Freecycle: Good stuff

I’d certainly heard of Freecycle, but never tried it–we’re not much for acquiring “stuff” and, until we started getting ready to move, felt as though we’d manage to avoid gathering much extra stuff.

But as we started thinking about the new house, we agreed that I should get a new treadmill. Mine has worked for years and continued to work just fine, but it was squeaky, annoyingly so–and in the new house, it would be inside, not out in the garage. (In Livermore summers, there’s no way I’d be treadmilling in a non-air-conditioned garage! And the new house has one more bedroom, so there’s enough room inside.)

I raised a question on FriendFeed and got suggestions to try either Craigslist or Freecycle. And we checked the city’s quarterly recycling bulletin, The first page has a whole set of reuse options (Mountain View has an enviably high waste-avoidance rate, diverting a large majority of waste to recycling, but reusing is even better than recycling). First there’s the citywide garage sale and community yard sale (last weekend, actually–more than 100 garage sales plus the community event). Then there’s Freecycle, described as follows:

The Freecycle Network(tm) is probably the most well known of the grassroots efforts to keep good, re-usable stuff out of landfills. Everything posted must be offered at no charge. Each local group is moderated by a local volunteer and membership is free. To join, go to and search for the Mountain View group.

The column also described Craigslist, Mountain View Freeshare (a Google group), a website run by the local weekly paper that offers free classifieds, and more.

Freecycle sounded good. It is.

How it works

  • You go to Freecycle and find your local group. There are a lot of groups–more than 4,700 as of today, with nearly 6.7 million members. It looks as though there are at least 200 groups in different California cities or sections of large cities…
  • You register–each group is a Yahoo! Group, so you need a (free) Yahoo account, but you can then set the account to use any email address you prefer as a preferred address.
  • You can set your account to receive all email, to receive daily digests, or to be web-only. I suppose the latter would work nicely if you’re only offering stuff, never looking for stuff, or if you’re taking a time out.
  • You create a post for each item (or group of related items) you have to offer, or for each item (or group of items) you’d like to find.
  • Here, at least, the format is fairly structured, which makes the Freecycle email easy to deal with. The subject line must begin with OFFER:, WANTED:, or TAKEN: (or RECEIVED: or PPU:), followed by a brief item name, followed by–for OFFER, at least–“location” in the form of neighborhood or major cross streets. The body of the message for an OFFER or WANTED can provide more detailed descriptions and link to pictures.
  • Note what is n0t there–and what the local moderator will consistently remove with a chiding message: Phone number or actual street location. You can’t include them in an offer. (Moderators also fix subject line form, or at least the local ones do. And they’re fast…I never saw more than a 15-minute delay.)
  • The posts go out to people. If someone wants something you’re offering, they reply–and the reply goes to you. Then you choose who you want to offer it to–the criteria are entirely yours, noting that you can’t charge for anything–and send them your actual address and whatever else you need to say (e.g., time to pick up).
  • Once the item’s taken, you post a TAKEN: message so you won’t get more requests.

That’s it–simple enough, with some protection built in.

It does work!

Three minutes after I offered the treadmill, I had a taker. Within fifteen minutes, I had five more.

That was a week ago. I’m only writing about it now because the treadmill was just taken–and that’s because I wouldn’t give it up until last weekend. (Two weeks without that exercise is enough…well, two weeks plus however long it takes to choose a new treadmill and get it delivered!)

It worked so well and so rapidly that we decided to Freecycle a few somewhat less valuable items, noting the range of nearly-trivial items that were being offered and taken. What did we Freecycle successfully?

Two Booda Loo cat litter boxes. A set of tire chain cables. A bicycle rack apparently missing straps. Two CD racks. Three cheap unfinished-wood wine racks. A Miracle Gro feeder and a box of three lawn food packs (the fourth had been used before we switched to dry-spread lawn food). The Star Wars trilogy–on VHS (the final movie-version release, TXH remastered). And a Timbuk2 notebook messenger-style case, an oddity because the patch for MSN Search Champs v4 is sewn on.

Everything went within an hour or two. Everything was picked up at agreed times (other than the treadmill, we’d just set items out on the porch at roughly the agreed times). In almost every case, surprisingly including the Microsoft-specific notebook case that won’t hold most contemporary notebooks (“perfect for a 15″ Macbook Pro”), we had multiple takers.

What didn’t go

An HP Deskjet–several years old. I’m guessing people around here are clued in enough to realize that today’s inkjets are several times as fast, offer much higher print quality (MUCH higher print quality), and the main cost of an inkjet is ink anyway.

Try it, if it suits your needs

I’m impressed. We’ve checked, and there’s a Freecycle group in Livermore. Dunno whether we’re ever likely to be taking much, but we’ll use it when we have things to get rid of–things that still have useful life for somebody else.

One Response to “Freecycle: Good stuff”

  1. Steven Kaye says:

    I’ll have to remember Freecycle should our lease not be renewed. I tried Craigslist when I moved to CA, and was less than pleased with the results.