Julie Kearns remembers being 4 years old and watching her mother reach into a Dumpster and pull out a waffle iron. She took it home, tried it out, and found it worked just fine.
“She probably still uses it when she’s making waffles, ” Kearns said.
Kearns continues the family Dumpster-diving tradition as owner of Junket: Tossed and Found (4047 Minnehaha Av., Minneapolis, www.junkettossedandfound.com).
Open two weekends a month, Junket sells “cool old stuff ... headed toward the end of the product life-cycle,” which is a fancy way of saying it’s garbage. Would-be garbage, anyway.
Rescued and presented in Junket, the merchandise becomes often lovely, surprisingly useful, and fully functional.
Though functional, possibly, in a whole new way — for example, Kearns took an 75-year-old atlas, pulled apart the pages, laminated the maps and now sells them individually as wall hangings. “I’m very deliberate about letting people know where my stuff is coming from — I’m grabbing stuff from the trash,” she said. “Given the opportunity, I want to do more of it. Because the more we can save from the downstream, the more I want to do.”
Meanwhile, Beth DeZiel can recall “begging” her grade-school teachers to let her stay inside during recess to straighten up the desks and clean the chalkboard in the classroom. To this day, she loves the sight of a nice, tidy room.
“I was born to organize, ” said DeZiel, who now operate Lasso LLC (www.lassollc.com), a St. Paul-based personal and professional organizing service.
DeZiel helps clients weed clutter from their basements and closets, then goes out of her way — literally, driving loads around the metro area in her truck — to sell, donate, repurpose or recycle their unwanted stuff. She specializes in finding places that reuse the discards constructively, whether it’s a dry cleaner that takes plastic and wire hangers or an organization that transforms old worn jeans into building insulation.
Kearns and DeZiel met through a local businesswomen’s group and discovering their shared interest in keeping used items out of landfills. They recently formed a partnership and have gathered volunteers to work on projects that help people get rid of unneeded things responsibly, and often creatively.
At a Recycle Drive held in February at Junket, they collected nearly 100 pounds of partly-used bottles of shampoo for the Listening House, which divides and distributes the hair products in small, easy-to-carry containers for homeless clients.
Kearns’ and DeZiel’s March project: collecting gently used bras for Free the Girls, an organization that helps a business venture run by escaped former sex slaves in Mozambique. They’re making plans for a “crazy weekend” when they’ll gather volunteers to repair broken lamps, chairs, and other objects. They are establishing a website called corrallers.com where people who want to get rid of what they consider trash (old keys, for example) can connect with people (artists, for example) who see those same items as treasures.
“Just because it doesn’t work for you doesn’t mean it won’t work for somebody else,” Kearns said.
Kearns, a former college financial-aid administrator, entered the secondhand business after having a baby and getting a divorce, more or less simultaneously, in 2009. With her budget tight and her weight fluctuating, Kearns stocked up on thrift-store clothing.
When pieces no longer fit she resold them to consignment stores, noticing that she often received more there than she had spent in the first place. That gradually led to more deliberate efforts to turn a profit by buying and reselling secondhand merchandise, including an eBay store with nearly 1,000 items, private sales in her home and, eventually, Junket.
Kearns collects items for Junket’s inventory via Dumpster diving, alley surfing and trips to estate sales at their final, everthing-must-go stage. She takes in stuff that resale shops might have a harder time selling, including old papers, photos and slides, empty jars and containers, partly used sewing notions, leftover crafting supplies.
Unlike most places, she’ll consider damaged goods, including games with missing pieces and broken hardcover books. She also sells junk-based creations by local artisans, including thrift-store clothing with handcrafted embellishments, and transparent artworks made of colored glass shards glued onto old windows that were, you guessed it, pulled from Dumpsters.
Artists get most of the proceeds from their work, but otherwise Kearns doesn’t consign or buy from the public, though she sometimes offers store credit in exchange for unusual donations that fit her store’s aesthetic.
“If you find something in the alley and get it and bring it to me, I want to reward that behavior,” Kearns said. “I can’t be in all the alleys.”
DeZiel similarly entered the organizing business in a roundabout way, after a series of careers that included teaching at-risk kids, fundraising for Susan G. Komen’s Race for the Cure, and working on political campaigns. She had long been moonlighting as an organizer for friends and friends-of-friends; a couple of years ago a health crisis and new marriage prompted her to figure out “how your side gig can turn into a profitable passion.”
The search for ways to reuse rubbish will only increase in coming years, Kearns and DeZiel said. Experts warn of a coming “tsunami of sofas” as baby boomer generation ages and downsizes, and already our oceans are home to “islands of garbage” larger than some states.
“There is this definite need to do things in a way that is respectful and responsible,” DeZiel said, noting that the effort can be rewarding in surprising ways. “When you let go of things in life, more comes in.”