I am a huge fan of the gemach system. I hate wasting stuff. If there are things that are perfectly good and you don't want them anymore, pass them on. And on the flip side, if there is something you need that is going to be for a very short term use, why invest in it? To me, this sort of recycling is the real "going green," meaning not wasting resources. The problem with doing this is that you need an organized way of getting the stuff flowing in the right directions. Enter gemachs, which are basically a community-organized repository for things that will either be loaned or given to parties who need them. I got my wedding gown from a gemach. I could afford to spend $3,000 on a new, gorgeous Vera Wang for my special day, but why on earth would I? I borrowed a beautiful gown from a gemach, had it cleaned and altered to my size, enhanced it a little with lace and seed pearls, and wrote that $3,000 check to three charities instead, and was thrilled to do so. When my father passed away, I donated thousands of dollars of medical equipment, diabetes supplements and even medicine to various gemachs in New York and Israel. Why should any of this stuff go to waste? I was told by the manager of the diabetes gemach that a man without health insurance was so grateful to take the supplements (which my Dad got gratis from medicare). Pass it on.
There are many versions of gemach systems out there now, thanks to the power of the internet and to the needs that were created by the crummy economy. I belong to two listservers, one Jewish and one not. Let's start with the non-Jewish one, Freecycle.org. Go to the site, look for the freecycle listserver in your community and sign up. Here's how Freecycle describes itself:
The Freecycle Network™ is made up of 4,658 groups with 6,281,255 members across the globe. It's a grassroots and entirely nonprofit movement of people who are giving (and getting) stuff for free in their own towns and thus keeping good stuff out of landfills.I joined the list in my area, and so far have gotten new hubcaps for my car (I lost one in an accident earlier this year, and the dealer wanted $75 for just one new one) and a great sewing machine that someone didn't want any more. People give away everything. Thank God, I don't need used clothes or linens, but I have seen people post everything from sports bras to old Ipods to china cabinets to dog food. Since it's all neighborhood based, you post what you'd like to get rid of, and the first taker simply picks it up. If you don't want to deal with people coming into your house, just leave stuff in front of your lawn or in a bag on your porch. If I move this year, I'm going to be giving away tons of stuff via this list.
Membership is free, and everything posted must be FREE, legal and appropriate for all ages. To view the items being given away or sought in ________, you must be a member of the local group. To view the local group posts, visit the local Yahoo Group where they are located by clicking on the link below.
Then there are the "frummie" lists. These are more specific to the needs of the Ortho Jewish community. For example, people commonly give away stuff like a fleishig dishwasher, or say, a size 8 cobalt blue mother-of-the-bride dress, which you know will be tzniusdik (modest). Also, you can sell stuff on the Jewish lists, like a sheitl that you no longer like or a laptop. These lists are also a little more free-form, asking for things like recommendations for dermatologists or posting a job, or giving out a name for a Tehillim list. There are some excellent community lists on Yahoo and Luach, for starters...write to me if you can't find one for your community. My roommate and I found a great dining room set this way...there was nothing wrong with it, but someone who was richer than we were was redecorating. We paid a local guy to deliver it and we had a table and chairs that probably cost several thousand dollars just a few years ago.
No matter how much money I will ever have, I will always like the idea of conserving resources and recycling things that other people don't need, not because Planet Earth is dying or anything, but because it's ridiculous not to get smart about waste. When I lived out of NY, I had a friend who was married to a multi-millionaire. They didn't live an exorbitant lifestyle, but they lived well, and she never had to worry about money, which is a blessing. When I was getting divorced, I gave away almost all of my shul hats, thinking that if I got re-married, I'd want new, in-style ones anyway. Some of those hats cost around $200. Most of them went to her, not because she couldn't afford to buy herself new hats, but because she liked them, they matched her outfits, and frankly, she is the type of person who will eventually pass the hats on to the next person when she gets tired of them.
Pass it on.