it’s free

We’ve been having beautiful summer sunsets here this week. I took this photo out in the oldfield meadow – it’s actually, a composite patched together from three photos (click on image for a larger view). I always think about how it’s the really good stuff that is for free in this world. Last night, I got to enjoy this sunset and also the many wildflowers growing in the meadows — the colours are especially vibrant as the evening light grows dim. Later there were night sounds around the garden, and then a few beautiful moths around the porch lights. All free for the price of looking or listening.

Yesterday, I wrote to a friend who sometimes posts here, to tell him how we had bought a new sofa — nothing special at all — a purely functional thing to replace our rather old leather sofa that was getting badly worn and had seen better days. After moving the old sofa outdoors, we debated what to do with it and decided to clean it up as best we could, set it out on the roadside, and stick a “FREE” sign on it. That’s what we did, and were pleasantly surprised when, almost moments after we got it out to the road, someone stopped and took it away. My friend suggested that I write about this here on my blog to remind people that we shouldn’t just toss stuff out without trying to give it away first. Somewhere, there’s probably someone who would love to have that old lawn mower, sofa, or other item that you no longer want.

Out where I live, it’s really quite pathetic to see what people will toss out in the garbage. It just happens that we live in a rural community along a river where a lot of very wealthy people have built immense houses with tennis courts, swimming pools, 3 or 4 car garages, docks with yachts, etc… When we came here 30 years ago, the river was a quiet place. Now the shoreline is crowded with mansions and boats cruise by all day long throughout summer. It’s been very weird to see this transformation in recent years. However, what is even weirder is to see how, along that section of the river, on garbage day, in front of so many of the houses, the garbage is heaped like huge Viking funeral pyres each week — loaded with all kinds of no-longer-wanted furniture, sporting goods, computers, and other objects. I can’t figure out why these people toss this stuff in the garbage instead of sending it to one of the goodwill stores, or eve just stick it out at the curb on a non-garbage day of the week with a “Free” sign so people will know that they can take it away. Also, there are “freecycle” networks in almost every city where stuff can be posted as “free” on a bulletin board. Why send this stuff to the landfill sites when someone could make use of a desk, chair, bicycle, or other item?

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17 Responses to “it’s free”

  1. Wren Says:

    I couldn’t agree more. One night not long after the fourth, Don came in and said “there are more fireworks outside.” And sure enough, the fireflies were putting on quite a show. We’re far enough away from the city lights to be truly dark a couple hours after sunset, and the contrast was stunning. Fairy lights, indeed.

    When we left Virginia, we had a yard sale, with everything priced to sell. Or motivation was not to make money, but to save moving what we no longer used or needed. The leftovers went to the curb Monday morning and were gone, all but one or two odd things, long before the trash haulers came for it. One person even left money under our door for items taken, which I found touching.

    That was a semi-urban environment in a diverse community with a lot of through traffic on the street. We’re so suburban now, on a circular street to nowhere, and with neighbors all like ourselves that I fear anything put out at the curb would sit there until the wrath of the homeowners association descended upon us. There are distinct advantages to living here, and I have no interest in going back, but I still recognize that we have given up a little even as we’ve gained.

  2. robin andrea Says:

    We haven’t seen a sunset as beautiful as that in quite some time. I’m waiting for the new angle of the sun as it arcs toward autumn to get my favorite sunrises and sunsets.

    We are planning to have a yard sale before we move, and will gladly give stuff away. We’ve donated old computers to computer recycling places, and loaded Goodwill boxes with very wear-able clothes. I don’t know why people just toss things, but I think it has something to do with recklessness of a throw-away society where very little has real value or meaning, and landfills are out of sight and out of mind.

  3. Peter Says:

    I agree, the last area I lived in (Kingston, ON) and this area (Halifax, NS) both have freecycle forums setup on yahoo and other searchable websites, and I use kejiji often too when it’s time to unload some old goods. Nothing of reasonable value goes to the trash or recycling here, even if its just old mason jars, without checking first.

    The last major item I gave away was a couch too!

  4. Wayne Says:

    That’s a beautiful composite. Then again, I’m feeling particularly beautiful today. The temperatures haven’t broken 70 degF all day. *That* in Athens, GA in July. If it doesn’t break a record low, I’ll be astonished. Whatever, it feels wonderful.

    The idea of freecycle is excellent. When we’ve had to get rid of large items we’ve always targeted individuals who might need them, asked, and (in the case of two old cars, for instance) signed it over to them gratis. We don’t have a huge amount of old stuff, but there is some that we could do this with. Anything that keeps more crap out of the landfills. Much to think about.

