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Lighten Up 2019

May 30, 2019 at 3:15 pm
By Caroline Hall

Summer is nearly here, which means students are preparing to pack up their dorm rooms and move out for the summer. To deal with the large influx of items students dispose of while moving out, the Sustainability Office is partnering with the CCCE to host the 19th annual Lighten Up Garage Sale. Students can donate any unwanted items ranging from fans and furniture to clothes, books and more. These items are then collected, sorted, and sold at a community garage sale held at Carleton’s stadium in late June. The funds raised are split between three local non-profits, offering a unique opportunity for Carleton to give back to the community.

Last summer, I spent a week working with the Sustainability Office to collect all the donations. Each day, we spent several hours driving to each Lighten Up drop-off location on campus (there are over 15!), loading items into cargo vans, driving them to the stadium, and unloading and weighing all the donations. Last year, over 46,000 pounds of donations were collected altogether. This experience was unexpectedly very powerful and transformative for me. I was utterly shocked by how much junk students had, and I felt overwhelmed by the massive amount of stuff students were getting rid of. While I am certainly glad all of these items are being sold at a community garage sale rather than ending up in a landfill, the experience made me reflect deeply on our society’s consumer culture and convenience economy.

There is so much junk out there. Looking through the piles of donations, I found bizarre compilations of lava lamps, stuffed animals, lamp shades, entire bed sets, towels, desk chairs, and household appliances. The most overwhelming part for me was thinking about how we are only one small college in Minnesota––this is only a very tiny fraction of all of the stuff that exists out there. While I recognize that I am complicit in consumer culture, it is mind-boggling to think about all of the stuff we buy, use temporarily, and then throw away. While Lighten Up is a great opportunity to find a new home for your unwanted items, it is also an excellent opportunity to reflect on your consumption habits and consider whether you truly need every material good that you purchase. In my opinion, living minimally is one of the best ways to decrease your carbon footprint and eliminate unnecessary clutter from your life, which can improve your overall quality of life in the long run.

Lighten Up also sheds light on the nature of Carleton’s move-out process. Students are often in a rush to pack up and move out, on top of an already stressful finals period. In addition, the school charges $7 per box of storage for the summer (not to mention an extra charge for the box itself), and students must haul their boxes to the appropriate storage location. Not many students have access to a car, and moving carts are limited and in high demand during the move-out period. All of these factors result in a heightened appeal for donating to Lighten Up as a simple alternative. Rather than paying $7 to store a box with pillows and bed sets, students opt to donate these items to Lighten Up and then re-purchase everything in the fall upon returning to campus. Again, while it is good that these items are getting donated and not thrown away, it reveals a significant flaw in Carleton’s system. I believe that summer storage options should be more accessible and simplified, and financial assistance should be available to students for whom the $7/box fee is a barrier. If the storage process were revised, it could reduce the overall amount of stuff students throw away or donate that could be used again the following year, resulting in a more sustainable campus overall.

Do you have thoughts on Carleton’s storage process, Lighten Up, or consumer culture in general? I would love to hear what you think and discuss it more! Feel free to email me at hallc2@carleton.edu.

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