Jam jars and laminate flooring: Why Freecycle rocks.

You can get rid of anything on Freecycle, and I can prove it: A woman came to my house the other day to pick up five empty 42-ounce oatmeal boxes.

Bonus: The lady is a Yup’ik Eskimo so while we chatted on the phone I had a chance to use one of the approximately three Yup’ik words I know: “Akleng,” or “I’m sorry,” when her toddler daughter woke up crying from a nap.

I wasn’t sorry to be giving her the boxes, though, because it gave them one more use before they hit the recycle bin.

I also wasn’t sorry about having five empty oatmeal boxes. I kept them because I figured someone would want them. And someone did.


In the past I’ve given away slightly more valuable things on Freecycle: An aerial photograph of a mountain in Nepal, a couple of posters from the Arctic Winter Games, a paraffin hand spa, a pair of support stockings, a two-CD set of “The Nutcracker.”

My favorite item, though, is the half-pint of door keys. The apartment build that I manage had all 21 units rekeyed and it was my job to collect the old ones and give out the new ones. “Surely somebody can use these,” I thought. About six people responded to the Freecycle query; ultimately the metal bits went to a woman who uses old keys to make wind chimes.


Find flooring, or a friend

The majority of Freecycle items are things like furniture, clothing, children’s items and books. Some givers even post pictures so you’ll know whether that particular couch is something you could live with, or whether “some wear” is too much wear for you.

But you never know what to expect from those e-mail alerts. A few recent examples from my Seattle chapter: corrugated metal roofing, eggnog mix, two black plastic cauldrons, a “doggie wheelchair,” drill bits, empty propane bottles, an “old faded plastic playhouse,” five pieces of laminate flooring, an electric blanket without its controls, an eight-track player and 45 tapes, a board game called “My Dog Can Do That!” and three gray headrests from a Subaru Forester.

Freecycle is a great way to rid yourself of clutter but also a good way to find things you need at no cost. Don’t see what you need? Ask. Each summer I put out a “Wanted” listing in which I propose to trade unwanted fruit for jars of homemade jam. I’ve gotten free pears, apples and plums, and also some jars in which to preserve them.

I’ve even made a friend this way: a woman who, like me, is interested in canning and jam-making.


A frugalist’s shopping mall

Online swap sites such as Swap Mamas and Swaptree are gaining ground in the free-stuff world; some require you to trade and others have no-strings giveaway sections. Craigslist has a “free” section as well, but that site has gotten bad press lately because of robberies, prostitution stings and even murders.

I don’t think that the Internet is to blame. Someone could just as easily rob you after reading your newspaper classified ad. (Remember newspapers? I do.) A few basic precautions should be observed no matter which venue you choose:

  • For smaller items, make the exchange in a public place like a supermarket or shopping mall. (In a recent sad case, a man was killed in front of his family when a robbery went wrong. The alleged assailants were answering a Craigslist ad for a piece of jewelry.)
  • If you’re Freecycling furniture or other too-big-to-carry items, make sure you’re not alone in the house when the takers show up. In fact, if you’ve got any friends or relatives in law enforcement, invite them over for lunch that day.
  • Don’t let the recipients move around in your house too much, lest you be cased for a future robbery.

Note: I have never felt menaced while using Freecycle or Craigslist. But it’s a sad reality that a few bad guys will take advantage of people’s good will. Make sure you don’t become a victim.


Someone could use that

I once wrote a Smart Spending blog essay called “Why is it so easy to throw things away?” As the manager of an apartment house, I was sometimes shocked to see what people were willing to leave behind in the units or toss into the Dumpster. Depressed, too, because many of these items were perfectly good.

And, yeah, occasionally happy since I’ve scored a whole bunch of freebies this way: a wheeled kitchen cart, picture frames, cleaning supplies, bath towels, candles, canned goods, books and a halogen floor lamp, among other things.

But our national ease with wasteful behavior makes me appreciate Freecycle et al. even more. Instead of clogging landfills with perfectly good armoires or exercise bikes, we’re giving the items a second chance.

Incidentally, those oatmeal boxes will become “Uncle Sam hats” at that little girl’s birthday party on July 4. Don’t let anyone tell you that breakfast cereal can’t be patriotic.

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  1. Deedee

    In my younger days, one time I had to move to SF in a hurry (job transfer/1 week notice). I just did not feel like I had any time to try to sell or give away all my perfectly good stuff so I was just going to dump it because it just wasn’t worth the expense to move it. I lived in an apartment complex that was inhabited mostly by senior citizens. In a panic to “get’er done” I started hauling stuff to the dumpster. The ladies observing this all started offering to take the stuff off my hands. It was like Christmas for them! They came and took all the spices/canned and boxed food I was going to dump. They cleaned out my fridge and took all the perishable food worth taking. They took bookshelves, lamps, side tables, books, throw rugs, knickknacks, etc. Things I was not planning to take with me all found a home. I did not have to throw anything away after all. I was happy and they were thrilled to have my stuff. And it made for a very easy move!

    • I did the same thing when I left Texas 25 years ago divorced and did not want to ship everything back to Seattle it works and everyone wins!

