{ Come to Oberlin, get free stuff. }

Orientation week starts on Tuesday! You're all packed and ready to go, right?

Chances are that your life at Oberlin will be at least a little different from what you anticipated... and from what you packed for. Which means after about two weeks, you'll discover something: you don't need half the stuff you brought, and you didn't bring about half the stuff you need.

The other thing you'll discover, though, is that Oberlin is probably the best place in the world to find recycled, reused, free (or insanely cheap) stuff. Maybe it's because a lot of us are crunchy environmental types who can't bear to throw things away. Maybe it's just something in the water. Either way, there are a few things that send Oberlin students into throes of collective glee: sharing things we no longer need; finding new life in things that would otherwise be thrown out; banding together to buy things in bulk and sell them at-cost.

So before you hitch a ride to Wal-Mart, here are a few places you might want to get to know...

For school supplies: The Recycled Products Co-op

The RPC is a tiny little room on the third-and-a-halfth floor of Wilder; you'll know it by the big donation boxes in the hallway and the recycled-cardboard signs on the door. Students donate used school supplies that still have some life left: notebooks half-full of blank pages, binders they no longer need, extra index cards, you name it. Then other students come in and stock up on second-hand school supplies. Thanks to the RPC, you can get through four years of college (or five, if you're double-degree) without spending a cent on office supplies. They also sell brand-new notebooks, pens, and folders made from recycled materials, and really cool handmade notebooks and planners.

For everything under the sun: free boxes, free rooms, and the Free Store

Modelling the latest acquisitions at the Free Store. Photo courtesy of Ma'ayan!

Almost every dorm has a Free Box somewhere. Some, like Harkness, take it a little farther and designate an entire Free Room. These are mystical gardens of Halloween costumes, Drag Ball outfits, books, CDs, electric kettles, fishnets, posters, and cozy pajama bottoms. The mother of them all is the Free Store, in the basement of Asia House.

The idea is simple: You have a shirt that you no longer like. You put it in the free room. The next day at lunch, you see someone else wearing your shirt. It looks awesome on them! They're so happy! You're happy, too! In high school someone gave me the ugliest sweater I've ever seen. When I got to Oberlin, it disappeared into the free room, where it became a hallmate's favorite.

It's pretty exciting to walk across campus and see who's picked up your old stuff. While diving for clothes in the Free Store I scored the most wonderful, battered, paint-stained cargo pants I'd ever seen. If they were a house, they'd be a creaky old lakeshore cabin, a real fixer-upper. I patched the holes, replaced the buttons, re-hemmed the cuffs, and fell in love. The next day, someone I'd never seen before stopped me on my way across campus and said, "Man, I thought those pants were done for, but you fixed them up well - they look awesome!" Moral of the story: you never know whose pants you will end up wearing, or who will end up wearing your pants - which is all part of the fun.

For your wheels: the Bike Co-op and the Wilder bike-borrowing program

Photo from Elizabeth's Oberlin story!

The Bike Co-op, in the basement of Keep, is pretty well-known. If you haven't heard about it yet, this is the epicenter of bike culture at Oberlin. By working a few shifts or paying a small fee, you get access to their shop and their tools, and student mechanics will help you fix whatever ails your bike. (I did a short stint as a mechanic my first semester; you will get covered in grease, and you will learn more about derailleurs and chain-breakers than you ever hoped to know. If that's your thing, the Bike Co-op is definitely your place.) You can also rent a bike for $15 per semester, or build your own.

If you don't bike a lot, but you do want to take some short trips occasionally, you can also borrow bikes from the Wilder info desk when the weather's nice (that is, before fall break and after spring break). They'll take your ID as collateral, set you up with a helmet and a really nice bike, and give you two hours to go wherever you want. This is possibly one of the best-kept secrets at Oberlin.

For your health: the Sexual Information Center, HIV Peer Testers, and the Center for Leadership and Health Promotion

A big pile of safer sex kits from the CLHP.

