I had a broken lawnmower. It was a fine mower, except for the not-starting thing, and I figured that surely somebody, somewhere, would want it. You know, for the parts.
I couldn't set it out with the trash. I couldn't haul it to Goodwill, which probably wouldn't accept it anyway. I didn't want to save it for the yard sale I'd never have.
Then I heard about Freecycle -- the modern-day version of setting something by the curb with a hand-scrawled "FREE" sign. Only you go online instead of to the curb, and you have hundreds more passers-by.
This time of year, as you sift through belongings to make room for new stuff or pledge yet again to finally clear out that basement / attic / garage, Freecycle can be one handy decluttering tool.
I joined the Wichita, Kan., chapter -- a simple matter of going to freecycle.org and logging onto a Yahoo listserv -- and posted my item: "OFFER: Lawnmower, won't start," etc.
The next day, after a brief e-mail exchange, a Wichita couple picked up the mower and thanked me profusely. The man planned to fix it and sell it. He liked to tinker, and he needed the money, he said.
Since then, my husband and I have "Freecycled" several items -- a bowling ball, a sandbox, baby items, an office desk. Each time, we've marveled at the concept -- the ultimate win-win -- and have enjoyed meeting people we'd never know otherwise.
Brandi Thomason, a 25-year-old college student who helps run the Wichita group, says the neighbor-to-neighbor, trash-to-treasure concept drew her to Freecycle.
"It's neat for me to see all this stuff people have, and then see it go to someone who really needs it," Thomason said.
Besides offers, Freecycle members can post requests, or "WANTEDs." Common ones include maternity clothes, kids' clothes, nursery supplies, toys, appliances, furniture, computer items and exercise equipment.
An added bonus of all that online swapping, Thomason said: It keeps usable items out of landfills.
A recent analysis of more than 3,200 Freecycle groups worldwide showed that the groups keep about 40 tons a day -- almost 30 million pounds a year -- out of landfills.
I recently rescued yet another item: a woman's mountain bike, old but not useless, that appeared next to my trash cart the week after Christmas. After grumbling about strangers who dump their trash in other people's yards, my husband and I decided to post it on Freecycle.
Within hours we had six e-mails inquiring about it, and a nice man named Mike picked it up on Sunday. Problem solved.
HOW TO FREECYCLE
The worldwide Freecycle network has more than 1.8 million members.
Here's how to join:
Go online to freecycle.org and follow the links to your hometown group.
Click on the "Join This Group" button on the screen, and follow the directions. It's free.
If you don't want to receive individual e-mails, which can fill up your in-box pretty quickly, choose the "daily digest" or "no e-mails" setting. Then just bookmark the site to browse when you want to.
After joining, you'll get an e-mail from the board moderators that includes rules, etiquette and disclaimers. Do yourself a favor and read it carefully.
Pay attention to Freecycle's advice about security, both online and in person. One suggestion, for instance, is to arrange pick-ups at a public place rather than your home, or for single people to make sure they're not alone when items are picked up.