Sunday, February 25, 2007

Throwing Away at®

In the Exchange Game I talked about exchange or swap sites as one of the tools a Packrat should include in his or her Decluttering Arsenal. In Something for the Bibliophile I discussed the Bookins site, which is specifically for the exchange of books (hard cover, paperback) and audio books. This week I would like to tell you about®, an exchange site where all sorts of items can be posted for exchange. They describe themselves as "The Internet's Landfill Alternative".

I stumbled across this site in the course of searching for, what else? Recycling information! Unfortunately, I initially forgot to bookmark the site! Also, of the many sites I'd viewed that morning, I couldn't remember where I'd specifically seen the link to Throwplace. Adding even further insult to injury, I hadn't even correctly remembered the name of the site. I kept thinking it was "Drop Place" or something like that. As you can see I was batting a thousand. How-some-ever, I am nothing if not persistent. Oddly enough, for some reason I was able to remember one of the sites they had listed as having written about them, and was eventually able to get the URL in this manner. Needless to say I bookmarked the site immediately this time!

Why did I go through so much trouble to find my way back to this particular site? Well during my initial visit, I just really and immediately liked the site's look and feel. I wanted to poke around it some more. When I did get back to it, I found the site was easy to navigate and getting set-up was equally simple. As you know simplicity is one of my main criteria for giving something the thumbs up, and as I've also said, this quality is particularly important in the war against clutter.

It's free to set up a basic account, which will allow users to list or "throw" items in any of the following four categories:

  • US Charities
  • International Charities
  • Business/Individuals
  • Up-For-Grabs

    However, only premium users can "take" from all four of those categories. Regular users are just allowed to "take" from the "Up-For-Grabs" section. But, since our main goal is to get rid of rather than acquire things, this should suit most purposes just fine. I set up an account back in October and since then have been able to dispose of about 27 out of 30 or so of the items that I've listed. Many of these items have included books, which for whatever reason, could not be listed on Bookins or were not requested after listing there.

    Once someone requests one of your listed items, you will be sent an email with a link to the request. You will then need to sign in to obtain additional information regarding the request. After logging in, if there are multiple requests for the item in question, you can select the one you want and accept their request. Once you have accepted a request that "throw" is removed from the browse list of available items. An email is then sent to your chosen recipient advising them of your acceptance. Each of you will then receive an email containing each other's email address so that you may contact each other to complete the arrangements for the exchange. If for whatever reason, a "throw" falls through, relisting the item is simple by using the appropriate links in the item's listing. However, see their FAQ and Overview pages for all the ins and outs.

    Once your account is set up, listing and keeping track of your "throws" is a snap, which are organized on your account in separate sections based on whether an item has been accepted (Older Throws) or not (Active Throws). Other helpful features include links to the US Postal and UPS sites for calculating shipping costs, along with a few additional tips related to getting your item to its intended recipient. Of additional and potential interest are various green or environmental resources at the site, such as

  • a directory of socially responsible vendors, retailers and suppliers
  • other green or eco-friendly related sites
  • participating US 501(c)(3) verified charities as well as International charities (not verified) or US charities who lack 501(c)(3) status charities
  • a classified ads section

    However, these extras DO NOT get in the way of, what for me anyway, is my main goal in using the site: to facilitate the disposal of unwanted items!

    In closing, I would like to offer one more final good word about Throwplace. I have found their Customer Service to be very friendly and helpful in resolving the few problems I have encountered, thus far. One particular issue involved my ISP, who on two separate occasions tagged their automated notification emails as spam and blocked them. However in distinct contrast to my ISP, whose basic stance is to require their paying customer's to chase around the necessary documentation before they will remove such blocks, all the while making you feel like some common bulk spammer, Throwplace worked cooperatively with me to get the problem resolved. This only served to enhance my overall positive attitude towards them and I would highly recommend at least checking them out.

