Everything from a printer to a pail of dirt

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I am not a pack rat in the orthodox sense of the term. I don't have towers of accumulated newspapers forming skylines in my garage; I have not kept every greeting card I ever received; and I don't have a horde of cardboard boxes "just in case."

However, like everyone else, I am susceptible to a certain level of "creep." Some things really are too good to throw away, yet there doesn't seem to be a ready depository for them, either.

For example, in the endless treadmill of computer upgrades, one of my printers finally couldn't keep pace. Workhorse though it was, I eventually got a computer to which it could not be connected. What could I do? Nobody else wanted it, and I couldn't bring myself to toss it out (my gosh - it's a working piece of machinery!). I put the thing on eBay, but it didn't receive a single bid, even though I was asking only $1. And so I squirreled it away in the garage, where I tripped over it from time to time for two or three years.

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Then, about a month ago, I saw an article in my local paper about a Yahoo! group called "Freecycle." As I read the piece, I realized that this, at last, was "it." Freecycle is a community of people who want to mentor usable but unneeded stuff along to a location other than their own attics. I logged on to my local Freecycle group here in Maine and found upwards of 1,000 concerned citizens who were busy posting what they had to offer or something they were looking for. I had, at long last, stumbled upon Valhalla for the waste not/want notters of the world. I immediately joined the glorious fray.

There was only one mandatory rule for members: Everything had to be cost-free. In addition, there were two guidelines: After joining the group, one's first post should be an offer. Second, the recipient of an item is supposed to do the traveling.

No problem! I posted my printer and within a couple of hours had a reply. The fellow seemed elated at the prospect of acquiring my printer. But as I gave him directions to my home, he interrupted me. "I'm sorry," he said. "I don't have a car."

This was a minor breach of Freecycle etiquette, but I sensed something in the man's voice that spoke of genuine necessity. "Not a problem," I told him. "I'll drop it off." That very afternoon I drove to his home, and I was happy that I had made the extra effort. He was living in poor circumstances and was out of work. The computer was one of his few connections to the world. "Use it in good health," I told him as I handed it over. He cradled the thing like a baby, and I knew it had found the right home.

In the interim, I have been almost giddy with activity. I unburdened myself of the following items, in this order: an old cellphone; a set of videos my kids had long outgrown; an old telephone with answering machine; two tires; a bike; a sheet of particle board; a storm window (with screen); and a bucket of dirt (dirt!). Every time I ushered one of these items along I felt lighter, not only for having removed "things" from my home that were simply taking up space, but also for having delivered them to those for whom, in some small way, life would be a little easier or more interesting thanks to my donation.

Was I ever on the receiving end of freecycling? Just once thus far. I recently requested cinderblocks to use as supports for a woodshed I plan to build. I immediately got three offers and have all but cornered the used-cinderblock market in this neck of the woods.

A couple of months ago I broke the Pyrex turntable for my microwave. A new one would cost $70, plus shipping - almost as much as the oven itself! Unwilling to pay that much for a piece of glass, I turned to Freecycle, where I posted my need - and my indignation.

Before long three angels of mercy alighted via e-mail, all wanting to help. Unfortunately, none of their turntables was the right size, but I was moved by the palpable concern my plight elicited, as evidenced by one of the subsequent e-mails: "I think about your turntable all the time. I'll check the yard sales in my town for you. Don't give up!"

How could I? Not when generous folks are willing to make my need their mission.

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