Ask Unclutterer: Donating vs. freecycling

Reader Happy Mum asked the following question in the comment section of my prior post, The power of 15-30 minutes per day:

What are considerations re: offering via freecycle vs. donating to charity shop?

For those unfamiliar with freecycle groups, they are local online communities whose members offer things to each other, for free.

Happy Mum, while you got many good responses from other readers, I thought I’d share a list of questions to ask yourself when making the donate-vs.-freecycle decision.

Which method is most meaningful to you?

I’m often donating on behalf of clients, some of whom are interested in the tax credit for making a donation. Some are happy to support the charity running the thrift store, too. But others prefer knowing their items are going to someone who can use the item, right now, and they enjoy seeing the thank you notes from freecyclers who get their items.

What is convenient?

I happen to have a good freecycle group in my neighborhood. (I’m biased, since I’m one of the group owners.) I also have a charity thrift shop very close by, with hours that work well for me. There’s also another charity that does curbside pickups of donations every month or two. But not everyone will have all these choices, and sometimes picking the easiest method is the best.

Is it worth a little extra effort to donate to a specific charity?

There’s a group in my area called Be a Dear and Donate a Brassiere, where the bras it collects go to women in homeless shelters. I keep a donation bag going and drop it off when I happen to be driving near a drop-off site. My neighborhood also has an annual charity book sale on Labor Day weekend and accepts donations throughout August, so if it’s getting close to August I might set aside books to be donated there. Another example: If you have a functional but unused activity tracker, you might like to send it off to RecycleHealth.

What items does the charity shop take?

Mine will not take toys, electrical items, large furniture, etc. But it’s a great place to donate clothing and kitchen items such as glassware and serving pieces.

What items go well on freecycle?

This will be location-dependent, but I know that craft items, non-fiction books, and pet supplies are some of the things that go quickly on my group. Women’s clothes can be challenging to freecycle due to fit issues, so I almost always donate those.

Freecycle can be useful for getting rid of things most thrift stores won’t take. For example, my own group has recently found new homes for moving boxes, amaryllis bulbs, cans of coconut water, a frozen turkey, and a console (missing the back panel) with a non-functioning tube radio and a record player. Freecycle is also good for getting rid of bulky items that are hard to move (and often not accepted at charity stores), such as file cabinets and exercise equipment.

To find your local freecycle group, simply do an online search for the word freecyle and the name of your city. lists many groups, but some excellent freecycle groups chose not to be part of this network. For local giveaway alternatives, you can also look into Nextdoor or the free section of craigslist. In the U.K., you might look at Freegle. And in some neighborhoods, just putting something at the curb with a “free” sign is a good way to give things away.

6 Comments for “Ask Unclutterer: Donating vs. freecycling”

  1. posted by Pat Reble on

    Great summary! You have to be careful with the free at the curb option, as some local authorities view it as dumping and it incurs an instant fine if you’ve got vigilante neighbours.

  2. posted by Kristina on

    I have to say the Freecycle was great when it worked. The big problem I had was people saying they wanted it then not showing up. Some people are just highly unreliable. I recommend giving people 2 chances to show up for the item and then skip to the next person that wants it.

  3. posted by Happy Mum on

    Thanks very much for this post and comments, and also for comments on “the power of 15-30 minutes” post, answering my question. Very helpful, and very much appreciated. Best to all.

  4. posted by laura m. on

    Pat R.: I love pulling up to the curb in this high density subdivision and pick thru boxes, many left open or in piles, knowing folks want to pick out what they want. If anything is left on the curb it’s on city property and will eventually picked up by the trash collectors once a week. I donate good used clothign and household items to several group homes and foster care networks.

  5. posted by SkiptheBS on

    Curbside rules, if your city and/or HOA allow it. I’d rather prowl garbage than go to the mall. You’d be amazed how many repairers make side bucks off fixing garbage appliances. Thrift stores are good for clothing and small household, but they are now selling “the good stuff” online at elevated prices.

  6. posted by Barb on

    Freecycle’s purpose is to keep things out of the landfill, so it irks me when people post “curb alerts”. Many freecycle groups won’t allow this. If the idea is to keep things out of the landfill, it should not come down to a race between interested parties and the trash collectors. I suggest keeping the item in your home, and giving it to the first person who shows up. Don’t save for someone who promises to come over because – as was mentioned above – many do not.

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