“Whaddya think this thing is?!” The story of sorting it all out.

Vintage furniture pieces, unique items from major motion pictures, large quantities of lumber, beautiful stage curtains–the range of materials we save here at the re is broad. It’s our mission to not only divert these materials from landfill, but to also help find new uses and homes for them, and to share these reuse stories with our supporters. We often share the biggest, weirdest, and coolest donations that come through our roll door. While many of our donations are exciting, there are other materials we save that are equally as important, but may not be quite as glamorous to share.

A huge part of our jobs here at The Resource Exchange is sorting. If you’ve been to our store, you know that there are an incredible number of teeny tiny things waiting to be reused as well as items that may make you ask, “Whaddya think this thing is?!” When things like buttons, thread, pens, pencils, old stamps, beads, hardware, needles, yarn, ribbons and more are donated, they’re often not separated because the average donor doesn’t have the time to go through and sort the smaller items before they bring them through our doors. The reusability of these items actually depends upon the sorting process, so The Resource Exchange Team devotes the time it takes to save, sort and organize sort those materials, just as we would the bigger items, to make it a bit easier for our creative customers to find just what they’re looking for.

So what and how do we sort all that little stuff in the store?! Below are some common examples of items that take time and organization to get out onto the floor.


sorting-harware-april-2016-7Yes, we take the time to sort donations of loose hardware – All those metal pieces at the bottoms of donation boxes don’t just get thrown away! Creative reuse is the name of the game here, so we actually go through every piece. Sorting reusable items from recycling, matching pieces together, separating vintage from newer and so on. With hardware we ask the “whaddya think this thing is” question a lot, and any items we don’t know, we try our best to research.sorting-hardware-april-2016-3

After we’ve separated everything we can, the general pieces like screws, nuts, bolts and nails go into our $1/lb hardware bins, where you can grab an envelope and root through the buckets to mix and match whatever you need.


Pens, pencils, markers, crayons, highlighters…we’ve got ’em! These kinds of office materials are frequently donated, which is great, because we’re glad to be able to provide an alternative to buying them new. However, they are also often donated all mixed together. We could just put a giant mixed bin and call it a day, but that would make it much harder for our artists and educators to find what they need. So not only do we sort all the different writing implements from one another, we also go through and TEST EACH ONE! Yes, that’s right, all of our markers and pens are tested, so that we’re not selling unusable materials.



asya-sorting-photosHere’s one of our interns, Asya, sorting vintage photographs. We get a lot of old photos donated, and there are quite a few gems among them if you have the time to flip through the stacks! This is another situation where we could just throw them all into a basket and let the customer deal with the sort, but again, they’re reusability is easier to see the more organized they are. william-tyiana-straightening-1

When we sort photos, we often have to remove them from old photo albums, so that the album and photos can be reused separately. We parse out the ripped, torn, and severely damaged ones (there can be quite a lot of those!) And stack them so that they can be flipped through easily.


Yarn, ribbon, trim, thread, needles, buttons, thimbles, buckles, hooks, pins, snaps–the list of sewing supplies that we receive is ongoing. These kinds of materials are some of our most frequently donated, so are also some of our most frequently sorted! While many of our generous donors organize their boxes of donations by general category (office supplies from fabric from art and craft etc.) It is rare that they have time to organize all of the individual tiny items, bits of ribbon, separate pins from needles and so on. Again, The Resource Exchange is to the rescue! Untangling goes hand-in-hand with sorting. We get a lot of yarn, trim and ribbon that is tangled or needs to be re-wound. Here on the left you can see our 2015 Steppingstone Scholar interns Will and Tyiana sorting and untangling lace in our ribbon and trim section!


Ok, this is a little different than sorting donations. This is about the deep green reuse in our daily store operations! Did you know that we save the tags we use to price items so that we can keep reusing them, instead of constantly making more? On top of that, a lot of the tags are cut out of manilla file folders deemed too damaged to sell in our office section. So our dedicated staff cuts from the usable parts of the folders and makes store tags! We do have to keep them organized, though, in order for them to be consistently and efficiently reused.


When you walk into The Resource Exchange, the unique set pieces, pretty fabrics, vintage glassware, like-new art sets and more will often be the things that grab your attention. But the next time you come in, take a peek at the little guys too. We are forever sorting, untangling, folding, and re-folding these things to keep them organized because organization of these materials improves their shoppability and thus reusability, keeping them out of landfill and putting them into the hands of our creative customers.