New to us: Shopping Craigslist and garage sales

I grew up with garage sales being a fairly regular Saturday morning activity, but it’s something that’s seldom been part of my adult life.  If I wanted to spend my weekends driving all over the metro area, I’m sure I could score a few good bargains, but if I’m in search of a specific item, it’s easier to turn to Craigslist.

I also strive to limit driving with Craigslist (CL) hunts, usually only looking at ads that list a location within five miles (or a bit more if it’s in a direction that I would be headed by car anyway, like near my MIL’s).  Biking to CL pickups is ideal, of course.

I found myself in just such a situation when I responded to an ad for a booster seat in “South City.”  The term encompasses a rather wide area, so I was delighted to find that the seller lived in my neighborhood, just seven blocks away.  Better yet, when I arrived to pick up the seat, she let me do some early shopping from her selection of toddler boy clothes that she was preparing for the neighborhood garage sale, so, for a very good price, and very little effort on my part, I took care of most of Gabriel’s winter clothing needs.

As an added bonus, I met another mom in the neighborhood, who we’ve since run into at the playground a couple of times, and who offered to contact me as her 4-year-old son continues to outgrow clothes.

While I prefer new to used in almost all areas anyway, used kids’ pajamas are particularly good in my book, since they likely have lower amounts of potentially toxic fire-retardant chemicals remaining.*  As an added bonus, somebody looks absolutely adorable in his “new” footie pajamas, and I rest easier knowing they’ve been through a number of wash cycles.

NOT spontaneously combustible, but possibly in danger of death by cuddles

Though I wasn’t initially planning on it, I took the time to check out some of the neighborhood garage sales that weekend (it was an organized event with over 30 sales on one Saturday).  Instead of lots of driving and in and out of the car, I spent a couple of lovely hours on a fall morning biking around my neighborhood.  For less than $15, I picked up five DVDs, a nice baby gate, and a couple of new toys for little Pookie.

I didn’t find anything that I was REALLY looking for (e.g., nice shoes for Gabriel, a coat rack for our front stairs), and it was money that I would not have spent if I hadn’t gone out, so I think it’s for that best that my garage sale-ing is self-limited.

*”Chemicals used in sleepwear labeled ‘fire resistant’ will remain in the fabric for at least 50 washes.”  Source here — see bottom of page for specifics on pajamas.  It’s not like mattresses or sofas or babies sleeping sweetly in their pajamas are prone to spontaneously bursting into flames.  It’s disgusting that the widespread use of TOXIC fire-retardant chemicals was introduced primarily as a precaution for fires started from another chemical nightmare — cigarettes.

Green baby strategies

While I’m far from having everything figured out on the “green parenting” front, I have learned a few things over the last ten plus months.  So, in no particular order, here are eight strategies to help you and your baby go green.

1. Buy Used
Okay, this one is rather obvious, but it bears repeating.  The million (or billion?) dollar baby industry spends a lot of time and effort telling us (especially first-time moms) that we need a big, custom nursery with shiny new furniture, a dresser AND closet full of brand-new baby clothes (that will acquire stains and be outgrown in the blink of an eye), and a whole array of toys and entertainment devices that a newborn could care less about.  Their strategies prey on our insecurities as new parents, trying to convince us that we can make up for perceived deficits in our parenting knowledge and skills by spending money.

Baby Bjorn potty, like-new condition, $8 on CL ($30 new)

Since most baby stuff is used for a relatively short period of time, you can find many items in pretty good condition at regular thrift stores, baby/kid-specific consignment shops, Craigslist, and/or garage sales.  Make a specific list (but be flexible on things like color), and then ask family and friends to keep an eye out for things as well.

2. Something Borrowed
Even better than buying used, check with friends and family about borrowing items.  Your cousin may not want to SELL that baby swing or bouncy seat, preferring to keep it for a future baby, but she may be willing to loan it to you for the few months that it will be useful.

