How to Find Real Things #1

I’m not a big fan of shopping or owning huge quantities of stuff.

When I do put on my modern hunter/gatherer hat, I think of my purchase as a vote. Do I spend my voting dollar on artisan-made or an overseas sweatshop? Am I going to vote for something that will last generations or for built-in-obsolesce? Will I purchase biodegradable or plastic? How about renewable resources, recycled, responsibly farmed, Fair Trade, local, nontoxic, or used? Do I even need to buy more stuff? Maybe the person I’m giving a gift to would appreciate something I already have or an honorary donation.

While I’m on the quest to achieve a zero footprint dream, I’ve decided to present Real Thing Thursdays — my contribution to sorting through the myriad of stuff available in the world.

Real Thing Thursdays will try to highlight products you can depend on that support local communities and the Earth. I’m treating this as a weekly blog carnival, see below on how to participate.

Here’s my inaugural edition of Real Thing Thursdays:

Photo Credit: Red Hill General Store

All-American Canners at Red Hill General Store

If you want to stop buying disposable packaging at the supermarket and can your own healthier, local food in reusable jars, a pressure canner is an essential tool! There are cheaper models on the market and some of them may work fine. However, if you want a workhorse that will last for a lifetime (and more), I’d recommend the All-American Pressure Canner — just read the reviews. Made by the same Wisconsin company since 1930, their superior metal-to-metal sealing design means you’ll never have to replace a gasket. Mine has never needed repairs in 5 years of heavy use, but if you do experience a problem you can replace a part instead of the entire canner. Note that these canners aren’t compatible with smooth glass or ceramic stovetops.

Photo Credit: Ten Thousand Villages

Vietnamese stacked planters from Ten Thousand Villages

I recently toured our local Ten Thousand Villages shop and learned that many of the same products they carry are sold in big box stores. The kicker? Those stores are allowed to retain the “Fair Trade” label on the items even if they didn’t purchase it from the artisan group at a fair wage price. If you care about Fair Trade and want to feel certain that the items you buy represent that philosophy, Ten Thousand Villages is the place to shop. This year my boyfriend bought me a large planter that was handmade by the same Vietnamese artisans who create the blue swirled stacked planter shown above. I think their work is exemplary!

Photo Credit: Etsy's recyclenancy (Recycled Treasures)

Recycled wool mittens at

We humans have become so flippant about clothing! I’ll admit that passing fashions have been around a while, but once upon a time, people valued fabric enough to repurpose it repeatedly until the scraps fell apart. With new clothes so cheap and accessible, we often don’t even bother to donate old items or give them away. Why toss something in the garbage when it could be made useful again, such as these cozy looking mittens made by recyclenancy, proprietor of Recycled Treasures? Things don’t have to be new to be new!

Photo Credit: Etsy's jdstarLtdCo

Your tshirts turned into a blanket at

While we’re talking about repurposed clothing, what about all those tshirts clogging up your dresser drawers? You know you only wear a fraction of them, and think about the ones riddled with holes? Even if you don’t feel sentimental about them you shouldn’t send them to the landfill. You can mail your old tshirts to jdstarLtdCo on Etsy to have them turned into a conversation-starting blanket! Or, if you’re crafty, why not do it yourself?

Photo Credit: ThinkGeek

Young Mad Scientist Alphabet Blocks @ ThinkGeek

My favorite gifts for babies include natural fiber clothing, board books, and nontoxic wooden toys. I think these alphabet blocks from ThinkGeek are possibly the coolest small child’s toy I’ve ever seen. Mad scientist babies, here we come! D is for Dirigible, R is for Robot, and F is for Freeze ray. The illustrations are clever and beautifully depicted on sturdy, toxin-free maple blocks that can be passed down in your family for generations. Mix them in with your regular alphabet blocks for an extra dose of creativity and an early introduction to the joys of science.

This concludes the inaugural edition of Real Thing Thursdays, I hope you enjoyed it and will join in.

Readers are invited to participate! Here’s how:

  • Write a similar blog post on sustainable products and post the link in the comments section.
  • Post a comment describing a sustainable product you like that includes a link to that item.
  • Describe an item you obtained sustainably (including reusing things you already have) that makes you feel proud.
  • Leave a regular comment, no pressure!

Links to non-sustainable products will be deleted.

