How to get what you want from Freecycle: etiquette and getting started

March 20 2012 | Guest post by Annabel Vita
Oh hey, pretty summery Freecycle bike!

I love Freecycle. This means that I always recommend it to anyone looking for new furniture. However, my friends often try it out then turn around a few weeks later saying either they couldn't work out how to use it, they got fed up with how many emails they got, or they kept missing out on the good stuff because it would go too quickly. Sound familiar? Never fear. I am here to help.

I thought I'd share some tips on Freecycle etiquette that I've picked up in my time using five freecycle groups in three cities here in England. Most people use Freecycle to give stuff away because it gives them the warm fuzzy feeling. This means it's really important not to be a jerk about it.

The short version: respond to offers as soon as possible, be nice to everyone and use your judgement to stay safe.

The longer version:

Work out a way to check your freecycle notifications frequently without them overwhelming your inbox

First of all, visit freecycle.org, find your closest group and sign up. I opt to get every message sent as an individual email and then use filters in Gmail to manage these in my inbox. I wrote an explicit post on how to do this here. If I am looking for a specific item (eg. a bed) I will set up another filter that leaves any Freecycle message mentioning a bed in my inbox, or forwards it to the email I check most often (eg. my work inbox). Whatever you choose to do, find a method that works for you. This gives you the best chance of being able to do tip number two…

Be fast, but be friendly

This is the most important. If there is an item you are interested in, reply straight away. It's best to be enthusiastic (now isn't the time to quibble over details). However, I've found it's best to add just a little bit of personality. For example. "Hello, I'd really love this bed if it's still available — all the slats on mine are broken! I can pick it up any evening this week." Some users choose who to give their item to based on first-come-first-served, others will see if anyone particularly appeals to them. You don't need to go too far out of your way, but just a little detail of why you'd like the item can be just enough to make you seem human and get the item you're looking for (you don't want to look like someone who is just going to take the furniture and sell it). If they offer you the item, I think it's then ok to say: "Can I just check, about how far off the ground is the bed?" or ask for some other details, but it's important in your first email to just say yes.

Don't waste people's time or be rude

I know this seems contradictory to the saying yes to everything I've said above, but it's not wasting someone's time really to ask for some more details and then politely say "actually, I'm really sorry but I don't think that bed will work in my space." If your freecycle group is as busy as the ones I've used, they will have a couple of people who also said yes who they will offer it to then. Real time wasting is stuff like saying you'll pick it up Wednesday evening and not turning up, or turning up and then changing your mind once you've seen it. If I've ever turned up and not liked what is on offer, I've always taken it anyway and freecyled it myself (with a reason that won't offend the original freecycler, eg: "received from another freecycler but sadly a bit too large for my bedroom") or given it to a charity shop. You never know what that person might freecycle next, so if you waste their time or are otherwise rude, they might not choose you to receive the super awesome KitchenAid they're giving away next week.

With some exceptions, don't post wanted requests

The vast majority of wanted posts I've seen make the poster seem greedy. In some of the groups I used, I've got so fed up with people asking for laptops and smartphones that I actually filtered the emails so any wanted emails were deleted automatically. If you post over-the-top wanted ads for things like laptops, you may miss out on a great offer because the freecycler doesn't like your user history (just like in point 3). The only exceptions to this are things where you're probably doing the person getting rid of the stuff a favour as well. In this category, I'd include things likes bulky one-use items (eg. moving boxes), most baby clothes and equipment (excluding designer strollers), or something along the lines of scrap wood or rubble. I'd say you'd get a pass for these.

Offer stuff to give away

Getting rid of unwanted crap is good and it will help with freecycle karma. This is the one bit where I'm saying do as I say not as I do.

And finally, have fun (but be safe)

Right, the staying safe stuff is simple. Follow your instincts. Tell a friend where you're going to pick stuff up. Do not go to someone's house on your own. Google someone's name to see if they check out. And maybe don't go pick up the item that seems too good to be true after dark from the person who won't give you their phone number in the creepiest neighbourhood in town.

