Redistributing stuff

Magazines ©Janet Allen
Just some of the many magazines we redistributed through FreeCycle

What is redistributing stuff? Basically, transferring something from someone who no longer needs something to someone who needs (or wants) it. This could involve swapping things, purchasing things, or giving things away.

At least as I understand this part of collaborative consumption so far, I think of redistributing as transferring ownership, thereby reducing the need for new stuff to be manufactured, as opposed to reducing what I need by temporarily renting or sharing stuff.

The important thing, I think, is building confidence that we can buy something from a stranger and have a good experience. In other words, with each of these exchanges, we're building trust in a relationship different from the conventional corporate relationships that we've come to trust (and increasingly, distrust).

Here are a few examples of some small attempts we've made.

Buying stuff

We bought a few items on eBay (a used iPod nano and our solar cooker). Both items arrived as promised with no problems. I do find the bidding process confusing, though, so I think we just paid the asking price.

We've bought a carseat for our grandchild's visits on Craigslist and again had a good experience with the seller. We saved quite a bit of money by not having to buy a new one, and it was a good deal for the seller, too. In this case, as opposed to eBay, we actually went to the seller's home and met him. This was not only a pleasant experience, but he showed us how to install and use the carseat.

Selling stuff

We've sold some books on Amazon, mostly our children's old textbooks. We didn't do it for the money (which turned out to be modest) but what else could we do with them? All in all, a decent solution to the problem of used books. It wasn't too much work, and it saved the buyers some money compared to the outrageous prices of textbooks in the college bookstores.

Long ago, we held some garage sales, too, but they're a LOT of work for not much profit, partly I think because you're dealing with an inherently small group of people in the same geographical area who attend garage sales. We'd rather just give the stuff away. It's just too much work.

Giving things away

When we stopped having garage sales, we instead just donated stuff to the local Goodwill, Rescue Mission, or Salvation Army stores. Although it's more work than simply chucking things out to the curb (morally repugnant to us), it's a lot easier than garage sales.

Of course, you don't earn any money for your used items doing this, but even if you could get two or three hundred dollars from a garage sale, that amount of money isn't an outrageous amount to donate to the community anyway.

Another way to give things away that doesn't involve lugging things to a Goodwill store is to simply list them on FreeCycle. So far, we've had a few experiences with this.

One time, we advertised some of our son's old things (a boombox and some exercise equipment) on FreeCycle. We had a number of calls and told someone to come and get them. Someone showed up and we let them take it, but just then our son came by and noticed who was taking them: scrap metal people. I guess if you get something for free, it's easy to make a profit by taking it to the scrap dealer. The problem for us was that these were perfectly usable items, and we would have preferred to have them be used. To make matters worse, a little later, someone else came by saying he was here for the exercise equipment, and this was someone who would have actually used it for exercise. Somehow, something got mixed up, and we felt bad about it—both for the second guy and for the waste of the items.

I guess this isn't the fault of the FreeCycle process, but we now know that we have to be extra careful especially where free stuff is involved.

The second experience was much better. We had (foolishly) saved all the magazines sent by all the environmental organizations we donate to. They were just too nice to chuck, but over the years, they became large piles, and some or many of them were issues we never had had the time to read anyway. They had to go, but I hated to just recycle them. I put them on FreeCycle and within an hour or two I had two takers, including one person who was going to use them in her educational work as a volunteer at the zoo. I couldn't have asked for a better solution!

(And by this time I had already written and/or called all these organizations to request that they no longer send these magazines. After all, I'm donating money for them to work on their (and my) mission, not to produce a pricey magazine. In the past, they were an important communication tool, but today I get so much info online and by email, I don't need magazines.)

Swapping stuff

We haven't tried this at all. Although these arrangements seem to be becoming popular, it doesn't make as much sense to me. Rather than finding someone to swap something with, why doesn't each person just sell their unwanted item and use the money to buy what they want from someone else on eBay or craigslist, for example. Why try to find someone who has something of equivalent value? It seems like actual money may be an easier, more efficient proxy for the item. But maybe there's something I don't yet understand about this system.