3. Skimp on Laundry
A new addition does not have to mean tons of extra laundry.  Sure, there will be some additional laundry in the form of diapers if you use cloth, but there’s no reason you should be averaging over a load a day!  A shirt or blanket with a bit of drool, or pants that are slightly damp at the waist from a minor diaper leak, can be removed, aired-out, and re-worn.  Comfortable shirts and pants can transition from daytime to bedtime, with no need for an extra change of clothes.

Basket case

4. Be Flexible
Sir graduated from the [second-hand] Moses basket to a Pack ‘n Play that my sister picked up for us at a garage sale.  Our initial assumption was that it would be a temporary solution while we worked on finding a crib and making room for said crib in our small, one-bedroom apartment.  He slept well in the playpen, so we decided to forgo the crib. 

5. Think Outside the Box
Instead of a big, bulky high chair that separates baby from the table and keeps him from really being part of the meal, we started with a small, portable seat that clamped on the table.  It seemed safe enough, but I was a bit worried, especially as Sir often demonstrates  his enthusiasm for food by kicking and bouncing in his seat.

Who, me?

I was all ready to visit a local baby consignment store to look for a booster seat that we could use with a chair at the table, when Matthew came up with the solution in the above photo: phone books stacked on a chair underneath the clamp-on seat.  His idea transfers the weight to the chair instead of the table, allowing us to continue to use the clamp-on seat, but making it safer and more stable, no purchase necessary.

6. Seek suggestions
When I wrote about our crunchy diaper problem and my search for used cloth diapers, several readers responded with helpful suggestions.  Based on your ideas, I contacted a local diaper service and purchased thirty of their “seconds” for twenty dollars.  Despite some signs of wear, these are good quality, thick prefolds that are more than adequate for our needs.

7. Wait on It
Sometimes not having the time or energy to do the research for a purchase, or actually get to a store [or online] to make the purchase, can be a good thing.  Babies’ needs change very quickly, and something that might seem absolutely essential today may well be old news in a week or two.  Waiting gives you time to find a more long-term solution and avoid an unnecessary impulse buy, but you may also discover you can live without a what’s-it or thing-a-ma-jig.

8. But Don’t Drive Yourself Crazy
I’m NOT so good at following my own advice on this one, but I’ll toss it in anyway.  If you’re spending lots of time and energy trying to hunt down a particular item, or burning gallons of gas driving to far-flung garage sales, you’ve probably hit a point of diminishing returns.

The bottom line is that having a baby is WAY less green than not having a baby, and, as I continue to discover, parenting is all about compromises (my friend writes a blog devoted to that subject).  Sometimes buying new does make sense — in these cases, try to keep the item in good condition to loan, sell, or donate once you’ve finished using it.

Your Turn
I’m sure there are lots of other ideas out there — what are YOUR tips and tricks for minimizing your little one’s carbon footprint?

Related post: A basket for baby (my pre-baby thoughts on baby stuff)

Restuffed: The Sofa Saga

Less than a year ago, we welcomed home a new-to-us sofa.  The upholstery looked great, and it appeared to be a quality piece of furniture, all-in-all, a good Craigslist bargain.  I quickly bonded with our new sofa, enjoying many long, pregnancy-fatigue induced naps on its cushions.  Unfortunately, after several months of use, we noticed that the sofa was getting uncomfortable.  The stuffing in the back was suffering from the effects of age and gravity.

For a few months, we used strategically placed pillows to make up for the sofa’s shortcomings, but the possibility of getting it restuffed surfaced in conversations.  Then one day, we noticed a bright orange powdery substance oozing from one of the buttons.  Apparently, the used sofa that seemed to be in such good condition only seemed to be in good condition because the previous owner never used it.  With regular use, the really old foam stuffing showed its true colors, rapidly disintegrating, first the back of the couch, and then the cushions.

