Save Water, Time and Money – Part 2

Continuing the exploration of Smart Sprinkler controllers:  The goal is to save water, time and money but not have a dead lawn or landscaping.

There are many Smart Sprinkler controllers, and many definitions of what makes a sprinkler controller ‘smart’.  For instance, simply attaching a moisture sensor or rain sensor may qualify for some definitions of a Smart Sprinkler Controller.  However, I would like to think we can do better than simply attaching static sensors.  Therefore, I will limit my evaluation to those controllers that get weather data wirelessly and allow for control via mobile phone and computer, as well as allow for more intelligent watering by inputting landscaping and/or sprinkler information.  After all, I would like to think that better decision could be made rather than just automating the same binary decision of watering or not watering.  The final requirement is for the smart controller to adhere to the watering limitations of my water provider.  With these in mind, I return to the extensive list of Water Sense Smart Sprinkler Controllers.  Since most, if not all, of these controllers involve using the service associated with the controller (other than RainMachine which has a hybrid option), it seems as though there should be some consideration of the stability of the company.  After all, it would be unfortunate to make the investment in time and money to acquire and setup the controller, only to have it revert back to a normal controller or worse stop working all together due to the company providing the service going out of business.  Several of the companies are private, which limits the amount of due diligence that can be performed, so instead I will use longevity and multiple product offerings as a proxy for stability.  This is, of course, flawed.  But the best that can be done without extensive effort.  This only eliminates one that I thought looked intriguing, Skydrop.

by Rob Rutledge

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An Interview: Jay Treat from SolarCity

by, Liz Rutledge

I had the pleasure of interviewing a representative of SolarCity last month.

Liz:  “When is a good time to go solar?”

Jay: “The best time to go solar is right now. The sooner you go solar, the sooner you start saving money and making a positive difference on the planet. People are already spending money every month for electricity – we make it easy for them to shift that money into building equity in their house. It’s the difference between renting electricity and owning it. That’s a concept people have never had the opportunity to get their minds around before. But, if I’m a homeowner, I know what it means to rent and I’ll choose owning every time.

Of course, the overall goal is to reduce your carbon footprint as much as possible. This can be done by swapping out appliances for more energy efficient ones, swapping incandescent light bulbs for CFLs or LEDs, insulating your home, for example.  But, not everyone has the luxury of being able to do all of these things immediately. However, if these energy saving measures are instituted, customers will generate a credit balance of energy in their solar bank account, but all of the energy they create contributes clean energy to the grid.”

Liz:  “We’ve been told our house is ineligible for solar panels.  What are some of the limiting factors?”

Jay: “The construction of a roof (pitch, orientation) and shade from nearby trees all impact eligibility – whether or not solar is an option.  Sometimes, the type of roofing material used poses a challenge…for example, if your roof is cedar shake, Spanish tile, slate, or t-lock shingle, it’s not viable for either the company of the customer to install solar panels.  Of course, with cedar shake and T-lock shingles, the homeowner will likely replace their roof within a few years anyway and typically, people move from those types to composite shingles. Then, they’ll be able to go solar. We can only mount solar panels on 40-50% of homes because of these various factors.”

Liz: “How much electrical usage can a customer off-set with solar energy?”

Jay: “Typically 60-80%. But the swing can be 0 to 100%, of course.”

Liz: “Why not 100%?”

Jay: “The offset is determined by two factors: the homes’ usage and the roof. The roof mostly because of shade or roof space/construction; obstructions (like sky lights, vents, gables, chimneys, evaporative coolers, etc.) all can impact offset.  But, other factors like the size of a family (which increases usage just because there are multiple people in multiple rooms) or whether you have two hot tubs and two freezers in your garage – your usage is going to be sky high).” The panels are always only going to produce so much and offset a fixed amount, regardless of usage.

Liz: “How long do solar panels last?  What happens to old solar panels when they’ve reached their end of life?”

Jay: “Solar panels typically have a 25-year warranty. But, they almost always last longer than that – there are still panels from the 1970’s that are generating energy. But, when they reach their end-of-life, they will be re-purposed.  SolarCity is opening a million square foot facility to produce solar panels, the largest on the planet (the first of several) will soon be opening a factory in Buffalo, NY.  It will be for panel manufacturing, but will also re-purpose old panels.  For the older and different technology – (that SolarCity does not use) called solar thermal technology, the copper can be removed and reused.”

