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Using Used Things Successful Experiment

By Jody Record, Campus Journal Editor
February 2, 2011

When it came time for Kelly Cullen to furnish her newly-purchased home, the associate professor of natural resources and the environment stepped up and walked the talk: reduce, reuse, recycle.

With the exception of her bed, refrigerator and a can opener, she got just about everything secondhand, relying on yard sales, swap shops and craigslist.com. And she did it for just under $1,000.

“I thought it would be a cool experiment to live my life without anything new,” says Cullen. “I was 99.9 percent successful.”

After making an offer on the Durham home where she now resides with her young daughter, Cullen let family and friends know of her plans to go used. They ended up supplying almost everything she needed for the kitchen. Someone had an extra microwave; another, a toaster oven, and so on. She splurged on a new refrigerator because it was more energy efficient than any she could find.

“The kitchen was easiest. Everybody had something. Except for a can opener--you just can’t find a used can opener,” Cullen says.

Her couch came from craigslist.com, as did a piece of faux granite counter top that she got for $20. She found her daughter’s crib and dresser at a yard sale and her dresser at the Durham swap shop. A mirror that hangs over Cullen’s bed was made by her mother from an old window. She also refinished a TV stand.

“My mother has an art for finding pieces of furniture and redoing them,” Cullen says. “I’ve benefited from her talent.”

Remodeling projects also were done with used materials. Cullen knocked down a wall to open up the kitchen and increased her counter space with the piece of Formica. The cork flooring was found at the Dover Habitat for Humanity ReStore, where she paid $1.50 a square foot rather than the typical price of $8 to $10 a square foot. She also found a microwave hood, bathroom fan and light fixtures at ReStore.

Cullen converted part of the downstairs of her split-level home into an apartment. The appliances, kitchen cabinets, microwave, bathroom fan and cabinet all came from ReStore. 

It took her about five months to fully furnish her house.  

“I’ve become quite a craigslist expert,” she says of that time period. “I got a sense of prices before I bought anything and found that, if I was patient, I could do better.”

And she felt better about her choices. She was extending the products’ lifecycles. She was helping to save resources; had she bought a new couch from a big box store, for example, it would have been shipped to the store by train, boat and truck from the manufacturer in Asia.

“All the fuel that it takes to ship something like that—and the profits don’t stay local,” Cullen says. “Whereas, if I gave a neighbor $50 for a dresser, that profit stays in New Hampshire.”

Cullen is pleased as well to be living in the top floor of her home, an area of a little under 1,000 square feet. One of the courses she teaches at UNH is green real estate, where she talks about the move to smaller homes.  

“There is a push in green real estate to live in less than 1,000 square feet. It feels good to be able to do that,” Cullen says. “This is really all I need.”

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