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 But when I attempted to contact them, many were no longer active, and even for those that were, it just wasn't really an ideal solution unless you were part of the exchange's particular community.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.

  • No comments: