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In 2018 and 2019 I got rid of a lot of stuff.  Like, nearly all my furniture, 90% of my books, and about 65% of the rest of my possessions. Some of it went to friends, some to the trash, but most of it ended up being donated or sold to secondhand stores.

Partly, I was motivated by an impending interstate move. I knew I was leaving Minnesota and that I’d be spending a while staying with my parents while I figured out my next move. But also, I’d finally read The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up (Amazon/Bookshop) and was a total Konvert.  

Somethings inevitably ended up in the dumpster. There really isn’t anyone who will take a dried up tube of clumpy mascara. Art supplies were given to a friend who had contact with a lot of art student and teacher, so I knew they would end up in good new homes. The books were mostly sold to a reseller, who I chose because they let me ship 40 pound boxes of books right to them. The nicer clothing went off to ThredUp because I was interested in making some money, but I didn’t want to go through the trouble of listing it myself.

Then there was all the rest. Things that were still in good condition and had useful life left, but that wouldn’t be worth my time to dispose of individually. They were destined to be hauled off by whatever charity organization would come to my third floor walk up to pick them up. As I thanked my belongings and pilled them into boxes and bags, I tried not to think too much about where they were going or what would happen when they got there.

Still, I was curious about what happened to all my used stuff.  So when I got my hands on a copy of Adam Minter’s new book Secondhand: Travels in the New Global Garage Sale (Amazon/Bookshop) I tore into it right away.

A copy of the book Secondhand by Adam Minter on a wood background.

In Secondhand, the author traces the paths and lives of objects after they’ve been given away. The book alternates between large scale, macro views of the industry and intimate profiles of the buyers and sellers involved. In one chapter, the author hangs out with resellers that hit up U.S. thrift stores looking for things to smuggle into Mexico to resell. In another, he investigates how the used book business in Japan began. Throughout, the large scale and global reach of the used goods business is revealed while at the same time the human element is never forgotten. 

It’s been a few weeks since I finished this book, and the one thing that has stuck with me the most is the concept of quality. The used goods market can only exist if there is still some useful life left in objects after the initial user is done with them. Because of this, one of the biggest issues facing the used goods industry going forwards is a lack of quality used goods. In other words, even if you try and donate it, your clothing may end up in a landfill. A used poly-cotton blend fast fashion top isn’t even useful to rag makers. Every time I buy something these days I think about who, if anyone, might want it when I’m done.

Overall this was a great read.  I’d reccomend this book to anyone who is wondering what exactly happens when they throw a big bag of assorted stuff into a donation bin. Have you read Secondhand ?  What did you think?