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Secondhand: Travels in the New Global Garage Sale

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Downsizing. Decluttering. A parent's death. Sooner or later, all of us are faced with things we no longer need or want. But when we drop our old clothes and other items off at a local donation center, where do they go? Sometimes across the country-or even halfway across the world-to people and places who find value in what we leave behind. In Secondhand, journalist Adam Downsizing. Decluttering. A parent's death. Sooner or later, all of us are faced with things we no longer need or want. But when we drop our old clothes and other items off at a local donation center, where do they go? Sometimes across the country-or even halfway across the world-to people and places who find value in what we leave behind. In Secondhand, journalist Adam Minter takes us on an unexpected adventure into the often-hidden, multibillion-dollar industry of reuse: thrift stores in the American Southwest to vintage shops in Tokyo, flea markets in Southeast Asia to used-goods enterprises in Ghana, and more. Along the way, Minter meets the fascinating people who handle-and profit from-our rising tide of discarded stuff, and asks a pressing question: In a world that craves shiny and new, is there room for it all? Secondhand offers hopeful answers and hard truths. A history of the stuff we've used and a contemplation of why we keep buying more, it also reveals the marketing practices, design failures, and racial prejudices that push used items into landfills instead of new homes. Secondhand shows us that it doesn't have to be this way, and what really needs to change to build a sustainable future free of excess stuff.


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Downsizing. Decluttering. A parent's death. Sooner or later, all of us are faced with things we no longer need or want. But when we drop our old clothes and other items off at a local donation center, where do they go? Sometimes across the country-or even halfway across the world-to people and places who find value in what we leave behind. In Secondhand, journalist Adam Downsizing. Decluttering. A parent's death. Sooner or later, all of us are faced with things we no longer need or want. But when we drop our old clothes and other items off at a local donation center, where do they go? Sometimes across the country-or even halfway across the world-to people and places who find value in what we leave behind. In Secondhand, journalist Adam Minter takes us on an unexpected adventure into the often-hidden, multibillion-dollar industry of reuse: thrift stores in the American Southwest to vintage shops in Tokyo, flea markets in Southeast Asia to used-goods enterprises in Ghana, and more. Along the way, Minter meets the fascinating people who handle-and profit from-our rising tide of discarded stuff, and asks a pressing question: In a world that craves shiny and new, is there room for it all? Secondhand offers hopeful answers and hard truths. A history of the stuff we've used and a contemplation of why we keep buying more, it also reveals the marketing practices, design failures, and racial prejudices that push used items into landfills instead of new homes. Secondhand shows us that it doesn't have to be this way, and what really needs to change to build a sustainable future free of excess stuff.

30 review for Secondhand: Travels in the New Global Garage Sale

  1. 5 out of 5

    Julie

    I guess my rating is based on most of the information was not new to me, and the first half of the book wasn't particularly interesting. Things picked up around page 133 when I learned about refurbishing clothing for resale. Overall, I guess I would say that it was more conversational than I was expecting. I wanted to get down to the facts. However, I am truly glad that this book exists and will be eye opening to many people. We have become driven by the cost. We want to pay lowest price. I guess my rating is based on most of the information was not new to me, and the first half of the book wasn't particularly interesting. Things picked up around page 133 when I learned about refurbishing clothing for resale. Overall, I guess I would say that it was more conversational than I was expecting. I wanted to get down to the facts. However, I am truly glad that this book exists and will be eye opening to many people. We have become driven by the cost. We want to pay lowest price. However, the cost is often our integrity.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Rachel Pollock

    This book is engrossing and eye-opening. I had no idea how extensive the secondhand industry is on a global scale, and to what extent discarded/donated things get restored, refurbished, rebuilt, and resold the world over! The author travels all over the globe, from the Goodwill distribution center in an Arizona town, to flea markets in Malaysia, to clothing recyclers in India, to computer/electronics rebuilders in Ghana. It's clear that the secondhand economy is sprawling, thriving, and This book is engrossing and eye-opening. I had no idea how extensive the secondhand industry is on a global scale, and to what extent discarded/donated things get restored, refurbished, rebuilt, and resold the world over! The author travels all over the globe, from the Goodwill distribution center in an Arizona town, to flea markets in Malaysia, to clothing recyclers in India, to computer/electronics rebuilders in Ghana. It's clear that the secondhand economy is sprawling, thriving, and important. This book also made me think deeply about how i will deal with my own surplus property in future, what and where I will dispose of it through donation. Highly recommend this book, particularly to readers interested in what happens to clothes that go to Goodwill but don't sell. There's been some bad press about mass-landfilling, and it's clear from Minter's research that such a thing is a last resort for all but the flimsiest fast-fashion trash. I received an ARC from #NetGalley for an unbiased review of #Secondhand.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Kelly

