Friday, January 14, 2011

Freecyclin’

Free is my favorite number,” I’ve always told my daughter.

“Mo-o-om,” she used to sing, “free isn’t a number.”

Oh yes it is! Take an equation with free in it one step further and form a binary, win-win relationship.

In 2007 I asked my friend Cherri what she would do to make the world a better place. The first thing she said was, “I’d get rid of the almighty dollar. I like the idea of barter, whether you exchange a service for material goods or trade one thing for another.” She has a disdain for greed and, like me, doesn’t like to spend money or accumulate stuff. We tend to keep our loads light for reduced stress.

Years before asking Cherri that question, a Colorado Springs group did exactly what she suggested. In 1986, entrepreneurial professionals met weekly at an old red brick school that had bats in its belfry. Our host, Bill, would introduce the business networking concept and perhaps a guest speaker, then afterward we’d learn about each other and the work we each had to offer.

As a graphic designer and writer who handled prepress production for publishing and printing, I could, perhaps, exchange services with someone in marketing or accounting. An architect might find an interior designer to collaborate with on a joint project. An office services proprietor with a nasty husband could trade services with a timepiece repair technician who could clock the meanie.

Time went on, the group dissolved, and I began working as a full-time marketing communications manager for a global high-technology firm in exchange for salary and benefits. Five and a half years after that, I swapped abusive married life for safe singleness and moved from a big house to a small one. Although I didn’t plan to live in the small house very long, I still vowed to unpack every box and take my inventory, which was more emotional than physical.

Since that fresh-start year of 1994 and residing in that house longer than I’d planned, I have continually shed stuff in exchange for peace of mind. For every document I place into a file, I shred or burn one that’s no longer needed. Balance is vital. It’s like an ongoing, cleansing enema. Makes me want to kick up my heels and run for the beach—naked, because I gave away my swimsuit.

One day in 2009, I joined Freecycle.org, an organization that allows people to get rid of stuff while staying home, but it wasn’t until November 2010 that they started emailing moderated updates of items wanted and offered. All items are given and received free. I immediately gave a gal a Sprint phone I’d used for only two weeks. She asked, she received! It’s biblical. If I wanted something, I could post my desire, with restrictions. I suggest reading Freecycle’s rules.

Deron Beal set up the Freecycle Network in 2003 and, like wildfire, the organization has grown from Tucson into an 85-country networking exchange group (see freecycle.org/group). When you have something you would like to give away, you post an ad on your city’s Freecycle page, like this:

OFFER: soon-to-be-ex-husband

Once a person finds the item you’re offering valuable and the item is picked up, the offering person is obligated to post on the site:

TAKEN: relieved, intelligent woman’s soon-to-be-ex-husband

Or if you are seeking something, you can post a little ditty like:

WANTED: dirty socks that remind me of my ex-husband (must smell like Fritos)

And if someone happens to have dirty socks lying around, he or she can send you an email. Once you pick up the Fritos-smelling foot covers, you are obligated to post their receipt.

RECEIVED: dirty socks to remind me of how good life is.

Or something on that order.

Because my daughter will soon be dashing off to college and I haven’t decided if I want to stay in Colorado Springs or move to an exotic island to experience a hurricane firsthand, I’ve been engaging in a more rigorous campaign of sharing excess and now have two almost-empty rooms.

But I’ve learned a lesson about giving that relates to the analogy of tossing a pebble into a pond. The rings from the pebble’s impact move gradually outward, signifying one’s effect on the world.

I responded Wednesday morning to a guy living 45 minutes away who wanted two plastic chair mats: the kind you roll a chair on. It has extreme spikes underneath so it stays in place. (Or you can place the mat with spikes up at night to ward off intruders.) I offered one of my two plastic mats, and he replied that his wife would soon come over. So I thought, If I like this guy’s wife, I’ll give her both. Well, I gave her both, plus a balance chair on wheels that she rode home, SUV in tow.

Within an hour, a neighbor friend came over to assess a problem with my car. Excited about giving things away, I shared my Freecycle experience with him. He said, “I just bought one of those plastic chair mats a month ago. They’re expensive!”

I felt like oil spill. Why? I have not needed those plastic chair mats for 10 years and have asked others if they wanted one. Had I used my 90-person Neighborhood Watch email list to offer these things, I could’ve given them to someone close to home, as if the pebble had just fallen into the water.

Lesson learned. Now practicing.

Today I gave my favorite neighbor’s daughter colored pencils, pens, markers, and a toy theater for her young daughter. From now on, I offer first to people close to home. But after I’ve given all I want to give, will I want something? Hey, I have an idea.

WANTED: wealthy young guy who likes exotic islands and looks great in a swimsuit—or not

Heart note: Giving close to home can go further than just giving material—give love, share money, offer attention.

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