But on to the fun stuff. I'm a bit nosy (let's call it curious) and so freecycle was a great way to see into the homes of this wide range of people in my local area that I'd never met. I found myself in some absurd situations, but all in all, I met fun people, saw some cool houses and got awesome free stuff.

New bedroom

I got my bed through freecycle, and through my bed I got my boyfriend, and every year or two I send an email to the former owner of the bed to let him know how it's getting on. I love that so much of my furniture has a history. And the difference between freecycle and a second hand shop is I know the history.

So, my chest of drawers? Well, it was the former owner's grandma's, and the former owner had to get rid of it in a hurry because she was unexpectedly moving to Hong Kong with her boyfriend. Now it's mine. When I no longer need it, I'll pass it on and the story will continue. I just don't think IKEA can compete with that.

For the initiated: what's the best score YOU'VE gotten on Freecycle?

  1. I responded to a post about flowerpots because I was trying to start a container garden. But when I showed up her "flowerpots" were antique ceramic crocks! After ensuring that she really did want to give them away, I had some sweet decorations for my apartment!

  2. Ha! I was just thinking about freecycle the other day. I need a few things that I REALLY don't want to buy at Target/ Thanks for reminding me!

  3. omg i have too much to mention! I am actually a moderator with our local group (though it is called FullCircles, it is branched off of freecycle.org) so if u want to read ALL of it complete with full history you can here: http://retrorenoadventures.blogspot.ca/2011/01/why-i-love-freecycle.html
    but to sum it up:
    a taxidermy hawk
    a kids wagon
    50's dinette set
    Eames chair (not a real Eames however)
    various couches and chairs
    great friends!!!

    I too recommend freecycling to everyone I ever meet. It is so great. Ever been to a free market?? See if your local group holds these and if they don't you should write them a suggestion!!

    Also as for posting wanteds, our group has a "no luxury items" rule that works pretty well. We have quite a few wanted postings and you might be surprised how many people do actually respond to them! So, don't be afraid to post them cause if you don't ask you don't get!

  4. Best thing I've gotten off Freecycle was a sandwich toaster. Not that exciting maybe but it's the BEST THING EVER on cold, miserable winter days when real cooking is too much effort and a regular sandwich is too cold and dull.

    But I'm more of a giving stuff away person. When my husband and I first moved out of our parents houses we were given a lot of awesome second hand furniture and a lot of 'ok for now but not ideal' furniture too which we've been slowly upgrading.

    Our old fridge went to someone who's fridge had broken down that morning, our "granny chairs" went to an actual granny who found it difficult getting off her sofa (which was Freecycled in turn). Our spare set of cutlery went to a teenager getting her first flat. And so on.

    My group even has a few people who will take broken electronics and either repair them or salvage them for parts to repair something else, which is awesome.

  5. My issue is that I can't even figure out how to join a group. I've tried this before, and either the search function at the very first page doesn't work–telling me to come back later, or when I go to a group page it just tells me to "click on Join" below, but there's nothing below.

    I can't figure it out, so I can't get started even if I do think this is a great organization.

    Even when I've seemed to successfully join Freecycle and have found a group & managed to join, when I try to view the group, everything is Members Only & I'm not able to get in. It's very frustrating & makes me feel it's not worth the hassle.

  6. I joined FC but it was just too sad with all of the people trying to give their pets away. One person posted that they needed someone to come take their dog asap or it would be spending the entire weekend in a crate alone, while they went out of town. I couldn't take it and had to un-join.

    • They what? They were giving away their dog because they were out of town for the weekend?

      Unless they just wanted a free sitter and were going to take it back later, which is really not what Freecycle is for. Especially not on short notice.

      • They were trying to give it away. I guess the timing coincided with their weekend plans. The good thing was quite a few people were responding offering to get the dog.

        • Oh good. Well, not good but better than the alternative.

          I thought it might have been another idiot like the guy who signed his cat over to the RSPCA center where I used to volunteer saying he couldn't take care of it any more, then came back from his holiday 2 weeks later wanting the cat back and threatened to sue when he was told it had been adopted already. Turned out he just wanted free boarding instead of paying a kennel.

          (Luckily when he signed it over what he signed was a legal document, he didn't have a leg to stand on legally and his threats went nowhere.)

  7. I love Freecycle and am so disappointed when people tell me they don't "get" it. More times than not, I think they'd just rather go out and buy new stuff, which bugs me. I know I'm being a little judgey because I believe pretty strongly that we consume too much and the social and ecological effects of that are shitty. I'm also one of those people who romanticizes owning something with a history. Certain items I can understand, such as a mattress (I live in NYC so eww bed bugs), but even some cushioned furniture is fine within reason. I have a practically new brown Pier 1 couch that I got from a (very clean!) Freecycler who was moving in with her boyfriend and didn't want to deal with getting rid of it. In NYC that's fairly common since most of us don't have cars and have to be really creative when transporting big items (yay Zipcar). All in all this is a great list for people just learning how to Freecycle!

    PS It bugs me too when people ask for laptops and flat screen tvs! I always think it's so greedy! It hasn't been updated in a while, but Freakcycle is a blog that pokes fun at the strange offers and requests that pop up! http://freakcycle.wordpress.com/

    • Believe me, not all of who don't get it want to buy new stuff!! For the life of me I can't understand the system, the posts, the email setup. I think it's probaby a 1st world problem because the old web layout etc just makes it too 'bulky' and cumbersome for me. It does my head in because it's something I would love to be involved with. I do my own version whereby I pick up things on the side of the road to move into my home, and when we've outgrown something I leave outside the front of my home on a sunny day to repay the karma to someone else in need. I can't remember the last time I bought anything new!!

  8. Freecycle etiquette is so important…I recently moved from large city to a small one, and loved Freecycle when I lived in the large city. I joined the one in my new city, and ended up having to leave it because the moderators would post rules, and then allow people to create posts that blatantly broke said rules. People used it as a their own personal charity; asking for everything from cars to washer/dryers but rarely posted any offers. I'll wait until I move back to rejoin, and use Craigslist if I want to give away any items.

  9. Can you describe the pros and cons of FreeCycle versus posting something for free on Craigslist? The FreeCycle seems like a bit of a hassle (i.e. you have to join a group and get bombarded with emails on every post, not just what you're trying to give away) compared to just listing free items on Craigslist.

    • I was going to say the big advantage for people in England is that it exists over here unlike Craigslist. But apparently Craigslist is international, I've just never heard of anyone outside the USA using it (which is odd).

      Other than that I'd say one thing I like is that you can sometimes get things you didn't know you wanted. Like my sandwich toaster. I hadn't thought of getting one until I saw it offered even though I was trying to make toasted sandwiches in the grill (it didn't work).

      • Yes! Both these things. Also, something about freecycle seems more intimate – maybe because stuff comes from people's email addresses or something? And definitely the things you didn't know you wanted!

    • I think the biggest difference is that Freecycle usually has rules about missing pick-ups in that you can get banned from the group. I have more flakes respond to free Craigslist posts and then bail than I ever have with Freecycle.

      • I didn't want to include it because I'm not sure how Craigslist works but I like this too. It may not be much but I feel like if there are some consequences for screwing people over it makes it less likely.

    • I've used both FreeCycle and Craigslist to give stuff away, and I've found Freecyclers to be more reliable, in general, than people looking for free stuff on Craigslist. Also, you can set your freecycle settings to "web only" so that you don't receive any e-mail at all really easily when you sign up. That's usually what I do when I'm not looking for anything at the moment.

  10. I work in a US government office (we have about 150 staff), and once when ALL THREE of our microwaves broke and we were told that we couldn't have new ones (it would LITERALLY have taken an act of Congress to get them), I asked for them on freecycle and came away with four.

    Hot lunches for everyone!

  11. Oh man, my best recent score on Freecycle is a sweet bird feeder that just required a little cleaning and a new string on top. I've also gotten half of my cloth diapers on Freecycle, and some awesome cloth shopping bags which inspired me to make a mess of additional shopping bags for my friends and family.

