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What Is the Freecycle Network – Give & Get Free Stuff

By Rebecca VanderMeulen

freecycle logoWe all love saving money on items we buy – but getting stuff for free is even better. Thanks to the Freecycle Network, finding freebies is now easier than ever. Plus, using the site is a great way to get rid of clutter in your home, and it costs nothing.

The concept of Freecycle is quite simple: It’s a large network of people who give things they don’t need to people who want them. It started in Arizona in 2003, and has since expanded beyond the United States into more than 70 countries.

Each Freecycle group covers a specific geographical area, from an entire county to part of a city. Members sign up for a local email list, on which they post what they’re seeking or giving, and those with items to give away choose a recipient. If you’re offered an item, it is your responsibility to pick it up in a timely fashion, usually from the giver’s home or a public place.

What You Can Find on Freecycle

Freeycle users give one another nearly anything you can imagine. I frequently see emails pour into my inbox with offers of computer equipment, children’s clothes, books, and leftover materials from home improvement projects.

Here are a few things I’ve received from Freecycle members:

  • A box of synthetic fireplace logs, minus one log
  • An omelet maker
  • A golf-club cart
  • A nearly full bag of cat litter
  • Computer speakers for my husband’s office
  • A waffle maker
  • A cat carrier

In turn I’ve given away plenty of stuff, including:

  • Piles of computer accessories, cables, and CD jewel cases cluttering our home office
  • A full-sized box spring that couldn’t fit up the stairs of the 19th-century house we were renting
  • A blender
  • A television
  • Cardboard boxes, eagerly accepted by a woman who was moving
  • A basket of cat-care items a neighbor gave me when he moved
  • A broken laptop computer

freecycle screenshot

Pros & Cons of Freecycle

Like Craigslist, using Freecycle can net you some great stuff – but it comes with its own set of negative aspects as well. Before jumping into the fray, consider the positives and the downsides.

Advantages

  1. Free Items. Of course, getting free items is why you’d sign up for Freecycle – and this site has freebies in spades. If you’re willing to invest a little time, you can get all sorts of stuff for free, minus the expense for gas or public transit.
  2. Locality. There are hundreds of Freecycle groups around the country, so your area is probably covered by one. If not, you can start a new group.
  3. Meet New People. Freecycle users don’t always meet face-to-face, but it is fairly common. You can meet many people in the network who have similar interests as you.
  4. Reduce Waste. A lot of the things that are given away via Freecycle would otherwise end up in landfills. Network organizers estimate that 500 million pounds of goods are given away to Freecycle users each year.

Disadvantages

  1. Lots of Emails. The Freecycle Network operates by email and it will quickly fill up your inbox.
  2. Safety Concerns. The network depends on users’ willingness to give their names, addresses, and phone numbers to strangers. I’ve never had a reason to worry for my safety, but if you feel concerned, you can arrange to give your items to other members in a public place. Another option is to leave your item by your door without saying if you’ll be home.
  3. Lost Income. Each item you give away is one thing you can’t sell on Craigslist. Then again, it’s often easier to find someone to take a free item than to find someone who will pay for it.

How to Use the Freecycle Network

Each local Freecycle group has its own moderators and slightly different rules. However, there are a few basic etiquette conventions that should be followed no matter where you live:

  • Everything given via Freecycle has to be legal and appropriate for people of all ages to have – so don’t use it to get rid of your old hunting rifle.
  • No advertising is allowed. Don’t try to spread the word about your babysitting services or upcoming garage sale on the network.
  • Make your subject lines specific, but short enough to skim. Use the body of your message for more details.
  • Whether you’re giving away an item or seeking something, make your description as specific as possible.
  • When posting a request for a specific item, say how far you’re willing to travel to pick it up.
  • Be on time. If you say you’ll pick something up between 3 and 4pm on Saturday, make sure to be there during that hour. Many people give things away on Freecycle because they’re moving to a new home or are on a tight cleaning schedule, so timing might be important.
  • When scheduling to have an item picked up from your residence, provide directions and a phone number where you can be reached, in addition to an address.
  • Place the items you’re giving away in a protective container, such as a box or plastic bag, especially if you’re expecting rain or snow. Write the recipient’s name clearly on the container.
  • If you’re picking something up from a member’s house, only take items with your name on them. Freecycle members often give away items to several people at a time, and you don’t want to steal an item intended for someone else.
  • Follow the moderator’s directions. During a nasty snowstorm, someone posted in my local group that she had piles of snow to give away. A moderator quickly told the rest of us not to follow suit, since that attempt at humor had the potential to clog thousands of inboxes.

Final Word

When you become part of the Freecycle Network long enough, it changes your approach to getting new things and getting rid of what you no longer need. I once let unnecessary items collect dust or donated them to a Goodwill store, but now I first try to give them away on the network. It feels good to know that my things are going to people who will use them.

Also, when I’m searching for something specific (like a new string of holiday lights to replace the ones my cat chewed on), I post a message on the Freecycle group before heading to the store. I might not be able to get what I want for free, but it’s always worth asking.

Have you had success using Freecycle? What advice do you have for new Freecycle users?

Rebecca VanderMeulen
Rebecca VanderMeulen loves thrift shops and the grocery-store clearance rack. She grew up in western Michigan and now lives in suburban Philadelphia with her husband and two cats. She is expecting a baby boy in 2012.

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