Regular readers of this blog will know that I’m a fan of Freecycle, the online discussion group that exists to enable its members to give away unwanted goods.
By the way, although I use the name Freecyle throughout this post, most of the points I make are applicable to all such sites. There are several others, including Freegle, EcoBees and AnyGoodToYou. Freecycle seems to have become a generic name though, like Hoover and Kleenex.
Freecycle is a stonkingly brilliant use of the internet. Here’s some of the great stuff about it:
Membership of my local groups has enabled me to pass on loads of stuff that would otherwise have gone into landfill. Things like opened toiletries and cosmetics, partially functioning electrical items and broken jewellery. Broken jewellery is particularly popular as people make new jewellery from it.
Re-using stuff before it goes for recycling
Freecyclers reuse stuff that would otherwise go for recycling too. Empty jam jars are used for homemade jam, or tea light holders at outside events. Corks are used to make cork boards. A Freecycler took my empty shuttlecock tubes to use when posting documents. Another took a load of empty thread reels, for craft purposes.
Moving stuff on easily
I had some work done on my house a few years ago. My garden was relandscaped, I had a new kitchen fitted, and I had a small extension built. I was able to Freecycle a lot of the waste. Which had the added advantage that the people taking the stuff collected it from my door. Freecyclers even did the work of dismantling my shed, which they took to their allotment.
Because Freecycle provides a way of moving on stuff that otherwise would have to be trashed, it’s encouraged me to move on more stuff than I otherwise would. We green-minded people hate to send anything to landfill so not knowing how to dispose of something any other way can lead to hoarding and clutter.
Getting free stuff!
You might have expected this to be my top benefit. In all honesty though, I value being able to pass stuff on to someone who will make good use of it at least as much as I do getting stuff for free. In fact, I would say that membership of Freecycle has made me more generous. I’ve had so much good stuff from it that, these days, even when I’m thinking of moving on something that might sell on eBay, I tend to favour using Freecycle. It seems only fair.
Here’s some of the great stuff I’ve had from Freecycle: a beautiful silver and moonstone ring, a camera tripod, toiletries, books, CDs, stationery, clothes, replacement parts for my bike, packets of Christmas cards, even food, including unwanted-now-Christmas-is-over chocolates. In fact, it’s no exaggeration to say that, apart from groceries, I get most of the stuff I need from Freecycle these days. I’ve even cancelled my paper as I now pick up a local Freecycler’s paper after she’s finished with it.
Even more fantastically, the same Freecycler posted a Wanted ad for empty 500ml yoghurt pots, which she uses for starting off seedlings. As I get through two or three of these a week, when I pick up my papers from outside her house, I leave my empties in exchange. They would go straight to landfill otherwise so I’m delighted about the swap.
I’ve noticed though that, while most people like the idea, and lots of people have started using them as a result of me talking about them, some people join and then give up participating almost straightaway, having had a negative experience.
Often these negative experiences could be easily avoided by following some simple tips.
And, last week, I got a request for a blog post on how to avoid such niggles when Freecycling.
I love requests!
So, here are my…
TIPS FOR PAINLESS FREECYCLING
Aargh, I’m getting a million emails every day!
In my experience, the quantity of emails arriving in their inbox is the main reason why people give up on Freecycle. My local groups generate scores of emails every day. If they come straight to your inbox, you’ll probably find it too many to deal with.
It doesn’t have to be like that!
It’s actually easy to avoid being deluged. Just do one of the following three things:
1. Go to your group’s website, click on ‘Edit Membership’ and set message delivery to ‘Web only’ or ‘Special notices’. Setting it to ‘Web only’ will ensure you receive no emails at all, while setting it to ‘Special notices’ will ensure you receive only notices about the running of the group, sent by the moderator. To see the messages members post, you will therefore need to go to the website.
2. Choose the ‘Daily digest’ option at the same place. With this option, you receive a single email containing several messages.
Although, for my local groups at least, Daily digest is a misnomer as you actually receive an email a few times a day – each time the number of messages posted to the group reaches 25.
3. Set up filters within your email client. I filter messages into separate folders for Wanted and Offer notices. And I filter Taken and Received notices straight into my Deleted Items folder so I don’t have to deal with them.
Check for new messages frequently
If your group is a large and busy one, you may need to check posted messages frequently to avoid missing out on the stuff you want.
In my experience, this means that the people who get on best with Freecycle are people who use their computer a lot, such as people who work at a computer, or frequently check mail on their phone.