    This was a fascinating look at how global the secondhand market is. I've been interested in "recycling" for the better part of a year now, after learning how it does and doesn't work now that China no longer takes the US's materials. But what happens to the things dropped off at places like Goodwill? Do they get purchased? Reused? Tossed? Minter goes into where those things go, for better or for worse. I found some parts of this to be a little overlong, but I appreciated how global in scope the This was a fascinating look at how global the secondhand market is. I've been interested in "recycling" for the better part of a year now, after learning how it does and doesn't work now that China no longer takes the US's materials. But what happens to the things dropped off at places like Goodwill? Do they get purchased? Reused? Tossed? Minter goes into where those things go, for better or for worse. I found some parts of this to be a little overlong, but I appreciated how global in scope the book was. More than that, Minter calls out the attitudes that privileged white people in the West have about what those in developing countries do or don't do with donated goods: for some, it's a lucrative business, as opposed to getting "garbage" no one in the US will take. There won't be a lot here that anyone who is remotely conscious of reusing and recycling realities will be surprised to read. But it's a nice reminder of how planed obsolesce and capitalism have made things cheaper, crappier, and ultimately unfixable. It's up to us to demand better now -- and in many cases, we are. Or at least we're trying.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Randal White

    Secondhand, Travels In The New Global Garage Sale, is an in-depth look at what happens to your "stuff" when you dispose of it. Whether it be Goodwill, a "downsizing" service, or wherever. The author travels all over, examining the industries that have popped up to utilize our "cast-offs:. The United States, Mexico, Canada, Japan, Africa, Southeast Asia, and on and on. Whether it be used clothing in Africa, rag processors in Ohio, child safety seats in Mexico (what a racket this has become, Secondhand, Travels In The New Global Garage Sale, is an in-depth look at what happens to your "stuff" when you dispose of it. Whether it be Goodwill, a "downsizing" service, or wherever. The author travels all over, examining the industries that have popped up to utilize our "cast-offs:. The United States, Mexico, Canada, Japan, Africa, Southeast Asia, and on and on. Whether it be used clothing in Africa, rag processors in Ohio, child safety seats in Mexico (what a racket this has become, declaring older seats as defective), or electronics in Ghana. It does one's heart good to see that others are utilizing the "stuff" we declare too old or obsolete. The author's travels take him to many cottage industries, and he makes their work very interesting to read about. The author also covers the planned obsolescence built into our products here in the U.S., and the outright sabotage of items by some of our most recognized companies (shame on you, Apple). All in all, this book really opened my eyes to an area that I did not even know existed. It's a very interesting read. And you will learn a lot!

