Off the Market: Freecycle

My DH can be a funny one. This morning when happening to pass by this here blog (he was so nice to install the new WordPress for me, and that gimicky category cloud to the right), he caught a glimpse of the post on the War on Consumption. And he said:

– What? You passing out economic advice now?

I had to laugh (you would too if you knew my head for numbers). But then I said:

– No! Non-economic advice!

And I meant it.

I was investigating if Freecycle is also active in Europe, thinking I would ask one of my friends there to start a group if it wasn’t. I found Freecycle groups for Antwerp, Brussels, etc., but also found that most hadn’t seen action in over a week. I was shocked and immediately fired off an email to all my friends and family in Belgium, telling them about this wonderful institution.

My dad responded that there already is a way of getting rid of one’s stuff and attaining them as second-hand goods,  called the Kringloopwinkel, which means, literally, the Cyclic Shop. From what I understand, there are quite a few of them around. You drop off your stuff at the shop, for free or for some small some, and for some neighborhoods the shop will come and pick up as well, for free. Sometimes they also clean or fix these things up. Then they are sold to the shop’s visitors at a low price. Dad said that that’s probably why Freecycle hasn’t caught on.

Ah, good! But then: wait a minute. It’s not the same. The Kringloopwinkel is a fantastic initiative, but there are some big differences with Freecycle.

(1) For one, Freecycle has no middle man, no shop or organization. It’s just a free and easy Yahoo Group run by a volunteer who scans for spam and once in a while reminds everyone of the rules. No middleman means no costs.

(2) No money exchanges hands. Everything is Free (also free to get rid of).

(3) Takers usually come and pick up the stuff at the givers’ house. No  trip to the shop, no trip from the shop. So less gasoline consumption.

Fundementally, the big difference between the Kringloopwinkel and Freecycle is that the first is part of the economy, while Freecycle stands outside it.

What is it that so appeals to me about being “outside” the market? Many things, like it being less costly to one’s wallet and the environment. But it’s primarily this: human contact.

DH and Amie and I have been getting a lot of good, useful things through our local Freecycle and we have started offering too. In most cases there has been an extra: getting to know the people giving it away, chatting with them, in many cases exchanging cards and planning to meet again. There is no money exchange in between, no “professionalism”. We are locals meeting face-to-face and our “thanks!” and “you’re welcome”-s are always 100% heartfelt.

Thanks for Freecycling!

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