The Alternative Economic Paradigms: Gift Economy II

By Shae Hadden | Bio


My habits of reducing and reusing come from a tradition I inherited from my family, a tradition that firmly believed in the value of sharing and stewardship. My father used to tell me of Depression days when his mother would wash the tea bags and dry them for reuse, and when he, being a ‘middle’ son in a family of 13, could always count on wearing ‘hand-me-downs’. Considering the environmental and economic crises we face, it’s no surprise that the principles of communal sharing, stewardship and ‘gifting’ are feeding the move to reduce, reuse and recycle. People of all ages are looking at ways to keep ‘stuff’ out of landfill sites.

In the 1960s the hippies of Haight-Ashbury opened ‘free shops’ to swap clothes, shoes and personal items. In the US today, ‘giveaway shops’ have evolved into ‘swap sheds’ in rural towns (where people leave things that are usable but unwanted for anyone to take) and  ‘free stores’ or ‘free bins’ on college campuses (stocked with donations or items that students have sorted from trash). Official give-away stores with retail storefronts have existed in Amherst, Massachusetts and in several locations in the Detroit area. And The Free Store operated in NYC until March 2009.

An online version of this concept has emerged. There’s a free national website where you can search for items by zip code: Take Me I’m Free. The global player in this scene, the Freecycle Network™, comes out of Tucson, AZ. This online network of 4,836 groups with 6,601,000 members is moderated by volunteers. Of course, there’s always the FREE listings on Craigslist as well.

An ‘offline’ development is the Really Really Free Market (RRFM) movement.  Collectives of people commit to creating community around sharing resources and caring for each other: they gather in community spaces to share goods and services, clean up afterwards and take home what they are unable to give away. The first RRFM was organized in protest of the G8 Summit during the anti-globalization protests of 2004 against the Free Trade Area of the Americas. RRFMs have emerged across the U.S., and the first Canadian one was started in Toronto earlier this year.

Next up… how ‘gifting’ influences our lives online.

© 2009 Shae Hadden. All rights reserved.

One thought on “The Alternative Economic Paradigms: Gift Economy II”

  1. In January 2008, I moved from the Washington, DC area to the Eastern Shore after living in the same apartment for 32 years. Thanks to a friend who told me about Freecycle, I was able to give away an amazing quantity and variety of things (including furniture) that may have otherwise just gone in the trash.

    It was such a positive experience, esp. in that my Freecycling enabled some folks to give Christmas gifts in 2007 who couldn’t have otherwise afforded them.

    I am a big fan of the system, though I’ve discovered that not all Freecycle groups are run as well as where I came from (the one where I live now pales in comparison). Still, I’d encourage anyone to give Freecycle a chance.

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