A cardboard box that has the words "Free Binders" written on the front. Inside are several three-ring binders.
Photo by Shawn Thorpe

We started giving away things that we didn’t need – but were still useful – during the pandemic.

In January of 2021, my husband and I decided that it was time to give away the three-ring binders and plastic sheets that I’d been hoarding for years. I’m a former teacher. When I was in college, we were taught to make binders full of things that showed what kind of work we were doing with students. For me, that included lots of photos of student artwork. At the time, I was working towards my B.S. in Education (focusing on art).

Years later, I used the three-ring binders to store printed copies of the writing work I did for other people’s websites. Eventually, I got rid of most of it. But at the time, I felt like the work could dry up or disappear – and I wanted to keep some of it.

My husband put a box of three-ring binders and plastic sheets in the driveway. He posted online about them, so someone could come and get some – or all – of them.

The next day, the box of binders was gone. Someone picked up the box full of three-ring binders and plastic sheets and took it away. My hope was that it would be put to good use.

On the porch, right in front of the door, there was a decorative gift bag. A post-it note was attached to the bag as a “Thank you.” The bag contained a sealed bag of coffee candy and a sealed bag of Brownie Crisps. I can’t eat them, due to allergens. My husband was able to enjoy them. This treat was entirely unexpected!

We had unintentionally engaged in a barter system.

The person who picked up the binders also left a “Thank you” comment as a response on the website where my husband posted about the binders. She commented that she was so grateful to get the binders and plastic sheets, and that she could never get enough of them. They are going to her students who need to have them for school, but their parents can’t afford to buy them.

As a former teacher, I was thrilled to learn that the three-ring binders and plastic sheets I collected – and gave up – went to another teacher! Those items, which I no longer had a use for, will be used by students who might have gone without them.

The schools were closed to in-person learning at the time, which meant the students were doing virtual-learning from home. This teacher was optimistically preparing for whenever in-person schooling would begin again. In my experience working as a teacher, with other teachers, I can say with certainty that this is what we do. We plan ahead.

Too often, students come to school lacking the supplies they are required to have because their parents can’t afford to buy them. Many teachers spend their own money to ensure that their students will get what they need. It’s hard, because teachers aren’t typically paid very well. The ability to obtain a box of three-ring binders and plastic sheets for free must have seemed like a blessing!

The barter system works well if you have items that you no longer need, and are willing to accept something else for them. Someone in your community will make use of what you are willing to let go of. We put things out with in a box that had the word “FREE” written on it, and ended up in an unintentional barter. It feels good to share!

Another really great thing about the barter system (including the giving away of freebies) is that it doesn’t involve money. Barter gives people the opportunity to get what they need without engaging in capitalism.

Three-Ring Binders and Barter is a post written by Jen Thorpe on Book of Jen and is not allowed to be copied to other sites.

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