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How to Freecycle - Give And Get Free Stuff

Updated on June 29, 2010

We've all heard the old slogan "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle." Those of us who care about our environment have done our best to live by these words for years: investing in a water filter instead of buying bottled water, washing out countless ziplock bags, faithfully sorting through our trash for recyclables, using solar chargers for our electronics. Now, there's a new way to keep things out of the landfill, called "freecycling." Actually, the concept isn't all that revolutionary, but it's gaining more and more attention these days--in part because of raised awareness about environmental issues, but also because of the economy.

What Is Freecycling?

Free cycling is pretty simple, when it comes down to it. It just means giving to others, free of charge, what you would normally throw away. There are countless freecycle groups online, each with their own etiquette, where people regularly give away free stuff from furniture to extra charcoal for the barbecue! Freecycling websites are not the only way to go, however. You can also get free stuff from the "free" section on many classified sites such as Craigslist. This is a form of freecycling as well... though the people involved don't necessarily know it.

Add photos to your freecycle post, so people know what they're getting.
Add photos to your freecycle post, so people know what they're getting.

How to Freecycle

The first step is to decide how committed you are to getting involved with a freecycling community. If you are just looking for a free couch, and don't see yourself engaging in the lifestyle beyond that, free stuff on Craigslist is probably more up your alley. If, on the other hand, you think you might want to freecycle on a fairly regular basis, you should consider finding a local freecycling group (a simple Google search will do it, or visit the Freecycle Network website at

Once you've found your community, but before you start posting willy-nilly, make sure you browse around a little. Make notes on the freecycling etiquette that group uses, and then try to adhere to that format when you make your own posts.

On most freecycle websites, you can post either a want or an offer. In other words, if you're moving and have all the furniture you need except for a coffee table, you might go to your freecycle group and make a post titled "Wanted: Coffee Table" (titles subject to the netiquette of your particular group). Then anyone who has a coffee table they don't need lying around would be able to respond to your post. Conversely, if you just got a new washing machine and the old one still works, you could post something like "Offered: Washing Machine" and others in need would respond accordingly.

More Free Cycling Etiquette

In general, freecycling websites are not friendly to people who come into their groups and whine. You don't need to explain why you need something, or why you're giving it away in any great detail. Freecyclers are committed to the lifestyle. They already want to help. You don't need to convince them. If someone has what you need, they'll respond. If nobody has it, they won't. It isn't personal.

Another thing to remember is that it's extremely helpful to include photos with your offer posts. It can be very frustrating to get excited about a free bookshelf, only to show up to pick it up and discover that it's not anything like what you imagined. You can easily take photos on a digital camera, or even most mobile phones, and upload to a hosting site like Flixya or Photobucket. They don't need to be fancy; they just need to give an idea of what the offered object looks like.

Curb Alerts

For those who don't want to spend the time reading and responding to a lot of posts, there's another option.  You can simply post what's called a "curb alert," telling people that you're putting something out on the curb, and it's there for the taking if they get there before the garbage man.  Of course, this isn't as great of an option, because the item might still end up in the landfill.  But hey, if you're throwing it out anyway, it's better than nothing.  Craigslist free section is full of these curb alerts, and here in Oakland, most of my friends have at one point or another liberated a free chair or end table as a result of them.

In the end, freecycling is good for everyone.  It's good for the person who gets the free stuff (especially in this economy).  It's good for the person who gives it away, who gets to have a lighter conscience.  And, best of all, it's good for Mother Nature.

Happy Freecycling to you all!


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