Christmas in September?
You can’t buy happiness, but sometimes you can find it for free in your neighbor’s trash
There’s an old saying, “you can’t take it with you.” It’s mainly used to caution people against overvaluing money or material possessions because you can’t take them with you when you die. In Boston, the saying could be “you can’t take it with you when you move.” People around here are very familiar with packing up and moving after living in a space for just a year or two. While many cities and college towns have a decent fraction of people moving in and out at the start of the school year, Boston residents seem uniquely resourceful and generous, making for a strong “gift economy.”
Christmas in September
The Boston metropolitan area is home to over 40 colleges with roughly 250,000 students, and 67% of them live off campus. This leads to September 1stt being the worst day to rent a U-Haul, but the best day to find furniture and household items that people leave behind. Around here, September 1st is often referred to as “Allston Christmas” because of all the treasures that can be found walking around the streets in Allston and other neighborhoods. Starting in August, used furniture and cardboard boxes adorned with sharpie-scrawled signs saying “Free” line the sidewalks. The boxes overflow with other peoples’ stuff that could make passers-by think “Why wouldn’t you just trash that?” or “Why would anyone ever get rid of this?!” Last year, I stumbled across a Playmate cooler that upped my car-camping game, and recently I found two red wooden chairs in perfect condition that I’ve already enjoyed on my back deck. Taking a walk around the neighborhood this time of year can be well-worth the trip.
Luckily, the generosity of our neighbors is not just limited to the moving season. It is surprisingly easy to find most household items without having to buy them new. I personally try to avoid purchasing items new when I can, with the goal of saving some money, being kinder to the environment, and doing my tiny part to stop the behemoth that is Amazon. So, when a walk around the neighborhood doesn’t do the trick, here are a few online groups to check out before buying new.
Buy Nothing and Curb Alert Groups
A while back, a friend living in Pennsylvania posted about how much she loves her neighborhood’s “Buy Nothing” Facebook group. The first thought that popped into my head was, “Oh, this is SO Cambridge.” Sure enough, after a few clicks I signed up for “Buy Nothing Cambridge (#3), MA.” This group is, for lack of a better word, insane. Every day, group members post dozens of items that they are looking to give away for free. Some posts are first come, first serve, but other posters allow their stuff to “simmer” and then randomly choose a recipient out of those who expressed interest. Admins in the group also make sure that the rules are enforced, and the group is kept somewhat small, around 3,000 members. In addition to gifting, this group is also great for asking neighbors to loan an item if you need to borrow something like a power tool or a beach chair just for the afternoon. There are also “Curb Alert” Facebook groups that are more location-specific. Here, people post photos of what is out on the curb to make the dumpster diving process even easier.
Facebook Marketplace and OfferUp
Facebook Marketplace and OfferUp are two resources that could be classified as more mainstream methods of finding used items. Both have search features that can help prevent endless scrolling through new posts. There are generally more users on Marketplace which means there are more items, but also more competition for the best deals. When I moved last September, I bought a bed frame, mattress, dresser, desk, office chair, and side table for about $250 total on Marketplace. In the past, my boyfriend used OfferUp to sell his MacBook to a middle schooler, and my brother used it to buy a 10 foot canoe. When the pandemic hit, my roommates had to go home in a hurry and passed on to me a lot of their stuff that they no longer needed. I posted and connected with a girl whose family recently moved to Boston and didn’t have much. It was a win-win situation: she appreciated receiving kitchen items, bathroom accessories, and some bedsheets and pillows for free, and I was happy to not have to haul everything to a dumpster. Not only does participating in the gift economy help divert unwanted items from the landfill, but it can also help build community and make new neighbors feel welcome.
MIT Free and For Sale
MIT Free and For Sale is a smaller group, which makes it less susceptible to the scams of the broader Facebook Marketplace. The valuable benefit from the smaller group size is that you have a better chance of being chosen as the recipient for anything someone posts. During the pandemic, there have been shortages of all kinds of things, but one unexpected industry that took a hit was bikes. In the fall of 2020, I was looking for a bike for my new commute without much luck. At the same time, someone who had just graduated from MIT was moving and looking to sell his bike that was in great condition. I responded to the post and rode away that day on a bike that was half the cost that it would have been if I bought it brand new, which wasn’t even possible with the shortage. If you live on campus, specific dorms usually have Facebook groups as well that could be worth joining.
While most of the posts on any of these sites are typical items, you’d be surprised by what some people are giving away. For example, we recently cleaned out an old space in my lab, and I found someone to take a 55-gallon aquarium by posting in the Buy Nothing group. Whether you’re looking for a Brita filter, a monitor, or a giant 6-foot teddy bear, it’s a good idea to check with your neighbors first. Whatever items you end up with, remember to save them from the landfill when you are ready to move on by re-gifting to your neighbors.
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