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Chelsea Green Blog

Tips for Surviving in a Recession: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle…Scavenge?

Worried about the economy?

“No, Einstein,” I hear you saying, “I’ve been locked in a closet for the past two and a half months, reading nothing but clothing labels and eating delicious cotton.”

Fair enough. But if you’re like most Americans, you’re thinking about the upcoming holiday season and how to scrape together a little extra scratch so you can have a merry ol’ Christmas and maybe get Tiny Tim that fancy set of graphite and titanium crutches he’s had his eye on. The ones from Japan.

The Reverend Donna Schaper has some tips on how to scavenge, or “glean,” for the things you need—from trash cans, dumpsters, Freecycle, and curbside of ritzy neighborhoods. Just be careful you don’t go overboard and end up like Henrietta Howland Robinson, the so-called “Witch of Wall Street” (well, in truth, she was a healthy and energetic woman who died a multi-multi-millionaire at the age of 82, so maybe going overboard isn’t such a bad idea).

From The Huffington Post:

I have learned to be cheap. You could call me frugal but the truth is I am cheap. I carry my own vodka in water bottles if I go out. I have a lovely if shabby wardrobe and haven’t bought outside of a thrift store or a yard sale for years.

My favorite activity is to go book shopping at the Amherst, Massachusetts Town Dump Book store. It is just a large often cold shed where people bring books they no longer want to dust. When at the dump, I also like to pick up some mulch for the garden and a few clean Tupperware’s for my other adventures. In addition to the book-recycling shed, there is an even larger shed for what can only be called orphan stuff. My best scavenge there was a pair of cross country skis, second best an old bowling alley lane that made a great counter.

I also habituate Free Cycle, a site that rivals eBay for obvious reasons. There is nothing like Tuesdays on the Upper East Side in New York. There you can scavenge designer couches and tables – but you have to have a truck, which involves money, a definite drawback in the life of a scavenger. My worst fear about the economic crisis is that less good stuff will show up on the street.

I have been known to keep chickens and to feed them dumpster dived food. Trader Joe’s is often excellent. Thus I have eggs that have a certain ethnic flavor, owing to the odd kind of union free food Trader Joe’s imports.

Scavenging things has helped me scavenge people and institutions. I specialize in what other people throw out. Right now I work mostly with people about to be deported. Formerly my “specialty” was abused women. Before that it was alcoholics and drug addicts. I also work with “normal” people even though I doubt openly that they are as normal as they would like to convince me they are. Just because they can buy a new blouse for $79.99 at Bloomingdale’s does not make them normal.

Read the whole article here.


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