I have a new favorite hobby—posting to my local gift economy websites. It’s an incredibly satisfying way to rid our house of stuff that we no longer need or want, knowing that it all is going to people who need and appreciate the items rather than being added to the heap at Goodwill. Even better, it’s so easy…and brings joy to all involved. The recipient is thrilled that a need has been fulfilled. And I’m thrilled to have cleaned something out of the house.
It started a few months ago when I decided to purge a box or two a week from our attic and basement. Progress report: Thus far, I’ve cleaned out a closet in one daughter’s room plus 10 or so large storage bins of old school papers and projects from the attic. As I was cleaning, I was finding all sorts of things that weren’t trash or mementos but weren’t appropriate to give to Goodwill. Enter my town’s Facebook page for the “Gift Economy.”
Haven’t heard of the “Gift Economy”? Unlike eBay, Craigslist and other reseller websites, Gift Economy allows you to simply give things to people with no expectation of getting anything in return.
Within hours of first posting on my town’s Gift Economy Facebook page, I found new homes for a few sets of temporary stacking drawers that were left over from my kids’ college dorm rooms and a small white shelf that used to hold their ever-growing collection of Beanie Babies and other stuffed toys. Then there were some old horseback-riding pants and a makeup box. I was hooked!
A few days later, someone posted a “wish” on the Gift Economy page. Before she purchased a bread-making machine, she asked if anyone had one they would part with. Yippee! My husband had bought me a bread machine when I first went gluten-free 20+ years ago, well before gluten-free became “a thing.” Now, even though there are so many gluten-free items available, I frankly don’t eat much bread at all. The next morning, my bread machine was in its new home, Happy owner…happy donor.
This is an example of perfectly symbiotic interactions. It is generosity in its purest sense. No expectations of getting anything in return. One person wants to give things away…someone else has a void they need to fill. Simple. Balanced. Elegant.
There’s another fun benefit as well—my husband and I have met quite a few new people in town through the process of gifting. It makes us feel more connected to the community, and it feels great to see the deep appreciation when someone receives a “treasure.”
Perhaps you don’t have small kitchen appliances or kids’ shelves laying around. It has been fascinating to see what people ask for and what they offer. They give away kids’ clothes and toys, of course, because these items quickly accumulate and then are outgrown. But there’s also adult clothes—one shirt or a pair of pants at a time…purses…art prints…picture frames…food items that were accidentally purchased or not as expected…unopened boxes of hair dye…moving boxes…and single boxes with bubble wrap. Clearly there is nothing too small. What’s that old saying? One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.
The ask side is just as broad—besides the bread machine, I have seen requests for a waffle iron, coffee mugs, used sweaters for a craft project, all sorts of items for school projects, play props and what not. When items are not available to give away entirely, people sometimes are happy to loan a neighbor a power or garden tool or even an Apple Watch with a heart monitor so that it could be tried before purchasing one.
Hard goods are not the only items shared. Sometimes the request is for help of some sort—can someone stitch up the seam on this dress…or help with a household project? I have to say that, IMHO, these sorts of “wishes” can seem somewhere between lazy and wildly frugal. There are tailors all over town who can sew a seam, just as there are contractors trying to earn a living doing household projects. But, hey, as long as people on both ends of the equation are happy, then it’s a delightful, neighborly thing to do.
Interested in participating? Search Facebook for community groups…moms groups…town groups. Also, try the Nextdoor app (Nextdoor.com) to see if there is a group in your area. Even if you don’t have anything to give or get just yet, it’s fun to see what your neighbors are up to…and you never know when you can make someone else’s wish come true.
Sarah Hiner, president and CEO of Bottom Line Inc., is passionate about giving people the tools and knowledge they need to be in control of their lives in areas such as living a healthier life, the challenges of the health-care system, commonsense financial advice and creating great relationships. She appears often on national radio and hosts the Bottom Line Advocator Podcast, where she interviews leading experts to help people be their own best advocates in all areas of life.