Thursday, July 19, 2012

What is Freecycle and how do I use it?

I've been wanting to post something about Freecycle for quite awhile. That's why I was thrilled when guest blogger, Tina Razzell, sent me this post. She has far more experience with Freecycle than I do, and shares her insights with us today. Author of the book, Living Simply -- Improve Your Life with Less Clutter (available in paperback and for Kindle), Tina is a professional organizer in the San Francisco East Bay.

The initial idea of Freecycle was to keep things out of landfills. Many people throw things away that others can use, but if you don’t know who you can give something to, it’s easier just to give it to the garbage men and have it end up in a landfill. 

So with the birth of the Internet, also came Freecycle. It’s run through many local yahoogroups with small pockets of freecyclers willingly sharing things with each other.

How to Find a Group
Once you have a yahoogroups account, enter the word “Freecycle” with the name of your city in the search box and you should find one or more groups near you. My local group had 30 members when I joined 7 years ago, but now has over 3000. If the group nearest to you is small, you might also want to join a neighboring group.

 How to Post to Freecycle
If you have something you don’t want, then you can send an email to your local Freecyle group. You must write OFFER in capitals and what you are offering in the subject line. In the body of the email you can give more specific details, measurements and a rough location of where you live. Then people send you emails requesting what you are getting rid of and you decide who to give your unwanted goods to.

Don’t feel you have to give it to the first person who responds, otherwise the people who are in front of a computer all day will get the majority of the stuff. I like to wait about a day and then choose the person I give it to.

When you have chosen who will get your unwanted item, email them back and arrange pick up. I leave stuff on my porch marked with the person’s name, but if you don’t like people coming to your home, you can arrange to meet them somewhere to give it to them. I like to choose to give things to people who live near me, so there is little wasted gas when someone comes to pick it up.

Occasionally, people will say they will pick it up and either change their mind or forget, so be prepared to then offer it to someone else a day or two later. It is not advisable to include your address in the first email informing everyone that the first person to arrive at your house gets it, because then numerous people possibly waste their time and gas in vain.

As soon as someone has picked up what you had to offer, simply resend the email to your Freecycle group, replacing the word OFFER with the word TAKEN.

How to Get Stuff From Freecycle
If you offer stuff on Freecycle, you will soon learn that some people reply with a curt “I’ll take it” while others tell you they were just about to buy it and you are the answer to their prayers. If you want something from Freecycle, it is best to reply politely with a basic reason why having this would bless you. Like all things in life, it pays to be polite.

If there is something specific you want that hasn’t been offered, you can post a wanted ad. These should start with WANTED in capitals and then, in the same format as the offer ads, give a brief description in the subject line and more details in the body of the email.

When you have received what you wanted, send another email and replace the word WANTED with the word RECEIVED.

Rules and Ettiquette
The whole idea of Freecycle is to prevent things from going into landfills. It is not meant to be a place where people get stuff and resell it, although I’m sure that happens. It’s also not the place to barter; stuff can only be given away for free.

Some things are not allowed, such as animals, firearms, alcohol, and tobacco. Some local groups have their own rules, i.e. some do not permit food. And people tend to get upset if you ask for large or expensive things. You are allowed to offer large appliances, computers etc.; just don’t ask for them.

Then there is the basic rule of being nice to everyone and don’t get into any unnecessary discussions.

My experience
As a professional organizer, I use Freecycle a lot. I encourage my clients to freecycle and I freecycle often on behalf of my clients. I have freecycled furniture, a trampoline, a laptop, a TV and many boxes of toys, books, clothes, computer games and DVDs.

I’ve also received a lot of really great things from Freecycle, including a hot and cold water dispenser, toys for my children and furniture for my house.

My rule, however, is that everyone should give more than they receive. Otherwise our homes would be overflowing with stuff. Just because it’s free doesn’t mean you have to get it.

Sometimes when people don’t show up, it can be discouraging and annoying going through the trouble of offering things on Freecycle. But generally, I have had really good experiences freecycling. I have made a number of friends through Freecycle and now have quite a few regulars who get stuff from me.

So, before you throw something in the garbage bin to be put in a landfill, ask yourself if someone else could use it. If the answer is yes, pass it on to them via Freecycle.


  1. I used Freecycle a lot when I lived in Brooklyn. Now that I live in a rural area though, it's not quite as great. :-/

    1. Yes, I suppose it really does depend on the area you live in.

  2. I LOVE freecycle! I look it up wherever we move! Thank you for spreading the word on this website!

    1. You're most welcome. I was happy Tina wanted to write about it!

  3. Amazing tip! I will for sure use it, as I have so much to give away. I go through my things every couple months and evaluate what we use, and what needs to be given to others.
    Thank you for an excellent post!

    1. You're welcome. I love when guest bloggers offer such valuable advice!

  4. I love using freecycle. Your trash could truly be someone else's treasure. I have given away things that I really didn't think anyone would want - a set of Hard Rock Cafe Hurricane glasses, used candles, old TV (it worked, we just didn't need it) I love seeing it get more use.

    Thanks for posting. Hopefully more people will use it.

  5. Agreed, Kristina. I love seeing how excited some people are when they receive your castoffs! One less thing in the landfill. Hurray!!


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