The Oberlin Stories Project

On starting the Free Store

Kym Buzdygon ’07

“I am so grateful to have been at a place where ideas like the Free Store... are so well-received and supported. Oberlin is really a great place to have initiative on any scale.”

Kim wears a chicken hat with mock seriousness

When I first arrived at Oberlin, I could barely get out of my mother’s Toyota station wagon. Not because I was reluctant to start my college career–it was more that the car was packed so full that I was afraid shifting my position would start an avalanche cascading into the parking lot next to Dascomb.

Being a little bit of a pack-rat runs in the family (you should see my mom’s office), and my freshman room was legendary for holding anything anyone might need, with the only caveat being that the desired item was probably buried under many layers of assorted debris.

So imagine my joy at discovering the Big Swap at the end of the year: a chance to get rid of (a few) things, and acquire (well, more than a few) things, everything pre-owned and free for the taking in Wilder. Becoming a Recycler in my sophomore year made it even better, because doing the pick-ups meant we got first dibs! But by the end of running around like a maniac in the midst of finals and hauling away obscene amounts of unwanted things, the idea of looking through one more bag of clothes made even me feel a little nauseated. Surely there had to be a way to reduce the sheer amount of stuff being chucked out at the end of the year?

And thus the idea for a permanent swap space was born. A place that would be available year round for students to get rid of things they didn’t want, to update their wardrobe from time to time, and to limit both consumption and waste–why buy new towels at Wal-Mart if a slightly used but still serviceable one is available for free? The idea also stemmed in part from my work with an awesome group of people starting up the Recycled Products Co-op (the RPC), which shares the basic precept but concentrates mostly on school and office supplies, and also offers some new items made from recycled material.

It took a bit of work to secure a physical location, since space is always at such a premium on campus. But by my senior year we had the place up, running, and prospering, complete with the lovely mannequin torso Pauline to model all the latest fashions coming through. Some of my favorite things that have passed through include a fantastic chicken hat, a “sassy Santa” outfit made out of faux-fur trimmed pink satin, and a pair of knee high lace up boots, which I promptly snagged. At this point, most of my wardrobe consists of things I’ve gotten from either the swap or the Free Store.

During my time at Oberlin, I was involved in a lot of different organizations and activities, to the point where I sort of gained a reputation for trying to do a million different things all at the same time. But my work on the Free Store is something that is really special to me, because it was a project that I personally dreamed up, designed, and executed (with, of course, the dedicated help of staff and fellow recyclers). It was my own way to leave a little bit of a legacy on campus. And I am so grateful to have been at a place where ideas like the Free Store and the RPC are so well-received and supported. Oberlin is really a great place to have initiative on any scale, although I’m convinced that Oberlin students are so motivated because of the weather–if it were sunny and warm all the time, people would be too distracted to start all those new clubs, community projects, and global initiatives.

As for the Free Store, I hope that it and other recycling initiatives continue to grow and evolve on campus as new students make improvements to the system as well as starting projects of their own. I’ll end with a cheap plug for anyone reading this on campus who hasn’t been to the Free Store: go check it out RIGHT NOW in the basement of Asia House (hours posted on the door). Because that sassy Santa outfit isn’t going to stay around forever.