Sunday, January 14, 2007

me, the freecycling newbie

I have a new favorite addiction: reading Freecycle posts. I get them downloaded into my e-mail account every day, and I am fascinated by the entire process: Offers, Takens, P/Us...

Freecycle is a Yahoo! group where people can get rid of the things they no longer want: old TVs, kitchen appliances, clothing - you name it, people list it. The great thing is, it's all free. If you see something posted that you want, just contact the person who posted it, and arrange pick-up (P/U). There's a Freecycle group for most cities; in Toronto (where I work as a professional organizer) there are several - one for each major district of the Greater Toronto Area (GTA).

I've already unloaded a few things myself: an extra pair of figure skates I didn't need (they went to a mom who wanted to skate with her kids), some wooden tea boxes (an artist picked those up to make something crafty), a couple of decks of large-faced playing cards (they went to an elderly couple whose vision was failing), and some paper coin wrappers (for a little girl who was cashing in her piggy bank).

I've acquired some new things, too: fabric scraps from somebody's grandmother who'd died, some ladies' blazers (which ended up being too small - in the end, I donated them to Dress Your Best here in Toronto), a professional steam iron, and (my favorite) a room ionizer, which successfully removed a horrible, lingering oil-paint smell from my bachelor apartment when they were renovating one of the suites down the hall a few weeks ago.

All of my experiences with Freecyclers have been wonderful and heart-warming; I especially loved chatting with the guy who gifted me with the ionizer. He's a retired headhunter who "curb surfs" (scoops up things that people leave at the curb for the garbage truck) in his wealthy neighbourhood, then takes the stuff home to fix it up, and finds good homes for everything through Freecycle. He proudly showed me a collection of about half-a-dozen items he had waiting for pick-up the day I got the ionizer.

Downsides? Some people posting items seem to have had bad experiences with "no shows." I haven't run across that problem myself. What encourages me most of all is the thought of these things staying out of the landfill. Too bad I didn't know about Freecycle before I helped my boyfriend clean out his basement in December...

(We might have saved him seven trips to the dump...)

copyright 2007, Michelle Lynne Goodfellow

things, and our attachment to them

I broke a bowl this morning. Half an hour earlier, it'd held my breakfast. As I wrapped the pieces in old grocery bags, to put them in the trash, the porcelain was still warm from the scalding dishwater in which I'd washed it.

The kicker is, I've only recently purged a lot of my extra dishes. I'm a big fan of "junk style" or "shabby chic," and over the years I've collected a lot of mismatched but complementary table wares from rummage and yard sales. How many plates does one woman in a bachelor apartment really need, though? I decided to pare down, and kept just eight of each of the basic items: dinner plates, bread plates, and bowls.

As I boxed up the extras to take to Value Village, I worried: What if I break something that I've kept? But I realized that if I broke something, I could always go to IKEA and buy another whatever-I-broke, very inexpensively.

The second kicker is, the bowl I broke was one of my favorites. All my dishes are either white or cobalt blue, and this particular bowl was white with blue transferware strawberry blossoms on it. I'd kept two, and now I only have one.

What is important to us? A bowl is just a bowl. If somebody tells me tomorrow that I only have six months to live, a broken bowl will be the least of my worries.

But that bowl gave me pleasure. It made me happy just to look at it... and it made me even happier to think about sharing a meal with somebody else - the two of us eating out of matching strawberry bowls.

There's a great article on organizing in the January/February 2007 issue of Natural Home magazine, and in a side-bar to the article there's an amazing quote by Sarah Suzanka, architect and bestselling author of The Not So Big House: A Blueprint for the Way We Really Live (Taunton, 2001).

Suzanka says: "An awful lot of the stuff we have - and I'm not talking about one or two things, I'm talking about 50 percent - we literally never use and are never planning to use again, but can't let go of. They are basically objects in which we've invested dreams that didn't happen. It's very difficult to let go of the dreams, even though we know that they didn't actually bring us the satisfaction we were hoping for."

This quote resonates with me, and it reminds me that my dream of sharing a strawberry-bowl meal is maybe (just maybe!) not as important as sharing a meal, period. I still don't know what to do about the bowl; I could go to Value Village and buy back one of the ones I gave away (Oh yes, I gave away four of them!)... or I could just let go of my shyness and ask somebody over for dinner - hang the bowls.

Come to think of it, I should have invited someone over a long time ago.

copyright 2007, Michelle Lynne Goodfellow