Eliza Lord

I'm a Greenville, SC native (the Appalachian foothills) who wears the hats of Greenville Master Gardener & Upstate Master Naturalist. I love to write about food and sustainability.

39 thoughts on “How to Find Real Things #1”

  1. Ali - January 6, 2011 4:10 pm

    Does shopping in second hand stores count? Pretty much all my clothes are from second hand stores, dresses, shoes, tops, shorts, skirts and jumpers. THe majority of my furniture is also either from second hand or hard rubbish days.

    I love things that other people are throwing away.
    .-= Ali´s last blog ..26 Days of Planting- R is for Roman Bay Tree =-.

    1. Sustainahillbilly
      Twitter: appalachianfeet
      - January 7, 2011 8:25 am

      Absolutely! I think buying used items is probably one of the best ways to keep from contributing to the world’s clutter. If you didn’t want it, it might end up in the garbage. And rummaging through people’s garbage? Even better!
      .-= Sustainahillbilly´s last blog ..How to Find Real Things 1 =-.

  2. Karen D. - January 6, 2011 5:00 pm

    Here’s two:

    I’ve been using my Bosch bread mixer ( to make whole-wheat bread for my family for more than 14 years. It’s powerful enough to mix six loaves at a time, so if I do two batches in a day, I have a dozen loaves to put in the freezer for my family. It’s much cheaper and tastier than anything store bought.

    I get the majority of my clothes second-hand…most of them from Kids & More consignment shop in Mauldin. They go into my closet instead of the landfill, and I get them at a fraction of the cost that they would be new. Sometimes my purchases are even free, if I have credit from items that I’ve brought in for resale. One thing that we’ve noticed is that the clothes we buy there often last longer than clothes we buy in retail stores. I think the more cheaply made clothes tend to wear out too quickly to make it to the consignment store, but the ones that you find there seem to be better quality and to wear longer.

    1. Sustainahillbilly
      Twitter: appalachianfeet
      - January 7, 2011 8:30 am

      Karen, that bread you sent me after my surgery was fantastic, so I’ll give my personal recommendation for the product that can come out of your bread machine. I’m also very impressed at the prospect of 12 loaves a day. I’ll have to try that consignment shop, I don’t think I’ve heard of it before.

  3. Janet - January 6, 2011 7:48 pm

    Nice posting Eliza. Love the quilt— have made two, one for each daughter. The second one used 30 t-shirts and was huge. She now wants another.
    .-= Janet´s last blog ..Tuesdays Trees- Yellowwood- Cladrastis kentukea =-.

    1. Sustainahillbilly
      Twitter: appalachianfeet
      - January 7, 2011 8:31 am

      When I saw it I figured that it was only a matter of time before my 13 year old wants one. Very cool that you were able to use 30 shirts! I bet she’ll treasure it for life.

  4. Elaine - January 6, 2011 9:48 pm

    What a great post! We shop at thrift stores all year round and garage sales during the summer. I love vintage because things were made so much better 50 or more years ago. I love that canner and will have to look for one of those! I am determined to do some canning this summer.
    .-= Elaine´s last blog ..Lovely and Free 2011 Calendars =-.

    1. Sustainahillbilly
      Twitter: appalachianfeet
      - January 7, 2011 8:34 am

      Good for you! Boy, do I agree that things used to be made better. I mean, if you do some research you can find items made “old school,” like that pressure canner. But for the most part it really pays to get something 30 years old or more. I need to look into vintage sprinklers. Every time I buy a new one it stops working before the season is out. My neighbor has the same metal sprinkler she bought in her 20’s (and she’s around 70, so I refuse to believe sprinklers can’t last).

  5. Donna - January 6, 2011 10:28 pm

    These are really cool finds, especially the quilt, and I like your idea for Thursdays. I purchase many hand made items, mostly because as an artist at heart, I like to support others that build or create with their hands. This will be a fun post to follow.
    .-= Donna´s last blog ..Niagara Gorge in Winter =-.

  6. Donna - January 6, 2011 10:32 pm

    BTW. How do you get the person commenting blog listed. I downloaded the folder in WordPress and do not know what to do with it. I would like this on my blog too.
    .-= Donna´s last blog ..Niagara Gorge in Winter =-.

