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Waste Is Woeful: A How To Guide For Grabbing Sidewalk Freebies During A Pandemic

By Amelia Young for Boston Compass (#125)

July 22, 2020

Hey good people! My name’s Amelia. I’m guest-writing this month’s Trash is Tragic, with Mel’s blessing. It’s great to be here.

If you’re reading this, I’d bet my finest sidewalk chalk we have two things in common: concern for the environment and knee-jerk neck-crane for sidewalk freebies.

As of this writing, I’m avoiding all indoor shopping except for groceries. However, I’ve been wearing the same 3 pairs of pants for 6 months, and a roommate and her furniture are moving soon. This plus budget and sustainability concerns got me thinking: How can I exchange used goods in the pandemic?

The following is my personal system for safe COVID-19 curbsiding.

A longer version lives on the Brain Arts website, and additionally covers donating, purchasing, and exchanging. What a bargain!

NOTE: I am neither a doctor nor a public health expert, so please use your own judgment, and keep current with scientific findings and CDC guidelines.



  • Check with housemates - feelings about curbsiding, safety, space use

  • Pack: hand sanitizer, phone, wallet, keys, tote bag(s), hand tools if needed

  • Wash hands, put on clean mask, then shoes - this order means I don’t touch my facemask with my shoehands



  • I always maintain social distance from other pickers (6 feet, ideally more).

  • If other folks get too close or aren’t wearing masks I ask them to follow safety measures, then leave if I’m uncomfortable.

  • Handy Assumptions:

  • 1: All outdoor objects are contaminated

  • 2: If I touch something, my hands are contaminated

  • 3: Anything I touch has now been contaminated by me

  • Check for ordinary issues: bugs, water damage, mold, cracks, functionality, etc.



  • In my house we don’t bring something inside until it’s been cleaned

  • In-between spaces (entryway, driveway, porch) temporarily hold new items

  • After depositing my haul, I immediately clean myself:

  1. Remove shoes

  2. Wash hands

  3. Remove mask

  4. Change clothes

  5. Wash hands pt.2



I use 4 main methods depending on the object:


  • Current studies say COVID-19 can survive on surfaces up to 72h (3 full days) under normal conditions

  • I put stuff in a predetermined spot where it won’t be touched, or in “lie fallow bags,” then label with date/time

  • After 3 full days, I do any other needed cleaning


  • Cloth items go straight in the washing machine, hot cycle

  • If fabric is delicate, I let it lie fallow (3 days), then cold cycle or handwash

  1. HOT H2O + SOAP

  • For water-safe objects, duh

  • Better than rubbing alcohol because it removes more dirt (which can hold onto virus particles)


  • Useful for electronics and other water-phobic objects

  • Using washable cotton rags reduces waste


With all the college campus lockdowns, 2020 is starting to look like The Year Without Allston Christmas. However, I truly believe that if we’re careful, and keep love in our hearts and masks on our faces, every day can be Allston Christmas.

A toast to your good health,



Check out all the art and columns of July's Boston Compass at


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