Liz: “What’s the story with SolarCity?”

Jay: “SolarCity was created July 4, 2006 – the date is no accident – Independence Day – independence from fossil fuels was and is our goal.  It was founded by Lyndon Rive and his brother, Pete, bothcousins of Elon Musk (CEO of Tesla), who is also our chairman.  We have 350,000 systems across America, last month we booked 21,000 new customers so the total is increasing quickly.”

Liz: “Why have you chosen this career path?”

Jay: “I have always felt a deep connection with nature.  When I was a kid in Minnesota, I would run around in the woods for hours.  I developed a gratitude for nature and a passion for doing right by the planet.  Sometimes, I would witness dumping of garbage in the woods and was aghast.  I just couldn’t believe that someone would treat nature that way. We only get the one planet. When I learned I could contribute directly to making the air cleaner, the future brighter and save people money, I was hooked. We’ve got three kids and they are already having a different experience than we did as children and I want a bright and healthy future for them as well. Of course, people like to save money, so even if the planet is not a concern, solar still makes sense and I make a living. It’s a win across the board.”

To learn more about SolarCity and/or get a quote on getting your solar on, click here (full disclosure, I am an Ambassador and will also personally benefit financially if you choose to go solar – and you can too!):

share.solarcity.com/sustainablethree

You can get rewarded for referring others to SolarCity by becoming a Solar Ambassador, too!

For some exciting news about why it’s critical to support renewables, check out this article featured in the Washington Post:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2016/03/16/this-key-rule-of-economics-and-the-environment-just-failed-again/

Collectively, renewables are making a difference and as a planet, we’re trending in the right way!

 

imrs

 

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A Poem

Earth, Air, Fire, Water, and Spirit

We are made of earth and to earth we all return

We are deep-air mammals living at the bottom of an ocean of air

We live by the slow fire of oxidation

In landscapes shaped by fire, air, and water

We are creatures more water than solid; eddies in one watershed or another

All part of one great watershed

We are spirits made matter, but we are spirit and that matters

We are sojourners in a mystery called time

by, David W. Orr

from Design on the Edge: The Making of a High-Performance Building

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The Smart Home: Part 1

As winter fades away, I am drawn to the question of this summer’s weather.  I suspect it will be hot, based on the relatively mild winter.  That means that the money I saved in heating bills this winter will be extracted from me in the form of electric bills to run air conditioning on sweltering days this summer.  Water bills will increase to keep our lawn at some minimal level of existence and nurture our vegetable garden.  What should I be doing now to help offset these increasing bills and have the added benefit of convenience?  I have heard about the promise of a smart home.  Is there some technology out there that will allow me to save money on a monthly basis and make my home more livable, or at the very least not increase the maintenance of my home?  As I think about the options, it gets even more complicated.  There are multiple competing technologies that provide very similar benefits.  Light control options alone take the form of light switch replacements, light socket replacements, or smart LED lights directly.  The underlying technology also varies, although a few front runners, may make this an easier decision soon.  The range of solutions can be overwhelming, and because of that there are options for home controllers, hubs or brains that will help coordinate all of these devices in a central location.  I am not sure I am ready to take the full dive into smart home yet, or that I could even afford it.  How can I decide where to start with a smart home option that will also reduce my carbon footprint?  I need to use a simple criteria to determine what to explore first:

  • Easy to understand and install myself
  • Proven benefit for my environmental impact
  • Financial benefit of reduced monthly bills (at least during the summer)

Upon examination of my monthly summer bills, the largest upward swing is in electricity and water.  Electricity is driven almost exclusively by air conditioning and water usage is driven by yard maintenance.  Electricity bills are much higher than water bills, so I will focus on that first.

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Restroom Rehab

Mary Wallace of People Towels with paper towel waste.   
The average person uses 2,400 – 3,000 paper towels at work, in a given year  
(Image: People Towels)

When you go to a public restroom, does it ever bother you when paper towels are tossed on the floor?  Or, when someone leaves the water running?  Or, even worse, doesn’t flush?  Does it bother you that the business is using paper towels to begin with?

