Online barter site reduces waste, helps stretch budgets
By DIANNE REBER HART/ Sonoma Valley Correspondent
Penny Byrd is tired of pork sausage. Delicious as it is, she’s been eating pounds and pounds of her granddaughter’s former FFA hog and she’s simply done.
Rather than start another day with smoked breakfast sausage, Byrd posts an invitation on Sonoma Hitch & Barter, the popular Facebook page where Sonoma Valley residents can find – and unload – just about anything.
“I just have too much of it and I’m moving,” reads a portion of Byrd’s post. “Trade for two burritos gift certificates . . .”
Within hours, Byrd has several offers for her 10 pounds of packaged sausage.
The exchange is just another successful transaction for Byrd, well-known in the valley as Popo the Clown, a balloon-twisting, face-painting professional clown who is a regular on Sonoma Hitch & Barter.
“I’ve had takers for everything I’ve ever put up,” says Byrd. “It is one of the most successful barters. You can put something up and it goes quickly.”
Sonoma Hitch & Barter is the 2-year-old creation of Angela and Corey Sharp-Sabatino of Boyes Hot Springs, who own and operate Clutter Bug Professional Organizers.
Their Facebook page was inspired by their work helping others sort through their piles of possessions.
In addition to organizing homes and offices to maximize efficiency, the couple, both 42, tackle work and living spaces overflowing with unwanted and unnecessary items.
They’ve worked with hoarders, once removing four tons of “stuff” from a two-bedroom home. They’ve also helped clients who’ve inherited households jam-packed with lifetimes of accumulation – and with senior citizens who want to prevent that burden for their own families.
Seeing such accumulation and waste hit the women in a big way.
“I was thinking about the journey to the landfill,” says Corey Sharp-Sabatino. “We do our best when we work to keep things out of the landfill and stop the acquisition of new products to begin with.”
She approached her partner about starting a Facebook page where people could post photos and descriptions of items for trade, helping both those in need of something and those wanting to get rid of something.
“The idea was everyone has something they need and everyone has something in their homes they can’t use,” she says.
Sonoma Hitch & Barter also was intended as a place to share and arrange transportation, although that effort has taken off more slowly.
Most of the activity is bartering for goods and services. Wine and gift cards often are exchanged for everything from kids’ toys and clothing to household appliances and furniture.
Fresh-picked produce is popular, and not just the requisite abundance of summertime zucchini. There have been trades for homemade cupcakes and cookies, eggs, figs, kale and a farmers-market full of other fruits and vegetables.
Recent swaps included cowboy boots, a dressmaker’s form, a cuckoo clock, table legs, a hair dryer, a desk, an electric stove, Barbie dolls, jewelry and a child’s painting easel.
Services are bartered as well – professional massages, housecleaning, weeding, handyman work, bookkeeping, Web services and more. Sometimes items are offered for free (recently four tickets to Discovery Kingdom) and occasionally someone will loan an item rather than seek a trade.
More than 450 people are members of the open group, subject to approval by the Sharp-Sabatinos. They are careful to keep scammers away and include only Sonoma Valley residents willing to follow a few simple rules: no exchange of cash, keep things family-friendly, trade in good faith.
The Sharp-Sabatinos have traded an area rug for a doghouse, planters for a professional massage, an Ikea wardrobe unit for workout equipment, a barbecue for wine and organizational skills for an entertainment center they transformed into an office station.
The couple say one of their favorite swaps was trading a barely-used bicycle for figs. A young, single mom was beyond grateful to receive the bike she truly needed but couldn’t afford, a transaction made possible because she had fruit to share.
“It’s really about the closeness of our community and the willingness of people to share,” says Angela Sharp-Sabatino. “All I wanted was some figs and she needed a bike and it made this much of a difference.”
That, the women say, is truly what it’s about.
“I think you have to help each other out. You have to pitch in and help each other out,” says Corey Sharp-Sabatino. “Things are a lot easier if you work together as a community.”
Ironically, they say, the tough economy led to their Clutter Bug business. Both had been downsized in their jobs – Angela was an elementary school teacher, Corey an activities director at a retirement community – so they opened their business out of financial necessity.
A year later, they started Sonoma Hitch & Barter as a way to reduce waste, save money and help community members through tough times.
“The inspiration for this is really the economy,” says Corey Sharp-Sabatino. “People need stuff but they’re strapped for cash. It was about the economy of bartering and slowing down the consumer frenzy.”
There is no cost to barter goods or services and the Sharp-Sabatinos make no money from Sonoma Hitch & Barter.
They are happy to be a part of the reduce-reuse-recycle movement in their community and view the project as a way to keep exchanges safe and local.
“You can’t not reveal who you are,” says Angela Sharp-Sabatino. “You’re local. Your name is out there. You can be traced if you’re a naughty guy or if you’re a flake.”
The couple are pleased they’ve sparked interest in bartering, once a standard way of doing business. Two similar groups started this month, Petaluma Trading Post and Marin Barter Network, both inspired by Sonoma Hitch & Barter.
They hope the movement grows to even more neighboring communities.
“That’s what I love about it – it’s the community supporting each other through tough times,” says Corey Sharp-Sabatino.
For more information, visit Sonoma Hitch & Barter on Facebook or clutterbug.us.