In praise of freecycle

Almost any time I do some uncluttering, I wind up with things that are still in good shape and that would be useful to someone. In many cases, it isn’t worth my time and effort to sell these items. While I sometimes donate such items to charity, I often offer them up on my local freecycle group.

Freecycle groups exist in local communities around the world, and they’re all dedicated to helping keep useful items out of landfill. The communication is usually done via email lists. I’m a huge fan — I’m even a volunteer moderator for my local group — for a number of reasons:

  1. Freecycle makes things easy. I offer the item, one or more people ask for it, and I pick a recipient. That person comes and just picks it up off my front porch, if that’s what I choose. I don’t need to go anywhere to drop something off; I don’t need to be home when the recipient arrives.
  2. I can give away things I couldn’t easily donate. What do you do with a bottle of a nice shampoo that you’ve used a few times, but decided it’s not quite right for you? I can freecycle that item pretty easily. I can also give away books with highlighting and marginalia, the plastic hangers that my neighbor was about to toss because Goodwill didn’t want them, a set of inspirational CDs with a few of the CDs missing, and houseplants.
  3. There’s usually immediate gratification. When I give something away on freecycle, I know it has gone to someone who really wanted it — and that’s a good feeling. I’ve especially enjoyed getting school supplies into the hands of teachers, and getting yarn to people who knit scarves and hats for a local charity.

    And if I freecycle on behalf of someone else, I can pass along the sweet thank you notes I often receive. Here’s one example, from someone who took some Christmas ornaments I offered one year: “Thank you very much for passing these onto me. … The gorgeous ornaments will grace our tree and be part of our memories for years to come.”

  4. I get to know my neighbors. There’s someone I knew in passing before we crossed paths on freecycle, but I never knew he was into cooking until he sent me some requests. One freecycler lives a block away from me, and that’s how we met.And I’ve made some good friends using freecycle, too. One friendship resulted from giving away a single CD — Verdi’s Aida with Placido Domingo — back in 2009. Another friendship started back in 2007 and developed more slowly, as we kept running into each other on freecycle and began to realize the many things we had in common.

Steps you can take: Want to join your local freecycle group? You can go to Freecycle.org and search for groups that are part of The Freecycle Network. Because not all freecycle groups are part of that network, you might just want to use your favorite search engine to find your local group; search for the name of your city and the word freecycle. In the U.K., some freecycling groups have joined together to form Freegle as an alternative to The Freecycle Network, so you might look there.

18 Comments for “In praise of freecycle”

  1. posted by Christy King on

    My favorite was when I free-cycled a child’s bike. The boy who came with his mom to pick it up was so excited. I loved getting to see his face light up.

  2. posted by CPJC on

    I have listed decluttered stuff for free on craigslist as well and it works wonders.

  3. posted by Marie on

    Freecycle is great in theory, but it attracts some shady people–at least here, a suburb near a major city. Think twice before inviting someone to your home to take something. You might be better off meeting them in a crowded public place.

  4. posted by Jeannette on

    Here in a major NE city, freecycle does not work so well. I’ve used it off and on for several years, and, much to my surprise, found the experience to be anything but easy. (This contrasts to my very positive experiences with Craigslist both in buying and selling.)

    Listing is easy. It’s dealing with folks who want your stuff. For every polite person, there are many more who are demanding (What do you mean you aren’t available right now for me to pick it up?) and exasperating (I provide very very detailed information on available items and times when we’re available for pickup. And yet, I get people who expect me to pay to ship or to deliver to them? Hello! This is freecycle. YOU want it? YOU pick it up.)

    There’s also the issue of having to basically monitor it constantly if you want something, time I don’t have. Even on craigslist where things move fast, they don’t move THAT fast and most folks keep a listing up until the item is actually picked up/paid for, whatever.

    When I am on the opposite end on freecycle, wanting to pick up something, I have had people cancel multiple times to the point where I just had to say: No thanks. Worse, you get there and the item is NOT as described either in condition or size. People even lie about living in an elevator building after you’ve said you cannot go / up downstairs.

    Things may be better in smaller communities, but we’re a big, big, big city with people from all over. For whatever reason, it’s easier to ferret out the flakes (sorry, can’t think of a word) from the serious and polite folks.

    What we need in cities are “People’s exchanges” to go and leave stuff, get a “credit” and then go back. We used to donate tons to Salvation Army, Goodwill until we found out that most stuff never made it to the public but was snapped up by employees who were selling stuff on ebay. Sorry. But I didn’t donate to them to sell on ebay. I wanted my stuff in the hands of folks who could not afford it.

    We’ve been trying to find out if local churches have resources to help families in need get donations of clothing, household items, etc. that we would be happy to even deliver if we knew they were going to help those truly in need of them, and not be the inventory for folks running their own biz out of a charity’s store!

  5. posted by Melanie on

    What works for us is to simply put the item on the boulevard between the street and the sidewalk with a big FREE sign on it. Most things will be gone within the hour. My mom does this with houseplants that have outgrown her space; and we have done it with household items, including old exercise equipment.

    Quick story: I have two adjacent rental properties that became vacate at about the same time. Both tenants–and previous tenants–had left behind a random selection of furniture and appliances (microwaves, appliance carts, chairs, dressers, mirrors, etc.). We put out 35 items on the front lawn and in the time it took us to go around the house and look out the front window there were 15 people in the yard looking at the items. Within 1 hour all but 3 items were gone; and all were gone before nightfall.

  6. posted by Leslie on

    I enjoyed the freecycle network when I lived in a different area. Because of our location, it was easy for me to leave the items out for pick up with the person’s name on it. For the most part, I was able to give enough detailed info about the item and when it would be available that it made it easy. Now, we did have a lot of flakes in the group. I started keeping a list of those who tended to pounce first to listings and then not bother to show so I made sure I didn’t ‘choose’ them. I did get a bit annoyed when certain items (which had some value and were smilingly/happily picked up by someone who was excited to get it and use it) later showed up for sale on craigslist.

    On the other end, some of those offering items would have quite the laundry list of criteria before they would pick that person and that got old quick.

    I much prefer craigslist for saleable items. It’s free and doesn’t take long to move items. For those of more value, I will use ebay. For free items, craigslist (again) or donation.

  7. posted by April on

    I live in Tokyo and I’ve used our Freecycle a number of times. It’s not the sweet community yours seems to be, but otherwise it’s been great. We’ve given and received things through it. In fact, we just got a barely used IKEA crib through it two days ago, though we had been planning on buying the exact same thing. 🙂

  8. posted by April on

    I should also note that craislist in Tokyo kind of stinks… not much there, and what is posted often seems shady. Nothing like craigslist in the US.

  9. posted by ChrisD on

    I’ve found freecycle in London (north London) works really well. Most people are nice and prompt. Most of my stuff can’t be sold, otherwise I would give it to a charity shop (there are three on my highstreet now and in the UK they have a good reputation). e.g. charity shops can’t take electronics, probably not blades, they wouldn’t take a set of half used up wool from an old craft project, which was happily freecycled.
    Regarding the ‘value’ of my stuff, personally I’ve found I tend to over value my own stuff and when I tried listing stuff on ebay I spent a lot of time and effort to get very little money. Gumtree claims that the average (UK) person has £3000 worth of unused stuff, but either that is rubbish or I am very far below average (I’m going with the first one).

  10. posted by Tequila on

    I send my childs outgrown clothes to school so the kids can have them or they can be put in the districts clothes closet. Old toys,books, magazines are sent to my childs teacher. The teacher keeps what they want and puts the rest in the teachers lounge so the other teachers can see if they want anything. Old childrens DVD’s are given to newly minted teachers so they can start their collection for there classrooms. I do the samething with art and craft supplies I no longer need or want.

  11. posted by Michaela on

    I used to go the Freecycle route, but times have changed. Anymore I stick items on my curb, and *boom* they are gone usually the same day.

    I loved using Freecycle until last year when I just had issues after issues. People didn’t return emails, and then they didn’t show up after scheduling a pickup. One person came for an item I left on my porch, and took other items that were not theirs (literally my porch knick-nacks). Other people said they would come, and then later admitted to not having a vehicle and asking me to drop off the item (heck no!). Another person got downright nasty with me when I politely replied to their numerous emails asking for an item and I said it was gone. The icing on the cake was when I was waiting for two ladies to show up for two different items – and the first person lied and took the items for the second person. Then the second person got unbelievably mad at me . . . I was done!!!

  12. posted by DawnF on

    We love our FreeCycle in San Antonio. We just leave the item(s) on our front porch at the agreed upon time so we don’t have a stranger come into our home ~ it’s an easy transaction for both parties.

    One time we had an old lawnmower that needed to be repaired and I put it on Freecycle and a man contacted me saying he could easily fix the lawnmower for his son who was starting a summer lawn mowing service. The father and son were so happy to receive the lawnmower.

    I was lucky recipient of a huge batch of scrapbooking items. Oh my gosh, the lady must have nearly a thousand different embellishments, papers, stickers, albums, tools ~ all sorts of amazing scrapbook items that she never even opened! It was such a huge excitement to open the boxes of goodies. I shared lots of items with my scrapbooking friends ~ that FreeCycle transaction blessed many people.

    Like with anything, as long as people are honest, respectful and courteous, the FreeCycle system can work out great for everyone involved.

  13. posted by Jessica on

    I also had problems with Freecycle. I was a member for 7 years.

    Once, I had someone get abusive over email, with threats to my safety, when I didn’t select them to receive an item.

    Then there were the people who responded with something crass like “want it now” no matter what you offered. They’d respond that to EVERY offer. I blacklisted those people on my email.

    Then I started including a requirement to reply with the exact date and time of pickup. People who didn’t comply, I blacklisted. I also blacklisted the numerous no-shows. I also specifically stated “no resellers”.

    The last straw for me was last year when I was offering a bag of yarn. I had a no-show. I emailed that person to say that the offer was rescinded due to her not showing up.

    Two days later, I had someone else coming to pick up the item. I put the item on my porch that morning and I had some errands to run throughout the morning so I wasn’t sure if I’d be home when the pickup was to occur.

    So when I got home and got back to my email, the person who was supposed to pick up had emailed me that there was nothing on my porch and wanted to know what the deal was.

    I replied with the fact that I had placed the item on my porch.

    I had a hunch that the no-show from two days previous had taken the item, so I emailed that person. After a day, the person confessed to coming to my house and taking the item without my permission.

    I forwarded that email to the Freecycle group moderator.

    The group moderator told me to “be nice and work it out”, basically condoning the theft.

    I quit the group, not before replying to the moderator that I refused to be part of a group that condones theft.

  14. posted by Emily on

    Well I tried Freecycle a few years back. Joined the local group in West Palm Beach. And…I was told in not so polite terms, that I “misunderstood what freecycle was.”
    Because, you see, I was trying to give away things that were still usable. And apparently I was only supposed to give away things that I would “trash.” Junk. Refuse.
    Yep. If I would completely throw it out I was allowed to list it, but if it was something good that I might donate elsewhere, than no way – it didn’t “belong” on Freecyle.
    Okaaayy…
    I now give my free stuff away on Craigslist.

  15. posted by joann on

    I live in nyc, it doesnt get any bigger than that in freecycle group numbers. i love it here. my old group was only 11,000 people. as long as you take the items away from my home i dont care whether you resell it. i just want it out asap. hope those who have suckie freecycles gets better for you.

  16. posted by Richard Friese on

    Use to use Freecycle in our area a major abuse is giving away big items that are nonworking or what would be total trash. Rather then pay the hauling charge for a large item people are so generous they “give” their trash to others only to find out they now have to get rid of a piece of junk at their expense. Its become so prevalent the two free cycle boards in the area are loaded with large items. Many listed as “fixer uppers”. Don’t know how many people can fix the old box big screen tvs though everyone has a fixer upper here. I gave up on listing or getting anything cause the same items are listed over and over leave people to distrust the board. RJF

  17. posted by meghan k on

    I dont understand why anyone cares if a reseller gets their free item. i’m happy to give freecycle items to a reseller. if they have the time to deal with that, more power to them. the fact that i’m offering it for free indicates it has no value to me.

  18. posted by Brandy on

    I love Freecycle. I have really decluttered my house using it and amvets and ARC (the 2 come to your house pick-up charitys. They are 3 great systems. I dont give though, anything I consider trash. I trash trash and give re-usable items. I dont think theres any issues. I dont want something what do I care if they make a buck off it. If I wanted that buck I’d do the work, but let them have it. Also, for Freecycle Im wary but I try to be home when they come, and I have 5 crazzy dogs so Im not too worried about someone comeing back to rob me, they’d pick a better target (someone with no pets).

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