One person’s trash truly is another’s treasure at the Really Really Free Market, where building community by giving away your unwanted stuff is…priceless.
Last Saturday morning, at the city’s 14th Really Really Free Market (or RRFM) in the upper Junction Triangle ’hood, Josie Saltwater hung the colourful saris she’d found abandoned in a box on the street. Other volunteers carefully folded and separated the men’s and women’s clothing, organizing items into neat piles on green checkerboard tablecloths. Presentation, it seemed, was everything—even when giving things away for free.
While it poured outside, volunteers and “shoppers” inside the Campbell Park clubhouse pawed through the goods. It was a strange assortment: maracas, antique mirrors, a box of Stir Stix, glitter, vacuum-cleaner bags, a CPU, a Hannah Montana board game, a slew of clothing—even a half-empty bottle of Worcestershire sauce. “Sometimes people bring food,” said Suzan Poyraz, one of the market’s long-time volunteers.
The Really Really Free Market originated in Miami in 2003. Its intent is simple: build community through a gift-based economic system, where everything is free. “It’s educational and consciousness-raising,” explained Poyraz. “It reminds people of the simple things they can do to reduce waste, to save money, and to find an alternative to buying things. With a charity, you don’t know who it goes to. [Instead, this involves] one-to-one contact. It’s communal free-cycling. Some people stay here for hours, hanging out, chatting with new friends they’ve made, and checking out what comes in.”
Toronto’s own Free Market economy kicked off in July of last year, and has since built up a healthy following of loyal volunteers, good-natured scavengers, and donors with no shortage of goods. On the first Saturday of every month, volunteers sort and organize the stuff that’s dropped off over the course of the day. Shoppers can take whatever they want and then take off without paying a dime.
“I walk a lot, and I hate to see good things go to waste,” said Saltwater. “When I see someone putting good things out on the street, I like to find a home for them. And I like to know exactly where it’s going to go. I just appreciate the community [behind] this.”
Indeed, you’d be hard-pressed to find this level of social interaction at a Salvation Army store—or even a neighbourhood garage sale. When Renée Saucier’s apartment burned down in January 2013, she’d only heard about RRFM a few weeks earlier. But she contacted them and they rallied to help her. “It was really unexpected. I picked up some clothes and boots, which was amazing.” She has actively volunteered since then—organizing, folding clothes, or acting as a greeter for sheepish newcomers. “When it’s their first time, they’re like, ‘Can I just take this?’”
Some ascribe a more philosophical reason to their involvement. Dmitry Belopolsky brought his 10-year-old son, Dennis, along with him on Saturday. At a previous RRFM, the pair dropped off Dennis’s outgrown car seat, and picked up a guitar amp. “We don’t bring stuff to Value Village. We prefer to bring stuff here,” said Belopolsky. “It’s a pure form of communism. But it only works on a small scale.”
The space at Campbell Park could very well have morphed into a crazy-crap emporium if it weren’t for the dutiful volunteers who cart away the excess goods after each RRFM. The remnants (about a third of the stuff) are then donated to charities “in line with our principle of keeping away from the money economy,” said Poyraz. They advise against leaving large furniture—unless you promise to return for it if it doesn’t get snatched up. (None of the volunteers I spoke with owned cars, making it difficult to haul away weighty items.)
Still, Poyraz has seen people donate just about anything—furniture, hammocks, laptops, food processors, even a dishwasher. There’s no haggling. The items have honest descriptions: On a hand blender, a taped note read, “WORKS, BUT SLOW.” One man tried on a pair of 3-D glasses while a fellow shopper happened upon an enormous container of garam masala. “Why not?” he shrugged, and slipped it into his bag. At another table, a silver-haired woman picked up a universal remote and glanced at the instructions before frowning and abandoning it in favour of a box of not-yet-expired molasses. I briefly entertained taking an ironing board and super-sized glass wine goblet for myself, but the idea of schlepping them through the pouring rain made me think twice. Sometimes, free isn’t cheap enough.
Really really free items at the Really Really Free Market
Inside Baseball ’93 video
Green My Little Pony
“We [heart] our customers” hangers
For more info, visit rrfmarket.blogspot.ca/