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A few simple rules for freecycling

May 28, 2010|By AlICIA NOTARIANNI

I loved Legos as a kid.

But as the youngest of five children, I had a lot of hand-me-down toys with missing pieces, and a few special toys of my own. When my mom would buy something just for me, she tended to go for girly objects - not Legos.

So after playing with my Strawberry Shortcake Garden House Gazebo, I'd jump on my bike and pay a visit to my cousin, Craig, for something less frilly.

Craig had a shallow 3-by 2-foot box full of Legos. I'd set out the flat green base and get lost designing and building smooth, symmetrical neighborhoods piece by brightly colored pieces.

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One could arguably say that when I had my first two children, I might have overcompensated for not owning my own Legos as a child. I inundated my offspring with Legos, buying them for birthdays, holidays and special occasions. Relatives always knew what to give as gifts. I started them off with chunky Duplos as toddlers, then worked into detailed theme sets. I'd sit beaming amidst ankle-high piles of Legos as my children - and I - created little masterpieces.

The snag is that I am frugal, and all those sets weren't cheap. I've tried to temper my ambivalence, telling myself that the Legos were used a lot, and that my two younger children will continue to use them for years to come.

Then my friend Kris, or Queen Freecycle, as I like to call her, shattered my feeble rationalization. For those who are unfamiliar, Freecycle.org is an online trade community where people get and give away all kinds of stuff for free.

One day I walked into Queen Freecycle's house to find my childhood dream come true. Spread across her floor were mounds and heaps of Legos in every shape, color and size imaginable. She had scored three garbage bags full of them for free. What had taken me years and discomforting cost to accumulate, she had driven over to someone's house and tossed into her car gratis.

I had heard of Freecycle and even tried to sign up at one point before, but this brought on a renewed enthusiasm. I began to pick Kris' brain about this world of free treasures.

If freecycle interests you, here are some things you should know:

o Take your time. Becoming a member is not for the flighty. It requires some attention to detail. As I said, I've tried before to sign up online and failed.

"You have to sit down and take a half hour to read through the rules and regulations or you are not going to get on," Kris said.

o Expect to be surprised. On a recent day, these were some of the items available to the Hagerstown group: a dishwasher, a futon, a trampoline, kittens, board games, baby formula and Longaberger baskets.

o Expect to take. Among some of Kris' favorite finds were exercise equipment and three fully functional aquariums with stands and all the related equipment. Free.

o Expect to give. Kris said it's exciting to offer something that people really want and immediately respond to. One woman was thrilled to take playground equipment that Kris' boys had outgrown and set it up for her pet goats. She was so thankful that she sent pics of the goats frolicking on the slides and landings.

o Be discriminating. One time Kris responded to an ad for a contractor-size garbage bag full of women's clothes in her size. It was filled with garments from Banana Republic, Liz Claiborne and other upscale stores.

"It was spectacular. I couldn't even believe it. I felt like it was Christmas," she said.

On the other hand, she has picked up other bags that were not so great.

"There have been some bags I didn't even open because I could smell that it wasn't something I wanted. Or sometimes I haven't trusted the house when I went to pick it up. You have to know it's something you want to bring in to your house."

Other local "reuse groups" are gaining popularity, too. Check out sites such as http://www.green.yahoo.com and ReUseItNetwork.org, and look up "free stuff.'

Alicia Notarianni is a reporter and feature writer for The Herald-Mail. Her e-mail address is alnotarianni@aol.com">alnotarianni@aol.com.

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