Student life: Putting good ‘trash’ to use

Student life: Putting good ‘trash’ to use

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American student Hallie Engel shares more tips on how to set up and maintain home on a student budget in the Netherlands.

Setting up and maintaining a home is expensive work. To keep my studio apartment from looking like a prison cell, I have to keep it clean, decorate a bit, and fill it with all matter of supplies required for better living.  It’s quite the task on a humble student budget and in the course of settling into my Amsterdam digs, I’ve come to rely on the kindness (and leftovers) of strangers.

"Changing the world one gift at a time", the Amsterdam chapter of is a boon to anyone on a budget or something useful to give away. 

A non-profit charity dedicated to reducing waste and promoting gift economics, Freecycle takes form in email lists in cities and towns all over world, allowing people to request and offer items to be given away for free. 

A friendly Irish expat on the Prinsengracht with an extra duvet helped me survive the cold winter, rescuing me from months of wearing socks to bed and covering up with bath towels to compensate for the thin blanket I had. 

My vacuum cleaner was donated by a silver-haired man in Amstelveen; as a vacuum costs as much (or more than) a week’s worth of food for me, I would never have been able to afford one on my own, and I feel gratitude every time I plug it in. 

Illustration © Michele Carloni @
"Danger: Dump no-diving", to enlarge the image click here

Joining Freecycle is a great way to save money and avoid dumping usable goods in the trash, while simultaneously spreading generosity and kindness; it doesn’t get much better than that.

And then, there is my secret hobby.  First, let me defend my actions by stating how much perfectly good stuff goes to waste and ends up in a landfill when there are hundreds, if not thousands, of people in the world who could put such “trash” to good use. 

Dumpster diving may not be the most dignified of activities, but I’ve had a few legendary hauls in my time. I’ve never actually picked through a dumpster, just sifted through piles and bags which were put out for the garbage man, and in my student neighbourhood, I often find perfectly good stuff sitting on the curb.

My cosy computer chair was rescued from the street, I have an entire set of tea cups and saucers which had been put out for collection, and once I found a bag of expensive perfumes, toiletries, and household cleaning products--which had never been used.

Repeating the mantra of “waste not, want not” I carried my newfound treasures to my room and decided to spend what I’d saved on beer, as I haven’t found a way to get it for free.



Hallie Engel is an American student and budding writer living in the Netherlands.   
Illustration credit: Michele Carloni 

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