It’s amazing how hard it is to find someplace to take things like old furniture and usable building supplies. I’m struck by just how wasteful our country has become and sometimes I feel a little guilty about the role I’ve played in adding to the trash heaps.
I am not trying to get into the middle of a debate on global warming or saving the planet. I just personally know how hard it is to build many of these things and I have a real appreciation for woodworking and craftsmanship of all kinds. I see the extreme beauty and personality that is infused into a piece of craftsmanship. And I’m discouraged when someone throws out a solid wood, handcrafted piece of furniture and replaces it with a mass produced hunk of particle board.
I have tried to sell some of the items I’ve come across in old homes but it’s just too time consuming. I’ve tried to donate items and I’m absolutely amazed at how often these charities turn away perfectly good stuff.
In my last blogpost, I wrote about a house I had recently purchased and renovated in Annandale. As I explained, the house had a lot of old personal items from the previous owner. I personally oversaw and handled the trash out phase of the house because I find contractors are much too quick to throw things into a dumpster.
The Annandale house had several perfectly serviceable pieces of furniture and working appliances. Certainly someone could make use of these things. I tried taking truckloads of stuff to a donation place but it turned away 90 percent of the items. One piece of furniture was a heavy, solid wood nightstand. The paint was a little beat up but this was good solid wood. I wish I had had the room to store the thing because all this piece needed was a new finish and it would have been beautiful.
My past experiences have been similar to this. If I fill up a trailer with furniture, books and other personal items and drive it to any one of the charities in the area I will almost certainly end up taking 85 percent of the stuff on to the dump. It has proven so time consuming and labor intensive that I have been forced to fill dumpster after dumpster. It only costs about $500 to haul off a dumpster, so, unfortunately, it’s the most cost effective option.
And, honestly, I don’t take broken or nasty items to the donation places. I only take things that are in working order and usable. It’s not in my interest to waste time at the donation place.
I’ve been amazed at how difficult it is to give things away. I have always thought that organizations that are getting things for free would do well to make the process more convenient for the giver.
As things are today, if I wanted to try to save the items in the houses I’m buying I would have to hire a couple of guys and a truck to pick out individual items and group them together. I know there are places that will take used books but they won’t take furniture. It’s just too costly and time consuming to have a team run a load of books to book donation, clothing to another place and furniture to another and building supplies to yet another. And I don’t know anyone who takes working appliances.
But there are a couple new trends I’m seeing that give me hope. First is the trend and popularity of upcycling. There are Web sites and even TV shows dedicated to salvage, reinvention and reuse of old items. The other trend is the growing popularity of the modern industrial design of which I am a huge fan. Industrial designers often make use of and incorporate salvaged furniture, fixtures and building supplies into their work.
I have been so discouraged by my donation options and so inspired by trends in upcycling and salvage that I am working on putting together a salvage and design company. I love industrial design and that goes hand in hand with salvaged items.
All of these houses that are being torn down all throughout our area are full of beautiful old growth lumber and hand crafted moldings. It is a crime against humanity that those things are going into the landfills.
There are problems to overcome like finding an affordable location to store and distribute these salvaged pieces of Americana. That will just require time and effort but the solution will present itself. However, the opportunities are so very exciting. There are so many home owners, home flippers and developers who are paying thousands in dump fees and dumpster roll off companies. Those costs can offset the price of salvage. And the new green building codes and incentives should only help the process.
Whether my venture is successful or not, I’d love to see more options for recycling, upcycling and reusing these old items. That has to start with our way of thinking. We as Americans have got to start seeing the value and the beauty in things like old handcrafted furniture and moldings.
We need not just be so quick to throw things out. The construction and remodeling industries are out there to sell plastic and vinyl everything. But that is really not always the answer.
Many of the older designs are timeless and beautiful, they hold within them our heritage and they are worth saving.
Read Justin Pierce’s previous columns: