I hate the idea of things going to landfill. And I love the idea of putting things in their right place. I’ve always been like that. My Mom composted before anyone else did. Before roadside recycling, my parents bundled up old newspapers, to be saved for ‘paper drives’ that clubs at the local high schools would do regularly. I learned a knot I still use from bundling those papers! Anyways, what I’m saying is that I don’t like throwing things away.
So, Gumtree should be the perfect place to help me with this. It’s an online site for buying and selling, much like Craig’s List in the United States. There are many giveaway groups on Facebook, sometimes called ‘Pay it Forward’ and organised by the area of Sydney, and a site called FreeCycle (that used to be located on Yahoo) has soldiered on for years. But I’ve rarely been able to give away things on those sites. Gumtree on the other hand amazes me. There are whole groups of people who must just sit on the site and wait for people to offer free stuff, because the second you put an ad up, with something reasonable, you get messages right away.
I’m trying to figure out the best way to do this, and I think I’ll have to take my pal Davy’s advice: always charge something, even if it’s nominal, because the people who want stuff for free are often grabby, aggressive or strange. I also am trying to stick to my guns and say clearly in the ads: this item is NOT going to the first person who asks for it; tell me a story about why you want it. Sometimes I worry that one of these older Chinese guys (can I say that, since I’m Chinese?) is just reselling stuff; the guy who took our old Queen sized bedframe seemed a little sneaky.
My last giveaway was a success, in the end. An old Persian-style carpet, very useable but getting a bit ratty around the edges and worn; I needed the room to look better for my reiki clients. But I was surprised that after I put up the ad, I got a direct phone call, seconds later, from an aggressive guy with an Asian accent. And I went against my plan. ‘How old is it?’ he demanded. ‘Maybe 8 years’. ‘Where can I pick it up? I’ll be by in two hours.’ ‘It’s for you, isn’t it? You’re not going to sell it?’. ‘For me.’
I agreed, and hung up the phone, and thought: why did I agree to that, when I’d said I’d give it to a person who had a good reason for it, not the first person? And within no more than five minutes, more enquiries had come in (after a few, I deleted the ad; I had enough for a backup list). The first was for a jazz trumpeter who had recently moved back to Sydney and wanted the carpet for a place to practice and jam with his friends! No better reason. The second enquiry was from a student from Iran who said he’d love something that reminded him of home.
Argh, I was pissed off. But I’d made an agreement so sent him instructions on how to get here and waited. I didn’t even know his name and he didn’t acknowledge the instructions. Finally, five minutes after the time he said he’d come, I get an SMS: “sorry.ican Not pick it”. So, in the end, happily, I was able to get it to the musician who picked it up when he said he would, was nice as anything, and even offered to pay me something!
Another story was similar. A friend, knowing we’re musicians, had found a big Casio keyboard on the street, and thought we’d like to see if it worked. The top octave was broken. I called Casio to see if they might take it as a donation, fix it, and get it to a school or something. No. So, when I got it onto Gumtree, I did the same routine. I said: it doesn’t work perfectly, and: give me a good reason. The SMSs started to come in. I was busy so told the first guy, I’d have to answer him later. But he hadn’t read the ad. He said ‘when can I get it?’ and then ‘what cords and parts does it come with?’ (I’d said it all clearly in the ad). When the out-of-work, underemployed musician from Wollongong said it was perfect for her, even though it was missing an octave, I promised it to her and finally sent SMSs to the others who had replied (I’m so polite). And then: the first guy started sending insulting messages to me, as if he deserved the keyboard. He called me a ‘gronk’. I had to look it up on Urban Dictionary.
My worst experience was many years ago when I was trying to get rid of some blank CDs. The woman seemed nice enough, but when I was trying to arrange to get them to her, she said that she’d looked up my address on the map and seen the social housing nearby. It was obviously a very dangerous neighbourhood, and there was no way she could come up to an apartment to get them from a stranger. Man, I’m just trying to give away free stuff. I agreed, reluctantly, that I could meet her in the street, and hand her the CDs, while she kept the motor running, but I felt it pretty insulting for her to decide what a dangerous neighbourhood I lived in. When she cancelled the first time she was to come, and an architect friend said he could use the CDs, I decided: she is too much. I sent her an SMS that said, I’m sorry, they’re no longer available. Unfortunately, it was during a dinner party, well in action, and I was happily drunk. So when she started insulting me, I insulted her back. ‘I hope you don’t have any sisters, or would treat your mother this way,’ she wrote. I also brought up that she’d decided that the gentrified and wealthy suburb of Surry Hills was too dangerous for her, and she said she’d travelled throught the slums of Africa by herself. It was bad behaviour, I know, but I think I called her a crazy bitch and then blocked her number.
However, I have had some great experiences with Gumtree, including the story above about the carpet. I got rid of a whole bunch of CD/DVD cases which I never thought I’d be able to unload. I got rid of a very old macbook for more than I thought I would. I found a great, huge old TV for a friend who needed one, at a very reasonable price. And ages ago, on one of my first attempts, I’d put up a microwave to give away; and had agreed to get it to one woman, when a gentlemen wrote and said: ‘I have a friend in Newcastle in need of a microwave and I have been looking for one for her. She is a Tibetan refugee who has been here for four years now and is a single mum with a teenage daughter. She has been without a microwave for many months.’ I said I needed to check with the first person, who after I explained, agreed. So, not long after, Harry drops by, dressed in colourful clothes, a happy retiree. He’d come all the way from Campsie on public transport and then walked, and was going to carry the microwave all the way back and then get it to his friend in Newcastle (probably also by public transport!). What a champion. That made me so happy. Best Gumtree story ever.