Freecycling: A New Way to Recycle

The 19th-century English decorative artist William Morris once said, “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful." And yet, inevitably, our homes seem to fill up with things that are neither useful nor beautiful. Or perhaps they were once useful, or once beautiful, but aren't anymore, and haven't been for a long time, and yet still, we find ourselves hanging on to them, out of habit, if nothing else.

One of the easiest—and interestingly, most rewarding—ways to get rid of those things is freecycling.

Freecycling simply means handing off goods you’re no longer using to some person or organization that can use them—for free. Traditionally this has meant donating stuff to Goodwill. Or, alternatively, dumping pieces of furniture on the sidewalk with a giant “Free” sign tacked to them and relying on urban scavengers to snap them up.

The Internet, though, has changed all that. It's now monumentally easier to get unwanted items to new homes. First, there was Craigslist, where people could post items in the “Free” section. (And sure enough, a quick glance at the Free section for San Francisco shows business is booming. There’s everything there from a cat tree, to a snowboarding jacket, a dish drainer, two large speakers, cabinet doors for a kitchen remodel, a queen-size box spring, and an upright refrigerator).

Then came along Freecycle, a website specifically created to facilitate the free exchange of goods. Organized by geography, you post an item you want to offload, and invariably people come a-calling. I’ve used Freecycle before, lots of times. I’ve handed off unused fireplace tools to an eager young man who picked them up at my door, white feather boas to an aging drag queen (who needed them delivered because she was no longer particularly mobile), and even shipping materials, like foam peanuts, to an older man who I imagined had a business selling knickknacks on eBay.

When I’ve gotten off my tush to Freecycle, I’ve always enjoyed it. I never cease to be amazed at how quickly stuff gets claimed. I love the squeals of delight that arrive via email from people who absolutely, positively would love to have that thing that’s been lingering in the back of my closet or the depths of my basement. I love handing the items off, knowing they’re going to a home that will finally put them to the use they were meant to have.

And I always feel so much better once the stuff is gone. Karen Kingston, the author of Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui, talks about how we carry all the stuff we own with us all the time—in our heads and hearts and psyches—which always makes me picture those giant chains weighing down old Marley in A Christmas Carol. And when I give things away, I feel like those chains start to fall away. So for my third end-of-year project, I am, fittingly, given the approaching holidays, going to get back in gear and freecycle 10 items that have long needed good homes. Among them:

* A green birdcage that once functioned as a sculptural element in my home but for which I no longer have room.

* Two antique (but beaten up) suitcases that once served as aesthetically pleasing extra storage when I lived in smaller digs.

* Four table legs I bought to raise up my dining room table before I realized that, because the table comes from Europe, it uses different size screws than the ones on top of the American-born legs.

* A variety of throw rugs that worked in the old place but not the current one.

* Assorted baskets I picked up at a thrift store, fully intending to put them to use, but, of course, never doing so.

I hope you’ll join me. The end of the year is a great time to finally unload all that stuff that’s been weighing you down, physically and psychically. And, as the Tao Te Ching says, “To have space for receiving, first empty by giving.”

Last month’s project:

Last month’s project was to recycle cell phones. I dug out my old Nokia, my first-ever cell phone that I haven’t used in at least four years. It was actually hard to consider letting it go, given all the memories I have tied up in it. But then I remembered: To create space for new memories, I have to let the old stuff go.

So I went online to find instructions for how to erase all the data. I then plugged the phone in to recharge it so that I could delete all the phone numbers. But surprisingly—or perhaps not surprisingly, given the amount of time that had passed—it wouldn’t come back to life. So I tossed it into the cell phone recycling kiosk at Best Buy and wished it new life as a recycled product somewhere, someday.

In the meantime, I just got a new smartphone. So as soon as I’m done transferring over my data from my current phone, I plan to send that one—and all its accessories—to a local nonprofit that supports victims of domestic violence, where it will support someone who might need to call 911 one day.

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