  5. 4 out of 5

    Bandit

    Who knew there was such a thing as recycle themed journalism. Well, there is, Adam Mitner’s doing it. And this is his second book on the matter, titled appropriately enough Secondhand. Mitner was raised into a family of scrap dealers and spent years traveling the globe reporting on recycling industries and so on, which is to say the man is perfectly qualified to write this book about the second lives of all your crap. You know, all those things you’ve ever donated to a thrift shop and never Who knew there was such a thing as recycle themed journalism. Well, there is, Adam Mitner’s doing it. And this is his second book on the matter, titled appropriately enough Secondhand. Mitner was raised into a family of scrap dealers and spent years traveling the globe reporting on recycling industries and so on, which is to say the man is perfectly qualified to write this book about the second lives of all your crap. You know, all those things you’ve ever donated to a thrift shop and never thought twice about it…well, this may not interest you. But if you’ve ever given a second thought to where your things might end up after you’re done with them, you’ll find this interesting. Because there’s an entire industry out there dedicated specifically to supporting the aphorism that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. It renews, reuses and recycles, it sells what’s sellable, throws out what isn’t and ships off tons of it across the seas to third world countries. And developing world is making use, industry even, out of things we no longer want a thing to do with. It’s fascinating, really. But mostly it’s a somber sobering commentary of the disposable culture we live in. Fast food, fast fashion, etc….all the things that shouldn’t be fast, but are. They create a culture of waste, where things aren’t made to last, where repairs are made prohibitive enough as to encourage buying new or trading up, where planned obsolescence thrives. It’s a terrible way to live, but everyone is doing it, because it’s easy and cheap and often both. But not everyone, not really, not even everyone in the first world countries and this book offers different perspectives and examples of how to get around the sheeple way from start ups concentrating on repairs to practicing conscientious shopping and so on. Mitner follows shipments of recyclable clothing and technology across the world to find out how developing nations utilize this refuse…essentially to prove that it’s salvageable and usable way past its arbitrary expiration dates. In fact, Mitner even takes on the arbitrariness of expiration dates, baby car seats for instance, seemingly created to mainly encourage buying more. And that’s the thing, isn’t it, society that thrives on consumerism and materialistic values will do whatever it takes to sell more. The same competition that drives the costs down, also drives down the quality. People buy things they don’t need, end up with two much crap, downsize and then with more space and money go right back to it. And no amount of cutesy books and shows on minimalism is going to make a difference. Maybe even this book won’t make a difference, but it’ll certainly educate the readers willing to be educated and that’s a good thing. And while personally through conscious choices and limitations I’m not really the book’s choice audience, it was nevertheless an interesting read. Mitner is a knowledgeable and enthusiastic Virgil on this tour of secondhand underworld. But very much a journalist throughout, meaning committed to presenting unbiased balanced accounts more so that personality infused engaging ones. In fact, the author’s personality doesn’t come out until the afterword, where among other things he lists the objects he’s been tempted to buy secondhand on his travels for this book. I do prefer more personalized nonfiction, but to each his/her own. For me, It wasn’t ideal, it went into entirely too many minute details about recycling processes, etc. In fact, it would have made a great journalistic article or maybe a series of them, but for a book, interesting as it was, it wasn’t all that engaging at times, dragged down by the minutiae instead of the grand scheme of things and at times it read very much like a well informed essay. But…the idea here was to educate the population of the prosperous countries with disposable incomes as to how their purchasing choices affect the environment and global economy and so on and largely it succeeds at the task. I’m too cynical to think it’ll make a difference for any significant percentage of the population, but if it has any effect even on the microscale it’s still a win. Informed choices for the happier world and all that. There are also some fascinating accounts of the strategies behind thrift store and secondhand retailers, might be of interest to anyone who’s ever shopped in one. Probably best not to read this in one sitting as I inexplicably did, it’s too…too much. Thanks Netgalley.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Damona

    Read this book. No, really, read this book! It's fascinating, informative, and inspiring. Minter really gets into the nitty gritty of reusing and recycling our old stuff, and I am now planning to go digging and see what more I can learn!

  7. 4 out of 5

    Susan

    I really enjoyed this book and it’s caused me to rethink what I buy and what I donate to Good Will (I now vow to to donate more because others can better use things I am not using and otherwise letting clutter up my place). Adam Minter is a great storyteller and follows the secondhand industry around the world. I really appreciate that he calls out people in developed countries who don’t think about the secondhand businesses that flourish in the developing world. This book will be a big I really enjoyed this book and it’s caused me to rethink what I buy and what I donate to Good Will (I now vow to to donate more because others can better use things I am not using and otherwise letting clutter up my place). Adam Minter is a great storyteller and follows the secondhand industry around the world. I really appreciate that he calls out people in developed countries who don’t think about the secondhand businesses that flourish in the developing world. This book will be a big eye-opener for many Americans and will bring about much good.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Holly Minion

    — I heard about Secondhand through an interview with the author on NPR one evening. I thought it would be a fascinating look around the world at what happens to things after they are donated. But I was completely shocked to see my current city, Minneapolis, as well as my hometown of Newark, Ohio, featured in the book as well! The author travels around the US, southeast Asia, India, and Africa as he traces items from Goodwill drop-off to re-sale to recycling to rag-making all around the world. I ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 📖 — I heard about Secondhand through an interview with the author on NPR one evening. I thought it would be a fascinating look around the world at what happens to things after they are donated. But I was completely shocked to see my current city, Minneapolis, as well as my hometown of Newark, Ohio, featured in the book as well! The author travels around the US, southeast Asia, India, and Africa as he traces items from Goodwill drop-off to re-sale to recycling to rag-making all around the world. I was fascinated by the chapters about people who make a living helping people downsize after retirement or get rid of belongs after the death of a relative. It’s sad and disheartening to see how much throw-away culture has affected manufacturing of goods. It’s also discouraging to realize how much stuff Americans especially have in their homes. We spend so much time and money on things that no one will want when we are gone, and we do harm to our entire world’s economic and environmental systems in the process. I love books that give a glimpse outside our American mindsets and allow the readers to stop and think about how what they are doing affects everyone. This book did that. Highly recommend. 📚 — pairs well with A Year of Less by Cait Flanders and The Minimalist Home by Joshua Becker 🖋 — Favorite Quotes: “Nothing that an affluent American minimalist can say about consumerism and stuff is likely to change the mind of a developing-world teenager whose only experience of minimalism has been involuntary.” “It strikes me that the desire to see one’s things take on a second life is as much a matter of vanity as it is a concern for the planet or dismay at waste. It’s as if she’s saying that her stuff is worthy.” “Generally, one man’s trash is another man’s trash. And as the world of stuff expands, the trash is becoming more common.”