Do you do anything about it?

When I find paper towels on the floor of a restroom, I pick them up and put them in the trash can/rubbish bin…before I wash my hands.  Then, after I wash my hands, I use my paper towel to wipe down the counter and then throw my paper towel in the trash can/rubbish bin.  I did this once at a restaurant in Australia when we were living there.  I think I embarrassed my girlfriend, but I probably spent thirty seconds picking up what must have been 20+ towels off the floor and putting them where they belonged.  I said to her “I always try to leave a space better than I found it.”

If the water is left running, I turn off the tap.  Clean water is a precious resource that most of us take for granted.  In many countries, people have to walk miles to retrieve clean drinking water. Appreciating how fortunate we are by not wasting our natural resources will make them last longer.

When the toilet hasn’t been flushed, I use my foot to flush it.  If too much waste builds up in a toilet, it causes clogging issues and then businesses have to call in professional plumbers who may have to use harsh chemicals to clear the clog.

This attitude could propagate out to other areas of our lives.  For instance, pretty much every day, I pick up litter on the way to drop off my daughter at school.  Doing this makes the walk more pleasant because “it doesn’t belong” there…it belongs in a trash can/rubbish bin/recycle bin.

SustainableThree Ways You Can Make a Difference:

  1.  If you visit a restroom with paper towels, take the time to put ones thrown on the floor into the receptacle.
  2. Wipe down counters, turn off running faucets, flush toilets.
  3. Even better, if the business uses paper towels, make a request to their owner/manager that they install sensor dryers that automatically release air if you put your hands in front of the sensor, but doesn’t waste energy at other times.

“Although contradictory claims abound on this topic, a 2007 life cycle analysis by the Climate Conservancy found that using a hand dryer produces fewer climate-changing greenhouse gases than using paper towels.”  ~”Cloth vs. paper vs. dryers: How to be clean and green when you wipe your hands”  (By, Tom Watson, Pacific NW Magazine, The Seattle Times

BONUS: Tweet this!  https://twitter.com/SustainThree/status/702576748907528192

There are other options to using paper towels or air dryers.  Here are a few:

People Towels

http://www.peopletowels.com

Here’s a great little article:

http://www.apartmenttherapy.com/paper-towel-alt-25875

More details on the topic:

http://www.seattletimes.com/pacific-nw-magazine/cloth-vs-paper-vs-dryers-how-to-be-clean-and-green-when-you-wipe-your-hands/

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SustainableThree.com’s 2016 Challenge

It’s a new year…a new chance to do it better, differently than previous years.

What are you willing to commit to?

Each year, I add a level of resiliency to my lifestyle.

In 2015, I started recycling plastic bags (which you can typically do at your local supermarket – Whole Foods does it best in my opinion). I also researched solar options for our home. Watch for a blog post on comparing solar options in the near future.

In 2014, I committed to reduce plastic usage and switched to glass containers for leftovers.

In 2013, we did an energy audit and switched 95% of our light bulbs to LEDs which use very little energy and last 8+ years. (The remaining 5% are incandescent lightbulbs we are using up so as not to just waste them). we also converted our showers and toilets to be more water conservative.

In 2012, I started donating items to R.A.F.T. (http://www.raftcolorado.org/)

In 2011, I started a backyard garden.

In 2010, I started a compost bin in my back yard. We also purchased a hybrid car.

In 2006, I started line-drying our family’s clothes.

Since 1996, I’ve recycled every item I can…

You get the idea. ll these efforts accumulate as new habits and become easier each time.

Here are some other options:

Eat less meat or switch to a plant-based diet

Bike to work or school 1, 2, 3 or more days/week

Take the bus 1, 2, 3 or more days/week.

Switch to solar for your electricity source.

Recycle if you don’t

Reuse more if you don’t

…there’s so much more.

What are you willing to commit to in 2016?

Submit your personal challenge in the Comments section. Our environment thanks you!

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Light up Your Winter…for Less Money

Light up Your Winter…for Less Money

In the Northern Hemisphere, it is Winter.  Longer nights shadow the shorter days and fewer people walk their dogs on the streets or go for a jog.  It feels quieter, somehow…less hectic.