    So then! The twig hugger drill is as follows:

    1. Identify that quaint little gewgaw quietly collecting dust in some corner of your home
    2. Sign up for a free Throwplace account and list that delightful trinket using Throwplace's simple form
    3. Wait for that lucky someone to espy your item in the browse list and to quickly request it before someone else does!
    4. Accept their request lickety split and email the lucky recipient to make whatever final arrangements
    5. Then, and only then Gather this precious knickknack and prepare it for shipping
    6. Remove said item from your home and send it off to its new one


  • Sunday, February 18, 2007

    Something for the Bibliophile: Bookins

    With this entry I begin to discuss specific solutions that I found and have used for divesting myself of clutter.

    Step 1: Identify

    I'm sure many of you may feel like you have too many books. What?!?! Impossible! You can never have too many books you retort. Alright, so maybe you have more books than you have room for. This is my problem. My wall unit shelves are stuffed to the brim with them. Books are jammed in there every which way: upright, sideways, on top of the uprights, etc. They were also stacked in a couple of piles on the floor. As you can imagine this accumulation was an obvious decluttering target and one that I attacked first.

    Having identified the general project to be undertaken, I then zeroed in a little deeper. I reviewed my shelves and piles for books that I thought I could possibly bear to part with, especially as some of my interests had changed over time. Another friend of mine, who's also got scads of books, shared the following technique. She asked herself:

    "Could I readily get this book at the public library?" If the answer was yes, she would then place it in a mental Possible Discard pile. She then asked "Could I readily get this book at the [insert your choice of small or remote location here] public library?" Again, if the answer was still yes, she then moved it to her mental Definitely Discard pile, but with a clear conscience!

    The point is, find the trick that helps your Inner Packrat to relinquish an item. This way it becomes more of a fun game than a traumatic chore.

    In Getting Started, Pt.2 I talked about making sure you have an Exit Strategy for an item (or items), to avoid setting off a Klutter Krisis. So, before actually touching or moving one solitary book, I made sure to figure out where stuff was going first. I threw the terms "book" and "exchange" or "swap" into my favorite search engine and came across a number of such sites. However, the one that I liked the most and decided to try was Bookins. It was the site's appearance and simple interface which ultimately persuaded me to give Bookins a whirl.

    Step 2: Gather

    I''ve said this before, but it can't be repeated often enough: SOLUTIONS FOR THE PACKRAT NEED TO BE AS SIMPLE AS POSSIBLE. And, I found Bookins to definitely be that. It's free to set up an account, although there are also premium options available, with a few more bells and whistles. Once I took the plunge, I was up and running with it in a matter of moments.

    Only then did I begin to gather my chosen titles so I could list them, also very easy to do. Once you've set up your account and are logged in, you simply type in a book's ISBN number, which now-a-days usually appears on a book's back cover over the barcode. For older books this information can be found on the verso or copyright page. In most cases, entering this information will retrieve an image of the book's cover. You then add additional information describing the book and certify that it is in good condition according to the following criteria:

  • books must be in like-new condition, or if used, have only minor signs of wear
  • all pages must be attached to the binding
  • have only a limited number of dog-eared pages, and
  • few if any small stains or minor tears
  • Finally, hit submit and POOF! It's listed.

    The Bookins site searches its database for someone who has put that title on their wish list, sends email alerts to both parties to facilitate the exchange and also provides either parties the ability to track the status of the shipment. Once the material is delivered to the recipient, points are credited to your account, which you can then use towards available books that you might like to request from the Bookins database.

    Step 3: Remove

    For my first go-round I was very fortunate. Almost immediately (within about 24 hours), I received requests for several of the titles that I listed.

    One of the Bookins features that I especially like is the ability to print a pre-paid US Postal Service Media Rate shipping label when you send a book. Note: Once you print the shipping label, you must send the book within 48 hours or you will be charged for it (at the moment $3.99) Otherwise, you are only charged when you request and receive a book (also $3.99).

