Wednesday, December 29, 2010

WotW: Too much stuff? Freecycle it!

In the post-Christmas haze, do you find yourself feeling buried? Perhaps by all of the surplus STUFF you have now that the holiday spoils are no longer hidden away but instead are unwrapped and underfoot?

Instead of loading up the dumpster and sending the stuff-that's-still-good-but-we-don't-need/want-anymore to the landfill, find it a new home through The Freecycle Network.

Freecycle is a combination of "free" and "recycle" (which I'm sure you figured out) and is a worldwide network of people keeping useful stuff out of landfills. Local groups are run by local volunteers and joining up is completely free.

Find a local group (or two or three) by going to and entering your town or another town near you. Click on the area/city from the list to be taken to the main page for that group.

To join the group, you'll either join a Yahoo Group or join a group right on Freecycle: Some groups are still using Yahoo Groups, but many groups (including the three closest groups to me) have switched to groups hosted right on the Freecycle site. If the group is still hosted with Yahoo, you'll see the Yahoo group address on the main page and go there to join. If the group is hosted with Freecycle, you'll just see a Sign Up/Login button.

Once you've joined, you'll be able to see and add to the posts for that Freecycle group, as well as subscribe to receive email updates. Each group can set their own rules/guidelines/courtesies, but all groups should have the same four post labels:

OFFER: an item that you have that you no longer want and are willing to give to someone
TAKEN: the item up for grabs has found a new home

WANTED: an item that you are seeking that someone might have and be willing to give to you
RECEIVED: the item that you sought is in your possession

Keep in mind that Freecycle is mainly for OFFERs, not for WANTEDs. I was shocked at the number of "wanted" posts in my local groups, and had to set up a "delete these" filter in my Gmail account to keep my inbox from being filled with oodles of "wanted" posts. (I choose to get an email for every post in each group I have joined, but you can choose to get a daily or weekly digest instead if you prefer.)

To post an offer, just log in to the group and... post. Depending on the settings chosen by the local administrator, posts may be limited to a certain number of characters or you may be able to add a photo of the item.

Now to answer some questions you might have (in the opinion and experience of yours truly):

1. So... does Freecycle actually work to keep things out of landfills and get them out of my house/garage?

Yes! The success of your local group depends completely on your local members, however -- some area groups thrive while others just don't. And some things aren't destined to be saved -- I see lots of posts for non-working TVs or other items that "might work with some loving attention" -- and some of those things probably don't find a home through Freecycle. But other items are definitely meant to be saved and loved by someone else.

For example, my husband and I had two old bicycles that we weren't using. They definitely needed some work -- new brakes, new tires, etc -- but otherwise were still usable bikes. I posted them on Freecycle and within minutes (literally! less than 5 minutes) I had a local woman setting up an appointment to come pick up the bikes. I had no less than 20 other people interested, too.

2. How do people pick up the item I post?

Generally, they just come pick it up. Now, be smart about this: a stranger is coming to your house. You may want to just leave the item on the porch or somewhere visible. If they are coming to your door, make sure that someone else is home. Or you can arrange to meet and/or drop the item somewhere neutral and public, like the library or grocery store (just be sure that the item actually gets picked up).

3. What are the rules?

While each local group can set certain standards, in general, Freecyclers are asked to follow these rules and courtesies (full list here):
  • Keep it free, legal, and appropriate for all ages. This means no alcohol or other restricted substances, no firearms, no trading (this for that).
  • Choose one recipient for the item. It doesn't matter who or how you choose, but a free-for-all "it's on the porch" isn't a very popular pick-up option because no one wants to go out of their way to pick up something that may or may not be available. 
  • Be nice. This means being polite in your posts and in your replies, as well as being courteous both about setting up a pick-up time and in actually showing up for the arranged time. Rudeness is always rude, and typically even more so when it's online rudeness.
4. Anything else I should know?

I think that about covers it, but if you have more questions, feel free to leave me a comment or check out the Freecycle FAQs.  You can also find The Freecycle Network on Facebook.

Merry Freecycling and a Happy New Year!

Lu (or Lorene if you prefer) is the mom of one squirmy boy and the wife of a singing and dancing elementary teacher. She is the proud author of this weekly Wednesdays on the Web (WotWjust Lu.
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