Many people struggle with the greyer, colder days…and settle in for a hibernation of sorts.

To combat the Seasonal Affective Disorder…or just feel more light and warmth during the colder months, an energy audit is oh-so-helpful.

Here are some tips we gained when an audit was completed on our house:

*Switch all lightbulbs to LEDs

Although there is some cost involved, the savings is well worth the initial investment and longer-lasting bulbs.  That means lower energy bills, brighter lighting and having to change your bulbs less often.

Costco has them at an all-time low price right now, but you can also purchase them at just about any store.  You can sometimes get freebies from your energy company as well.

You can start here.

*Get Draft Dodgers

By “Draft Dodgers”, I don’t mean the people who avoided going to war, but the draft blockers that are placed at the base of doors to ward off cold drafts from outside.

You can start here to find one that works for you.

*Get Insulated!

By adding insulation to your attic and/or walls, you can increase your home’s “tightness”.  Contractors blow additional insulation into your attic and/or walls to bring the insulation level up to, or above, code.  It’s like putting a giant down comforter on your home.

Here might be a great place to start looking into this option.

*Make sure windows and doors are not leaky

Weather stripping and making sure all doors and windows are closed securely can reduce drafts and heat leaks.

Here is a start.

*Use your fireplace, if you’ve got it.  Energy-efficient, natural gas powered fireplaces make it so that you can keep your entire home at a cooler temperature.  Family members gravitate to the room with the fireplace and the burning fire makes the home feel more welcoming and snuggly.

There are more steps you can take.  Start here to find out how to schedule an energy audit.

*Finally, get outside!  Even if it is cold out, a brisk walk can really energize you.  If it is sunny, the light and Vitamin D will do you good.  And your dog, if you have one, will really appreciate it!

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Taming the Toxins in Your Home

Did you know that most of the cleaners on the shelves of your local store have hazardous ingredients?

Many of us grew up using off-the-shelf products to clean our homes, deodorize the air, rid our home and gardens of pests (insects, weeds, bad odors, etc.).  But, did you know that most of the products on store shelves these days have products that are causing all sorts of havoc on our bodies and our environment?

Let’s take this well-known carpet cleaner as an example:

IMG_1452

Resolve Spot and Stain Carpet Cleaner may be effective at removing those annoying stains in your carpet, but it contains many toxic ingredients that are difficult to pronounce such as methylchloroisothiazolinone.  Some you can pronounce, but they still are caustic.

Some side effects of the ingredients in this product include:

*Asthma / Respiratory Issues

*Skin Allergies and Irritation

*Developmental & Reproductive Toxicity

*Negative Environmental Impact (Especially to Aquatic Life*)

*Damage to DNA

*If you eat fish, think about what that means.

Simple Green Naturals CarpetA safer alternative is Simple Green Naturals Carpet Care

 

 

 

 

I will delve more specifically into other products in a later post.

Some other products considered to be hazardous are:

  • Automotive Fluid
  • Auto Batteries
  • Chlorine
  • Bleach Cleaners
  • Corrosive Chemicals
  • Drain Openers
  • Fluorescent Bulbs
  • Fluorescent Tubes
  • Fertilizers
  • Gasoline
  • Glue Adhesives
  • Herbicides
  • Hobby Chemicals
  • Household Batteries
  • Insecticides
  • Latex Paint
  • Mercury
  • Mercury Thermometers
  • Mercury Thermostats
  • Motor Oil & Used Filters
  • Muriactic Acid
  • Oil-Based Paint
  • Paint Thinner
  • Pesticides
  • Polishes
  • Pool Chemicals
  • Rust Remover
  • Stains Spray
  • Paint Stripper
  • Varnishes
  • Waxes
  • Weed Killer
  • Wood Preservatives

If you’re like most people, you don’t have time when shopping to read labels.  And, you probably don’t have time to deal with safely disposing of your hazardous chemicals.


