rather than being your best friend's frying pan that she gave you when she moved away, it's just a frying pan with a whole bunch of stains from a stranger's kitchen. I'd never buy a jar of half-used deodorant from a thrift store, but I'd take one from a friend. Giving items to - and borrowing them from - people you know instead helps preserve a sense of the item's value.

And then too, there's the phenomenon of the overburdened thrift store. Many don't accept electronics, or certain types of electronics (and rightfully so). Many have too much clothing pouring in and must send a portion overseas or to the recycler's. When dropping off items at our closest secondhand store, we've seen the volume of donations pouring in and wondering how sales can possibly keep up the pace.

So, the toaster. My friend didn't need two, and expressed a preference for her toaster oven over a pop-up toaster, anyway. (I feel the opposite, and love my pop-up toaster). It's a little stained around the top, but she cleaned it before handing it over, and I packed it to move up to Madison. We use it every day, sometimes multiple times a day, and each time I'm thankful not to have to keep an eagle eye on bread toasting in the pan, which always felt like it was three seconds away from being completely charred. In return, she took away a framed print I no longer wanted, some bowls, and terra cotta pots. It was a good trade.

Resources for swapping items | How to go zero waste without buying anything new | Litterless

Below, my favorite resources for finding swaps of your own:

-Friends. This is my favorite level at which to swap. I've given away a half-open jar of deodorant of my own, stopped by a friend's house the night before she moved to cart away some of her extra fridge food, and offered up a squash in return for extra beets. My beloved table and chairs are from a family friend who was also moving. Over Labor Day we slathered our faces with a tin of Raw Elements sunscreen that a friend offered up after realizing it didn't work for her skin. Books, clothing, extra food, un-needed make-up: it's all fair game.

If you don't have any relationships where you currently swap things back and forth, get started by offering up an item or two from your home to a friend you think might want them. All of my sharing relationships have started this way, with one friend or the other broaching an offering. With the best of them, the first swap turns into years of trading small items back and forth, never keeping track, just happy to help out a friend and get something unused into new hands.

-Barter at work. Coworkers at my first office job used to leave extra produce or baked goods on the kitchen counter with a "Free! Eat me!" sign; parents had a Slack channel where they were able to unload (or load, depending) baby gear that their kids had outgrown. Whether it's a specific swap like that or simply a general "Swap" Slack channel or email group, work might make a great place to begin bartering or donating, as, like your friends, your coworkers know you and so there's a higher chance that items will be in clean and working condition.

-Buy Nothing Groups. These informal Facebook groups help neighbors find and share items they need or don't need. You can post an "ISO", or "In Search Of" if you're looking for a specific item, or if you have something to donate you can share a picture with the item's description. Find your local group and keep an eye on the listings! (Recent offerings in the Madison-area group have been baby goods, extra house paint, and a wastebasket).

-Freecycle. Freecycle works much the same way as a Buy Nothing Group, I believe, but I've never used it. If you have an experience to share in the comments, I'd be curious to hear what you think!

-Host a swap. Whether it's for a group of your friends or for the wider community, hosting a swap can simultaneously let you offload your cast-offs and keep an eye out for things you might need, like a toaster. A swap can be as informal as inviting your friends over to your house for a few hours with anything they no longer want, or you can find a neighborhood meeting space and set up some rules. Either way, clearly delineate the parameters (clothing only? housewares only? books only? all of the above) and give everyone a few weeks notice to gather up some goods.

A note: Of course, as with any secondhand purchase, there's an element of caveat emptor to swapping that increases as you move out of your friend circle into the wider community. It goes without saying to not take opened food or toiletries from people you don't trust, and to clean secondhand clothing, dishes, furniture, etc. that comes into your house. For that reason and others, my favorite swaps are always done between friends or other close community groups that offer accountability.

Madison-area readers, we're planning a community swap for October 20th. Save the date! Once we have them, I'll share more details on my Events page and in the Madison Facebook group.

Any recent swaps to share? Or additional tips for the rest of us?

More posts on going zero waste without buying anything new, here.