Some Freecyclers feel this is unfair, so they operate a fair offer policy. This means that, rather than giving an item to the first person to respond, they wait a set time after their message appears and consider all the responses.
Of course, none of this matters if you’re more interested in offering stuff than taking stuff.
Consider swapping phone numbers
It can be easier to arrange a pick up time by phone, than email. And it’s useful to have a phone number when you’re picking something up, in case you have trouble finding the place.
Many Freecycle groups also set up a second discussion group, for general chit-chat and offering things that are excluded from being offered on the main site. For example, my local group doesn’t accept offers of unwanted vouchers (as they don’t reduce landfill, which is the ethos of the group), though they can be offered on the café site.
These forums are a great link to a community of green-minded people who may know the answer to questions you have about green issues, local recycling facilities, local events etc. In an earlier post, I told the story of how I got a faulty hairdryer mended through this community.
Remember your post may not appear straightaway
If your site is moderated, your post may take a while to appear. So don’t write ‘To be picked up this afternoon’. Readers won’t know which afternoon you mean.
I smile ruefully when I see ‘must go by Saturday morning’ in a message that doesn’t arrive until Saturday afternoon.
Don’t make people work too hard
The subject line of each message states what’s being offered or requested.
If you’re offering many items, there isn’t space to itemise them in the subject line of your message. The convention in this case is to state that you are offering ‘Various’, detailing the items in the body of the message.
It’s sooo annoying to open a message offering ‘Various’ to find only two or three items listed, none of which I want. These items could have been listed in the subject line, saving me opening the mail.
And, if the subject line of a Wanted message says ‘Various’ , I don’t bother opening it. So, if you’re requesting too many items to list in the subject line, I recommend posting more than one message.
Describe your item as fully as you can. It’ll save you having to field questions. And it’ll make it more likely that it’ll be taken by someone who actually will use it.
State your ground rules
If you prefer Freecyclers to deal with you in specific ways, make these clear (while staying within the rules of your group, of course).
I state that, if more than one person requests something I’m offering, I’ll prioritise those people who pick up using a minimum of fossil fuels. So my goods are most likely to go to people who pick up on foot or by bicycle, then to those coming by public transport, and only then to those coming by car.
(Mind you I did have to post a follow-up message once when I included this point only to realise that it would be impossible to carry away the garden furniture I was offering on foot or by bike. Oops!)
If you’re offering multiple items in a single post, it’s also worth saying whether you want everything to go as one lot or you’re prepared for people to take just what they want. This will depend whether your priority is to see the stuff leave your home, or to ensure that it gets reused.
There is a general assumption that people will definitely take away any item they come for. I have collected some items only to realise that they’re not what I was expecting and I can’t use them. I Freecycle them on, of course. Still, it’s a waste of time.
If you’re desperate to get rid, you might not mind about this. However, I want to maximise the chance that the goods I give away will get re-used so, in my offer posts, I say that people needn’t feel obliged to take something just because they come to see it.
To save myself typing all this out every time, I’ve created a template Offer, Wanted, and ‘Yes please I’d like that’ message in a Word document on my hard-drive, and I copy and paste from this into messages I post to Freecycle.
Uploading a photo helps to show people what your item is like.
Plus I use photos to effectively continue listing anything that doesn’t get taken immediately. I keep a small box of stuff that I’ve listed that hasn’t been taken and there’s a photo of each item in an album I’ve created on the site, called ‘Rachel’s stuff’. I was dead chuffed when my wormery raincover was finally taken two years after I first listed it. As it had been well used, it was destined for landfill if I couldn’t Freecycle it.
In my posts offering stuff, I include the URL of my album and say to let me know if anyone wants anything pictured in it, as well as the item I’m currently offering.
Similarly, when I reply to others’ offers, to say I’d like something, I include the URL of my photo album and ask if they’d like me to bring anything shown in the album when I pick up.
Another way to continue offering stuff that doesn’t get taken immediately is to let anyone picking something up have a rummage to see if they want anything else. I do this too sometimes, although I have occasionally been concerned that someone is taking things they won’t use on the basis that they’re free so they might as well. The photos method doesn’t seem to encourage this so much.
If you just want to get rid fast, you may not want to do this. You may prefer to dispose of anything not taken another way. It partly depends how keen you are to ensure your stuff gets re-used.