    1. Sustainahillbilly
      Twitter: appalachianfeet
      - January 7, 2011 8:49 am

      Do you mean CommentLuv? I have the download version of WordPress and I looked it up through the plugins section. After I downloaded it there, I just clicked on “activate plugin.” I’m probably not the best person to ask how to troubleshoot computer things, so I hope that helps.

      I’m glad you’ve been purchasing from artists!

  7. Diana - January 7, 2011 4:14 am

    I have not seen the Vietnamese stack planter sell here though. I would also like to have it. The T-shirt turn into blanket is really a cool idea.
    .-= Diana´s last blog ..Mei Qing Choi F1 hybrid =-.

    1. Sustainahillbilly
      Twitter: appalachianfeet
      - January 7, 2011 9:12 am

      I’m sorry you can’t find it there. Ten Thousand Villages is a non-profit store that tries to support different groups of people with a fair wage, but the artisans can sell the same wares to other stores, too. Maybe there is somewhere in your area that carries similar things.
      .-= Sustainahillbilly´s last blog ..How to Find Real Things 1 =-.

  8. Elephant's Eye - January 7, 2011 4:58 am

    Eliza – Hazeltree’s British spin just uses a dried bean in the 3 Kings cake. from Diana of EE
    .-= Elephant’s Eye´s last blog ..On the twelfth day … Dozen for Diana =-.

    1. Sustainahillbilly
      Twitter: appalachianfeet
      - January 7, 2011 9:13 am

      That’s a good idea! I was thinking I might try making a ceramic king at my friend’s art studio. I’m just hoping no one loses a tooth!

  9. Elephant's Eye - January 7, 2011 5:04 am

    ps to the above, now I’ve read your new post. Dried bean would be a compostable sustainable alternative to the little white plastic king. Guess that once was a ceramic/china king? (just read and delete this one thanks!)
    .-= Elephant’s Eye´s last blog ..On the twelfth day … Dozen for Diana =-.

    1. Sustainahillbilly
      Twitter: appalachianfeet
      - January 7, 2011 9:14 am

      Very true! I think it sounds like a very positive, sustainable alternative.

  10. Janet/Plantaliscious - January 7, 2011 6:00 am

    What a fabulous post! We have equivalent stores in the UK that are always worth a look for earth-friendly gifts and gadgets.
    .-= Janet/Plantaliscious´s last blog ..A possibly cunning plan =-.

    1. Sustainahillbilly
      Twitter: appalachianfeet
      - January 7, 2011 9:15 am

      I’m glad you have “real thing” stores there, too. :)

  11. fer
    Twitter: mygardeninjapan
    - January 7, 2011 7:47 am

    Very nice stacked planters. I would like to put some strawberries there.
    .-= fer´s last blog ..My little garden in Japan January 2011 =-.

    1. Sustainahillbilly
      Twitter: appalachianfeet
      - January 7, 2011 9:16 am

      Yeah! Or succulents like hens and chicks.

  12. Alistair - January 7, 2011 9:33 am

    Eliza, this is something which I have to work on. We belong to that post war period when recycling was not generally very high on the agenda. However I am still in today’s world and as I say, I am working at it.
    .-= Alistair´s last blog ..Agapanthus in Scotland =-.

    1. Sustainahillbilly
      Twitter: appalachianfeet
      - January 7, 2011 10:08 am

      Good for you! I’m hoping for this series of posts to be inspiring in the sense that it encourages people to think before they buy — and maybe choose not to buy anything at all. I was hesitant to write a “product review” section since I don’t want to sound like an info-mercial shouting “it slices, it dices, and you can’t live without one!!!” Wouldn’t it be nice if we didn’t feel pressure to get things that we’ll never use. :)

  13. Curbstone Valley Farm - January 7, 2011 11:01 am

    We’ve been gradually simplifying over the years. I sneer now at most single task gadgets (and my kitchen is much roomier without them). I do need a pressure canner though. I started canning more last year, but would like to significantly increase how much of the harvest we can store over the winter months. By the way, I absolutely love those mad scientists blocks. F, for freeze ray…brilliant 😉
    .-= Curbstone Valley Farm´s last blog ..Ensatina eschscholtzii xanthoptica =-.

    1. Sustainahillbilly
      Twitter: appalachianfeet
      - January 8, 2011 10:35 am

      I want you to get a pressure canner too… so I can read posts about all the yummy things you’d put up with it. :)

      I think those blocks are genius!