  9. 4 out of 5

    Ginger Hudock

    If you have ever donated items to Goodwill or another thrift store and wondered what happened to them, then this book is for you. This is a well-done piece of journalism where the author follows items from thrift stores in the US to a number of final locations. Some items are bought by Mexicans from a Goodwill near the Arizona border and then are resold in Mexico. Other items, especially clothing, go to Canada where they are sorted by immigrants and the lightweight clothing is shipped to Africa If you have ever donated items to Goodwill or another thrift store and wondered what happened to them, then this book is for you. This is a well-done piece of journalism where the author follows items from thrift stores in the US to a number of final locations. Some items are bought by Mexicans from a Goodwill near the Arizona border and then are resold in Mexico. Other items, especially clothing, go to Canada where they are sorted by immigrants and the lightweight clothing is shipped to Africa or India for resale. Appliances, electronics and cars are also shipped to Africa to be repaired and resold. The author also visits Japan where there is a booming business cleaning out the houses of elderly or deceased people. All along the way it is easy to see the value that is given by selling these excess items and how they are reused by many in less developed countries. As someone who is trying to declutter and minimize future purchases, this was an excellent read. The book is very well written and the style is engaging, particularly because of the first person stories and interactions with various people involved in the secondhand goods process all over the world.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Patrick Book

    NOW I KNOW WHY ALL OUR DUMB KIDS CLOTHES SAY TO WASH ON THE GENTLE CYCLE

  11. 5 out of 5

    E

    This felt longer than it needed to be, and was really made more of short interviews that Minter tried to string together, only half successful. Yes, like most readers, it made me give a long thought to the amount of materials that I have accumulated, but it's not a pr-minimalist lifestyle book which was surprising. I found the international travels interesting, though Minter writing "they spoke a language I didn't know" in the India shoddy mill sounded a little patronizing and gross when not This felt longer than it needed to be, and was really made more of short interviews that Minter tried to string together, only half successful. Yes, like most readers, it made me give a long thought to the amount of materials that I have accumulated, but it's not a pr-minimalist lifestyle book which was surprising. I found the international travels interesting, though Minter writing "they spoke a language I didn't know" in the India shoddy mill sounded a little patronizing and gross when not twenty pages earlier he had named the African dialect he heard. Two thirds of the way through, Minter presses pause on the travel recollections and interview to give an explanation about America and their love of planned obsolescence and devotes the remaining chapters to iFixIT and similar companies. That explanation bit that covers what you've just read and what's next would have worked wonderfully as a preface, rather than just jumping into travel stories.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Andrea Larson

    Was one of your New Year's resolutions this year about stuff? Buying less, decluttering, reorganizing? Do you wonder what happens to everything we donate or recycle? If you do, pick up this book. Secondhand takes us on a trip throughout the world to show where all that stuff goes. Believe it or not, that old t-shirt you donated might actually make a couple of transatlantic journeys! Minter starts in a familiar place: the drop-off center at a Goodwill store in Arizona. Then through a series of Was one of your New Year's resolutions this year about stuff? Buying less, decluttering, reorganizing? Do you wonder what happens to everything we donate or recycle? If you do, pick up this book. Secondhand takes us on a trip throughout the world to show where all that stuff goes. Believe it or not, that old t-shirt you donated might actually make a couple of transatlantic journeys! Minter starts in a familiar place: the drop-off center at a Goodwill store in Arizona. Then through a series of firsthand accounts, he takes us through the global industry of recycling stuff: the burgeoning industry of home cleanouts, behind the scenes at Goodwill; the resale market in Japan. Much of what is donated in Japan is sold in the Philippines. And the stuff that doesn't sell at Goodwill in the U.S.? If it doesn't go to the dump, it is often bought by middlemen and shipped overseas to developing countries: Pakistan, India, Nigeria. Entrepreneurs haul secondhand goods to Mexico. Minter meets people involved in this industry and gives us a first-hand perspective, which keeps the story fresh and personal. Lest you think this topic is too heavy, Minter handles it with a light touch. He's not preachy, and he's perfectly open about his own role in acquiring objects. He also presents some solutions: manufacturing and purchasing more durable things. Repairing what we already have, instead of junking it. They're common sense, but not so easily accomplished in our consumption economy. This fascinating and enlightening book changed how I think about all the stuff in my closets and basement. A great read to start off 2020.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Misti

