Jam jars and laminate flooring: Why Freecycle rocks.Posted by Donna Freedman on May 29, 2010 | 19 comments
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.