Thursday, October 27, 2005

Covet (and Love It)

If you’re anything like me, on a productive Saturday about fifteen years ago you might have gathered up the blue dress you never should have bought because you hated it in the store (but it made you look skinnier), and three or four T-shirts you don’t wear because you don’t wear T-shirts, and two or three of your Aunt Izzy’s old frying pans, and a grey wool rug, and the iron you retired since your husband came with a better one, and finally, some baseball hats your mother gave you so she wouldn’t have the problem that you do, now:  your give-away pile has sat in a dank corner for so long that you’re afraid to put your hand into the box holding it.  You fear worms might have moved in a few years back and started composting the textiles into a weird, nostalgic dust; or you fear something worse, something more spidery and venomous.  

Some people won’t understand this problem.  They send packages to far-flung friends and family whole weeks before important birthday and holiday deadlines.  They hoist their glass to glass recycling centers bi-monthly (instead of bi-decadely).  So it makes sense that these people, too, can collect give-away piles and distribute them in due time.  They just put them in the car and drive them to the nearest woman’s shelter;  maybe they even call up the Salvation Army and make an appointment to have the items picked up.  “What could be easier?” they ask. These are all good people.  But they aren’t like me, and they don’t understand my problems.  And the Freecycle Network does.

Freecycle is a grassroots organization devoted to reducing landfills by making it easy for people to give away what they might ordinarily throw away.  You join a local Freecycle network, which is basically joining an internet newsgroup/discussion list (directions are on the website).  I’m one of the nearly eight thousand HoustonFreecycle members, and also one of the 729 HeightsMontroseFreecycle members…and there are 2 million other Freecycle members in over 3 thousand communities throughout the world.  And incredibly, this group only started in 2003.  It grows astronomically.

This is how it works.  When you have something to give away you post an offer.  You’d send an email something like:

Subject:  OFFER: random box of books (Montrose Neighborhood)
Message:  Hi, I have about sixty books.  Half are gothic romance novels, some are early American captivity narratives, and there a bunch of reference books on writing.  Also one very surprising book for horticulturalists.  You need to take all or nothing.

If you want something somebody is giving away, you hit reply to their email.  And, by the way, most OFFERs are juicier than the above:  I’ve seen all sorts of furniture, washers and dryers, refrigerators, clothing, computers, gardening stuff (including trees & plants), party favors, pet supplies, and Star Trek memorabilia.  Sometimes something is broken and is given away for parts, and the OFFER’s author will let you know if that’s the case.  Some people post pictures.  I am, actually, this kind of person:  I fear stamps and mailboxes, but have no problem taking a digital photo, uploading it, and sending it off to Freecycle.  

There’s an art to writing a response to an offer that will procure you the offer, and the fun part is that it is a fluid art. That is, different people want different replies.  Some people would snarkily call your lengthy explanation describing why you NEED their IKEA couch cover a sob story and give it to the person who only wrote “I’m interested,” while others would call the latter poster rude and look for a story at least as sad as Old Yeller.  Still others don’t care what you write, they give it to the first person who emails.  But the point is, the offerer decides of his/her own accord who wins, and I think this is a good thing.  It’s unautomated and completely human, and unfair, and chancey.

Raj and I have given away:  an old sewing table (LOTS of crazy, beautiful, sad stories about why people wanted it…), hot curlers, Tupperware (I felt very guilty giving away all the plastic), unmatching flatware, an area carpet, a wardrobe, books, suits…lots of stuff.  When I first started, I found myself looking for things to give away.  It’s thrilling to do.  You choose somebody’s story, you email them and let them know they won, and then you have them come by your house and pick up their gift.  I’m often out, so I leave the item on my porch and it’s gone when I get home.  

This is an incredibly simple and fun way to be a Green Parent.  It’s something stay-at-home parents can do, even when infants are around...and on a side note, there are dozens of offers for cribs, strollers and baby-related things on the lists every day. It’s recycling in a fabulous way, that puts you into contact with your neighbors. It’s an ingenious use of the internet that doesn’t involve giving anybody any money, and that may involve you not having to go out and buy a brand new dresser (because somebody will give you one!).  


Heather Bigley said...

You have inspired me to join--i need a dresser and a monkey wrench.

Mary said...

Ahhh, freecycle.

Meagan and I discovered this little gem about 4 months before the frog was conceived....'tis a beautiful thing.

Anonymous said...

Here's a great song about Freecycling and freecyclers. It was written by a freecycler from a group in Melbourne, Florida - have to click to hear song - opens with page

Pass it on, it's free to download and play. It will be on the radio soon!

Anonymous said...

Here's a great song about Freecycling and freecyclers. It was written by a freecycler from a group in Melbourne, Florida - have to click to hear song - opens with page

Pass it on, it's free to download and play. It will be on the radio soon!

Anonymous said...

Great song! Supports the free gifting concept, regardless of whose name is on the group - love it!

Char said...

- have to click to hear song

- opens with page

Just making it clickable for ease of listening. I love it!