It was nearing 11 p.m. when the stranger finally showed up. A petite woman in her mid-20s, she bounded up the stairs of my Brooklyn brownstone and breathlessly apologized for her tardiness. “I’m soooo sorry I’m late. I had to transfer to the 3 at Atlantic Avenue, and I wasn’t sure where it was, and I just got turned around,” she explained as I handed her a bag containing a heavy, multipart juicer that I hadn’t used—much less looked at—in a couple of years. “Thank you so so much for this!” she exclaimed brightly. “Oh my god—I make this juice that’s to die for, it’s a mix of apples and beets and ginger and kale, sometimes I add celery, depends on what I have around…” I smiled and told her she was most welcome, attempting to politely curtail her juice sermon so I could return to my apartment and go to bed.
Any dedicated Netflix-binger would have noticed when, on January 1 of this year—just in time for all the resolution-makers to get serious about their New Year goals—the streaming platform launched Tidying Up with Marie Kondo. The eight-episode series features the soft-spoken author of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up coming to the rescue of homeowners, relieving them of their literal and figurative burdens by encouraging them to part with the majority of their clutter, boxing and bagging up any clothing, furniture, or toys that don’t “spark joy” within them. Participants in the show, by each episode’s end, appear as changed as a butterfly emerging from its chrysalis: wiping tears from their eyes as they take in their newly minimalist quarters, they remark on a newfound sense of calm and promise to never again let those magazine subscriptions or Tupperware collections get out of hand.
It’s a relatable premise: In today’s consumerist world, we all get a little overwhelmed by our stuff sometimes. Who wouldn’t want to live in a tidy, feng-shui’ed-to-perfection space? The buzz surrounding the show, which has far eclipsed the already-considerable attention paid to Kondo’s 2014 book, might lead a person to believe that to attain the “life-changing magic” of decluttering, she’ll need a film crew, an empathetic guide, and a whole lot of oversized trash bags. But for years now, I’ve been getting cheap—indeed free—thrills merely from regularly giving away my possessions on Craigslist.
In New York, where I live, available real estate seems to get smaller and more expensive each year, as the waves of gentrification push ever deeper into the formerly “outer” boroughs. I was lucky, six years ago, to find a cheap two-bedroom apartment that I’m in love with and in which I will undoubtedly live out the rest of my Brooklyn days. Utilities are included and my bedroom boasts a sunny, spacious bay window, but there is, of course, a catch: I have almost no storage space—just one small closet shared between my two roommates and me, and a few cabinets in the kitchen. So as careful as I am to steer clear of stoop sales and thrift stores, it doesn’t take long before I start to feel that I am drowning in my own things.
And so, when my kitchen cabinets begin to spill over with washed and saved almond butter jars, or my cats decide they don’t care for their new food and water dishes, or I’ve propagated a few too many pothos plants, I turn to a website I have bookmarked on my computer: Craigslist Free. A short description and a few iPhone photos later, and my post advertising free stuff to whoever will come take it off my hands is out in the world. And, invariably, my phone and email blow up with would-be takers within a few minutes.
My Gmail history tells me that since 2014, I’ve posted 73 times, giving away everything from a lavender-scented terrycloth eye pillow (I never used it) to a French language workbook (I completed most of it) to a half-empty bottle of Tresemme hair conditioner (it didn’t work for my poofy, frizz-prone curls). At least in New York, where the cost of living is sky-high and inhabitants are constantly looking for creative ways to budget-trim, it’s possible to get rid of just about anything.
Each time I give away a trash bag full of plastic hangers, or a chunky black bracelet I haven’t worn in 10 years, I breathe a little easier. I feel less stressed and more at peace. I feel happier in my home. I feel, I imagine, just like the teary-eyed stars of Kondo’s Netflix show—except I generated these feelings solo, with nary a high-definition camera in sight.
Given the rapidity with which strangers respond to my listings, I’ve concluded that there must be people out there who always have a tab open to Craigslist Free—and in my experience, these people are characters. In text and emails, they tell me they need my unused disposable menstrual cups “desperately,” offer to bring me a loaf of home-baked sourdough to edge out other aspirants to my “well-loved” enameled Dutch oven pot, and share photos of their cooking a few weeks after I’ve gifted them a hodgepodge of near-empty spice bottles ranging from turmeric to Greek oregano.
Corresponding with and meeting these Craigslist characters, in a city that so often feels anonymous, is part of the reason I love Craigslist Free. These men, women, and occasionally children show up at my door grinning, frequently proffering a hug in exchange for my underutilized rice cooker or extraneous pack of playing cards. Part of New York’s charm is its vastness: If you want to disappear into a book—or ugly-cry—on the subway, without being noticed, you can do that here. But sometimes, it’s nice to connect, face to face, with a fellow inhabitant. Craigslist allows me to do that—and I’m not talking about the “Missed Connections” section. So as long as I live here, I’ll continue to go online to part with my unneeded stuff—and spark joy within myself in more ways than one.
Lauren Rothman is a freelance journalist based in her hometown of Brooklyn. Follow her cooking, home improvement and cat-owning adventures on Instagram: @laurenoliviarothman.