  5. bev Says:

    Wren – We’ve had some amazing firefly shows here this summer. I can only remember one year that was nearly as good as this and it was probably about 20 years ago. I believe you’re quite right about some communities being better than others for recycling objects. Urban areas seem to be very good and so are rural areas. I’m not so sure about suburbia. There always seems to be so much pretty decent looking stuff just tossed onto the curb on garbage day. Some things do get taken away, but I think the garbage trucks get most of it.

    robin – I don’t really know how people can toss stuff out the way they do, but your thought that it is this throw-away society seems to be what’s behind it. We live a sort of plain life here and don’t have much in the way of expensive objects, and rarely throw things away, so this kind of thinking is foreign to us. When we do decide to get rid of something, it’s actually a bit difficult as we keep thinking of reasons to keep it around in case we might need it again some day, or need parts off of it, etc…

    Peter – freecycle has really caught on in the Ottawa area, which is great to see. Also, Ottawa had a sort of “freecycle day” a couple of weeks ago ,and I understand it was quite successful. We used to have a similar “big garbage day” in the city a long time ago and everyone would cruise around the neighbourhoods looking for “cool stuff” that other people were tossing out. It was actually a lot of fun! (-:

    Wayne – Thanks! The sky was just so beautiful last night that I couldn’t resist sharing it. Wow, temperatures under 70F today?!! Well, it’s a bit warm here and due to get a lot warmer this week. Perhaps the weather from down there has drifted up our way.
    We do much the same as you. In fact, there’s someone who is supposed to come and take away my old pickup truck sometime soon. After the incredible success of getting rid of the sofa yesterday, I suggested that we try putting an old snowblower out at the roadside. Don was a little skeptical, but we dragged it out of the workshop, washed it off, put the owner’s manual in a clear plastic bag and taped it to the snowblower along with a sign saying “FREE”, and describing the engine trouble it had last had before we mothballed it and started paying a local farmer to clean out our lanes in winter. Amazingly enough, within less than 2 hours, a guy with a pickup truck and an ATV on a trailer stopped. He was out at the roadside for about 20 minutes, unhooking his trailer, loading the snowblower, then hooking up the trailer again.. then off he went down the road with the old snowblower! Wow! I am thrilled at how things went this weekend! Now I’m eager to look around the workshop to see if there is anything else I can give away! Btw, we’re on a major “reduction plan” around this place – trying to figure out what we *really* need as we head into the next few years.

  6. Rebecca Clayton Says:

    We have several swap options in Pocahontas County, but in many places I have lived, it is illegal to set something on the curb with a “Free” sign, to retrieve something so placed, or to take something useful out of the dumpster or landfill. In the urban area where I used to live, charitable organizations were not at all happy to receive donations of anything but cash, and law enforcement and community associations enforced the “no trash-picking” laws and regs.

    I hate to take up for your new neighbors (because our area is blighted by the same sort of development) but they may not be aware that there are better options for disposal.

    I wish I could be there to visit the curbside shopping mall early in the morning on garbage day!

  7. kenju Says:

    I agree too. I never throw anything away if it has any life left in it – it goes to Goodwill! We all have to learn to recycle everything!

  8. bev Says:

    Rebecca – Years ago, when the landfill site in our area was run by the township, it was always kind of fun to go there on Saturday morning. People would arrive with their toolboxes and take apart old stoves or other appliances to get parts, or even parts off of discarded farm equipment. If you took a piece of furniture there, if it was any good at all, someone would usually shout, “Hey, can I have that?!” and you would just move it from one vehicle to the other. However, times changed. The landfill site was privatized and now you can’t even enter the property. Luckily, in our area, people are still allowed to remove something from roadside trash if they like, so a lot of stuff does get saved from the landfill. Also, a lot of people do put stuff out with “Free” signs on it. Charities are still accepting a lot of stuff here, although books are very difficult to give away. If I have any to give away, I usually watch for fundraising book sales and drop them off there.

    Kenju – I agree, we are going to have to learn to recycle everything. It amazes me that so much stuff ends up in the landfills. If an object isn’t usable, I think the materials should be recovered. For example, it totally blows me away that people will toss out some object made of aluminum (or any other metal for that matter). With the cost of mining ore, smelting, processing, etc.. you would think it would be worth it to recover absolutely every bit of metal instead of letting objects enter the landfill sites.

  9. John Says:

    Bev, you’re so on target in addressing the issue of “one’s person’s trash is another one’s treasure.” Whenever we have anything that still has useful life left, we wait until the “bulk trash pickup” week and put it out front on Saturday morning. There are people who comb the neighborhoods in trucks and they haul away all sorts of stuff…either for their own use or to refurbish and sell. On the rare ocassions when no one has picked something up by Sunday, I’v brought it back in to the garage and have been able to give it to charity or someone else I know will put it to good use. I hate to see things just hauled to the landfill. In fact, there have been many times when I’ve seen old fencing materials piled up and wished I had a truck so I could take it home…if for nothing else, to build bird-houses. I know someone who does just that and he’s making a decent living, just taking discarded fence materials and, with rusty old nails and a few scraps of metal, turning them into items people will buy.