Regular Freecyclers get to know who is active in the community. I’m more likely to give an item to someone I know offers lots of stuff. In fact, if I offer something that lots of people are interested in, I check the site to see what the person I’m considering giving it to has posted. If they’ve only ever post Wanteds, I give it to someone else.
I suspect that’s true of others too. I reckon I’ve been selected as the recipient of offered stuff because I’ve given stuff to the Freecycler offering it, or because they’ve noticed me posting lots of offers.
Accept that not everyone will behave as you think they should
You will get some no shows. Some people will snatch the item out of your hand, while turning to disappear back down the path, without so much as a ‘thank you’. Sometimes you’ll suspect that the person collecting your item is going to sell it. Some people post only ‘Wanted’ ads without offering anything. And some people say they want something and then go out of contact once you’ve mailed to say they can have it.
In my experience, they’re the minority.
Best not to get wound up about it. At least the item is out of your home and probably being used.
You could even look at it this way. The person collecting your goods is doing you a favour as much as you’re doing them one. You want shot of the goods after all.
If someone goes out of contact after I’ve said they can have something, I usually send them an email asking if they still want it and saying that I’ll offer the item to someone else if I don’t hear from them in 24 hours.
I try not to get wound up about it. After all, I don’t even know that they received my mail.
Leave stuff outside
I often leave stuff for collection outside my front door. It means I don’t need to be in when the item is collected. And it takes some of the pain out of no shows.
To avoid letting a stranger know that my house is unoccupied, I say I’ll leave the item outside whether or not I’m going to be in.
The downside of this approach is that it cuts down on the human interaction which is part of the fun of Freecycling.
Don’t set up free for alls
Don’t say in your Offer message that you’re leaving the stuff outside on a first come, first served basis. You may cause people to make wasted journeys.
Not only is this irritating for your fellow Freecyclers, you may be increasing fossil fuel use as some of those journeys will be made by car.
Um…did I invite you in?
If you’re expecting someone collecting to come to your door, have the stuff you’re going to give them near the door. Several times, I’ve opened the door to a Freecycler and gone to get something for them only to find, when I turned round, that they’ve followed me into my house uninvited. This is disconcerting, especially when it’s a guy.
Some Freecyclers don’t like Wanted ads. If you don’t, filter them out so you don’t have to deal with them (see ‘Managing Communications’ above).
Personally, I’m a fan and have given stuff in response to Wanted ads many times. See here for an example.
Sometimes it’s been an item I no longer want/need and just haven’t thought to move on.
Sometimes, it’s been a waste item that I would otherwise have recycled or sent to landfill. Empty yoghurt tubs, empty jam jars, corks (popular for making cork boards).
And I’ve had great responses to Wanted ads I’ve posted too. Often I’ve been able to avoid buying something by posting a Wanted to Freecycle instead. For example, I got an epilator this way from someone who hadn’t been able to stand the pain. Saved me £40 and another electrical item being bought new.
C u 2moz?
I recommend taking the time to write a proper message when responding to postings. The person who mails me “I’d like this please. I’ll collect on foot. Thanks either way” is way more likely to be successful than the one who writes “Yes. U in tmrw?’
And respond to anything they’ve asked about in their message. If they’ve stated that the item must go by Saturday, for example, offer some times before then that you can collect.
When you pick something up, be on time. If you can’t make it, let them know, apologise and suggest another time. Apart from it being basic good manners, if someone knows you’re reliable, they’re more likely to give you stuff in the future.
When you reply to say you want something, say ‘please’. When you pick something up, say ‘thank you’. A ‘thank you’ email afterwards doesn’t do any harm either.
Post Taken/Received messages
This is considered good practice. I didn’t used to bother unless I received a lot of replies to an offer. However, I guess it enables those running the group to see how effective it’s being.
For my group, the process has recently been automated so, whenever I offer something, I get a follow-up email a few days later asking me to click a link if the item has been Taken, which generates a Taken posting. Of course, this doesn’t help if I’ve posted multiple items and only some of them have been taken.
I love being a Freecycler. It’s great seeing my unwanted stuff go off to be reused. It’s great getting freebies. And it’s great to be linked in to a community of green-minded people, most of whom are super-friendly and helpful. I’ve had people collecting stuff from me give me homemade chutney, or bags of sweets as a thank you. I’ve had people giving me stuff offer to deliver it as they’ll be passing my way or because the item’s heavy and they know I haven’t got a car. I’ve met and chatted with loads of lovely people.
Freecycle is just like any other community. Get active, be friendly and you’ll get out more than you put in.