Perfectly Good Things

By Carolyn Lengel

I grew up frugal—or, as friends put it, “cheap”; my family had the whole reduce-reuse-recycle thing down, or at least the reduce and reuse part (municipal recycling didn’t exist yet where I lived). We grew vegetables, drew on the backs of papers my dad brought home from work, and wore sweaters indoors all winter. And we kept things, even if we didn’t need them anymore, because they were “perfectly good.”

I’m glad for some of the things my parents kept and handed down to my family, like wooden trucks and kid-sized rocking chairs—but these days I’m amazed at how suddenly all the perfectly good things can stop being useful and start being clutter. The lavender and hot-pink bicycle with training wheels was great when my daughter was four, but she’ll never ride it again. The local consignment shop where I used to unload baby items lost its lease years ago. There’s the dump, of course, but how could I stand to throw out all these perfectly good things?

So how to connect my unwanted but still eminently usable stuff with people who would snap it up? I signed up for Freecycle. Local online groups exist all over the country for the sole purpose of connecting one person’s trash with another person who sees it as treasure. Once you join your local Freecycling group, it’s a simple matter to post messages (“Offer: little girl’s bicycle”) and tell respondents where to pick items up. The recipient gets something for nothing; I get rid of things without having to throw them away. And even more satisfying than the extra space in my basement is knowing that somebody else’s little girl is learning to ride that perfectly good bike.

Freecyclers join to get free stuff, too, and sometimes I’m surprised by what’s on offer—just this week, in addition to the ubiquitous baby clothes and (surprisingly) televisions, I saw a pasta machine, a sailboat motor, and a 50-year-old metronome kit still in its unopened box. I try to resist; after all, I’m in it for the joy of unburdening. But every now and then I’ll see an item that makes my frugal heart skip a beat. Tomato seedlings! Extra paint! All the zucchini you can pick! And hey, couldn’t I find some use for that bag of switchplates? After all, they’re still perfectly good.

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