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There are lots of ways of letting go of things you no longer need. Entire industries have been built on the concept. Craigslist, eBay, Facebook Marketplace, Letgo, Ruby Lane, Etsy and even the old reliable yard sale are all options.

Here’s another one . . .

The teenage boy wore a T-shirt and shorts. He was stocky with shaggy hair. He was cute, in that sort of frumpy teenage boy way, and the first out of the minivan, excited and just a little confused. His mom, at least we think it was his mom, and his aunt, she sure looked like she could be his aunt, walked more slowly to the collection of objects we had set out at the end of our driveway.

My wife, Amy, used to be in marketing. It showed. The two handmade signs she designed and stapled to wood stakes pounded into the grass on both sides of the driveway apron worked like a charm. Clear and to the point: “Free Stuff!!”

Free sign

The most powerful marketing message in the world: Free.

It was a lovely late summer Friday morning. Our village-wide rummage sale was minutes underway.

Just before the teenage boy and women stopped, another woman in her mid-to-late 50s rang our doorbell. “Just wanted to let you know,” she told Amy, “I’m going to take a dog crate.”

“Please do.”

Twenty minutes later, the same woman returned for the table and chairs.

The collapsible wire dog crate was one of two we set out — a large and medium — along with a flat screen TV, a stereo receiver and speakers, cross-country skis, a folding card table and three chairs, a large shepherd’s hook, a Kuranda dog cot, and a white poster frame. All the things were in great condition. And, like the signs said, free.

The teenage boy seemed mystified as he made a beeline to the TV still in its box. Then he looked at the stereo equipment, searching for a price tag. Not finding anything he looked at the free signs at the end of the driveway just to be sure. Then he looked at our house, searching for additional clues. And then back to the signs and then to the house again.

When it finally sunk in, he smiled a big teenage boy smile. His mom and aunt looked around too, unsure.

The boy shrugged, and the women went back to the minivan to make room. The boy lifted the TV into the back of the van, and then came back for the stereo equipment and poster frame. Once it was all inside, he looked around, smiled, waved at the house and hopped in the van to leave, happy.

Another woman in an SUV pulled up and walked with purpose to the remaining dog crate and cot. She had obvious dog skills, breaking down the crate as easily as breathing. The cot and crate were gone in a flash.

Lucky Puppy

There's no telling what lucky puppy might benefit from a free cot or crate. 

Then a red, rusty minivan filled with four people and a variety of things packed inside stopped for the shepherd’s hook. How the woman got the large, black hook in the van without knocking anyone in the head is a mystery. But sometimes the power of free is magical that way.

In a short time, all that were left were the cross-country skis. Even the magic of free was not powerful enough to seduce anyone to take them. And so it goes.

In the past several years we’ve put out a portable basketball hoop, a bike, a table saw, a desk chair, an oak dresser and mirror, paving crescents and my favorite, a very large pile of sifted black dirt leftover from a yard project. All free. All quickly snapped up.

A neighbor I didn’t know pulled up in a black pickup for the dirt. We chatted as I helped him shovel it into the bed of his truck. It took two loads.

His girlfriend, he told me, wanted to make raised garden beds and the dirt was perfect. I guessed he was about 25. Turns out he lived a couple blocks away from us. I saw the raised beds when I drove by his place awhile back. I thought about how thrilled his girlfriend must have been when he showed up with the dirt. The garden beds made me smile.


We are never certain what will blossom when we give things away. 

There are a lot of ways to sell things. Craigslist, eBay, Facebook Marketplace. All have their advantages. No doubt. But I’m not always sure Winston Churchill would agree.

“We make a living by what we get,” Churchill once said. “We make a life by what we give.”

And on this lovely late summer Friday morning, life was pretty good, with smiling strangers to remind us there’s something more than free.

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