I've been posting free stuff on Craigslist. We got rid of our car, and taking donations to a thrift store has become a bigger deal than it used to be. Also, there are certain things they won't accept that people are still eager to acquire. I realized one evening, though, that I am pretty wide open about interactions with strangers.
I told my husband.
"I just literally brought a coil of rope and a roll of construction-grade garbage bags out to a strange man in a van who has our home address and my cell phone number."
It was fine, of course. He was an average suburban dad who just wanted some free stuff for his garage.
What was he going to do, grab my cell phone out of my hand and stuff me in his van, in broad daylight, with bystanders watching? Okay, the thought did cross my mind. I've taken self-defense classes. Also I've read way too many true crime books. I probably know more about the biographies of the dozen most famous serial killers than I do about the dozen most famous pop singers right now.
People are trustworthy. In many ways, I think strangers are more trustworthy than the people we're closest to. For instance, if I told a complete stranger a secret, he or she might be mildly interested, but probably wouldn't tell anyone else. If they did, it probably wouldn't be anyone who could or would trace it to me. Whereas! If I told the same secret to any of fifty people in my inner circle, they most likely would tell everyone, assuming it was available as general knowledge. Another example would be eating my snacks. Chances are pretty high that a friend or family member would help themselves, while most strangers would be wary about eating strange food.
If you tell strangers your goals, they'll not only be encouraging and supportive, they'll most likely try to connect you with someone they know who could help you in some way. If you tell someone close to you, they'll most likely tell you all the reasons why it's a horrible idea.
Since we moved, we've been exploring the sharing economy in a big way. As we were waiting for our car buyback appointment, we started having our groceries delivered. It was great! We used GrubHub for the first time on moving day, and that was great too. We stayed at an Airbnb for the first time, and, hey, it was great. Then my husband tried Lyft for the first time, and that was great as well. It turns out that it's a fun way to have brief interactions with strangers, who probably have just as much reason to be afraid of us as we do of them. They probably share their own safety and self-defense tips. Their moms are probably really nervous about their whereabouts after dark every night.
The interesting thing about the sharing economy is that we haven't had any of the unpleasant transactions we've occasionally had at chain stores. Adding in that element of personal rating really does something. I rate you, you rate me. That's not happening at the pharmacy or the grocery store, or certainly not at the airport. My goal in every business transaction is to get a smile out of the other person, and extra points if I make them laugh. I'm easy to please. It always surprises me when someone is crabby, impatient, or rude after dealing with me, partly because it happens so rarely. Add in some tips and a star rating system and the dynamic changes, doesn't it?
We're not done yet. Living in a tiny apartment tends to bring attention to the background possessions we have just because we have them. Every time something goes out the door, everything else gets to scooch over a bit. Many things can go to Salvation Army or Goodwill, but not everything. We gave away a fire extinguisher, five sets of plastic storage shelving, a set of foam mattress pads, some extra cleaning supplies, and all our moving boxes, none of which Goodwill would take. They also wouldn't take a pop-up canvas closet or a set of glass shelves. Whether they'll take furniture or electronics depends on the store, and some won't take clothes hangers or other arbitrary things. I went this weekend and they sent me away, saying they weren't accepting any donations at all that day. That's where we are now. Our hyperconsumerist material culture is overloading even businesses that rely on donated goods to make their profit. You can't sell it and you can't give it away. That is, you can't give it away anonymously.
We're neighbors and we help each other out. That's how society was built. If we see a stranger in trouble, we rush to call for help. We buy and sell from each other. We hire each other. We live next door to each other, because it's so much more convenient than the alternative. The great thing about living in a city is that I can give away a coil of rope and a roll of industrial trash bags, and someone will show up, unafraid, to claim them.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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