Former Associate editor Margret Aldrich on the hunt for happiness, community, and how humans thrive
Decorated with brightly colored wallpaper and pots of cheery flowers, Giveboxes are festive additions to Germany’s city streets. The small structures, which look like a cross between a phone booth and a gardening shed, hold community-donated items that are free for the taking, says Dougal Squires on Slow Travel Berlin. Clothing, books, shoes, blankets, bags, lamps, glassware, and cologne are examples of the useful(ish) things up for grabs.
The idea for Giveboxes came from an anonymous Berliner known only as Andy or Andreas. (Go to Slow Travel Berlin’s website to hear an engaging interview with the Givebox founder.) Since the first Givebox debuted in Berlin last summer—constructed in an eyesore of a spot that was often used as an improvised public toilet—more have popped up in Hamburg, Vienna, Paris, Copenhagen, and elsewhere, with a miniature version making its way to San Francisco.
Cash-free shopping ventures are popular in many parts of the world, with freecycling and free stores found in North America and Europe. But Giveboxes offer an advantage, writes Chloe Lloyd in E Magazine:
The Givebox cuts out the middleman, hassle and arrangement requirements intrinsic to the better-known “freecycling.” The anonymity of the Givebox also supports the notion that it doesn’t matter who we are giving to as long as there is someone who is in need of goods that we no longer use.
To me, Giveboxes most closely call to mind the charming Little Free Libraries springing up in U.S. neighborhoods, which encourage passersby to leave a book or take a book. Both projects encourage community involvement and reuse, along with a pint-size dose of informal artistic expression.
Want to build a Givebox in your town? Andy/Andreas offers plans, costs, and marketing materials on Givebox’s Facebook page, albeit in German. Let’s find a translator and keep up this communal spirit of giving—I’ve got a rice cooker, a dog-eared copy of The Stranger, and a 1960s red wool coat with your name on them.
Images via Givebox.
Margret Aldrich is an associate editor at Utne Reader. Follow her on Twitter at @mmaldrich.