The large burly man looked doubtful.
“We can’t take those shelves, ma’am,” he said mournfully, “they are used.”
My eyebrows shot up to my hairline. “They are bookcases, and I’ve used them for years. I just don’t want to move them,” I replied.
He shook his head. “We don’t have no use for them, not used. They been painted.”
“They haven’t been painted. I bought them that white color.”
He shook his head. “No. They been painted. We don’t take painted, old bookcases.”
I wasn’t going to argue. He wasn’t taking the bookcases. Maybe because they were in my studio in the basement, maybe because his charity would never be able to use bookcases, even though they could hold video games or toys or clothing.
He left with the things his charity did not deem “used,” or “old.” I was beginning to feel both.
I dragged the collection of unloved items to the curb. Bookcases, several sets of roll-around drawers, two plants that won’t survive the trip, a laundry rack complete with hamper, a wood stand, some smaller items. I attached a sign that said, “FREE,” and went inside.
The city of Alexandria will take anything you can put at the curb, amazingly large items, but they come once a week. They will not come back, even if you are moving.
Within an hour, there was a swarm of activity on my block. About a dozen people milled around the “used” bookcases, and then, to my astonishment, things began to disappear. Within two hours the only thing left was the “FREE” sign.
The freecycling worked. I put out things in good repair, but not new. They were clean. Other people saw something they needed and wanted. It was a good exchange. I don’t have to move it, they can use it. Nothing goes to the landfill.
No, I don’t make money. But I’m OK with it. I want these usable items to continue to serve someone, to give them a new home with someone who needs them. And now I’m leaving a little bit of memory behind in a middle-class, thrifty neighborhood in Alexandria, Virginia. It’s my idea of the new American Dream–Freecycle, reuse, keep it green and out of the landfill.
–Quinn McDonald is a writer and certified creativity coach who is moving to Arizona. See her work at QuinnCreative.com