The Free Spot: When “mine” becomes “ours”

February 19, 2013
By

freeTwo Christmases ago, my parents gave me a beautiful new desk chair for use when I am away from Uganda, and in San Diego working on my PhD.  (Mom’s always worried about my back pain, and Dad’s very generous.)

As I assembled my new chair, I contemplated what to do with the old one.  I decided that surely someone else in my 100-year-old apartment building was likely to need it, so I used a marker and made a paper sign which I taped to the seat, and then I put the chair downstairs in our humble lobby.  The sign read simply, “FREE. Take me to your desk.”

Within hours, it was gone.

But then something fun happened.  Every day since, in that very spot in the lobby, other items have appeared.  It’s now known as “The Free Spot.”  Signs aren’t even needed anymore.  It’s just known that if something is resting in that place, and you want it, it’s yours.

Just this week alone, there has been a toaster oven, a storage bin, a toaster, and yesterday: three beers.

No matter how tired I am, every time I enter our building and see “The Free Spot” offering a new item, I smile.  I very much like this notion of sharing, of community—of offering.

A few months ago, I ran into a new neighbor in the hall.  He asked, “By chance, did you see my backpack in the lobby?”

“Sorry, no, I didn’t,” I said.

“I didn’t know about ‘The Free Spot,’” he said, “and I rested my backpack there, and now it’s gone.”

I advised him to simply put a note on the front door.  I told him I was sure that whoever took it would understand, and bring it back.  He did so.

Within an hour, the note was gone, and the backpack was returned.

Ugandans taught me this great joy of sharing.  The sense of what is “MINE” is replaced with a notion of what is “OURS.”  Clothes, shoes, cars, phones—virtually everything is shared.  Little discussion is needed beyond “I need to use that,” followed by, “Ok.”  And that’s it.

I fear that in the “west,” we clutch to our belongings—and lose our humanity—as we build a life of possessions instead of relationships, of prosperity instead of purpose.

Of receiving in place of offering.

But it’s so easy to change that.

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9 Responses to The Free Spot: When “mine” becomes “ours”

  1. Lynda P
    February 19, 2013 at 7:53 am

    Delightful! I’m so glad this trend is growing, with local websites available to give items away free, and second-hand stores now ‘trendy’ instead of ‘stigmatized’.

  2. Tom slack
    February 19, 2013 at 8:08 am

    I know personally about what happens when you hang on to things/stuff you get titled as a border. I became for a few months homIeless I put my things / stuff in storage I came to realize thar these things were just that not the ingredients for a lasting fullfilling happiness. Now I have resolved to love give and focus on the importance of living is to share share that is the important ingredients love,kindness,gentleness.
    (

  3. suzy from Africa
    February 19, 2013 at 8:54 am

    WHAT A REFRESHING STORY! How neat for all in your building that you created a FREE SPOT and the joy it brings to both the giver and receiver. SHARING AND GIVING is a vital part of spiritual well being.Thank you for the wonderful reminder!

  4. Lynne
    February 19, 2013 at 8:17 pm

    Last year our family discovered how much people love helping newlyweds and young people just starting out. With the exception of a kitchen table and chairs that my daughter and new husband bought off Craigslist, all their other furniture were secondhand gifts from a note Aleah posted on Facebook. They also got a beautiful set of dishes.

  5. Pepi
    February 25, 2013 at 7:51 am

    Thanks for reminding us the joy of sharing. I’m offering to share a cup (or more) of coffee with you next time you are in the Valley of the Son, my friend.

    Love the insight that you share in your posts! (sharing, again…)

    =)

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Nathaniel is CEO of AidChild.org. He holds a Master's Degree in Human Development and Psychology from Harvard University where he was a Reynolds Fellow in Social Entrepreneurship, and winner of the 2010 Harvard HDP Marshal Award. He also holds a PhD in Leadership Studies from the University of San Diego where he was the Dammeyer Fellow in Global Education Leadership, and a Cordes Fellow at Opportunity Collaboration. Nathaniel is author of "We Are Not Mahogany: Three stories about the male African life." Prior to his move to Uganda in 2000, Nathaniel was Deputy Director of the Office of the Governor of Arizona, and Director of Education at Leadership, Inc.

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