Probably most students think of the SIC as "that place with the six-cent condoms." They have a huge closet full of safer-sex supplies: all kinds of condoms, dental dams, lubes, and pregnancy tests, sold at-cost. (Arguably the best part is the notebooks full of comments and reviews from students.) The whole thing is run by trained student volunteers, who can answer your questions, guide you through the SIC library (it's huge), provide support, and direct you to professional medical and counselling services. They also teach an ExCo about sexual health and organize events like Safer Sex Night - and sometimes they have open houses with free cupcakes...

The SIC is in Wilder 203, but go up one flight of stairs and you can also find the HIV Peer Testers and the Center for Leadership and Health Promotion. The Peer Testers are students trained to give free, confidential, anonymous HIV tests (no needles involved). Right across the hall, the CLHP provides resources and advice about everything related to wellness, from nutrition to insomnia. They'll stick a safer sex kit in your OCMR during Orientation - you can stop by their office to pick up a cold care kit (you'll need it) or a Marvin Krislov stress ball, and they organize programs like art therapy, puppy therapy, and $2 massages.

For connecting with the town of Oberlin: the city-wide garage sale and the public library

The first Saturday in September is Oberlin's city-wide garage sale. All over town, people clean out their basements and hold yard sales; usually there's a giant map. This is an awesome opportunity to walk around, explore the community, and talk to some of the folks who live here - something that a lot of Oberlin students don't do, especially in their first year. It's also a chance to find really cool stuff, especially lamps and furniture for your room, but some more random things as well. Old board games, bow ties, inflatable kiddie pools, paint cans and stencils, vintage roller skates... if you can dream of it, it's probably out there somewhere.

Oberlin's public library is fantastic. Of course, after your homework you probably won't have much time for pleasure reading, and the college library has a lot of books. But the OPL's video collection is huge. Unlike Mudd, they let you browse; unlike Netflix, they're free, with zero wait time; and unlike, say, BitTorrent, you can't get arrested for using them. They also have a book sale every semester, so you can donate your old books, pick up a bag of $1 hardcovers, and support a really important public resource.


Other folks, what am I leaving out?


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{ Responses To This Entry }

Great post, Eli. I'm always amazed by the amount of stuff one can obtain for free in Oberlin. Other things: Free cookies at so many events! Free amazing concerts and lectures all the time, and free awesome music outdoors! Free hugs! Harder to come by: free time.

Posted by: Nora on August 28, 2010 10:23 PM


Also, there are the Swap Boxes that emerge at the end of--is it each semester or each year? Anyway, there's at least one in each dorm. They get emptied into the Free Store periodically. They're very handy for last-minute this-won't-fit-into-my-allotted-storage-space purges: clothes that don't fit right, books you won't read again, room sprays you didn't like the smell of, electronics that you've replaced, one and on and on. I found a perfectly functional pair of speakers for my computer last year.

Posted by: Tess on August 29, 2010 9:37 PM


I ♥ the Oberlin Public Library.

Posted by: Zoë on August 29, 2010 10:57 PM


I realized one that my entire outfit was from free boxes. Well, not the entire outfit, but shirt, sweater, jeans, and shoes anyway.

Not sure if these count as free stuff resources or just tips-and-tricks-from-a-broke-alumna, but (1) never buy bandaids/etc. when (nearly) every dorm kitchen has a fully stocked first aid kit, and (2) when going home for break, pack dirty clothes so you can do your laundry for free at home.

Posted by: Chris on August 30, 2010 11:11 AM


Speaking of the free store...does anyone know when it is officialy open this semester? I have a bag of stuff I've been meaning to drop off for months!

Posted by: Franny on September 1, 2010 4:07 PM


Is the free store open to the community (non-students) Thank you

Posted by: BGL on August 16, 2011 2:43 AM


Hey BGL,

I don't think the Free Store is specifically restricted to students as a matter of policy, but because it's located in a dorm, you can't get in unless you're a current student or accompanied by a student. (The Big Swap, in Wilder at the end of each semester, is definitely open to the community.)

Posted by: Eli on August 16, 2011 10:41 AM



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