Save the Date for Our Next Swap!

It’s that time again! Our next style swap has been officially set for Wednesday, August 23, at New Day Craft Cider & Mead.

SummerSwap17 promo image

If you’re on the fence about whether a clothing swap is your scene, check out Bethany’s previous post about why swaps are basically the best thing ever. Then head over to the registration page to sign up!

See you at SummerSwap17!

Tips for Buying a Used Lawn Mower

Remember when I used to write about cute things like shoes and dresses and DIY projects? Now that I’m a fancy grown-up homeowner, my life revolves around glamorous subjects like ant control and backed-up drains. More than anything this summer, my life has revolved around learning how to maintain a lawn.

One of the things I really liked about my house when I was thinking about buying it was that both the front and back yards are very small. I’m deeply relieved that I went for a house with a small yard, because even the postage stamp-sized patches of grass I do have take more attention than I anticipated. (Did you know that in the spring, grass grows fast? This was news to me.)

Small front yard with two trees

My li’l front yard

Small back yard with large tree

My li’l back yard

From the start I wanted to choose an eco-friendly lawn mower, but I wasn’t sure exactly what kind I should get. I researched powerless reel mowers, which would be the ideal green option, but I read several reviews saying they tend to get stuck on sticks, and my trees drop a copious amount of twigs. I also read that they don’t work well if the grass gets too long, and I think we all know how frequently I was prepared to mow. (Not often.) I would definitely be interested in trying a reel mower at some point, but it seemed intimidating to try as a total lawn newbie.

I decided to pursue an electric solution instead. For me there were both practical and sustainable benefits to an electric mower over a gas mower: I didn’t want to have to keep gasoline on hand to power it, I didn’t want to smell like gas every time I mowed, and I didn’t want the mower to be noisy and produce air pollution. I’m also a member of the green power option with my local utility, so even though Indiana’s electricity is produced by polluting coal-fired power plants (boo), the electricity I use is matched by renewable energy certificates (RECs), which help offset conventional electricity generation by supporting wind farms. And of course I wanted to get a used mower if at all possible, to extend the life of still-useful equipment and eliminate the environmental impact of manufacturing a new one.

For the first couple of months of spring, I actually cut my grass with a hand-held electric trimmer (much to the chagrin of my neighbors). At first I was experimenting to see if my yard was small enough to even need a mower at all. While the trimmer solution technically worked, it did take about twice as long as mowing does, and the trimmer makes a loud, shrill drone that I didn’t think was fair to subject the neighborhood to for an hour every week. I decided it wasn’t a viable long-term solution and that my little lawn did in fact call for a real mower.

Mower #1: Lawn Hog = Fail Whale

My first lawn mower purchase was a fail but a valuable learning experience. I had noticed an electric lawn mower for sale at the pawn shop where I get most of my music equipment, and having always had good luck with pawn shop purchases in the past, I decided to give the mower a try. It was a corded electric Black & Decker Lawn Hog. I quickly turned it on next to the store to make sure it worked. Nothing seemed remiss, so I bought it (and thankfully the $2 warranty) and took it home.

I got about a third of the way through mowing my back yard when the mower suddenly stopped cutting—it continued to spin but was no longer cutting the grass. After some disassembling and Googling, I discovered that the fan blades were all broken off, the blade wasn’t securely fastened, a couple of key components were fused together, and the motor itself was completely unattached from the body except for a few thin wires. I learned a lot about small motors that day, and I also learned that there’s more to vetting a lawn mower than just making sure it turns on.

Mower #2: Crushing It with Craigslist

I kept up the search for a few more weeks with no luck. But over Memorial Day weekend I checked Craigslist again and lo and behold, the perfect mower was for sale! It was a cordless Neuton brand electric mower being sold by a local couple. The price was right ($55!) and the sellers turned out to be incredibly gracious and helpful. The mower itself is a dream—no cord, easy to push, quiet enough to talk over, and it can do both the front and back yards on a single charge. I actually enjoy cutting the grass now, because it’s just like taking a series of very short walks in my yard on a nice day.

Full image of Neuton electric lawn mower

Say hello to my little friend Neuton.

Close-up of Neuton electric lawn mower

I think Neuton kind of looks like a turtle.

