The death of a loved one is among the hardest realities we all must face. Writer Adam Minter’s mother died in 2015. As he and his sister grieved the loss, they were confronted with the need to sort out “the material legacy of her life.” Journalist Terry Gross reports that the siblings “worked through their mother’s possessions until only her beloved china was left.” Neither wanted it but neither wanted to discard the lovely items their mother had treasured.
Standing in a line at Goodwill with the china in hand, Minter began wondering “what happened beyond the donation door at Goodwill.”
Presto! The idea for a book project was born. The recently published Secondhand: Travels In The New Global Garage Sale follows the fate of discarded objects. Minter was well equipped to address the topic as he had already published a book, Junkyard Planet, focusing on the recycling industry.
“Your average thrift store in the United States only sells about one-third of the stuff that ends up on its shelves,” he discloses. “The rest of the stuff ends up somewhere else.” In Secondhand, Minter follows the winding, convoluted, and international trail of used goods. He takes us to the sorters of Goodwill who go through the mass of donated items to decide which are to be placed on the thrift store’s shelves. “They go through and they feel the fabric.” he relates. “Is it thin? Does it feel like something that’s gonna fall apart after one to five washes?” Reviewer Gabino Iglesias observes, “Minter takes readers from the backs of thrift stores all across the United States to small apartments and vintage shops in Tokyo, and from a truck in Mexico to an office in Mumbai, to show the inner workings of one of the world’s largest markets.” Secondhand is also filled with interviews with the people who earn their livings buying, selling, or destroying what other people have discarded . . . or left behind at death. Many donated items are so badly soiled or worn that they are not “merchandise” so sorters toss them into trash bins. “There is no green heaven, if you will,” he wittily comments. “So many donations end up in a landfill or incinerator.”
An element of poignancy infuses Minter’s quest. “There’s always been scavengers going to people’s homes as they leave them,” he notes. “But now it’s taken on sort of a new tint. And what they do is they sort of counsel people on helping them get rid of things, sometimes encourage them, sometimes nudge them, and then help them make the move.” He explains that “the very best of the cleanup professionals” were like “therapists” because they had to aid people in “taking apart their identities because in contemporary America and in Japan, where I spend a bunch of time” human identities are built to a large extent “on the basis of the things that we have owned.”
Iglesias ends his review on a note of humorous irony, saying Secondhand is “a book I’d recommend buying now instead of waiting for it to show up at your local thrift store.”
Of course, Marc Skid is a company founded largely on the need to preserve and reuse as each Marc Skid waistband is transformed from an upcycled plastic water bottle. Additionally, we at Marc Skid are dedicated to Saving the Earth through our charities. Our customers help Save the World even as they Make their Marc!
Gross, Terry. “’The Best Thing You Can Do Is Not Buy More Stuff,’ Says ‘Secondhand’ Expert.” NPR. Fresh Air. Dec. 4, 2019. https://www.npr.org/2019/12/04/784702588/the-best-thing-you-can-do-is-not-buy-more-stuff-says-secondhand-expert
Iglesias, Gabino. “What Happens To Your Used Stuff? ‘Secondhand’ Tells Of A Billion-Dollar Industry.” NPR.
Secondhand: Travels in the New Global Garage Sale. Amazon.com https://www.amazon.com/Secondhand-Travels-Global-Garage-Sale/dp/1635570107