Packrat Pack

After years of gift exchanges, you've mastered the face, that look of "Wow, thanks, I've always wanted one of these." But just what was your friend thinking when she showed up -- happy as can be -- and handed you that lame-ass gift? Does she know you at all?

You can either bury that velvet painting in your closet until next year, when you'll regift it and continue the chain of lousy giving, or you can freecycle that sucker immediately.

Freecycling is giving things away to strangers in return for nothing. That's right: nothing. Those knickknacks aren't doing you any good anyway, so you might as well pass them along to someone who has a use for them. And having your crapola picked up is easier than heading down to the Goodwill.

What started less than two years ago as a Web site in Tucson has exploded into a national movement called the Freecycle Network. Currently, 1,993 cities have sites where people post their junk and wait for someone to contact them and pick it up. The Houston area has more than a dozen such groups, with the largest one boasting 4,600 members.

"It satisfies the packrat mentality," says Kenneth Parkinson, a moderator for the largest Houston group. "I have these things that are perfectly good that I'd hate to throw away. Now I can get rid of them."

All kinds of stuff make it on the list, from baby clothes to jewelry to bags of grass clippings. (Yeah, we'll be signing up for the grass clippings real soon.) Everything is offered up free of charge, no strings attached.

But lest you think the Freecycle Network is just a place to get cool stuff for yourself, you should know that many of its members keep track of who's been giving and who's been receiving. They're more likely to give away their goodies to those who have offered up their own stuff on the site.

And just one more thing: No animals, firearms or adult items, says site co-owner Mary Parkinson, who is Kenneth's wife.

"Food products are okay, as long as they're not open," she says.

Fruitcake, anyone? -- Keith Plocek

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Keith Plocek
Contact: Keith Plocek