Here is the SustainableThree solution in three steps:

  1. To tame those toxins, a quick and easy option is to contact Waste Management At Your Door.  You can arrange to have your household hazardous waste collected here:  http://www.wmatyourdoor.com/public-access/lookup-collection-availability-in-your-area.aspx
  2. Purchase environmentally-friendly products.  I like to use Environmental Working Group’s web site’s search engine to figure out what’s toxic and what’s not:  http://www.ewg.org/
  3. Make your own!  This may sound tedious, but it’s actually quite easy and will save you lots of money.  Often, more environmentally-friendly products are more expensive than their toxic counterparts.  You most likely only need to make up batches a couple times a year.  For example, a 32oz/1L. spray bottle of the name brand glass cleaner will cost you about $4. But, if you make your own using white vinegar, water, a drop of dish-washing liquid and some essential oils, the cost is about $0.60 (including the cost of the water.

Here is a great site for recipes  to make your own, eco-friendly cleaners:

http://greencleaning.about.com/od/InsideYourHome/


Here are some examples of common products and their eco-friendly counterparts:

Most Products People Use to Clean:

  • Toilet Bowl Cleaner

THIS:

Seventh Generation ToiletSeventh Generation Toilet Bowl Cleaner

Received an “A” on EWG.org’s web site

 

NOT THIS:

Lysol Toilet CleanerLysol Power Toilet Bowl Cleaner

Received an “F” on EWG.org’s web site

  • Window Cleaner

THIS:

WFM-Glass-Cleaner-UnscentedWhole Foods Market glass cleaner, unscented

Received an “A” on EWG.org’s web site

 

 

NOT THIS:

Windex Glass CleanerWindex Original Glass Cleaner with Ammonia-D

Received an “F” on EWG.org’s web site

  • Cleanser

THIS:

Bon-Ami CleanserBon-Ami Powder

Received an “A” on EWG.org’s web site

 

NOT THIS:

Comet CleanserComet Disinfectant Cleanser Powder with Bleach

Received an “F” on EWG.org’s web site

  • Dusting Spray

THIS:

Sadly, EWG.org does not list an “A” rated dusting spray.

Here’s a good option:

Citra WoodCitraWood Natural Wood Polish

http://eartheasy.com/green-home/non-toxic-home-cleaning/citrawood-natural-wood-polish

 

NOT THIS:

EndustEndust Multi-Surface Dusting and Cleaning Spray, Lemon Zest

Received an “F” on EWG.org’s web site

 

I was shocked at what I found on EWG.org’s web site.  Many products that I considered to be environmentally-friendly failed when compared to some products which I would have thought to be toxic that weren’t. (i.e. Trader Joe’s “Next to Godliness Environmentally Sound Automatic Dishwashing Detergent Powder” received a “D” while their “…Concentrated Monodose Pacs” received a “B”, so it’s good to take a little time to research your products before you buy them.

Give me your specific questions about specific issues/products you are concerned about and let’s start a conversation!  Click here to ask your questions or express your concern.

BONUS:

If you shop often on Amazon.com, they will donate a portion of your purchase amount to  EWG.org (http://www.ewg.org/).  Use the link below to support them when you shop!

http://www.amazon.com/gp/redirect.html?ie=UTF8&location=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.amazon.com%2F&tag=wwwewgorg-20&linkCode=ur2&camp=1789&creative=390957

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“It’s Too Hard” – Easing into Sustainable Living

If you are not already living a more sustainable lifestyle, it can be daunting to even think about it.  Overwhelming, you might say.

“It’s too hard!”

“It takes too much time!”

“It’s a pain in the a**!”

“Why should I have to when none of my neighbors are?”

“My neighborhood doesn’t recycle – or doesn’t do single stream so it’s too much work…”

Well, about eight years ago, my neighborhood didn’t do single stream recycling and it WAS burdensome having so separate – and the city didn’t recycle nearly as much as they do now.  I helped form a group of people in conjunction with Denver Recycles and the now Governor of Colorado.  Before I knew it, we had large wheelie bins that could hold two weeks’ worth of recycling.

I didn’t grow up composting or gardening, but now our waste to the landfill is minimal and we use our food scraps to nourish our small garden which then becomes food for our family.

It doesn’t take that much extra time and the feeling of knowing where my waste is going and reducing our family’s impact on the city landfill and the planet-at-large makes me feel better as a person.

