Tuesday, March 1, 2011

FreeCycle Goes Mainstream

Technology excites some of us; others are technophobic.  But technology is agnostic – it creates new ways of doing things, but how people deploy them is idiosyncratic.  Freecycle.org is a perfect example of a tool born of technology.   Created in 2003 in Tucson, AZ, Deron Beal started it to facilitate donations of used office equipment.  At present, it has grown to 4,924 groups with 8,185,513 members around the world.

Popular items posted run from large items like sofas (“you’ll need two people and a flat bed truck”) to teensy things, like knickknacks, leftover formula, or magazine collections.  Creative uses of our yahoo technology abound, like the “curb alert”.  Suddenly folks who saw something left out on the street could report this to the larger community.  Thinning your iris bed?  Now it’s possible to find just the right new home for surplus plants.
Some posters want to tell a story – how it is that they are giving away 31 pounds of Gevalia decaf?
I have 13 pounds of Gevalia Chocolate Raspberry, 14 pounds of Gevalia Mocha Java, 2 pounds of Gevalia Select Vintner and 2 pounds of Select Vintner Spice. All decaf, all unopened, all unused. Most still in the box it was packed and shipped in. "Why so much?” you ask. Well, when I joined Gevalia I chose the auto-pay option thingy. Every month I'd get a case of coffee and think, "Coffee again? I really need to fix that!”, put it in the cabinet, and then promptly forget all about it. That's why. Happy now? *blush* [:">]
Here's the worst part: I don't even drink coffee.
Other posts are spare, like offering medical supplies no longer needed once a patient has passed, not referencing all the TLC that went into caring for that elderly loved one at home.  Children’s toys, clothes, and equipment change hands, as happy parents clean-out and reclaim some of their living space. Sometimes people ask and offer simultaneously: “I just got a copy of my Grandmother (and I believe my great grandmother's) dill pickle recipe, and I want to put up some pickles. If you have any canning jars that you are not using, I would love to have them. In exchange, I will give you a copy of the recipe. All the best, Frank”.
Matches are sought: Cuisinart base looking for a processing unit.  Kids needing books for their school reading.  Old Verizon phone to replace the one dropped in the toilet.  Households on the move list all the stuff they cannot take to their next destination, often with urgent requests for instant pickups; readers get the sense the moving van is in the driveway.  Once folks are settled in their new places, packing boxes and styrofoam peanuts appear on the list for the next household packing up to move. 
Perhaps we need a special category of Failed Intentions FreeCycling for all the Nordic tracks, fish tanks, and musical instruments which are offered.  And a category for Things We Can’t Bear to Toss, with old calendars (the pictures are frame-worthy!), outdated technology (cassette tape recorder, anyone?) and Scrabble games with missing tiles. Not to mention the proverbial kitchen sinks folks offer when they redo kitchens. The magic is that generally there are folks out there who DO want said items.
Freecycle now actually has competition for giving away and acquiring free things, such as Craigs List, Facebook, clothing swaps, college Dump and Run programs, and smaller listserves which have adopted the strategy.   I hit the jackpot last fall when a FreeForAll gardener donated an entire shoebox of seed packets.
For folks who are impatient, FreeCycle might not be your best bet.  Ask around, and find a Frequent Freecycler to post your item and pass it on. Freecycle rules are simple.  Items must be legal – no offering leftover prescription drugs, for example.  And Freecycle has its etiquette to observe.  Don’t supply too much information, like the woman offering 36DD bras, or that you’re collecting house goods for a woman whose ex has a domestic violence protection order.  And above all, if you are the lucky recipient of another freecycler’s offer, make a plan to pick it up and follow through.
Three cheers for the technology which helps us to change the world, one Freecycle post at a time. How nice that freecycling has become a new norm in our neighborhoods.  I sometimes wonder what we ever did without it.  Despite the multitude of systems for passing things along, though, there doesn’t yet seem to be any shortage of clutter in our houses, does there?

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