Perusing my rather oversized blogroll, I caught up with David at Raptitude, who tells of a smile-worthy custom in his hometown of Winnipeg. They have something called (to quote him directly) giveaway weekend, where citizens are encouraged to leave their unwanted home furnishings on the boulevard in front of their houses, for others to pick up if they like. Thrift-minded Winnipeggers hit the streets early Saturday, usually in pairs, to skulk through other people’s neighborhoods at creepy-slow speeds, hoping to find anything that may possibly be useful: worn-out golf bags, folding chairs, tarpaulins, drawerless dressers, dresserless drawers, sander belts, axe handles, maybe even a pair of Shake-Weights or a Jolly Jumper.
While my neck of the woods has the World's Longest Yard Sale in early August, spanning half a dozen states, strung out along a stretch of highway, you still have to bring money if you want to get something (even though it might be delightfully cheap). We also have Freecycle, which I have used both as an "offerer" and a "taker."
Freecycle certainly keeps the roads less congested, but judging from the frequent email bulletins the moderator sends out, people seem not to know the best way to use it. They offer to give away things like illicit substances, pets, children (I haven't seen this first-hand but there have been stories about it), and very often request very specific items, like pink bedding with an oriental illustration, etc. The moderator is pressed to focus users on the original intention of Freecycle: To keep usable items out of the landfills when people just get tired of them or no longer need them. It's a common occurrence to want something very much but not find it on FC, or to offer something and get no takers. By the way, if you're within a 50-mile radius of south Tennessee or north Georgia, I've got a bagful of magazines -- back issues of Harper's and others that you might enjoy; I can deliver and will throw in the canvas bag too, just sayin'...
So here you have the concept of possibly usable items being put out on the street, hoping they will be picked over and removed so the city doesn't have to do it. In our neighborhood, people do put things out, and sometimes a sharp-eyed passerby (or a compulsive hoarder, but who am I to judge?) will snatch it up.
Then there are evictions. We all know that in the economic climate of the past five years, many people have had to vacate in a hurry. People will almost always find a place to go where they can sleep without raindrops falling on their heads, but relocating their stuff becomes highly problematic. People suddenly realize they don't need their Jimi Hendrix poster anymore, or even the china pattern they've hung onto since Great-Granny Myrtle left it to them in her will, never using it.
For some people, it's an even faster process: the decision is taken out of their hands when the landlord changes the locks and says buh-bye. I vividly remember taking a spring walk one day about 15 years ago, passing a large apartment complex on a busy secondary road. Someone had gotten evicted and the pile of stuff was varied and impressive. In addition to furniture and lots of clothing, there were toys and other items, many of which you will see at a Hallmark store or in the Gift section of your local Target, Walmart or Macy's. Things neither the giver nor the recipient especially cares about (candles and picture frames come to mind almost immediately) -- given because they invited you to a party or it's their birthday and you want to give them something. On the store shelves they look pretty; someone took the time to put them out on display with coordinated colors and go-with items. When you're in the store, browsing, you're in a more or less optimistic frame of mind. You and the gift items sort of go together; you're in agreement that someone will be smiling when the package is unwrapped. But after the whirlwind of circumstances has done its work, those previously neat, pretty, smile-inducing items are just sad, broken pieces, out in the weeds, out in the rain.
...unless someone picks them up and takes them home.
And speaking of whirlwinds, within the last couple of years, this and many other parts of the US experienced tornadoes. People hundreds of miles away were finding photos and other keepsakes that had been blown out of destroyed homes. Websites and Facebook pages were created to reunite the owners with their things.
And the cycle begins again.