gift economy

Freecycle: free, easy, neighborly

Freecycle is one of those beautiful ideas that I wish I had thought of myself. It's a simple premise: a network of volunteer-run websites let neighbors post things they want to give away, and things they need, and exchange them. And it's all free.

To get involved, just google "freecycle," click "browse groups," and sign up in your area. They ask that you start out by offering something for free. It can be something as simple as a three-ring binder, a book you've already read, or office supplies. Or it can be something big that you don't want to worry about carting out of the house - a dining room table or an old by

I've used Freecycle many times, both to give things away and find things I need, and it's worked really well for me. My best find was a beautiful old wooden desk that needed to be sanded and refinished. That was 5 years ago, and that free desk is still one of the most beautiful pieces of furniture in my apartment. I also picked up some great free lamps and curtain rods, all from people within a couple of miles of where I live.

Drawbacks: Sometimes people don't show up on time (or at all) to take the free stuff I offer. There is a temptation to get frustrated when people don't show, but really, it's their loss. To make sure I don't lose time waiting for them, I've started telling people when to show up instead of asking for times that work for them.

There are plenty of similar resources out there. Maybe your area has a Facebook Buy, Sell, or Free group. Look around, see what you find, and don't forget to let us know how it works!