Green solution?  Don’t get rid of a perfectly good piece of furniture – repair it!  In this case, that meant restuffing.  It sounded like a good, simple plan, until Matthew started calling around to get quotes, and we started hearing amounts greater than one thousand dollars.  While we were pretty sure we could not get a new couch of similar quality for less than that (even if we wanted to take that route), it was hard to think about shelling out that much money for a sofa that we bought on Craigslist for a couple hundred dollars.

Most places wanted to restuff (which we wanted) AND reupholster (which we didn’t want).  One place said they might be able to restuff and use the existing upholstery (which would make it considerably cheaper), but they wouldn’t know until they actually started taking it apart and could see what condition the upholstery was in, and by then we could owe them at least a couple hundred dollars by the time we paid for pick-up and the initial labor.  Gulp.

To further complicate things, my in-laws were offering us a newer used sofa for free.  It lacked the charm and character of our sofa, as well as the length that allowed Matthew to actually lie down and stretch out, but compared to the potential expense of getting our sofa back in shape . . . .

Enter serious procrastinating on my part, all while sitting on an increasingly uncomfortable sofa.  I might still be on the fence right now, except the prospect of exposing my newborn baby to some mysterious orange powder demanded action.

I reluctantly agreed to try the place that was willing to try to reuse the current upholstery.  After some deliberation, we also decided to have them restuff the cushions, instead of attempting it ourselves.

Fortunately, this story has a happy ending.  We waved goodbye to our sofa the second Saturday in October.  That Monday, we got the good news that they could work with the current upholstery, and, five days later, we hoisted the sofa back up our stairs and into the front room, where we’ve been enjoying it ever since.  Though it was hardly the bargain we thought we were getting, we plan to enjoy it for many more years, and I feel like we made a decent investment.

Ding dong, the books are gone!

After a weekend of waiting and wondering if the rescued math books would find a new home, I peeked outside late Sunday afternoon to an empty front porch!  🙂

I know this is just a small drop in the bucket, but these books will be helping kids learn math skills instead of just sitting in the landfill for the next eleventy hundred years.

I’m still on edge every time I take trash out to the dumpster (which, fortunately, is not all that often), afraid of what I’ll feel compelled to rescue next.

In which a crazy pregnant lady goes dumpster diving

It all started out innocently enough.  With the warmer temps, I spent some time cleaning our sun porch on Friday in preparation for being able to use it again soon.

In the process of breaking down a cardboard box for recycling, I pulled off the packing tape, and since I was already outside on my way to the recycling bin at that point, I decided to put the tape directly into the trash dumpster.  I opened the dumpster lid and saw a bunch of brand new looking books.

Unable to just close the lid and go on with my life knowing that some perfectly good books were headed for the landfill, I started pulling them out and piling them on top of the dumpster.

I found about 20 middle school teachers’ guide math texts that looked like they’d never been used.  In the dumpster!  I was tempted to just leave the books piled on top of or next to the dumpster and hope that someone would come along and rescue them, but, realistically, people only tend to pick up furniture and other large objects.

If I left them there, they would probably just sit and end up getting water damage from rain, and then they really would be trash. So I brought them inside in two huge armfuls, found a box in the basement as a temporary home, and posted them on ReUseItStLouis (formerly known as FreeCycle).

They had not generated much interest by Saturday, when I made the mistake of visiting the dumpster again (with another small trash item).  Guess what?  More books!  Same topic and condition as the books from Friday — clearly the same culprit.

My shoulders sagged in defeat.  I could (and did) pull out these books, but this is one dumpster, in one alley, in one city, and I’m one person.  Every day, all across our country, perfectly good and usable items, like these books, get sent to the landfill.

I understand that taking the time to find new homes for items we no longer want does require some effort and can be frustrating, we just went through it with our couch, but taking the time and effort is part of being a responsible consumer.

In this case, the books I rescued would be perfect for a math tutor or a family that home schools.  While this story is not finished yet, I received two emails about the books, including one from a person who seemed very interested.  If all goes well, the books may have a new home by the end of the day, which would turn my distressed expression in the photo into a smile.