Tips for Buying Secondhand Tools & Equipment

The seasoned homeowners among you (or people who have ever done lawn care in their lives) are probably scoffing at how long I took to choose a mower, and I admit that my learning curve about lawn care was probably steeper than it should have been. However, I learned a lot through the process, and for those of us who are beginners to home maintenance and want to avoid buying a lot of new gadgets and tools to take care of our homes, I have a few important tips to keep in mind:

  1. If you’re going to buy used tools or equipment, don’t expect to find exactly what you need right away. It may take days or weeks for the type of equipment you want to come onto the secondhand market, or the available items may be in poor condition or unfairly priced. Be prepared for the shopping process to take time.
  2. Always test used equipment for its intended purpose before buying. Just because a tool powers on doesn’t mean it works properly. If it’s a mower, cut some grass. If it’s a drill, drill a hole in something. Five minutes of testing will save you the grief of getting home and finding out your purchase was useless.
  3. It’s better to buy directly from a person if possible. What I learned from comparing my two lawn mower-buying experiences is that at the pawn shop, I had no sense of how well (or badly) the mower had been taken care of. I didn’t know how old it was, I didn’t have the manual, I didn’t know if it had any quirks; I was buying it pretty much blind. None of that occurred to me at the time, but when I bought the second lawn mower from Craigslist, the difference in the experience was like night and day. The sellers described the ways they took care of the mower and provided helpful background information about the battery and the attachments, plus they gave me the manual and an extra blade. They also suggested I test out the mower on their yard before I could even ask. Obviously not all Craigslist experiences are this stellar, but buying from a person at least gives you the opportunity to ask questions and get a sense for how well-maintained the equipment might be.

With what I’ve learned from this process, I think I’ll definitely feel more prepared when buying secondhand the next time I need a new tool for my house. Have you ever bought used tools or equipment for your home? How did it work out? What kind of lawn mower do you use?

The Three Blessings of the Swap Gods

Woman browsing dresses at clothing swap

In case you missed the very brief plug at the end of my last post, we’re having another clothing swap soon! If you’re on the fence about joining us, let Bethany convince you with her tales of three blessings from the clothing swap gods. – Julia

The Match Made In Heaven

“I’m wearing your pants!”

Amanda never fails to text me this statement and it never fails to make me smile. She picked up a pair of gray pants that I had brought to the first clothing swap. These pants were nice gray jeans, something that I really liked, but they just fit me strangely and I could never quite make them look right on me. I reluctantly brought them to the swap thinking that I would take them home after if no one took them.

Sisterhood of the traveling pants

Amanda modeling the sisterhood of the traveling pants

Fortunately, the swap gods had different plans in mind. Amanda snagged them quickly and went to try them on. She came out of the bathroom wearing this pair of pants that looked like they were made for her. These pants that I struggled to make work because I loved them so much looked exactly how I wanted them to when Amanda put them on, and it was wonderful! The only thing better than getting a match made in heaven is being able to provide one for someone else, so don’t hesitate to sacrifice those items on the cusp to the swap gods – they have a match in mind!

The Impulsive Grab

Towards the end of the swap, the items left on the table are often plain t-shirts or basic clothing that doesn’t have a lot of obvious pizzazz to it. A few times, I’ve impulsively picked up a plain shirt at the end thinking “well, it can’t hurt anything, if it doesn’t work I’ll just bring it to the next swap.” Somehow, those impulse grabs from the discards always end up being the items that I wear the most. One of them was a plain black t-shirt that is thin and long, and I wear it constantly. Another last minute grab was a tank top with a bold fern and red flower pattern on it – not something that I usually gravitate towards. However, it turned out to fit me perfectly and is an item that I’m really looking forward to wearing this summer. Trust the impulses that the swap gods send!

The Gift Of The Story

“Where did you get that shirt? I really like it!”
“Oh, I bought it at such and such a store”
– conversation ends –

“Where did you get that shirt? I really like it!”
“Oh, I got it at the Fair for All Clothing Swap!”
“What’s a clothing swap?”
– conversation flows, friendship is made, everything is lovely and wonderful –

Okay, maybe a bit exaggerated – but one of the biggest blessings bestowed by the swap gods is the story that your new favorite shirt has. There’s something special about having a one-of-a-kind shopping experience, and it’s really fun to tell people where you got your eco-friendly new duds.

