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Confessions of a ReUseIt junkie

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Message gloria bilchik

I have too much stuff. My suburban home houses only two people, but we're both pack-rats who (confession) buy way too much stuff and hold onto it far too long. About five years ago, I found ReUseit and I am now a better person (exaggeration).

ReUseIt is a nationwide network--broken down into local chapters--that matches up hoarders like us with people who need the stuff we've stashed in our closets. Here's how it works: I have bedroom furniture that I bought 30 years ago for my son, and it's been idling away in his old room since he moved out, oh, 18 years ago. [Fact] I list it on the ReUseIt site [in my case, ReUseIt St. Louis] as an "Offer," someone finds it, emails me that he wants it, and we arrange for a pickup.

Notice that I didn't say anything about a price. That's because ReUseIt is not about selling--it's about giving. In fact, one of the rules of ReUseIt is that you can't offer anything for sale. [Also, everything has to be legal and family friendly, so don't try to get rid of your porn collection via ReUseIt, okay?] It helps to have some generosity in your DNA, and enough cash in your bank account to allow you to give stuff away for free. I like to think that I fit the first qualification, and I know that I'm fortunate enough to fit the second.

Re: ReUse It

The ReUseIt Network was launched in 2007 as a support system for community recycling groups around the world and for people concerned about the 3 R's -- reduce, reuse, and recycle. ReUseIt now claims more than 500 local groups in the U.S., England, Canada and Australia and other countries, too. The St. Louis ReUseIt group claims 14,935members. The Los Angeles group has 13,000+. [A similar group, called FreeCycle, has similar goals and a better name.] The beauty of both of these groups is that they keeps tons--literally--of perfectly good things out of landfills and encourage people to slow down the cycle of over-consumption. ReUseIt says it like this:

"The Mission of The ReUseIt Network is to reduce the human footprint on the Earth by promoting conservation of resources and providing an opportunity for individuals and communities to take action. The primary benefit is that it reduces the amount of reusable items that end up in the trash with a secondary benefit of reducing the overall amount of items thrown into landfills. Reusing items not only cuts down on goods in landfills, but also helps reduce the strain on our natural resources by keeping useable items in circulation, reducing the need to manufacture additional goods."

ReUseIt is a Yahoo group--well, actually a lot of groups listed by city and/or region. There are ReUSeIt groups in just about every state, and if there's not one in your area, you can start one. You join up with a Yahoo ID [easily obtained, if you don't already have one]. When you get to the site, you see a time-stamped, chronological list of items "Offered," "Wanted," "Pending Pickup," and "Taken," each of which is tagged with a zip code. You can post your own offer, or, if you see something you want, you respond through the site, and the offerer gets an email. If you're chosen, you simply arrange to pick up your item at the offerer's house or office.


This is where the fun starts for me.  In recent years, I've offered up still-usable suitcases and briefcases, a fax machine, cat supplies, kitchen utensils, boxfuls of pens, boxes full of other boxes, and bagfuls of unidentified flying computer connectors and power cords--to name only a handful of the trunkloads of things I've unloaded via ReUseIt. Everything I've ever listed has been taken, including a large box filled with software diskettes[!]--without accompanying documentation--that will work only if you get in a time machine and go back to 1995, when Windows 97 was still a dream in the works.

But I digress. Once you've offered something on ReUseIt, you can expect to be inundated with responses. Last week, I posted a Brookstone back-massage pad, which had been rolled up on a closet shelf for maybe 10 years. I didn't even know if it still worked, and, of course, I said that in my listing.  I had 20 responses from people with sore backs within an hour of posting it. Sometimes, I just choose the first person to respond, send him/her an email, arrange a pickup [I usually just leave the item on my front porch], and voila. But sometimes, I wait for the requests to roll in and then scroll through them, searching for the most compelling story. I like to give stuff to people who really need it, rather than to people who seem like they're going to turn around and sell it on e-Bay.  Often, if I meet the person when he or she picks up an item, an entertaining and/or enlightening conversation pops up. Many of the picker-uppers ask if I have anything else to give away--and I usually do. Bonus and win-win!

Sometimes, the first person you contact sounds good, but doesn't show up. No problem, there's always someone else farther down the ever-accumulating list of emails. Usually, I find myself sending out a number of gentle-letdown emails, telling folks that, for example, the pile of carpet scraps they lusted after has been picked up by some other pursuer. More typically, after pickup, the final step is to let everyone know that the item is accounted for. All that means is going back to the site and putting up a "Taken" listing.  I'll be doing that for the bedroom furniture in about three hours, when it's picked up by a woman who's collecting things for a homeless family with a premature baby. [Just the kind of compelling narrative that tugs at my heart.]

The flip sides of ReUseIt are the "Wanted" listings, which are interspersed among the "Offers."  I sometimes scour these to see if there's anything I've got that someone is looking for.  But, personally, I've never posted a Wanted notice. What I really want is--you know--less stuff.

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Gloria Bilchik is a freelance writer based in St. Louis, Missouri. She is co-founder of Occasional Planet, a progressive blog focused on positive developments in government, creative thinking on current issues, and progressive people, programs and (more...)
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