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Interview: Professional Recycler Laura Muresan of Laura’s Last Ditch


Recycling takes on a whole new meaning for Laura Muresan. She has made a career out of selling things that other people have given or thrown away. Laura lives in Grand Rapids, Mich., and is a member of LaGrave Avenue Christian Reformed Church.

Q. Explain a little bit about what you do with Laura's Last Ditch.

A. Laura's Last Ditch is the name of my Ebay store. I sell mostly vintage kitchenware and small appliance parts, my main product line being good quality vintage kitchenware and hard-to-find small appliance replacement parts. My slogan is "Let Laura help you in your last-ditch effort to find that special something." 

Q. Where do you get the goods you sell on Laura's Last Ditch?
A. I shop thrift stores (including New 2 You, Nice Twice, and New Life, which are run by CRC-supported schools) and garage sales. I get cast-offs from family members and friends, and I have also been known to do a little "curb shopping"—you wouldn't believe the things people throw away. 

Q. What's the oddest thing you've sold?

A. I’d had an empty Lip Lickers lip balm tin since I was a kid. Sometimes I like to list something just to see if it will sell. I auctioned it, and it went for $21.50. I told a friend because I thought it was odd that something like that would find multiple bidders. She had the same tin, which still had product in it and was in better condition, and hers went for $150. I've also sold really worn out belts and whisk brooms. Call it "distressed" or "primitive," and suddenly it's a hot commodity.

My vintage small appliances appear in an Australian film, Mao's Last Dancer. I found lots of things for the art director, and afterward she sent me flowers and chocolate. I had to work pretty hard to find some of the things she wanted.

Q. Do customers who have bought something from you in the past ask you to look for other items for them?

A. Yes, frequently. I have a huge folder of items I'm supposed to find for people. I like it when I can tick something off the list, but some of the requests are pretty obscure. I have someone looking for an unused tube of vintage Crest toothpaste.

Q. Where was your most remote customer?

A. I've sold to at least 54 countries and all 50 of the United States, but maybe the most remote is Mauritius or Mariana Islands. I've also sent several items north of the Arctic Circle.

Q. What's the greatest joy of what you do?

A. I love it when there's someone who's really, really happy because they were able to get something they never thought they'd be able to find. I had a woman once who wrote me a thank you note because I helped her get a vintage popcorn popper like her terminally ill brother had, and it made her think of him. I have a 9-year-old son who likes to help me pack the items I sell. He goes to lots of thrift stores and garage sales with me, sometimes picking out things on his own that are eBay-able. He's on a first-name basis with the people at the post office. I like that I can do something I really enjoy and involve my child too.

Q. And the biggest challenge?

A. My biggest challenge right now is dealing with eBay's ever-increasing fees—when their latest fee increase takes effect in July, it'll be practically confiscatory. I've begun looking for other online venues and now have Laura's Last Ditch on as well, but I feel like I'm starting over again.

Q. I got the impression that your business was partly inspired by Living More with Less by Doris Janzen Longacre (Mennonite Publishing). Is that the case? If so, which aspects of the book really hit you and moved you forward?

A. Living More with Less explores the environmental and spiritual implications of consumerism, North American-style. The choices we make often affect the poor in other parts of the world—factories degrading or gobbling up the land, leaving the only means of survival working in one of the very same factories under sweatshop conditions—stories like that—just so we can buy a bunch of stuff that, most of the time, we don't even need. There was an anecdote in Living More with Less about how visitors from Indonesia went to a church picnic, wondering what they were supposed to do with their disposable plates, just to be shocked that you'd use a plate once, then throw it away.

I've chosen to sell items that help people avoid purchases of new, throwaway items replete with their wasteful packaging. A Teflon pan contributes to high cancer rates among those both in and near the factory where it’s made, yet it wears out and you'll trash it. Why not a vintage pan, which, if it's lasted 50 years already, likely will serve another 50 more? What a light we Christians could be if we'd take stewardship more seriously and put the money toward something durable, even if not of the latest style. We could support a whole lot more missionaries, relieve a lot of suffering. People might even think we're a bit weird and ask why. Thrift stores are full of quality items waiting to find loving homes. There's also plenty of recycled stuff online.

Q. How long have you been selling this way?

A. I've been selling on eBay since 2003. I started by liquidating my musical equipment—I used to be a professional bassoonist in the Omaha Symphony. By the time I ran out of my own things to sell, I was hooked.

Q. Do you consider this a career, part-time job, or hobby?

A. It's pretty much a full-time job, but I can get up and leave whenever I want, so it really doesn't feel like work. The things I do for my business are so varied, I don't get bored. I make a lot more money selling online than I ever did as a professional musician, not that that's saying much.

Q. What else can you tell us about yourself and your work?

A. I’m married to Calin, from Romania, who grows a huge garden and plays the cello professionally. We do lots of canning and urban homesteading-type activities, and cook practically everything from scratch.

We're very frugal and have our house paid off. It takes a few months for us to fill a trash bag. I don't like to think in terms of environmentalism, but rather stewardship. People can treat creation as a god, referring to Creation as "Mother Nature." But you can believe God's covenant to Noah that there will always be seedtime and harvest, yet still want clean rivers, fresh air, and an end to premature deaths from cancer. I use reclaimed packing materials, giving a second chance to packing peanuts and boxes; the only thing I buy new is the packing tape.

On eBay, sellers can donate a portion of an item's sale price to non-profits through their Giving Works program, so recently I've chosen Christian Reformed Home Missions, Christian Reformed World Missions, and the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee as beneficiaries on many of my items.

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