At work, years ago we set up a “Free Stuff” table, up on the third floor near the student copier. I work at a university, in the College of Education. The free stuff table started with old text books, from a school book repository. We had a library of K-12 schoolbooks, and when new editions came out, we’d put the old ones on the free stuff table. After that, when a professor would move their office, or leave the college, they’d dump academic books and journals on the free table they didn’t want to take with them. Eventually, faculty and staff, began bringing books, magazines, music CDs and LPs, software, VHS tapes, DVDS from home and drop their stuff off on the table.
Sometimes the donations were good stuff, and the table would clear in less than an hour, sometimes even within minutes. Other times, the table would fill with boring stuff, 20 year old educational journals that would lay there for weeks, but would eventually thin out and disappear. I used to take old books to the library, but bringing them to work is much easier.
Because of its location, the table needs to stay neat, so mostly people leave small stuff. Sometimes we’ll see a DVD drive for a computer, or little radio, or various office supply gadgets, but for the most part the giveaways have been books and magazines. We have a couple hundred faculty and staff, and a few thousand students, and the table is by the computer labs, so it sees a lot of traffic. The free stuff table has become a form of recycling.
I’m also fascinated by what kinds of books show up there. Lots of fiction, lots of educational books, but also religious books, statistics, psychology, sociology, kids books, cook books, etc. After my mom died, I took a bunch of her old books up there, various bibles, religious books, and Edna Ferber novels. They went quickly. The other day my wife set out a box of Christmas ornaments to give to Goodwill. I took them and put them on the free stuff table and they were gone within 5 minutes. What’s worthless to one person is valuable to another.
I’m writing about this free stuff table as a way to recommend the idea to others. It could be a common concept at most offices, but I don’t know. All we did was tape down a sign on a 30″x42″ table that said, “Free Stuff.” After that, the table took a life of its own.