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Freecycle: When You Can’t Sell It…or Afford It

Got something to get rid of? Looking for something that’s not in your budget? Maybe you’ve tried Craigslist but have you tried FreeCyle?

A reader recently asked if I’d heard of Freecycle. The answer was yes, but that I hadn’t thought about it for a while. After having it pulled back into my consciousness, I decided that perhaps I should summarize what Freecycle is, why it’s awesome, and my own experience with it (mixed).

What is Freecycle?

Freecycle isn’t a single organism, it’s a network of groups organized around the same principle: Give it away instead of throwing it away.

It operates from the (generally correct) theory that one person’s junk is another person’s treasure. And it’s not all junk on there. When people move or refurnish their houses or have kids grow older or simply quit a hobby, they end up with extra stuff that’s in perfectly good condition (or usable) and that someone else might really like.

For example, once I gave away a book series that I simply wasn’t into anymore. The other option was donating it to a used bookstore, but they wouldn’t give me credit that I could use towards genres that interested me so I thought I’d give it to a mom whose kids were into the series instead! It felt a very satisfying to know that the books would be read.

Groups are local, like Craigslist, generally you do the handoff in person rather than by mail. has ways to find your group. Last I checked, they were operating on the ListServe model, where people send out e-mails to the group when they have an item available. Then people respond to ask for the item…generally the first person to respond is the one who gets it.

Edited to add: You can also send out a request for items and may or may not get any responses. Most groups require you to post an item for giving before you send an item. These requests are a nice way to get rid of things you don’t need but hadn’t thought to give away.

Because groups are independent and local, your experience will differ depending on where you live and who is in your group. From what I’ve heard, some groups are better than others.

My Freecycle Experiences

On the whole, my experience with Freecycle has been a good one (though I didn’t subscribe to the DC one after I moved here…). As I mentioned above, I’ve been able to dispose of some items on Freecycle that probably wouldn’t have sold on Craigslist and that would have been thrown or given away in some form anyway. It felt good.

Back in college, it was an great way for me to get free fabric. Periodically, someone would be cleaning out her stash. I got both fabric and batting from it…good times! Now that I have less time on my hands (how did I find the time in college?), Freecycle may end up being a way for me to get rid of some fabric and support another person’s crafting addiction.

So why did I say up in the intro that my Freecycle experience was mixed? It’s the crazy competitiveness of the listserve.

Because they don’t have to pay the items, I think some people spend a lot of free time snagging whatever they can off Freecycle…perhaps even reselling it. That’s certainly legitimate, but there are days when you feel like you don’t even have a chance against people who are able to monitor their e-mail more frequently than you can. So it sometimes brings a strong sense of futility.

But that depends a lot on your local group, on the popularity of items that interest you, and on whether or not you can spend much time checking your e-mail for new items.

Would I Recommend It?

I’d recommend giving it a shot at least, especially if you’re a college student or otherwise on a limited budget. To handle the huge number of e-mails, I created a separate e-mail account to sign up for Freecycle and I’d recommend that as well.

Disclaimer: I do not run Freecycle. I am in no way affiliated with them. So if you’ve had a problem feel free to comment about it but I cannot fix it. Also, please do not post items here to Freecycle, sign up in your hometown instead.

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The Friday gathering - White coat syndrome?
January 23, 2009 at 7:32 am


Michael January 20, 2009 at 11:36 am

It’s not legitimate to resell items on Freecycle. It is against the rules and people caught doing it lose their access.

Julie January 20, 2009 at 12:29 pm

I agree that the competitiveness is crazy but I’ve received some great items off of Freecycle. I usually have to ask for something to get it as the offered items go fast.

mrsmicah January 20, 2009 at 12:35 pm

That’s a great point, Julie. I had forgotten about being able to ask for items, but that’s an excellent way to get things….and an excellent way to get rid of things that you no longer want but hadn’t thought to give away.

I’m editing the article to add that info, thanks!!

Dawn January 20, 2009 at 3:23 pm

I have found it a great way to get rid of things I couldn’t sell. Things like oddball hanks of yarn, bits of fabric, spare pieces of wood that don’t work with eBay or donating to charity. I have also gotten some great perennials that way from people that were splitting up plants.

na0 January 20, 2009 at 8:21 pm

i love freecycle.
i am in the middle of making a chandelier made of baby food jars.
at first, i was like, “great, i’m gonna have to eat 12 jars of mush.”
but then i realized… other people have babies.
and some of those people are probably on freecycle!
anyways, i requested them and i got a response back from a lady near me that said she would save me some… which did not take long.
and now i’m on my way to making my neat baby food jar chandelier!

SimplyForties January 20, 2009 at 8:31 pm

I have never “claimed” anything from Freecycle but have gotten rid of a few things. I think it’s great. I post the item, leave it on my front porch and, when I check, it’s gone – magic!

Mrs. Accountability January 20, 2009 at 9:35 pm

I have mixed feelings about Freecycle as well. I started the group in my local area, but couldn’t keep up with maintaining it. There was a lot of bickering, especially with regards to people wanting items to stay in our local (rural) area (there was some confusion with our town name and another bigger area about 100 miles away). I find it much less stressful to drop things off at Goodwill or thrift store. I also felt like people were snapping up items to resell which was kind of irritating. Oh, and the other thing, my husband and I are terrible packrats, and we accept things for free too much from friends and family. We got a couple of items from Freecycle that have just ended up sitting around on our property and getting sun and weather damaged (I felt really guilty about that). It’s one more way to limit the packrat in me to avoid Freecycle. Nothing wrong with it, it just doesn’t work out so well for me.

Bouncing Back Betty January 21, 2009 at 1:16 pm

I’ve gotten some amazing things off of freecycle-Thule rack for my old car, a really nice bread maker, some plants.

I use to to get rid of things-old bike, plants, extra lumber and fencing, clothes, kitchen appliances, patio table, dog house,e tc

I don’t monitor the list all that often, I look if I need something and I usually post things offered.

Carla January 21, 2009 at 5:23 pm

I never received anything from Freecycle (I can’t stand the competition), but I have given a lot away. I love it!

Room Farm January 21, 2009 at 9:18 pm

I can’t win anything on Freecycle, because of the fierce competition so I only use it to give stuff away. It is very, very effective if you have something to give away.

fern January 22, 2009 at 1:12 pm

The worst things about Frreecycle:

1.. People who consider it a competition to grab things first, whether or not they really haave a need for it, and

2. People who say they want something, then dont’ show up. to the point where it’s just not worth the hassle of waiting fo rno-shows and tying up my own time.

DebtFreeDave January 24, 2009 at 10:50 pm

Personally, I love Freecycle as it has helped slash my budget on some expenses (i.e. clothes, toys). I totally agree with a lot of the comments; there is a lot of people just snapping stuff up for the sake of doing so and the no-shows really tick me off! I blogged about Freecycle a couple weeks ago on my site as well; here’s the link:

hussy September 20, 2009 at 3:53 pm

i would be curious about what you thought about the freecycle splinter groups in the uk?
.-= hussy´s last blog ..Brighton Freecycle Wars =-.

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