I hope you enjoyed hearing about the three blessings of the swap gods, and that you’ll come experience them in person on Wednesday, March 15th, from 6 pm – 8 pm at New Day Craft. Click here for more info and to RSVP!

~ Bethany

Get Ready for SpringSwap16

It’s time for the next Fair for All style swap! SpringSwap16 is your opportunity to clean out your closet and swap unwanted items for new-to-you fashion.

This will be our third clothing swap event, and I’m so excited to have built up a community of people who enjoy getting new clothes in this fun, personal and environmentally-friendly way.

SpringSwap16 promo graphic

SpringSwap16 Women’s Style Swap

Wednesday, May 4, 2016 • New Day Craft Mead & Cider

See full details & sign up >>

Some scenes from our last swap:

Women browsing tables of clothing

Woman peruses jewelry table

Rack of women's clothing

As always, the style swap is a free event. And like at our last swap, New Day’s famous Mead & Knead will be going on in the front room at the same time, where you can get a chair massage and a glass of mead or cider for just $10. (Be sure to arrive early if you want a massage; slots fill up fast.)

We hope to see you on May 4!

How to Get Rid of Clothing Swap Leftovers

We hosted our most recent style swap on January 20, and the boxes of leftover clothes and accessories have been hanging out in my living room ever since.

Two boxes overflowing with clothes

Hi, guys.

Dealing with the leftovers is a minor inconvenience, but I actually appreciate that the swaps have given me an opportunity to experiment with different ways of connecting stuff with people who actually want it. Here’s what I’ve tried so far with this latest batch:

Consignment/Resale

At the swap, I announced that I might try selling some of the leftovers and donating the proceeds to Dress for Success. A few weeks ago I took what I considered the best of the leftovers to two consignment/resale shops, Plato’s Closet and Simply Chic. Unfortunately, neither store purchased any of the items, saying the items weren’t recent enough or weren’t in styles that sell well.

Facebook Sale Groups

After trying the resale shops, I posted four of what I considered the most appealing items in a local Facebook sale group, listing each item for a dollar. One item sold (a skirt from H&M), but the others didn’t. Given the fact that people weren’t jumping on what I thought was good stuff, I didn’t continue posting the rest.

Screenshot of Facebook sale group post

Nobody wanted these dope shoes!

I would like to continue experimenting with what works best for these groups—is there an optimal time of day to post? There are multiple sale groups for my neighborhood—does women’s fashion sell better in one group than another? Is it better to post a “closet cleanout” style post with lots of pictures and numbered items, or post one item at a time? I’m hesitant to post lots of items at once, because you still have to communicate with each buyer individually regarding pickup, which could become time-consuming if a lot of items sell.

ThredUP

My best friend is an avid devotee of ThredUP, an online resale shop for women’s and kids’ fashion. She raves about the experience from the consumer side and suggested I try out the selling side to see what it’s like. Despite the fact that the local consignment stores didn’t accept any of my items, I browsed ThredUP and saw several items similar to the items I had tried to sell, and most items I entered into the site’s Payout Estimator were marked as “Accepted.” A few items even had surprisingly high estimated payouts:

  • Etcetera dress pants – estimated payout of $18.80 to $22.80 (this has to be some kind of glitch)
  • Paper Denim & Cloth jeans – estimated payout of $8.88
  • J. Crew khakis – estimated payout of $5.13

I ended up sending in about 24 items, filling one of ThredUP’s cleanout bags. The mix included two pairs of shoes, several pairs of dress pants, tops, sweaters, and a couple of dresses. The submission process was super easy—the free shipping label comes already attached to the cleanout bag, so you don’t even have to worry about sticking it on.

Full ThredUP bag

Say hi to Frodo in the background!

Yesterday I received an email from ThredUP announcing they have received my bag and it is scheduled to be processed on April 24. The site says they accept less than 40% of what they receive, so I know not to expect them to take everything, but I’m interested to see how close the estimated payouts come to the actual, especially on the big ticket items listed above. For the items they don’t accept, they connect with textile recyclers, which I’m totally in favor of and wish I had more direct access to as a consumer.

