December 2023

Everything is valuabke

Photo book De Arm

One person’s junk is another person’s treasure. This has been the basic principle behind De ARM for over forty years. Photographer Daniëlle Moelker has now published a book about the Utrecht charity shop where sociability and sustainability go hand-in-hand.

‘Nothing matches, but everything fits.’ This is the first thing that sprang to mind when photographer Daniëlle Moelker walked into De ARM (The ARM) charity shop. All those unwanted items, from completely different worlds, carefully arranged to create one new world. It’s the order that fascinates her. ‘You’d expect chaos in a place where second-hand items are collected, but there’s a very clear structure. Everything is systematically sorted and placed together in cupboards, wall units and shelves. As a photographer, I find all those lines, planes and colours visually intriguing.’

But as well as appreciating the aesthetics of the charity shop, Daniëlle was also fascinated by the story behind it. She spent years visiting the shop, taking pictures of items considered worthless to some, but of untold value to others. Her recently published book, De Arm Kringloopwinkels, is a photographic portrait of a universe brimming with reusable objects and the people who work in it.

Safe haven

De Arm (which stands for Alternatieve Renovatie Maatschappij or Alternative Renovation Society) was co-founded in 1982 by youth support workers Ad Schenk and Toos Biljard. They wanted to provide something meaningful for young people to boost their confidence and create some structure in their days. So they set to work in the vaulted cellars beneath Tivoli on Oudegracht, where they renovated old furniture and appliances to be re-sold. It was a small-scale social initiative, which gradually evolved into a self-sufficient social organisation run by dozens of volunteers and some paid employees, who manned several shops on Oudegracht and a recycling centre in Hoograven.

But one thing never changed: De ARM has always been, and still is, a safe haven for people who have trouble finding work elsewhere. Daniëlle: ‘It’s a place where you can reintegrate after a burn-out, do an internship or community service, and stay as long as you want. There’s a good reason for calling it De ARM: the organisation puts an arm around its staff. I’ve taken photos of some very special people with very special stories to tell. Some of them prefer to remain anonymous.’


De ARM is not only important to the people who work there, but also to the city as a whole. It’s the perfect place for students, newcomers and sustainable-minded people looking for objects to furnish their houses. According to the website, just 5% of everything that’s donated is thrown away. Everything else is recycled, often after repairs in the various workshops for wood, household appliances, bikes or electronics, or after a coat of paint or a quick whizz under the sewing machine. ‘They also have a Circular Workshop, with a designer who focuses on upcycling goods that have seemingly been written off,’ explains Daniëlle. ‘They create a lamp from a plastic plate and bowl, for example, or give an unwanted clock a modern coat of paint to turn it into an eye-catcher.’

De ARM is all about restoring and adding value. To objects, but also to people. ‘Nobody is judged, the staff can rediscover their sense of worth,’ says photographer. ‘What you can do is more important than what you can’t. People are given space and feel valued.’ And customers really love De ARM too, she continues. Not only because of the carefully selected, affordable items, but also because of the vibe. ‘Some people come every day just to browse. They’re looking for something special, or just want a chat.’

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