One measure of financial independence is not to have to worry about having money to pay for goods. This is usually accomplished by having lots of money, but with the internet a second method is emerging. I’m talking about swap sites, freebie sites, etc. where computers match up people who then trade their stuff for stuff rather than buy their stuff with money. It’s good for the environment too.

This is possible insofar that we as a nation is overflowing in consumer durables. Although stuff is designed with planned obsolescence in mind, it still lasts longer than people desire it keep around according to the dictates of fashion or novelty. Don’t believe me, take a stroll in suburbia and look what people are storing in their garages. I promise you it isn’t their cars. It’s all the stuff their bought and subsequently replaced but which it still too precious to throw out.

I have joined several “operations” that cash in on this problem.

  • Freecycle (check the link to see if there is one in your neighborhood). One of my problems with just donating things to charity is that I don’t know whether the recipient of “my” stuff will appreciate it as much as I did. For instance, I would not really want to donate my collection of cookbooks, say, merely to see it be sold off at a thrift store for 50c a piece. This is why freecycling is great. Here you know that the recipient will appreciate and use the stuff. Generally, stuff is taken on a first come, first serve basis. If you are mainlined into your email address, you will typically “win”. I have had varying success with flakes in terms of donating stuff though.
  • I joined The way it works is that you list the ISBN of the books you want to get rid off. If it’s on someone else’s wish list, that person gets notified and can then request that you send the book. If you do, you pay only the shipping (people generally don’t use 50c bubble wrap envelopes, but instead fashion their own out of brown paper bags, plastic bags, etc. to keep costs downs). Once received, you get one credit. This credit can be used to request any other book in the system. Note that if you join and list 10 books, you get two credits for free.
  • I joined Swaptree works a little differently. Rather than operating as a market with a credit currency, swaptree tries to match people. It works like this. First you list your books, CDs, DVDs, and [computer] games, in the typical ISBN fashion. Other people will have wish lists. If one of your items is on their list, you can swap it for one of their items. Swaptree also allows for three-way swaps (this is where it gets clever). Imagine that A has something B wants, but B does not have something A wants. However, B has something C wants and C has something A wants. Then A sends to B, B sends to C and C sends to A. Now, all trades are one-for-one so you should think carefully about what you put on your wish list. I made the mistake of uncritically uploading my entire 250+ item amazon wish list (it’s very easy). Now the problem is if someone wants to trade their 1c paperback (on my wish list) for my Lord of the Rings DVD collection (on my have list). Then they can request it, and when I subsequently deny it, I fell like an ass. Therefore, if you make a wish list make sure that you are willing to give ANY item on your have list for that item. If not, DO NOT include it. Since swaptree does not have a “currency”, it works better if your stuff is mainstream/popular, whereas paperbackswap works better for random esoteric items. The good thing about swaptree is though that you can swap CDs and DVDs as well as books.

Swapping can get quite addictive. It’s challenging in another way than merely shopping or buying. One has to wait for another member to list the item. This enforces patience. However, there is no commission (on any of the sites above) and all one pays is shipping (media mail). Freecycling is different as it is local. I would not call that addictive, but it is convenient and it brings good karma.

Originally posted 2008-04-12 07:08:46.