Lifestyle & Culture

Recycle My Life, Please

July 16, 2020

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What can items like these possibly have in common? All were offered to neighbors on a community listserv, by-products of the Great National Pandemic Clean-out happening in closets, attics, basements and garages all over America. Clockwise from left, all of the New Yorker magazines from 2019, a garbage bag filled with “totally clean” bubble wrap and a set of cow vertebrae, suited for use, we’re told, as napkin rings.

FOR EVERY POT there’s a lid, right?

Okay, that applies to love and maybe marriage. Does it also apply to a copy of Florida Wetland Plants: An Identification Manual? A 46-inch Samsung plasma TV in need of repair? Perhaps a garbage bag full of bubble wrap?

These are all things people have been posting on listservs as giveaways, as part of the Great National Pandemic Clean-out that’s been taking place across America (when people aren’t baking). And the remarkable thing is, almost every pot does indeed seem to have a lid.

One of the liveliest listservs around is the one covering Cleveland Park, a leafy, relatively affluent neighborhood in Washington DC. The email list claims some 14,000-plus members, so when you post something there for sale or for free, it’s not as if it’s on eBay but close enough for most householders.

Half a bag of Kingsford charcoal briquettes, right, was offered on (and snapped up from) the Cleveland Park (DC) listserv right after July 4. Classic Victorian-style garden furniture, left, was given away by people moving to an apartment without outdoor space.

And I have to give credit where credit is due. I march through the streets of Manhattan on a nightly basis (walking the dog) and am horrified by the mounds of decent-ish cabinets and lamps and bed frames and even art (well, you know, kinda art) that’s just dumped for curbside pickup. We’re not talking Chippendale here, but the Coalition for the Homeless or the New Jersey Department of Human Services could furnish any number of apartments and group homes by means of a few midnight cruises around the Upper East Side.

The people on these listservs, on the other hand, are well aware that they’re tossing useful stuff—useful to someone else. The examples are numerous and humorous. And some of them get snapped up in a matter of hours.

It’s not surprising that many of the items being offered for sale or for free are baby- and kid-related, given how relentlessly time marches on, even during a pandemic. Two examples: left, a Munchkin High Capacity Baby Bottle Drying Rack and, right, a Petunia Pickle Bottom diaper bag.

The availability of four free new vinyl blackout roller shades 35 inches wide was announced at 2:19pm on June 27; the former owner marked them TAKEN at 5:04pm the same day. An unopened bag of Whole Foods 365 Hardwood Charcoal plus a partially used can of lighter fluid were posted at 2:06pm on the 26th; they were gone by 3:42pm. (I don’t know what happened to the open bag of Kingsford charcoal briquettes, a nearly full can of  lighter fluid and a small bundle of logs posted on July 5.)

Free for the taking is this dark green garment bag, left. And for the lucky wearer of a size 10 shoe, a pair of “unisex” Gola Cadet sneakers in off-white.

I was surprised by how few exercise bikes were posted (and no stair-steppers at all) and how many TV sets, including some flat-screens (and including one the owner couldn’t get to work but hoped someone else could). Then there were:

• extra water bottles

• area rugs

• eight variegated snake plants and two Christmas cacti

• a collection of sci-fi movies and TV shows in VHS format (only The X-Files is left, last I looked)

• Farm Fetched freeze-dried turkey hearts (calm down, they’re cat treats)

• a Salton Hot Tray (wow, that takes me back about 40 years to my mother’s house!)

• a Crate and Barrel leaning desk

• a collection of “Mid-Century, Middlebrow British Fiction” (Angela Thirkell, P.G. Wodehouse, “Miss Silver”—”not fine literature,” according to the listing, “but excellent pandemic reading”

• a beanbag cover with the name Claire embroidered on it

• among other things “dusty and decades old,” six bentwood chairs, “all in need of new seats” (quite the salesman, this poster)

Not to be passed up (though so far it has been): “some extra kefir grains, enough to ferment a bottle of milk in a day.”

And those cow vertebrae suitable for use as napkin rings? Turns out they’re a thing: There are two  dozen sellers on Etsy offering them at anywhere from $8 to $21.95 each.

Some items need more “sell” than others. A poster on the Cleveland Park listserv announced, left, “Tinker items: old faucet spout and tubes, locks, other metal items that would all be good to tinker with for art or other projects.” Yeah. Those may still be sitting on the lister’s porch. But the six “silvery” cabinet pulls, right, posted on June 29 were gone by the next day.

People post for things they’d like to acquire as well. One listserv member is hoping someone will hand over a Beach Cruiser Bicycle for her boyfriend. Others are looking for very specific things: a used Nanit or Owlet baby monitor to buy and a cat stroller sturdy enough for two hefty cats.

Sadly, we may never know if someone wanted Florida Wetland Plants: An Identification Manual, a 588-page door stopper edited by John B. Tobe and published in 1998 by the University Press of Florida.

—Nancy McKeon



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