Tidying Up Versus Where’s My Free Stuff

The dreaded line that said You’ve Been Dumped From Vine arrived with as little fanfare as had the invitation. Twelve years ago, Amazon rolled out a program that allowed select persons to receive free stuff in exchange for reviews. By the time I got my invite, I’d been snobbishly submitting book-reviews-only for a long time, simply because doing so forced me to pay better attention while reading.

The Amazon Vine program has changed over the years. Nowadays, each person may view his or her Queue at any time and choose any number of items; however, he or she is must submit a review on every single item (at his or her leisure). Amazon tracks the taxable value (typically less than the sale price, occasionally more) and provides a FORM 1099-MISC at the end of the year with a line by line account of taxable income for each item. The checking of one’s Vine Queue offerings feels a bit like waking up on Christmas morning as a kid. And you can do it whenever you want. The end was bittersweet. No longer would I get free stuff. Then again, no longer would I accumulate occasional items for which I had little use. And I’d have more time to spend on other interests. As with most Vine-related things, actions (like getting kicked) aren’t accompanied by an explanation, so I wasn’t exactly sure why; however, just before it happened, a strange snafu had Amazon freezing my account and removing my reviews. Once fixed, they asked me back. Of course, I accepted without hesitation, which means I must not be as much of a minimalist as I think I am.

Amazon Vine Queue (sample items from May 2019)

Before you turn green, you should note a few things:

Items offered in each Vine reviewer’s Queue vary based on a bunch of things that remain secret. All Vine Voices are not equal–sometimes when I choose an item from my queue, I can see that fellow Vine Voices have already: ordered, received, tried out and submitted a review on the item. This leads me to believe that we are rated, reviewed and/or ranked in some way. And I’m not very high up. In addition, even though Amazon does ask for Vine reviewers’ clothing and shoe size as well as hobbies and activities, and the company may occasionally offer items that are exactly a reviewer’s thing, more often than not, it’s like being in kindergarten: You get what you get and you don’t throw a fit, from XS-XXL and for ages 1-100. My Queue typically contains about 60 items, of which 5-10% are things that might fit and/or be of interest to me.

All this seemed much more fun before I read Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, which helped me better appreciate (and treat) my socks, my home, and my library, which I put through a purge of epic proportions. I’ve always been an anti-pack-rat, but Ms. Kondo’s suggestions led me down an even more minimalistic path. With her encouragement, I let go of about 800 books, every trophy I ever received (after photographing the entire lot), a limited number of photographs and a whole bunch of clothes that still fit that I rarely wore. I didn’t follow her signature statement of advice (p 41), ‘…the best way to choose what to keep and what to throw away is to take each item in one’s hand and ask: “Does this spark joy?” If it does, keep it. If not, dispose of it,’ to the letter, but I did get rid of a bunch of stuff. And after doing so, it became harder to accept new stuff, except when it’s good stuff.

Over the years, I’ve acquired some not so great items from Amazon Vine, primarily clothes that turned out not to fit quite right, and some absolutely amazing things, like running apparel, gear and shoes; an awesome computer monitor; and about a dozen pre-release books that I loved. Since being reinstated as a Vine reviewer armed with an understanding of the KonMari Method, I find it easier to resist items that the old me would have accepted, which is a good thing.

How might you join the Amazon Vine Program? That’s another mystery, “At this time, participation in Amazon Vine is limited to select customers who have been invited to join the program.” As for me, I’ll continue to try to walk the line between accepting free stuff and tidying up…until they dump me permanently.

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