    What happens to your stuff when you're done with it? Like many people, I donate used items to thrift stores on a regular basis. I've also spent a fair amount of time in the back rooms of various thrift stores, baling discarded clothing and sorting through donated books. So, I had a little background knowledge, but I learned a lot reading Minter's thorough exploration of the global secondhand trade. This is a fascinating look at the world of stuff, from used bookstores in Japan, to secondhand What happens to your stuff when you're done with it? Like many people, I donate used items to thrift stores on a regular basis. I've also spent a fair amount of time in the back rooms of various thrift stores, baling discarded clothing and sorting through donated books. So, I had a little background knowledge, but I learned a lot reading Minter's thorough exploration of the global secondhand trade. This is a fascinating look at the world of stuff, from used bookstores in Japan, to secondhand clothing markets in Benin, to mills in India where woolen goods are shredded and recycled into blankets for disaster relief. Minter is realistic about the fate of some segments of the secondhand market ("The good news," an executive at a rag company jokes darkly, "is that nobody wants to get into this business."), but he's also cautiously optimistic about ways in which the secondhand trade could be improved and supported, seeing it as an essential part of global trade, and the natural solution to the problem of all this stuff that humans have accumulated, especially in the past century. Reading the book made me even less inclined to shop than I normally am (and I'm not much of a shopper), but I found it a fascinating read, and not as depressing as it might have been. If you're intrigued about the ways our used stuff moves around the world, I'd recommend this book. Bonus points if you borrow, rather than buy, it.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Emily

    While I enjoyed this book and felt like I learned a lot it had a deep libertarian feel and didn’t feel like it was objective reporting. I will definitely be trying to reduce and reuse more after reading this.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Jolene

    I love when a book can change your life. This one definitely did that.! I am a big thrifter and frequent customer at Goodwill and other secondhand stores. I had no idea how much work went into clearing out houses, sorting through donations, and what happens to those items after no one wants them. It made me more of aware of what I buy and what I donate. I am more conscience of what I will leave behind for my kids to sort through and I decided I don't want them to have to agonize over what to I love when a book can change your life. This one definitely did that.! I am a big thrifter and frequent customer at Goodwill and other secondhand stores. I had no idea how much work went into clearing out houses, sorting through donations, and what happens to those items after no one wants them. It made me more of aware of what I buy and what I donate. I am more conscience of what I will leave behind for my kids to sort through and I decided I don't want them to have to agonize over what to keep and what to throw away. I plan to go through my things and give them away for others to enjoy instead of sitting on shelves or in boxes. I have known that lots of donated clothes go to Africa to be resold but I had no idea about computer, televisions, phones, and appliances. They are shipped all over the world where they are fixed and resold. This is a fascinating book on an industry that thrives on humans' need for wanting more and wanting new. My eyes have been opened up to focusing more on people and less on stuff. I have recommended this book to about everyone I know.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth Tai

    Disclaimer: Adam is a personal friend and I received a copy for an honest review. I loved the book and couldn't put it down. It was fascinating to explore the entire "supply" chain of the secondhand market, and how seemingly good movements such as banning "plastic waste from the West" has a surprisingly long-term negative effect on the environment and on the economies of developing nations. Basically, don't take things at face value - there's more to the recycling, secondhand business than meets Disclaimer: Adam is a personal friend and I received a copy for an honest review. I loved the book and couldn't put it down. It was fascinating to explore the entire "supply" chain of the secondhand market, and how seemingly good movements such as banning "plastic waste from the West" has a surprisingly long-term negative effect on the environment and on the economies of developing nations. Basically, don't take things at face value - there's more to the recycling, secondhand business than meets the eye. We need to move beyond reacting to well-intentioned propaganda from "green" folks by banning things to really, really exploring how the world can manage stuff (and all the things it's made of) sustainably.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Kristine

    Secondhand by Adam Minter is a free NetGalley ebook that I read in late October. This book tells the outcome of donated items, the accumulation and redistribution of stuff, often with difficult resaleability; the concepts include downsizing for senior citizens, sorters and adult children serving as gatekeepers and processors, an object's ultimate end of incineration, the difficulty of assigning value, based on brand, age, and quality, import/export between countries that favor specific items, and Secondhand by Adam Minter is a free NetGalley ebook that I read in late October. This book tells the outcome of donated items, the accumulation and redistribution of stuff, often with difficult resaleability; the concepts include downsizing for senior citizens, sorters and adult children serving as gatekeepers and processors, an object's ultimate end of incineration, the difficulty of assigning value, based on brand, age, and quality, import/export between countries that favor specific items, and the true lifespan of an item.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Lilatovinl