    Anyway, as I received requests, I printed out the label, put my book in a mailer, attached the shipping label and dropped it in the mailbox. I didn't even have to set foot in the post office!

    Really, what could be easier!?!

    To date I have listed 11 books, but actually traded (or removed in twigg hugger parlance) 7 through this site. However, according to Bookins, certain categories of books, such as novels or best sellers, are particularly popular. So your particular success will likely depend on the titles you have to trade.


    Now some may ask, "How is using Bookins or a similar swap site different from borrowing a book from the Library?" Well for one thing, yes, you can borrow books from the library, however, the library may not be willing to take any of your unwanted books, which for our purposes, is a key point. Additionally, if they do take used books, they may only be willing to take very specific titles or types of materials. This is one of the problems I ran into when I first began to search for decluttering solutions-- lot's of generic lists with theoretical suggestions rather than ones that were practical or concrete.

    Another advantage of using an exchange site such as Bookins, is that as a book lover you probably don't want to stop acquiring books altogether. You may just want to divest yourself of those books you no longer want and replace them with others. By using a swap site, like Bookins, you can keep traded books for as long as you like and then re-list them for trade when your done with them, whenever that is, rather than whatever the library's borrowing term happens to be. In this way you control the ebb and flow of books in and out of your space.

    And that's the name of the declutter game. Exercising control over your clutter, rather than the other way around!

    Saturday, February 10, 2007

    The Exchange Game

    Another option for getting rid of stuff is through online exchange or swap sites. I stumbled across them in the course of trying to find a place to get rid of some magazines. I tried throwing various combinations of the terms "exchange", "magazine", "donate" and "recycle" into the search engine but pretty much came up empty. What I found for the most part were either local public libraries, college libraries or students in a dormitory that had set up exchanges. But when I attempted to contact them, many were no longer active, and even for those that were, it just wasn't really an ideal solution unless you were part of the exchange's particular community.

    However, I am nothing if not persistent, and I continued to check from time to time. This past fall I hit pay dirt! Let me tell you, the swapping landscape has dramatically changed since I first started looking several years ago. There are far more opportunities and ways to get rid of stuff than before. Basically, swap sites connect people who have stuff to get rid of with those who might actually want it. Some sites may be dedicated to the exchange of specific items like books, CDs or DVDs (I even saw one for exchanging Playbill magazines!). Others may provide the ability for people to list all sorts of items, similar to Freecycle™ (see Join a Freecycle™ Group! or the Freecycle Network™ site). However, in some ways swap sites are easier to use because instead of posting your items to a listserve to effect the swap, the site's underlying software handles it. As anyone who has ever subscribed to a listserve can attest to, it can be difficult to stay current with the email postings. For some of us Packrats, keeping up with what's been offered, requested, promised and accepted on a Freecycle™ list, might be just waaaay too much information to cope with, so swap sites are a possible alternative, since they're a little more focused. It is my very humble opinion that the underlying software tends to provide a little more structure to the swapping experience. In turn, I think this may contribute to the likelihood that people will follow through on a swap.

    Another issue that I've heard of from friends who participate in a Freecycle™ group is that often people will indicate that they want an offered item, but then don't follow through, either to contact the person to make arrangements for pick-up, or having made arrangements, actually showing up to retrieve the item as promised. So, although you may think you have found a new home for your stuff, it may not happen within the timeframe that you originally envisioned. Obviously this issue is not the particular fault of Freecycle™, but is rather that of some of the individuals participating. Perhaps folk just get caught up in the frenzy of getting something for free and so accept items they would not otherwise be interested in if they had to pay for them. Then they drop the ball. However, I still think Freecycle™ is a great tool to have in one's Decluttering Arsenal. Just be aware of these issues so you can take them in stride.