  10. Aleta Says:

    I took a photo of that luscious sunset too, Bev! Very nice composite – I like the way you got the darker skies on either side.

    Setting things out at the curb works well, doesn’t it! We have acquired more stuff that way than we’ve put out – but then we are afflicted with the compulsive packrat nature of the “never-riche”. If we can keep something around that is presently not needed, we might not have to go buy another one when the need eventually arises. The problem is not enough time to organize all our stuff so that we know where that thing IS when we need it. Also, it’s only large items that can be offered at curbside. You have to take the time and effort of a yard sale in order to move the small stuff – and expect to make those decisions on where to send it (or re-store it) after it fails to sell…..

  11. bev Says:

    John – I kind think of putting things out at the curb as being sort of like sharing the stuff we’ve stowed away, with others who could make better use of them. We have a definite tendency toward being packrats as we are Mr. Fixit types, so we hate to see anything that is “fixable” go to a landfill site. Of course, now our place is beginning to feel overrun with stuff, so we’re trying to really look at each item and say, “Are we *really* going to use this thing before we die?” And, yes, that’s exactly how we’re discussing things these days. We aren’t getting any younger, and that project e we once had to turn a couple of old bicycles into a garden cart isn’t looking any closer to happening than it was 5 years ago – so time to give away the bicycles to someone else who might have a good use for them. It seems like the right way for us to think of things these days.

    Aleta – Good to “see” you dropping by for a visit here! Yes, wasn’t that an incredible sunset? Yes, we’re sort of pumped with our success of putting a few things out at the curb over the weekend and seeing each thing GONE! As mentioned above, we too are compulsive packrats, but we’re trying to temper that now, and looking seriously at each item. We have a lot of mechanical stuff that we’ve saved from the scrap heap as we sometimes salvage parts off one thing for another, but at some point, you just have to say, “Stop!” That’s where we are at the moment. We’re getting to that point where we actually muse a little over what someone would do if we suddenly died leaving this big pile of “stuff” — so we’re trying to save everyone the trouble of getting rid of it. (-:
    As for small items, I’ve been thinking about that too. I may do a sort of “free yard sale” thing to get rid of small stuff. I suppose one could set up a table in the lane and just stick up a signboard saying “FREE STUFF”. That might be a project for some sunny weekend in the near future.

  12. threecollie Says:

    Lovely sunset! We often used to leave things out at the curb like that when we lived down in town. Things were always picked up by someone who had some use for them and we were glad of it.

  13. Dave Says:

    I had this idea last year to start a movement to re-name Buy Nothing Day (the Friday after Thanksgiving in the U.S.), National Freecycle Day. Unfortunately, it seems that the organizers of the Freecycle network are very zealous about brand-name protection, believe it or not, so i dropped the idea. Still, it’s so much better to push the idea of a gift economy than to stress NOT doing evil consumerist things. A conservation economy would actually be much more rewarding, I think: it would bring people together instead of atomizing them, as the consumer econmy does. Or so I’d like to believe.

  14. bev Says:

    threecollie – It sure was a great sunset – we seem to be having some beautiful ones lately.

    Dave – I think that’s a great idea to have a National Free——— Day (how weird that they are so protective of the name!). I do think people might get into the idea of a “giveaway day” rather than a staying-away-from-the-store day. I like the idea of giving stuff away to someone who might find a cool new use for it.

  15. fred Says:

    “The things we throw away in Canada, eh?” — overheard of two guys carrying an enormous something out of the Queen Charlottes Hospital in 1988 or 1989.

  16. Cathy Says:

    My sister-in-law and I toured Amish country today. We came away feeling burdened by our stuff. Martin houses are a regular feature in their yards. We sat outside one of their homes attached to a bakery and listened and watched the birds coming and going. Who needs a Mc Mansion when beauty like that is free. I don’t think the Amish have trash collection. In all the years I’ve driven through their farms – I’ve only observed spare tidiness and have yet to see signs of discarded ‘stuff’.
    Your sunset picture is lovely. And, as you say – free.

  17. bev Says:

    fred – a hospital, eh? I kind of hate to ask what the “enormous something” was that the guys were carrying.

    Cathy – It seems to me that our consumer society is becoming overloaded with “stuff”. Makes me think of that George Carlin monologue about “stuff” which contains many truths. Over time, I’ve begun to think of belongings as being a bit like anchors — and I don’t necessarily mean that in a positive sense. There’s a lot to be said about keeping things simple. Also in sharing things like tools and less often used items, which was a very common thing in farming communities at one time.