    The best part of the book is where he debunks the myth that car seats should not be reused. I have been telling all my parents friends this for years. It was a scare tactic created by the makers of car seats. Think about it... most car seats are made from the same grade of material that goes into the plastic in cars and the material that makes seat belts. Do you ever see a warning that car seat belts “expire”? Do you see a warning that says you have to replace them after a car accident? Exactly The best part of the book is where he debunks the myth that car seats should not be reused. I have been telling all my parents friends this for years. It was a scare tactic created by the makers of car seats. Think about it... most car seats are made from the same grade of material that goes into the plastic in cars and the material that makes seat belts. Do you ever see a warning that car seat belts “expire”? Do you see a warning that says you have to replace them after a car accident? Exactly his point!

  19. 4 out of 5

    Dale Dewitt

    I absolutely loved this book. My wife and I made the decision to minimize our stuff and it is fascinating to find out there is an entire market for secondhand stuff and also to realize there is just too much stuff being purchased for the secondhand market to even make a dent in removing these items from the trash stream. The people that Adam meets are wonderful in telling their stories! a great read!

  20. 4 out of 5

    Romany

    THIS IS MY FAVORITE AUTHOR. This is a wonderful book. It connects so many of my favorite things: decluttering, thrift, junk and recycling. VERY good bits provide a critique of Waste Colonialism, but in a readable, popular science style. This is not an academic text, but is deeply researched and expertly woven. Like a really good quality shirt.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Una Tiers

    An important book, but not too interesting. Parts were good.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Beth

    Excellent. Fast, easy,entertaining. And it makes you think about your stuff

  23. 4 out of 5

    RC

    Somewhat slapdash and jumbled, but engrossing and eye-opening. A quick read.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Alexis

    This is the story of your stuff. Not the stuff you're using: the stuff you're not using, not anymore. What happens to it, if we don't throw it in the trash or the recycling bin? (Recycling was the topic of Minter's previous book.) Westerners have a lot of stuff, and it has a life cycle beyond our homes. Minter travels from Goodwill in Tuscon to secondhand markets in Benin to cleanup experts in Tokyo to find out what we have and where it goes. The state of our stuff isn't pretty. Quality is This is the story of your stuff. Not the stuff you're using: the stuff you're not using, not anymore. What happens to it, if we don't throw it in the trash or the recycling bin? (Recycling was the topic of Minter's previous book.) Westerners have a lot of stuff, and it has a life cycle beyond our homes. Minter travels from Goodwill in Tuscon to secondhand markets in Benin to cleanup experts in Tokyo to find out what we have and where it goes. The state of our stuff isn't pretty. Quality is declining across sectors and younger generations no longer want their parents' and grandparents' stuff, which they perceive as being unstylish. Clothing is increasingly poorly made--not a new complaint, but there seems to have been a particular drop in recent years, down to clothing labeled as 100% cotton not being, well, 100% cotton. IKEA particleboard bookcases can only survive one move before they're fit for the trash. Meanwhile, antiques dealers are going out of business and you can't get rid of a solid oak dining set. The sorting and grading of stuff, and how it makes its way overseas, is fascinating. Your local Goodwill has a complex system for deciding what will sell, and it does a great job of managing its wares. Traders from Mexico come to Tucson to shop at Goodwill, taking their buys back to Mexico. The Japanese send their used goods to southeast Asia. The fanciest goods may sell online; the next tier in special resale boutiques focused on higher end brands. The lowest tier is sold by the pound. As much as possible is sold to keep it out of the landfill. Activists (and sometimes protectionist governments) often portray secondhand clothing in Asia and Africa as simply being dumped, depressing local industry. But it's not dumped: it makes its way over through a complex, sophisticated trading network. Consumers in developing nations know what they want. They perceive secondhand Western goods to be superior quality to cheap products designed specifically for their markets. The import industry supports not only grading warehouses in Mississauga, but repair industries in Ghana that supply west Africa with used electronics. But the constant and increasing flood of stuff, in lower quality with planned obsolescence, may overwhelm the system. Already, the shoddy factories of India are turning from recycled wool to petroleum based polar fleece. Middle class consumers want their own new goods. Old shirts are becoming too flimsy to resell or to turn into rags. (Also, turns out car seat manufacturers are lying about plastic degradation. That was fun to learn.) This was really fascinating all the way through, and covered so many different aspects of the reuse and repurpose industry. There are so many interlocking pieces to the system. It was also a little depressing, when you think about the sheer amount of stuff we all own, and the unthinking ways we throw it all away--not to mention the vicious circle of poor quality goods.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Maura Elizabeth

