Rising Voices Award winner badge.

A guide to spring cleaning and giving your possessions new life

May 20, 2021 5:22 PM

Photo Essays

Unearthing the dusty pile of clothes in our closets is often a welcome surprise. Maybe you’ll find the t-shirt you’ve been missing for the past five months. Maybe you find a wad of cash in the back pocket of an old pair of jeans. Or, maybe you find a jacket that’s three sizes too small. 

Before you toss that jacket, maybe there’s someone else who could use it. Okay, maybe taking a trip to the thrift store (especially if you’re not lucky to live right next to one) just to donate one piece of clothing seems excessive. But as you’re rooting your closet, you inevitably find more clothes you’ll never fit again -- like that 16th birthday shirt your mom embroidered or the hat that squeezes your head too tightly, or the pants that now fit more like leggings… 

Then you scour your bookshelf and find that you want new books but don’t have room for them, so you start pulling volumes off the creaky wood. Suddenly, you’ve got a pile or two of stuff to donate or sell. 

But where does one even start when it comes to trying to be sustainable?

The most accessible places to start your sustainability journey are donation centers. Many of these locations will have drop-off locations or bins that you can use to get your stuff to people who want it. I’m lucky to live right next to one, so whenever springtime comes along, you can find me waiting in line with a bin of items to donate. While I’m not directly compensated for my contributions, I always leave feeling pretty great about how much stuff has not gone into waste facilities afterward. Plus, the coordinators usually give out coupons that can be used towards purchases in the thrift store.

If you have trendy clothing or jewelry, you should consider stopping by a Buffalo Exchange. There are several locations around Boston — and they’re a great example of how rewarding shopping sustainably is. You can bring in your used or unwanted clothing for their sellers to sort through and buy from you. Afterward, you can choose to receive your payment in either cash or store credit. You’ll always get a higher percentage of your sales in-store credit. It’s a win-win situation — you get more money, and they encourage you to shop locally and sustainably!

If you’re something of a bibliophile like I am, Brookline Booksmith should be your go-to shop. Alright, so maybe you bought too many books and you didn’t love them all. Or, you’ve just done an un-haul of some books you feel you’ve grown out of. Whatever the case, you can bring your books to the Brookline Booksmith’s Used Book counter and they’ll buy their favorites right off of you! You can receive payment in the form of cash or (if you’re going to be gouging all your money on books immediately anyway) store credit!

Shopping at your local thrift store is a great way to secure great finds for a low price. Second-hand shopping is not only super sustainable, but it also ensures that you’ll be surprised by the sweet gems you’ll find. Plus, if you’re worried that your wardrobe’s too “basic,” thrift stores often have one-of-a-kind pieces. If you’re looking for variety -- everything from clothes to books to DVDs to home goods and shower curtains — thrift stores have your back.

Thrifting takes patience. More often than not, there are heaps of clothes to sort through, and not all of them will be the stylish trends you’ve been seeing online. If you’re in a time crunch or have zero patience (like me), consignment stores are your BFF. These stores have specially curated selections — their sellers know their trends! The only downside of consignment stores is that they tend to be more expensive… but you’ll probably be in and out faster than at a thrift store.

Bookstores are notoriously expensive. If you’re a budding book collector without the wallet of a maximalist, used bookshops were made for you. The Brattle Bookshop is one of the most well-known used bookshops in Boston, though it ships worldwide. This shop is great for readers who have a more esoteric taste in books. While its children’s, YA, and new adult sections are smaller than the usual shop, its selection includes mostly vintage volumes, rare books, and collector’s editions.

For more contemporary readers who are balling on a budget, the Brookline Book Smith’s Used Books Cellar is a gold mine. The shop is nothing if timely, modern, and bursting at the brim with new titles and exciting finds. I’ve walked out of this shop with more than a few titles in a paper bag before. It’s one of my favorite spots in Boston. You will often find me inhaling the smell of old pages in the Brookline Booksmith’s glorious aisles.

Spring cleaning doesn’t have to be the most dreaded part of your year. It’s a time to open your windows to the warm weather and revitalize what you love in your home. And, if you’re not loving what you see, you don’t need to head to the nearest Target to redo your whole bookshelf, living room, and closet. There are so many more sustainable options out there--and nothing beats the feeling of walking through a thrift store. Because after all, between those two neon green YMCA summer camp shirts, there might be something sparkly and special, just for you.