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Travels in the New Global Garage Sale

Adam Minter

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Twenty years ago China was a big importer of used clothes. Now it is a huge expoerter of used clothing, driving down prices and changing the economics of the used clothing business worldwide.

As of 2017 there were 54,000 mini-storgae sites in US. The industry's annual profits are triple those of Hollywood.

Empty The Nest - business that gets rid of all your (deceased or downsizing-to-a-rest-home) parent's stuff you can't be bothered trying to sell.

Small acts of consumption add up to a picture of who you are (which are tracked very carefully by Google and facebook) - iPhone users have different values to android buyers; you won't find a Volvo station wagon (a liberal marker) in a Chick-fil-A drive-through (a conservative hangout)

Gentle Transitions another name for same type of firm. Charge $1500 - $3500 + cost of moving truck.

Often kids not in same city as parents.

"Hoarding is a spectrum disorder, and we're all somewhere on that spectrum"

Americans have garage sales so they have more room to store new stuff.

A condo for seniors where you just pull a cord if you want something

Pre-WW2 agrarian society had few possessions, and they were repaired and passed down the generations. Food scraps were composted or fed to pigs.

Globalization and urbanization have changed everything.

Japan has a National Association of Cleanout Professionals, representing eight thousand companies.

2018 Japan 921,000 births and 1.3 million deaths. Eight consecutive year of popn decline.

Business of preparing for death shukatsu 'fairs' where vendors sell everything from grave clothes to estate planning. Manuals for putting one's end-of-life affairs in order widely available.

Japan has 8 million unoccupied 'ghost' houses.

A large trash bag full of rubbish charge $50 at high tech incinerators; twice that for a futon.

Bookoff - Japanese co selling used books and everything else - you just box up your books and print a label and courier picks up.

Every book that arrives has to be perfect condition or it's recycled - bc online buyers can't see book, don't want returns due to condition.

Survivors bar code scanned and algorthm decides whether to buy (based on past sales,current inventory etc). 60% have no value at all. Customer gets a quote as to assessed value and can either accept, and get immediate payment, or pay to freight books back.

Side line of cleaning - often someone has died in the home, or there are years of grime.

One UK insurance co reckoned there were 3.8m unused fondue sets stored away in Britain.

Sorting the worthwhile from the unusable often not economic. But people prepared to pay more to be reassured stuff will go to someone who wants it rather than just tossed.

Antiques Roadshow runs re-appraisals of antiques found in earlier shows, and the prices are almost always down from years ago. Furniture is typically down 50 - 70% in value.

There are things that were collectable 20 years ago, but unwanted now - cups and trad glass, dolls and porcelain figures. Now people collect pyrex from 50's. Polaroid cameras that had to give away when digital arrived, now go for $200. People want the stuff they grew up with.

Above all, nobody wants to buy heavy oak furniture - live in small apartments, don't want to have to try to move heavy stuff all time; glass walled apartments don't suit big pieces of trad furniture; and if ever decide they do want some, know it's available for taking away in someone's basement.

Nobody wants drop-front desks any more bc can't hold a computer.

High priced today - such as Star Wars memorabilia - are very unlikely to hold value.

Today people buying new stuff on price, not on quality. They don't care that clothes may only last a few washes.

Goodwill in America has a last ditch store where stuff (that hasn't sold in main stores after 6 weeks) is priced by the pound weight - clothing $1.49 lb, hard goods .89 lb, glass .29 lb. One last chance before going to landfill.

Prices of used clothing collapsing - even Chinese prosperity means now throwing away/export to Africa huge quantities

Vintage Levis used to be valuable. Now they get sent to Thailand etc where zips and domes cutout to be used in fake new Levis.

Rags need to be soft, so new Tshirts are worth less than used, and have to be washed to make them saleable. And problem that clothes are made so cheaply (eg using polyester mixed in with cotton to cut costs, even if label claims "100% cotton") that unusable for wiping surfaces. It's a quirk of the new global economy that the main beneficiaries of cheap, disposable fashion are the paper towel manufacturers (bc if can't get decent cotton wipes, you have to take paper, even though use more and harder to dispose of).

Most complex objects - and that includes sofas as well as smartphones - are a mix of recyclable and non-recyclable components, and the financial and environmental cost of separating the two usually makes landfill the most viable option.

Those working in clear out industry (Empty The Nest et al) quickly become minimalists. One positive is that smartphones have replaced cameras, VCRs, TVs, cassette tapes, photo albums etc.

Probably shd be more aware of what you buy - can it be resold when you've finished with it. An IKEA unit of particle board held together with glue and screws will not survive moving.

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