  14. Ginny - January 7, 2011 11:20 am

    What an absolutely fantastic idea for a blog carnival! I am already a big fan of Ten Thousand Villages but you have introduced me to some other vendors that I can’t wait to look up. I especially like those recycled mittens. Before I had to begin full-time work I did a lot of sewing and re-purposed many things. It was necessary financially but soul satisfying as well.
    .-= Ginny´s last blog ..A doorway to other worlds =-.

    1. Sustainahillbilly
      Twitter: appalachianfeet
      - January 8, 2011 10:36 am

      It’s nice to hear about soul-satisfying jobs that are also sustainable. I hope you’ll participate in the carnival!

  15. Karin/SouthernMeadows - January 7, 2011 3:53 pm

    What a great post! I do my very best to reuse/repurpose/recycle. Thanks for all the great vendors and I am really looking forward to following this blog carnival!

    1. Sustainahillbilly
      Twitter: appalachianfeet
      - January 8, 2011 10:40 am

      You’re welcome! I hope you’ll post your experiences with reusing, repurposing, and recycling from time to time in the weekly carnival. :)
      .-= Sustainahillbilly´s last blog ..How to Find Real Things 1 =-.

  16. Greenearth
    Twitter: anewgreenearth
    - January 7, 2011 5:14 pm

    What a great concept for a carnival. Have added you to my blog carnivals list. Love all the items you have listed. Am also trying to do away with `stuff’. The most sustainable aspect of my life is the food I grow. Love to share information on new foods that are easy to grow and nutritious.
    .-= Greenearth´s last blog ..Community Garden Beds Survive Wet =-.

    1. Sustainahillbilly
      Twitter: appalachianfeet
      - January 8, 2011 10:47 am

      I’m happy to think about your home-grown food and all the miles of burnt fuel it didn’t use to get to you, the disposable packaging you didn’t have to throw away, the electricity that wasn’t needed to refrigerate it in the display cases, the preservatives it didn’t require, and the increased health benefits and taste! :)

      Thanks for writing about it on your blog! I hope you’ll participate in the carnival. :)

  17. lifeshighway
    Twitter: lifeshighway
    - January 7, 2011 6:51 pm

    A wonderful post reminding all of us of think sustainable living. A lot of towns and cities are allowing a small number of chickens to be kept for eggs. Suburban and city food gardens are more and more prevalent.
    .-= lifeshighway´s last blog ..Achi Breaki Heart =-.

    1. Sustainahillbilly
      Twitter: appalachianfeet
      - January 8, 2011 10:49 am

      I’m on the end of my road to get backyard city chickens and I’m so so so excited!

      Maybe I can find some suburban food gardens packed with concrete critters and gnomes to submit to your blog…
      .-= Sustainahillbilly´s last blog ..How to Find Real Things 1 =-.

  18. Donna - January 7, 2011 10:16 pm

    Thanks for the answer, but the blog has to be self-hosted. That is why when I downloaded the zip file, there was nowhere to put it. Duh..I should have thought of that myself.
    .-= Donna´s last blog ..Niagara Gorge in Winter =-.

    1. Sustainahillbilly
      Twitter: appalachianfeet
      - January 8, 2011 10:59 am

      Aww! I wish I knew how the WordPress sites worked with plugins. I know my boyfriend is able to get a lot of things that are built in to the site as user features if he searches for them. Maybe they have a version of CommentLuv.
      .-= Sustainahillbilly´s last blog ..How to Find Real Things 1 =-.

  19. Town Mouse - January 7, 2011 11:55 pm

    Let me think…I get most books from the library. Or used. Or if I really stray and buy a book, I bring it to the used bookstore afterwards. Mmmm. I do like books.

    1. Sustainahillbilly
      Twitter: appalachianfeet
      - January 8, 2011 11:02 am

      Good for you! That’s definitely the “stuff” area where I need the most work. I am so forgetful of information I need that I really like to own my books. But, I never throw them away.
      .-= Sustainahillbilly´s last blog ..How to Find Real Things 1 =-.

  20. Pingback: How to Find Real Things #2 | Appalachian Feet

  21. RedHillGeneralStore
    Twitter: redhillgenstore
    - February 4, 2011 2:06 pm

    Hi, just wanted to say thanks so much for featuring one of our items in your blog!
    RedHillGeneralStore´s last blog post ..New Raleigh Photos-

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