    Reading Secondhand made me want to clean. This is not my typical reaction to a book; in fact, I generally read to avoid cleaning. But as Adam Minter recounted his visits to Goodwill stores, secondhand markets, and wholesalers of “stuff” around the world, I felt the urge to cull my closet, halve my collection of coffee mugs, and figure out if I really need all the things piling up in my basement. Once I finish this purge, I’ll pile the bags and boxes into my car and drop them off at the Goodwill Reading Secondhand made me want to clean. This is not my typical reaction to a book; in fact, I generally read to avoid cleaning. But as Adam Minter recounted his visits to Goodwill stores, secondhand markets, and wholesalers of “stuff” around the world, I felt the urge to cull my closet, halve my collection of coffee mugs, and figure out if I really need all the things piling up in my basement. Once I finish this purge, I’ll pile the bags and boxes into my car and drop them off at the Goodwill store a few miles down the road. Prior to reading Secondhand, my understanding of what would happen next was spotty: I vaguely imagined that Goodwill workers would sort through my donations and stick price tags on anything that might sell in its store. Anything that was too far gone to sell might get trashed or recycled. I knew that unsellable clothing would be sold by the pound to a company that would turn it into rags. And that was about it. Secondhand showed me how limited my understanding of what happens after good are donated really was. My carload of stuff in Ann Arbor might circulate around the world: old electronics to Africa, tattered clothing to a shoddy maker in India, household goods to Mexico. Even some of the stuff that Goodwill can sell might not remain at the store closest to me, if other outlets in the Southeast Michigan network are low on inventory. The secondhand economy is largely invisible to the average American, but the stuff we cast off gets deposited into an expansive global network. But, as Minter demonstrates, that global secondhand economy is also a fragile and constantly shifting one. Companies that deal in shipping containers of secondhand goods are vulnerable to changes in the quality and durability of those goods: the cheap fast-fashion t-shirts that consumers love are not of sufficient quality to make good rags. Secondhand makes a compelling argument for buying less stuff and ensuring that what we do purchase is durable. But what about all the stuff that I already own? It’s my stuff, and while I could certainly stand to divest myself of some coffee mugs (do they reproduce inside the cupboard?!?) and clothing that I need to accept is too small, I like my stuff. Perhaps the most difficult sections of Secondhand are the ones that force me to face this fact: no one else feels the same way I do about my stuff. If a stranger were to clean out my house, they wouldn’t know the stories behind everything that fills it; they wouldn’t recognize some items as more valuable for their sentiment or family connections. It’s all just stuff—some of it can be sold, some of it can be repurposed, some of it is truly trash. It’s certainly fun to shop and acquire stuff—I don’t plan to become a minimalist anytime soon—but Secondhand is as effective as any Buddhist text I’ve read in teaching a lesson in non-attachment.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Jessica Scott

    Fascinating. The surplus of junk we have - globally - that can't be reused is absolutely fascinating. Minter takes us around the world looking at second hand markets and the way that things cast off gain a second life. Sadly, it also highlights the propagation of cheap junk, which cannot be reused and ends up as, well junk. Great read!

  27. 5 out of 5

    Jill Blevins

    I’m not a hoarder - maybe that’s why this book appealed to me? I love getting rid of things and I don’t love shopping so there isn’t much to get rid of. I have what I want and need and if I don’t have it, I don’t need it. And my relatives look in my closets and get mad. Where’s your stuff? They ask. I think they just want to justify their walk-in closet full of unworn items that don’t fit them, they never wear, but bought because they were a good deal. And because they have so much stuff, they I’m not a hoarder - maybe that’s why this book appealed to me? I love getting rid of things and I don’t love shopping so there isn’t much to get rid of. I have what I want and need and if I don’t have it, I don’t need it. And my relatives look in my closets and get mad. Where’s your stuff? They ask. I think they just want to justify their walk-in closet full of unworn items that don’t fit them, they never wear, but bought because they were a good deal. And because they have so much stuff, they can never find anything. Meantime, I wear the same thing over and over again and probably look as poor as I am to them. So there are positives and negatives to being minimalist/poor vs. keeping the economy booming by hoarding. Either way, there comes a time when everyone’s stuff is going somewhere else. Where does it go? When you move, when you die, when you move to a smaller place, what happens to those treasures and heirlooms you think are worth something? This book is a beautiful journey following our stuff. The author comes in from a variety of angles into our lives, ultimately making you think about what you value and why. Even the most materialistic person is going to question why they have what they have, if “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure” or if one man’s trash is just another man’s trash. The stories follow possessions and clothing, so much clothing, through their life cycle on the planet. It’s not just us consumer-obsessed Americans; it’s everyone who has more than enough who has, ultimately, too much. Not only will you question your values, your purchases, your decisions, your choices, and your assumptions, but you will get to enjoy other people working hard jobs dealing with other people’s possessions. You get to see what happens to all that stuff you donate. You get to see what happens to stuff that is too useless in one country and yet valuable in another, and why. (Why? I will never understand the value of large heavy oak furniture, but maybe you will.) It’s such a bright, fun read. And even if you’re not interested in stuff, or old furniture an clothing, you live here on earth. All that stuff goes somewhere. And more importantly, there are a lot of people who work incredibly hard to find value in that useless junk who don’t get paid enough to make the world a little less junky.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Holly