When I go out to harvest in the garden in the summer months, it’s like my birthday every time – gifts just present themselves asking little in return…like fresh, organic raspberries, tomatoes, squashes, beans (SO many beans).  And then, they give the gift of seeds so, over time, I have had to buy fewer and fewer seeds in the spring…completing the cycle.  It’s satisfying and exciting and cheap.

Setting up a compost bin probably takes half an hour…maintaining it takes little time as all you have to do is “feed” it regularly, but not even daily…ours is out by our garage, so whenever I’m going out, I can just dump the compost into the bin/box and leave the bucket from the kitchen in the garage.  Then, I bring the bucket back in on my way back home, rinse it out (to prevent smelliness) and start the refilling process as I cook.  The bucket is a small step-can that lives on my counter/kitchen bench by the sink.  About once a week, I stir the compost and about once a month I add leaves in (from autumn).  The leaves are stored in containers in our garage.

Let me say it simply…it saves money and doesn’t take that much time…and it helps reduce the amount of stuff going to the landfill.

Here are some helpful links to get you started:

https://www.google.com/?gws_rd=ssl#q=where+to+buy+a+compost+bin

https://www.google.com/?gws_rd=ssl#q=where+to+buy+a+small+step+can

https://www.google.com/?gws_rd=ssl#q=how+to+start+a+compost+bin

https://www.google.com/?gws_rd=ssl#q=how+to+start+recycling

Please feel free to leave comments on this site with your suggestions on what you’d like to see discussed on SustainableThree.com!

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Fall Clean Out!

De-Cluttering is like raking leaves in Autumn

The weather is starting to get cooler.  It’s a great time to clean out.  But, what to do with all that STUFF?  More and more people are finding that they can live with less and less…stuff.

Most of what we want to get rid of will not bio-degrade any time soon.

The good news is that there are heaps of options for donating, repurposing and recycling your unwanted stuff.

Clothing, Shoes, Textiles and Other Household Items

The Junior League – Not only will The Junior League take high fashion clothing, but will take ANY textiles.  They are repurposed for quilts and more.

Red Apple Recycling / Little Red School House – Fund schools’ sustainability and wellness programs through clothing and shoe donations.  They also will take any clean textiles which are repurposed for cleaning rags and more.

USAgain – Collects unwanted textiles and resells them in the U.S. and abroad, effectively diverting millions of pounds of clothing from landfills, generating new revenue streams for U.S. businesses and non-profits, and fueling local economies in emerging countries.

The Salvation Army – You can schedule a pick up or drop off to any of their nationwide locations.

Goodwill –  Accepts most clothing and household items.  There are a few things they can’t accept – such as items that have been recalled, banned or do not meet current safety standards. In addition, if you’re looking to donate specialty items such as computers, vehicles or mattresses, it’s best to give your local Goodwill agency a call first to find out any rules or restrictions around these items.

Computers, Electronics, Batteries, Paint, Papers and More

Whole Foods provides collection boxes in many stores for cell phones, ink jet cartridges, batteries, lightbulbs (CFLs), corks, toothbrushes and more .  What is accepted varies by location.  You can find your closest store here.

There are also mail-in programs like this one .  It’s a bit pricey, but if you don’t want to drive to drop off your items, it’s an option.

Some areas have programs where items are repurposed for classroom use.  Like R.A.F.T. in Denver, CO.  They accept all sorts of things – like corks, bottle caps/lids, Styrofoam and much more.

Paper Shredding and Electronics Recycling through programs like Clean Sweep (Denver, CO)-  Clean out your home and responsibly dispose of old documents, electronics, and paint.  This is a great way to securely dispose of that computer or cell phone that no longer works.  They do an FBI wipe of the hard drive and responsibly recycle the components.  Papers are shredded securely.  Donations are redirected to the school sponsoring the activity and the sponsors get great exposure.

Children’s Clothes, Shoes, Toys, Strollers, Cribs and More

Just Between Friends (JBF) holds bi-annual sales around the US of good, clean, reusable items at a fraction of retail.  It’s like a giant garage sale with high standards for cleanliness and safety.  All items are inspected prior to acceptance into the sale.  And, no re-called toys are accepted.  Since children spend so little time in any size of clothing or toy, it just makes sense to pass them along.  Want to make a little money in the process of cleaning out? You can become a consignor here.

This is just the beginning.  There is much more to come!

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