Do you have clutter, including good stuff that you just don't use anymore? Stuff that you wish you could "give to a good home" rather than throw in the trash?
Is there something that you need, but it seems silly to buy a new one when someone else may already have one they're no longer using, and they'd be happy to get rid of it?
That "someone else" might live right around the corner from you, but the missing link is communication. How can they find out about your good stuff, or you about theirs?
A fun solution that uses the internet and email
This is the mission of Freecycle ("free" + "recycle"), to keep good stuff out of landfills, reduce waste, and save resources. No money or goods or barter is offered, all items are considered gifts from one person to another.
Freecycle is a worldwide collection of thousands of local Freecycle "groups," organized by town or region, and run by volunteers.
Think of Freecycle as a community of people who live nearby and are actively trying to give away their unwanted (but still usable) stuff, and who are also happy to consider taking your unwanted stuff.
How do they solve that communication problem? Using email!
What kind of stuff?
There is a wide range of stuff offered or wanted on Freecycle. I've received computer headsets, music cassettes, Ansel Adams prints, telephones, cables, ink cartridges, window fans, etc. I've given away old computers (whose components will become part of an art exhibit), Ansel Adams prints (decided I didn't want them), music cassettes, and a friend's 40-year-old reel-to-reel tape recorder. I've also seen clothes, jewelry, construction materials, baby formula, appliances, furniture, toys, gardening supplies and more. However, my offer of a client's unwanted but working CRT monitor went unanswered, so I tried Craigslist (http://www.craigslist.org
) and successfully gave it away.
People also give away broken or nonworking items on Freecycle. The two key elements are the honesty of the givers and the willingness of the recipients to attempt repairs.
Signing up on Freecycle
Joining Freecycle is, well, free. Go to http://www.freecycle.org
, type in your City and State, click Go, and then you'll see a list of Freecycle groups in your area. If there isn't one for your particular town, there may be a few groups in your area. Click to pick a group and you'll go to that group's web page, and you can then become a member.
Most Freecycle groups are set up as Yahoo Groups, which is a free system that organizes and manages email messages exchanged between groups of people on a particular topic. (There are thousands of Yahoo Groups on an enormous number of topics.) This means that in order to join such a Freecycle group, if you don't already have a "Yahoo ID" you'll need to create one. This is also free, and only takes a few minutes. Don't forget to add your Yahoo ID and password to your password chart.
Once you've joined a Freecycle group, you'll start to receive all the email messages "posted" to the group, listing items that members want to give away or hope to find. In July, the Cambridge, Mass. group averaged 22 messages per day, and Lexington averaged 34.
Giving on Freecycle
Here's how it works when you have something to give away:
Receiving on Freecycle
- You go to your Freecycle group's web site and "post" a message.
- The Subject has the form "OFFER (your item) (your general location)," e.g., "OFFER: USB Zip drive (Belmont)" or "OFFER: Men's bicycle (Lexington)"
- The Body of the message should describe the item you're giving away.
- Your message will be sent out to all the members of the group. Anyone interested will send a reply directly to you. You might get a flurry of eager responses, or you might get none.
- You would then choose one of the people who replied, and arrange for them to get the item. Some people choose the first person to reply, others choose the one who can pick up the soonest, others choose the one who sounds the most deserving. It's entirely up to you. Regarding pickup, it's common to leave the item on your porch for the other person to pick up, but meeting in a public place can also be a good idea. You should choose what's best for you.
- Once the item is given away, you would then post a message saying "TAKEN: Men's bicycle (Lexington)"
Here's how it works when you have something in mind you'd like to receive:
- You go to your Freecycle group's web site and "post" a message.
- The Subject has the form "WANTED (your desired item) (your general location)," e.g., "WANTED: Laundry drying rack (Arlington)" or "WANTED: Air conditioner (Newton)"
- The Body of the message should describe the item you hope to find.
- Your message will be sent out to all the members of the group. Anyone with an item that you might want will send a reply directly to you. The two of you would then work out the details, e.g., they might leave it on their porch for you to pick up.
- Once you receive the item you wanted, you would then post a message saying "RECEIVED: Air conditioner (Newton)"
Freecycle requires that all items offered or wanted be free, legal, and appropriate for all ages.
You can be a member of multiple Freecycle groups. The Belmont, Mass. Freecycle group isn't very active, so I've also joined the Freecycle groups for my surrounding towns, including Cambridge (over 4,800 members) and Lexington (over 2,400 members).
Being careful about your privacy and safety
Whether you're posting an Offer or a Wanted message, you should not include your last name, street address, or phone number in your initial message, since it will go out to the hundreds or thousands of members of the given Freecycle group and
be posted on the group's web site. Only after someone replies and sounds legitimate would you then disclose any appropriate information in your separate email conversation.
What Freecycle is not
Where to go from here
- Craigslist (http://www.craigslist.org); their "for sale / wanted => free" section is somewhat similar to Freecycle, but with much less structure and no volunteer moderators.
- A charitable donation; you get no tax deduction
- A marketplace; on Freecycle you're giving and receiving, not buying, selling, or trading.
- Visit http://www.freecycle.org, and read their FAQ to learn more about how it works.
- Most of the problems I've heard about on Freecycle come down to communication - poorly described items, people not showing up. Do your best to be clear and responsible!
- A somewhat similar site is http://www.exchange4green.com, which also has articles, resources, and advertising.
- To manage your current Yahoo groups or explore additional ones, visit http://groups.yahoo.com
If you know someone who might find this helpful, please feel free to forward it.
If you have any comments about this article, send me a reply!
If you have a topic that you'd like me to write about, I'd love to hear about it!