Saturday, February 11, 2017

Still Life with Robin: Keep on Giving It Away!

Photo by LotusHead (via Wikimedia Commons)
by Peggy Robin

It’s always nice to see giveaways on the listserv. Just in the last month (counting backward from January 11) there have been 61 giveaway messages on the listserv, offering up at no cost a spectacular variety of goodies, including:

- moving boxes
- magazines
- books
- a jogging stroller
- carpets/rugs (three separate ones)
- an Anki Overdrive set (don’t have a clue what that is!)
- misc baby items
- amplifier stuff
- printers
- lots of ink (lost count after 3)
- CDs
- yarn
- a yarn winder
- headboards
- a futon
- beds (queen size, a few twins, box springs – all separate messages)
- a refrigerator
- cribs
- a changing table
- a bassinet
- a treadmill
- radiator covers
- a play kitchen
- a medicine cabinet (mirror is cracked)
- concert tickets
- bookcases (at least 3 different ones, plus a shelving set)
- desks and desk chairs
- tables (night tables, end tables, dining table)
- an upholstered armchair
- a sofa
- TV stand
- bar stools
- shutters
- wooden pallets
- a carseat
- some kind of mat cutting set used in picture framing
- a light therapy lamp
- some mollies (they’re fish)
- aquarium tanks (from another poster, not the same one who gave away the fish)
- art and some vases
- LPs
- 60s poster
- Watergate books, magazines and memorabilia
- caps for the Women’s March
- tennis balls with hopper
- plant grow-lights


You may think giving away stuff is easy, but having done it quite a few times myself, I can tell you, so many things can go awry! You get an email saying “I’m coming to pick up your flowerpots” and you think, that's that -- and a week later, they’re still on your front porch. Or, a month after those nice new parents came for the stroller, you’ve found the matching rain cover, and you want them to have it, but you no longer have their email address.

Things can get thornier when the pickup people seem nice but aren’t. There’s the time that a list member was giving away a like-new appliance but wanted the person who got it to make a modest donation to a charity. The pickup person showed up on time but without a checkbook. Still, she promised she’d send in the donation later. Trusting her, the appliance-giver let her take away the item. Not only did the pickup person never mail the check, but a follow-up with the designated charity proved that donation was not received directly, either. Email exchanges between the donor and the pickup person quickly turned accusatory.

Or let’s say you’re giving away two sets of skis, boots, poles and accessories. You imagine some young couple having all the fun you had with them back before your orthopedist advised you to switch to low-impact aerobics. You’re relishing the thought of someone else enjoying the schusses and slaloms you’ve had to give up….a vision that lasts right up until the moment you see an ad for those same skis on Craigslist….for $250!

This is just a quick sampling of a few of the downsides of the giveaway message. We’d like to think they are relatively rare… but we have no way to collect data, and so can only give advice to help prevent more of the same from occurring. We do believe most of our listserv members are nice, honest, decent people. But it’s a very large group (16,696 at last count!) and we certainly can’t vouch for the characters of all our members. Common sense and caution when dealing with strangers --even when they’re your neighbors-- must be applied. Here are a few measures we highly recommend:

* When you write your giveaway message, spell out who gets priority to take the item. If you want your item to go to a local family, or have the item go to a school or nonprofit organization, be clear about that expectation in the original message. Then be prepared to do a fair amount of screening of the responses before selecting the one who best fits your criteria.

* Do not promise your item on a “first come, first serve” basis, unless you really don’t care who ends up with it. Better to wait for a number of pick-up offers to arrive at your inbox and look for the one with the clearest, most practical pick-up plan – including the means to transport the item, if it’s heavy or bulky. If choosing between someone who says they can pick up soon but can’t say how they’ll accomplish the pickup, and someone who says they’ll come next week when they have access to a van, go for the one with the plan.

* If you know it will be a multi-person job to move the item, make sure you are not being counted among the movers, unless you said you'd help in your original message….and you have never had any back problems.

* Create a back-up list of at least three names, in case the first taker fails to show. If you have trouble saving your email messages, print out the responses. (I can’t tell you how often we have to tell people, no, we’re not posting a message to the whole listserv so you can attempt to reschedule a pickup time with someone whose phone number/email address you’ve lost. There are over 16,600 list members and not everyone reads every message; you need to keep track of your off-list correspondence.)

* Have different expectations when the giveaway is of marginal value. If you are giving away a nonworking, possibly repairable appliance or an old lumpy mattress, make it easy for someone to take it away but at the same time be prepared to dispose of the item if the taker, after seeing it, says, "No thanks."

Keep in mind, it’s up to the giver to set and enforce any conditions for the giveaway. We – the moderators – can’t help you if you don’t like the way the giveaway has gone. We’re not the giveaway police!

Still Life with Robin is published on the Cleveland Park Listserv and on All Life Is Local on Saturdays.

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