  2. I’m very lucky because in this neighborhood you can just drag anything you don’t want to the end of the driveway and put a free sign on it. It never makes it longer than an hour.
    Thank you for the wonderful article and I hope that you are having a wonderful time in Alaska.

    • Donna Freedman

      Oh, there’s a lot of “free”-cycling in Seattle, too. And yesterday I went over to see my niece and her boys and someone had set a table and chairs out on her block. As she drove me back here she decided that she and her older son would go over and claim it — it would be a great piece for their backyard deck because it had a mosaic top impervious to rain.
      As my friend Meghan says, “If it’s free, it’s for me.”
      The longggg days are messing with me — you have no idea what time it is and are startled to find that it’s 9 p.m. and you haven’t had supper yet. But it’s nice to be back.

  3. priskill

    What a beautiful slide show — the last shot is so touching.

    Have not freecycled yet — thanks for the safety warnings — they truly make sense . . .

  4. Unwanted fruit for preserves?? I want to be your friend!!

    Another great article for sure. I’ve been able to do a few things around the house that I wouldn’t have been able to do, otherwise, thanks to Freecycle. It’s also great to support my houseplant habit.

    • Donna Freedman

      Bashtree: Good point. I see a fair number of houseplants, fruit and veggie starts, and even small trees offered on Freecycle. “Lilac starts” were mentioned in the past week, in fact.
      And it surprised me that people don’t want to use all the fruit their trees produce each year. But I’m lucky they don’t. 🙂
      Thanks for reading.

  5. The oddest thing I ever gave away was a bag of old gameboards–no playing pieces because I was going through my kids’ game closet and trying to put together the old sets into one complete set. But that left me with three Scrabble boards, two Clue boards, a Barbie Dating Game board, several checker boards, a Monoply board and assorted others. It was amazing the number of people who wanted that bag of boards.

  6. Great post! I’ve given luggage away, my kids old bikes, wagons, loads and loads of stuff.
    One thing that I’ve found that I’ve done that works is to leave the item outside and tell the people to just pick it up and take it. Then they can grab it at their leisure and not have to work around my schedule.
    I haven’t been able to unload an old exercise bike though. Something tells me that one will eventually be making a trip to the dump.

  7. I use Craigslist “free” section to accomplish this. One vacuum that inexplicably has stopped working and is beyond my limited repair skills? Gone in about an hour. Two used but still in good condition yoga mats? Likewise. No hauling stuff to the dumpster or curb or feeling bad about contributing to landfill.


  8. Bagel Girl

    I love the IDEA of Freecycle, but have had absolutely NO success with it. Could not give away children’s leggos, a wonderful wool coat, and nobody offered me the canning jars I was looking for.

    It’s soooooooo disappointing.

    • Donna Freedman

      @Bagel Girl: I’m amazoned no one wanted the Legos! Can I have them?
      I lucked out and got several boxes of canning jars that someone posted. I hope you’ll have the same kind of luck.
      Thanks for reading.

  9. Bagel Girl

    Would have been happy to send to you, but ended up selling them at a garage sale. Sorry.

  10. Stephanie

    I have never used Freecycle but our daughter in law and has gotten some wonderful things she needed and has given away a lot of nice things as well.
    We tend to put things on the curb and they are gone pretty quickly. No waiting around for someone to answer an ad and having to worry about someone I do not know coming to the door.
    I may check it out one of these days though, it does sound very interesting !!

  11. I think your success with Freecycle depends very much on how active your local group is. The more people on the group, the more likely it is that one of them will want what you have to give (or have what you are looking for).

    Just today I Freecycled our old toaster oven. Yesterday it spent the whole day out on a table at my mom’s yard sale and never got a nibble. But I posted it on Freecycle this morning, and it was claimed by noon and picked up by 2pm.

    I’ve also had some great successes finding things on Freeycle–usually not things that I specifically asked for, but things that I serendipitously stumbled on. I recently got a new kitchen sink to replace my hideous old one (you can see the pictures on my blog). I’ve also acquired a whole load of concrete pavers (enough to build a patio if I ever get around to it) and a “jungle adventure” tent that my niece and nephews loved.

  12. Argh! I typed in my Web address wrong. It’s ecofrugality.blogspot.com, not ecofrugality@blogspot.com. Bah.

  13. I like the idea of Freecycle, and do use it when I have things to give away. It can be a heck of a time getting people to show up when they say they will, or to respond to emails. Plus some people who use the listserv obviously have no clue about netiquette. Drives me nuts! But yeah, I still use it to get rid of things. I try to not pay attention to the “OFFERS”.

  14. I’ve tried to use our local Freecycle and have been disappointed at the number of no-shows. Three separate families asked for firewood from a tree-trimming project – none showed up. I received a nasty leter from the city while waiting, and had to pay someone to take the wood away. Another time I offered an adult trike in pretty good shape, which is still in the garage. I’m amazed at the little items people put on there, things like used cosmetics that I’d be ashamed to offer anyone even as a gift. But I’ve had great luck with a big box of stuff and a FREE sign on the telephone pole by the street (we have no sidewalks.)

  15. Trouble getting rid of something ? A lot of areas have more than one Freecycle group. If you can’t get rid of your treasures within a week or two, post them to another group(s) … that almost always works for me.

    Keep on Freecycling.
    Tim – Freecycle Volunteer Moderator


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