    A soundly written, interesting account of the GLOBAL second hand business that most Americans are oblivious to. As consumers of the latest and newest, we have forgotten what it is like to keep something for a long time and repair it when it breaks. My favorite chapter was “Need More Suitcases” in which Minter proselytizes about the “right to repair,” a movement toward electronics “do it yourself” repair. In this chapter, I learned that Apple and other companies are making it harder for people to A soundly written, interesting account of the GLOBAL second hand business that most Americans are oblivious to. As consumers of the latest and newest, we have forgotten what it is like to keep something for a long time and repair it when it breaks. My favorite chapter was “Need More Suitcases” in which Minter proselytizes about the “right to repair,” a movement toward electronics “do it yourself” repair. In this chapter, I learned that Apple and other companies are making it harder for people to repair their own electronics so that they buy new electronic versus repairing them. I never considered repairing my own iPhone 7 by installing a new battery (myself) until I read this book. I did not even think it an option. Thanks to Minter, I looked up the website for iFixit and watched an open source “how to tear down an iPhone 7 and change its battery” video and feel confident I could do it. iFixit also sells kits with the battery and tools needed for a fraction of the cost of taking it to Apple. Thought provoking and empowering, Secondhand is a reminder of a value we need to reacquaint ourselves with.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Douglas

    This is an excellent, important book. It starts with personal stories we can all relate to. Cleaning out the belongings of a passed away loved one. We all wonder what does become of our stuff? I know that millions of people depend on the making and selling of stuff, but do we have enough? Then we go on to the nitty gritty of the international trade and reuse of goods. Your old t-shirt might end up as a rag or a stuffing for toys. We see the usual well intentioned laws and reporting often having This is an excellent, important book. It starts with personal stories we can all relate to. Cleaning out the belongings of a passed away loved one. We all wonder what does become of our stuff? I know that millions of people depend on the making and selling of stuff, but do we have enough? Then we go on to the nitty gritty of the international trade and reuse of goods. Your old t-shirt might end up as a rag or a stuffing for toys. We see the usual well intentioned laws and reporting often having a bad result. The writing style is pretty much "you are there" and as the book progresses, the stories aren't as human as the opening, but it is a complex international story. Highly recommended. Just in the last week, I've recommended it to a woman at Goodwill and another who works in ordering textiles globally. Both times I found myself in fascinating conversations. One final note. I'm not against stuff. In many ways it defines us and allows us to have individual personalities. It also enables us to support people who add beauty and efficiency to our lives.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Grace

    Adam Minter's "Secondhand: Travels in the New Global Garage Sale," is part globe-trotting travelogue and part lowkey investigative reporting on what, exactly, happens to the stuff we leave behind - at the backdoor dropoff door of a Goodwill or even when we die. Minter seems to have found the right blend of casual conversations with secondhand experts (resalers, clean-out companies, refurbishers, etc) with the horrifying emotions the thought brings out - what happens to my stuff? My cast-offs are Adam Minter's "Secondhand: Travels in the New Global Garage Sale," is part globe-trotting travelogue and part lowkey investigative reporting on what, exactly, happens to the stuff we leave behind - at the backdoor dropoff door of a Goodwill or even when we die. Minter seems to have found the right blend of casual conversations with secondhand experts (resalers, clean-out companies, refurbishers, etc) with the horrifying emotions the thought brings out - what happens to my stuff? My cast-offs are probably more well-traveled than me! Someone actually can make money off of it? And I have way too much stuff that will be my family's problem when it's my time to leave this mortal coil. Thought-provoking, definitely. Scary, at times, yes. And even sweet - Minter shares his family's history in the secondhand trade and I adored the part about him going to garage sales with his grandmother. I adored this. It is a quick read. Not too deep - a kiddy pool introduction to the global marketplace for the stuff we no longer need or want. It definitely has me reevaluating my life and the stuff that it is in it.

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