el cheapo · hackin' it · Keepin' it real

Day 307: The Free Economy

I scored some new dining chairs today.

I happened across a post on Facebook offering these four chairs, brand new in box, for free. Since the fasteners on our IKEA chairs (circa 2001) have been tightened repeatedly and still feel rickety, I expressed my interest. That was last night. By noon today I had driven two kilometres to pick them up, and at seven this evening I assembled the first one. We’re trying it out now to decide whether we like them enough to keep, or whether we should pass them on to the next interested party.

This is not my first foray into what I call the Free Economy (or sometimes, the Curb Economy.) Many of my acquisitions have been from the curb on trash day or from a “free to a loving home” post on Facebook.

The comfiest chair in our house is a fully upholstered Dutalier glider that was put out at the curb on someone’s moving day. A couple of tiny stains aside, it was in good condition and certainly looked and worked way better than my decrepit wooden glider. It was just at the end of our block and one of the moving guys graciously offered us the loan of his dolly to roll the chair home.

We’ve found two IKEA children’s tables (plastic) on the curb in our neighbourhood. One was covered with marker scribbles; if I was more pretentious I would say that it had a “distressed finish.” Whatever you want to call it, I was glad I wouldn’t have to get upset about the first marker lines to mar the perfect tabletop.

Just when I was trying to teach E how to ride a two-wheeler, someone offered a free Balance Buddy on the neighbourhood Facebook group. It only took a couple of weeks for her to learn, and then the bike training handle was passed to another neighbour.

The most comfortable couch we own was free, courtesy of a friend for whom style will always trump comfort. After her renovation the couch had “the wrong form factor” (I think that means shape,) so it had to go. The colour isn’t so great in our living room, but I’m willing to put up with a slight deviation from our colour scheme because this couch feels so decadent to sit and lie on. The kids have already informed me it’s never leaving our house.

The list is extensive and I won’t belabour the point. From the wooden tea chest that holds board game parts to the training bras I needed to buy, I’ve benefited repeatedly from hand-me-downs and curbside finds.

When Mr. December first heard I had claimed these free chairs, he commented that surely there must be someone in need who couldn’t afford to buy them new. I pointed out that if I passed on the chairs, there was no guarantee that the next people in line for them would be any more in need of them than we are. Besides, here was a risk-free way to try this style of chair. If it didn’t work for us, we could then pass the chairs on to someone else.

I think that some people still associate hand-me-downs and curbside shopping with being poor. But in some circles it has always been about sharing, reducing consumption, and keeping stuff out of landfills. Besides, participating fairly in the free economy means that you give as well as get. True story: when Mr. December moved out of his student hovel, we dragged to the curb the ugly hand-me-down sofa that some roommate’s grandma had given them. We went back inside the house to get the next thing destined for the curb; by the time we got outside again the couch was gone. A few moments later I was standing in Mr. D’s living room, looking through the window… when I saw through the neighbour’s window that they now had the couch—the free economy had worked its magic.

I’ve given away furniture, toys, clothing, and even scrap wood to people who wanted them. One friend of mine gratefully took some Masonite off my hands for an upcycling project; another friend just posted that she’s looking for picture frames of various shapes and sizes, and I happen to have a pile of unused frames in our basement storage room. She can take her pick.

When the universe give me such an abundance of things, I feel free to share with everyone around me. And if I accidentally give away something I’ll end up needing… well, I have confidence that someone somewhere in this city will be giving that something away one day soon.

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