Donate

Some of the swap leftovers weren’t on-trend enough or in good enough condition to submit to ThredUP, so I’m planning to take those items to Thrifty Threads this weekend. I like to support this particular thrift store with swap leftovers since their proceeds support the Julian Center, a local women’s shelter. I know they would probably prefer to have the good stuff than the dregs, so I hope they’re set up to sell unwanted items to textile recyclers or other resellers—this is something that’s been in the back of my mind to research.

What have your experiences with clothing resale been like? I’m hoping ThredUP is more accepting than the local stores since they cater to national trends, which are sometimes slower to reach Indiana. (I don’t think people here know that wide-leg dress pants are a thing again!) Have you ever used ThredUP, either as a buyer or seller? How about a Facebook sale group?

How Facebook Could Revolutionize the Sharing Economy

Remember the scene in The Social Network where one of Mark Zuckerburg’s friends asks him if a girl in his art history class is single? You see the lightbulb go on over Zuckerburg’s head, and he runs back to his dorm room to add Relationship Status as a field in Facebook profiles.

Creating a way to broadcast that simple piece of information revolutionized dating in the digital age. With the rise of the sharing economy, Facebook has an opportunity to allow us to broadcast another piece of key information that is typically hidden under social norms: the items we want to obtain or get rid of.

Imagine a feature called Facebook Exchange. It’s as simple as a shopping list. Users enter items into two categories: Things I Want and Things I’m Offering.

Mockup of Facebook profile with Exchange link

Mockup of Facebook Exchange lists

While it would seem nosy to ask everyone you know what they have in their house that they want to get rid of, and it would seem greedy to constantly ask people to give you stuff, the reality is that we all have wants and needs that people we already know could happily fulfill. The missing link is an easy connection between the wanters and the providers.

With a growing cultural mindfulness about waste and excess, people are more willing to share what they have and more uncomfortable with simply throwing decent stuff away. While there are plenty of standalone platforms for reselling, secondhand shopping and free-cycling, there isn’t one that connects you to the people you already know, and those are the people with whom many of us would be most interested in conducting an exchange.

Exchange isn’t a full classified ad service. Facebook tried that once with Marketplace, which has now been transferred to an external provider called Oodle and is no longer available on the Facebook platform. Facebook’s error with Marketplace was in reinventing the wheel. Relationship Status didn’t need to be a dating service; once the information was out there, users acted on it in a variety of different ways without needing additional intervention from Facebook. Similarly, Exchange isn’t about executing transactions; it’s about creating the sense of serendipity that comes from connecting with existing friends in new ways.

Let’s say I’m looking for vacuum cleaner bags. (My needs are glamorous, I know.) This is a low-value item that would be pretty pointless for anyone to sell, but it’s also an item that would be silly to throw away if it’s in perfectly good condition. In this case, let’s say one of my friends’ moms has vacuum cleaner bags to give away. She puts them on her Things I’m Offering list, and because we’re friends and I have vacuum cleaner bags on my Things I Want list, Facebook sends me a notification: “Janet Smith just added ‘vacuum cleaner bags’ to her Things I’m Offering list. Send her a message to ask more about it.” Janet would also get a notification that “Julia Spangler has ‘vacuum cleaner bags’ on her Things I Want list. Send her a message to see if she wants what you’re offering.”

Mockup of Facebook Exchange notification

That’s as far as the feature would go. Any photos of the item and the details of the transaction would be handled through person-to-person communication. Users would be free to arrange their own preferred forms of payment, barter, or give stuff away for free. In a lot of cases it could also eliminate shipping, which is one of the biggest inconveniences of online shopping. In this example, my need isn’t urgent, so I’d just pick up the goods the next time I was in Janet’s neighborhood.

The goal of Exchange is to identify potential matches between list items, then let users hash out the details in a subsequent conversation. Facebook’s understanding of language is good enough that it would be able to match up list items that are close but may not be phrased the exact same way. The feature would also be a boon to Facebook’s advertising strategy, since users would literally be telling the platform what they’re interesting in acquiring.

Exchange is obviously a hypothetical feature at this point, but it illustrates a potential solution to the gap between wanters and providers of any given item. My previous blog post on this topic illustrates how challenging it can be to find the right recipient for your unwanted stuff. How much better would life be if we could easily find those people within our own networks?