Freecycle: The Wonders and Pitfalls

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Why have I not discovered Freecycle sooner? It’s free stuff, as in ‘pay nothing’ and someone gives you something. It’s great. Until you realise you’ve been ‘gifted’ a fridge that’s missing two shelves and needs a whole new door – cost £106 – or to be taken to the tip – cost £22 if the council take it away. We ended up paying £22 to get rid of something that was supposedly ‘free’. Fortunately we saw a ‘reconditioned’ fridge in our local furniture store so we were able to buy a fridge and support a local business, which is something. Admittedly I did also get the council to remove a couple of old mattresses (too stained to be reused) at the same time as the fridge so I would have paid that money anyway, but still… it’s the intentions of the giver that are questionable. I shan’t be so trusting in future and will insist on looking at the thing first.

However, we also managed to get hold of a freezer via Freecycle and that has been great. Nice people gave it to us, no problems. Works fine. The moral of the story: some people use Freecycle as a means of getting rid of junk because they can’t be bothered to take it to the tip (or don’t have the means to so decide to trick someone else into doing it for them!). Whether they couldn’t or wouldn’t I’m less than impressed o_O In future I will take all Freecycle offers with a pinch of salt.

Verdict: Freecycle is a wonderful idea and when it works it’s an example of the very best of humanity and the very best of eco-friendly principles in action. But there are a lot of chancers out there, so although I will remain a committed user of Freecycle, I will be more careful to inspect something before I take it into my home.

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DO IT YOURSELF: BIRTHDAY PARTIES AND PRESENTS

When we were children my sister and I always had birthday parties: swimming parties, traditional ‘home’ parties, trampoline parties, McDonald’s parties, Pizza Hut parties… You name it, we did it. My friends had parties, too, most of them. It was something we took for granted, but many children nowadays don’t have them. Perhaps this is because the pressure has become too much and expectations run too high. Perhaps some parents can’t afford even a party at home, with school friends as guests, or think that they can’t because the guests will have high expectations. Who knows? Regardless, my children have usually enjoyed birthday parties, although there have been occasions where they chose a different ‘treat’ such as a visit to a theme park.

This year all three children have asked for birthday parties at home, now that we have our lovely rambling old house. We have had one child’s birthday so far this year and are planning for the next two. We made the invitations ourselves, which is a lovely way to spend a rainy Sunday afternoon if you or your offspring are creative. Because my son has autism, and his school friends have special needs, for his party we printed off a simple but clear list of what would happen, so that parents would know ahead of time, and so that anyone with autism had time to prepare. We decided to host movie parties, and to reuse any movie-themed paraphernalia. This is a fairly inexpensive way of hosting a party in your own home for older children. As a family who are trying to declutter, as well as be more eco-aware, movies that exist solely in cyberspace seem like a marvellous idea.

For each movie party we intend to watch a movie from blinkbox. For the first party my son invited a few school friends and spent an evening eating takeaway food and popcorn while watching Despicable Me 2. I bought a couple of plastic table covers with a balloons pattern, as well as some plastic plates and cups, all of which were washed afterwards for reuse at future parties. I’m not sure whether this was the most environmentally friendly option, but as paper plates aren’t washable or reusable, plastic plates seemed sensible, and I did not want my crockery getting broken by boisterous children. I also bought a funky door banner which says ‘PARTY!’ which was carefully folded after use and placed in the Birthday Box, ready for next time.

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The ‘Birthday Box’.

For the next party, my sister will be joining us and she is planning on baking the cake (she is a very good cook). The party will have a joint movie and gymnastics theme. We’re planning a gymnastics film and have several options lined up, all from blinkbox. We use blinkbox because it allows films to be downloaded, so you don’t get those annoying pauses; the computer we use is rather elderly so not up to streaming films. To continue the movie theme we have some ‘Hollywood’ cupcake/bun toppers, which can be reused if washed carefully and, as an alternative to plastic party bags, I found paper popcorn bags. These will be filled with sweets and a few odds and ends that I save for such occasions, e.g. some leather friendship bands from Traidcraft. I may crochet a few butterfly hairpins or the like as well. We’ll see.

We won’t be buying takeaway for the next party. As my sister will be with us (hurrah!) we will have a go at a traditional party tea. This part won’t be as eco-friendly, to be fair, because I do intend to buy some wrapped foods such as crisps and cake… But we’ll do what we can, which is my motto when it comes to environmental issues – doing something is better than doing nothing and doing what you can is better than beating yourself up for not being Eco Warrior Super Mum. Yeah. She’s annoying, frankly.

Onto the next subject of this post: eco-friendly gifts. I try to get a few small gifts for each child. Planning is everything. I will spend months beforehand not avidly searching but keeping an eye out for anything suitable at which point it is stored in my wardrobe. For the upcoming birthday I bought a couple of second-hand pretty dresses, a summer jacket and a gymnastics leotard. Second-hand clothing has many benefits. These clothes are far cheaper than new clothes, and have often only been worn a few times before they are outgrown. When a new item of clothing is produced, it produces a chunky carbon footprint in its manufacture and distribution especially if, for example, it has travelled half way round the world to end up in our local shop. So second-hand clothes make a lovely gift if chosen with care. I was also lucky enough to find a gymnastics beam for sale at a very good price. It is an ‘ex-display’ beam, manufactured in the UK. Although not as good as a second-hand beam in terms of its environmental impact, it does not have the carbon footprint of certain goods (although I think most of the beams on the market are British made, which means that transport emissions will be less).

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What do you think? I hope she likes it!

I have also made two gifts which I know my little girl will treasure simply because Mummy made them. I cross-stitched a picture of a spring lamb and found a frame for it (new, unfortunately, although I did try to find a suitable frame second hand), and I used some of my embarrassingly large stash of yarn to crochet a gorgeous little bag with a flower decoration. I used this free pattern from Daisy Cottage Designs for the bag, making the handle longer, and this free pattern from Attic24 for the flower. Both very easy patterns but with charming results. I then sewed a button from my sewing basket in the middle of the flower to finish it off.