    While swap sites facilitate transactions, they are is not without their own pitfalls. Unlike Freecycle™, swap site participants will more likely be geographically remote to you. Therefore, once someone has selected one of your items, you will need to arrange to ship it to the recipient. Should you pay the shipping costs or should the recipient? In some cases, how shipping will be handled and by who, is explicitly part of the terms for using the site. In other cases, there may be some room for negotiating it. If you feel uncomfortable negotiating these kinds of details you may decide to just pay the shipping costs. Or, perhaps the chance of finally getting rid of some longstanding, but still useful item of clutter will be so thrilling that you will happily pay them, especially if it is not too expensive. On the other hand, if the cost is a bit pricey, you may prefer that the recipient pay. After all, they are getting this really great item for the mere the cost of a few stamps, RIGHT!?!?!

    This is where the rubber meets the road: some people simply do not grasp that reimbursement for shipping is not synonomous with selling an item, and so may balk at this point. A setback! Also, unless you have some way to electronically accept funds (through Paypal, for example), it can be somewhat of a hassle to obtain reimbursement. The person will need to either write a check (or send a money order). Then you have to wait to receive the check, wait for it to clear (if you're a stickler about such things) and so forth. Transactional details such as these can also throw a wrench into the here-to-fore smooth, well-oiled declutter operation. 'Cuz, as pointed out previously, for the person reducing clutter, the process needs to be as smooth and simple as possible.

    But fear not and press on! Either way, you just need to be aware of the possible pitfalls when selecting any exit strategy for your stuff and go with it. A couple of swap sites that I have used or at least checked out are

  • Bookins
  • Throwplace
  • Excess Access
  • Charity of America

    However, my two favorites at the moment are Bookins and Throwplace, which I will discuss further in future entries.

  • Friday, February 2, 2007

    Join a Freecycle™ Group!

    When I first made a serious decision to reduce my clutter, Freecycle™ was one of the first options I considered. I found out about them while poking around on the NYC Wa$tele$$ site several years ago. For a number of reasons I didn't actually end up using Freecycle™ (or as it is formally known The Freecycle Network™), but I'd still like to mention this option first, since others may still find it to be a particularly helpful and convenient decluttering solution.

    Freecycle™, a national nonprofit, is only 4 years old, but has already spread like wild fire across the globe. It was originally started in Tucson Arizona in order to promote waste reduction in their downtown area and to help preserve the desert landscape which was in danger of being taken over by landfills. However, it is now essentially comprised of individual groups, not only in this country, but all across the world! Their sole and simple purpose is to enable people to exchange or get rid of unwanted stuff.

    One of the precepts of eco-friendliness is that one's local actions have global effects. So the things we do (or don't do) within our own communities, for better or for worse, can have far reaching implications in places distant or remote to us. With that in mind, the basic philosophy of this organization can be viewed as uncomsumption at its easiest and local best, since each group is set up in and tends to serve a particular community.

    Membership in Freecycle™ groups is free and the stuff you are giving must also be free as well as ", and appropriate for all ages." Freecycle™ groups are moderated by volunteers. You essentially sign on to a list serve and group members post their various needs and wants. If there isn't a group in your area, Freecycle™ suggests that you might consider starting your own (click on "Start a Group" for instructions) and provides various resources to help the newbie get started (see the

    For more infomation, their contact information is as follows:
    The Freecycle Network™
    P.O. Box 294, Tucson, AZ 85702

    So, in keeping with the twigghugger mantra: Identify, Gather and Remove, a simple strategy using Freecycle™ might be:

    1. Identify (but don't yet move in any way) those piles of sweaters you've been meaning to give away
    2. Join a Freecycle™ group
    3. Send an email to your Freecycle™ group's email list
    4. Wait for responses to the email
    5. Select a recipient
    6. Make p/u arrangements with your chosen recipient
    7. Then, and only then Gather those sweaters and place them in a shopping bag
    8. At the appointed time, Remove sweaters from your premises and transfer to their new owner!

    And We're DONE!