That’s Not Garbage!

For the past 7 months, we have been trying to raise awareness of the amount of food that is wasted in our community. We’ve attempted to rescue as much usable food as we can from the grocery store dumpster next door and have posted those finds on this blog. We’ve shared that food (when we can) with those in need. We’ve conditioned ourselves to shop the reduced-to-clear bins first at the grocery store and ugly produce always has a home in our refrigerator. We’ve volunteered with organizations that directly fight both food waste and hunger and we’ve attended educational events on the subject. We’ve talked about food waste and shared our dumpster diving stories with almost anyone who would listen. And maybe, to a small degree, it’s working.

Or perhaps, we’ve just encouraged more folks to forage that particular dumpster 🙂

There’s still quite a bit of food being tossed out next door, but the overall volume is much less than it was last year, or even just a few months ago. It’s been this way since they reopened after their remodel. I’d love to say that it will stay this way but from experience, we know that the summer months are usually lighter than the winter months on waste anyway. My guess would be that the grocery store probably orders less fresh produce in the summer when it is available locally. Less produce ordered means less produce to toss out when it doesn’t sell. Only time will tell as to whether my theory holds true or not.

In the meantime, we’ve turned our attention [once again] to another area of waste – consumer goods. Having lived the past decade in various apartments in Colorado, Florida, and Tennessee, we’ve noticed there’s one thing they all have in common. Residents have no qualms about discarding good, usable clothes, furniture, household and sporting goods, and electronics with their trash. Florida was the worst, though you’ll probably question that statement once you read on. In Florida, we found 2 bicycles, countless garbage bags full of clothing, 2 storage ottomans, the Paula Deen skillet that we use every day, lots of storage containers, and a brand-new camping stove, among many, many other things. It seemed that every other day we were picking up something from the trash area to take to the thrift store.

Since moving to TN, the two dumpsters next to our building have yielded 2 brand-new blankets, a book of collectable coins, a child’s kitchen playset, 2 ride-on toys, a hammer, a wrought-iron flower stand, several flowerpots, lamps and more lamps, and a few dozen storage totes and bins.

Just last week, we picked up 2 wooden pallets, 2 lamps, a clock radio, 4 men’s dress shirts, 3 ties, a computer keyboard, and a brand-new neck massager.

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There’s no denying the thrill of finding good stuff in the garbage. It’s almost like finding money on the ground (oddly, that happens a lot to us too – I just found $5 at the park yesterday). But this is no cheap thrill. Americans spend $12 billion a year on clothing and $206 billion a year on consumer electronics. With consumerism comes its inevitable byproduct – waste. When you buy something new, whatever it replaced (along with whatever is broken, no longer in fashion, no longer needed, or no longer desired) is usually discarded. Sadly, only 22% of clothing and 29% of electronics are recycled, so most end up in landfills. In fact, every year, 10.5 million tons of clothing, and 2.4 million tons of electronics are sent to landfill. This is where the items we found last week would be right now if we hadn’t rescued them.

We took 90% of the items we found to Goodwill. We kept the clock radio and lamp. When we arrived at the drop-off location, we were struck with a terrible sight. Rows and rows of collection bins lined the street outside the store. It was as if everyone within a 2-mile radius had cleaned out their closet or garage and brought their clutter to Goodwill. Considering everything I said above, you might be thinking, “this seems like a good thing…at least it’s not in the dumpster.” But…I started to wonder…just as it also started to rain, just what happens to this good, usable stuff if the store can’t sell it? Or worse, what happens if it’s ruined by the rain before they can get it inside?

As long as we live in a disposable society, the question of what to do with used goods is always going to be an issue. I don’t foresee a time when we pass the dumpster without seeing something in it that shouldn’t be. And with the Goodwill no longer seeming like the best option (for us, at least), what can we do?

Angie and I have been tossing around a few ideas lately. Here are some of the better ones:

  • Research other local non-profit agencies that accept donations for actual client use and pass along any rescued goods to those places. Example – we could have given the shirts and ties to the Rescue Mission for their workforce program.
  • Resell our rescue finds on eBay, OfferUp, etc. and donate any proceeds to charities we already support or give them away on FreeCycle.
  • Store our rescue finds until we have enough to either have a yard sale (donating the proceeds to charity) or host an annual “free store” where people in the community can take what they need.

There are positives and negatives with all of these options – including the fact that storing anything goes against all that we believe in as minimalists – but just like food rescue, there has to be a way to get these usable items into the hands of people who will actually continue to use them (at least for a little while longer). Are we crazy? Are we just prolonging the inevitable (stuff ending up in landfill anyway)? Or do you think we’re onto a good idea here? I’d love to hear your input and ideas.

Retirement Redefined

A few years ago, Angie and I were watching a football game on TV when a commercial for TD Ameritrade came on. I wasn’t really paying attention but for some reason when I heard the word retirement, I spontaneously muttered, “I think I will retire tomorrow.” It sounded good in my head and of course, impractical at the same time, as it tumbled off my tongue. Though I expected no response, I still remember to this day what Angie said – just one little word, okay. This wasn’t the same okay that I usually get when she’s reading and only half listening to me. It was more like the one I get when I suggest we go get ice cream.

“And then what will we do?” I asked with a hint of sarcasm that was mainly directed at myself for suggesting such a thing in the first place.

Without missing a beat, she said, “Well, if it rains like they say it’s going to, then we’ll watch movies.”

It was just that simple. And yet that profound.

For several days after that, I pondered the question: Just what is retirement anyway?

In my grandparents’ day, retirement meant you were old enough to receive your company’s pension and could spend your days doing all the things you had dreamed of while working for 40+ years. Today, I turn on the news and retirement means that our older generation is no longer employable in their career field but can’t support themselves because they’ve overspent and under-planned, so now they must work at Walmart. Don’t believe it? Just Google “Americans Unable to Retire” and you’ll be bombarded with sad statistics like 85% of Americans are worried about retirement, only 54% have a retirement savings account, and 24% fear they will never be able to retire.

Or maybe it’s time we call bull-crap on those statistics and the pessimists who publish them and come up with our own definition of retirement.

Jacob Fisker did. He’s the author of Early Retirement Extreme.

Pete did. You may know him as Mr. Money Mustache.

Long, long ago, the definition of retirement was simply to withdraw to some place, especially for the sake of privacy. I like that. I like it a lot!

If I were going to craft my own definition of retirement, I might start out pretty similar, with one that has nothing to do with money. But you can’t do that, I hear you saying. Money has to be the starting point. You have to have enough of it to survive once you aren’t working anymore.

Nope. Not in my definition.

Retirement is not a financial achievement, though as Americans, we’ve come to see it that way. We work for years to reach a point where we can buy back our most valuable resource – time – and use it as we see fit. We think retirement is when we can travel, spend time with loved ones, take on new hobbies, or simply greet the day with no intentions. No wonder so many of us find the concept of early retirement so appealing! We want to do those things now. If we wait until TD Ameritrade says that we have enough money, most of us will be long past dead!

Retirement shouldn’t be about how you spend your money, but rather, how you spend your day. If you want to work, that’s okay. If you want to fish all day, that’s fine too. It’s your life, live it however you want. And don’t wait until you reach some arbitrary age or ask permission from some greedy brokerage firm to do it. Retirement starts the day that you choose to spend your time pursuing life instead of money.

Retirement is a state of mind, a place of peaceful living and time spent with loved ones, a nap on the couch, or an afternoon enjoying a good book. Retirement is getting up each day, knowing your time is your own, regardless of what you choose to do with it. And by that definition, retirement is a place we can arrive at any age.