  12. I'm both a moderator of my local Freecycle group, and an avid Freecycler myself. As a professional organizer, that's often how I find homes for the things my clients choose to part with – and they love it, because I can forward along the nice requests and the thank-you notes, so they know the things they used to treasure are now being treasured by others.

    And yes, I'm one of those people who chooses the recipient partially based on the sound of the email – so those polite messages with a bit of personality do get the sender favored status. And I do keep track of the small number of people who are flaky about pickups, and will rarely give to them.

    • I have to agree about the sound of the email thing. One time I put this butterfly candleholder up on Freecycle that I had gotten as wedding present, and had a number of people express interest in it. I remember two of the people who asked about it. The first wanted to give it to a little old lady they knew who was unwell, and they thought it would cheer her up.

      The other person wanted it because it had butterflies on it, and they liked butterflies.

      When I chose to give it to the woman who wanted to give it to the sick little old lady, the other person sent me an angry email demanding to know why I hadn't picked them, because, after all, they told me they liked butterflies.

      *blink*blink*

      There's always one in every group, eh?

  13. And to answer the Craigslist vs. Freecycle question: One advantage, to me, is that Freecycle is more local. My group covers one part of the San Francisco Bay Area, and members must live in the area. So it has a community feel, and everything being offered is to be a reasonable drive away.

    Besides finding good homes for many items, I've also met some very neat people; Freecycle has led to some lovely friendships.

  14. I just listed an offer on Freecycle for the first time in a while (inspired by this post).

    It's amazing how much bad grammar / poor etiquette makes me NOT want to give someone an item. It's also amazing how many messages I've received in the last 10 minutes that consist of nothing more than "hey u still got that" – c'mon, is the question mark key that hard to hit?

    When you get a LOT of takers for an item, do you email every person who didn't get it to let them know? It seems like the polite thing to do but, it's been 10 minutes and I already have 15+ messages!

    • I agree! If you're going to ask me for something, at least tell me your name. I got so many emails with misspellings, no punctuation, no name, etc. And they were still asking my address! Like I'm going to tell you my address, Mr/Ms No-Name.

    • It seems polite, but I get overwhelmed trying to answer everyone with "No, it's taken.". I try to include something in the original post about me only responding to whoever (whomever?) I choose to give it to (first person to respond, nicest sounding email, whatever).

    • You could just send a "thanks for all the interest this item has been taken" generic message as your taken message to the group. If anyone cared enough for the item they will read your note and then u don't have to write 50 emails!

  15. My best Freecycle score was our barbecue. I really wanted a charcoal one, but for some reason Australians seem to favor gas and they're relatively hard to come by. Then someone offered their old Weber because they were moving. SCORE!

    I mostly give things away on Freecycle, though.

    It's interesting that people want folks to tell them what they're using the items for – my policy is I'll give it to the first person who responds, so when I see that stuff I think, "Um, that's nice." But I guess I'm odd!

  16. I haven't had much luck with our local Freecycle, honestly. I live in a major city but the local list just doesn't seem to be very active. I tried to give away our old couch and only got three responses and one no-show when I offered it. The other two didn't reply when I told them it was still available after the first guy failed to pick it up. Long story short, I still have this couch and it's not in good enough shape to really donate to Goodwill, but not in bad enough shape to take to the dump. I think we're just going to have to throw it away because no one seems to want it.

  17. I probably use Freecycle more to give things away than I do to acquire new items, but I do both. The emails *can* get overwhelming, but if you filter, they're easier to ignore. My best score was a chest freezer (changed my life!); I've given away kitchen goods, electronics, sports equipment, you name it.

    When I give things away, I try to make my posts at least vaguely amusing. And I refuse to give anything to the "gimme gimme" responders who can't take time to check spelling and grammar before they send.

  18. You can change the settings on freecycle so that you don't get any notifications (at least you can with ours). I do that and just pop into the message boards a few times a day to see what's about. We managed to get a washing machine, sofa AND (best bit!) a greenhouse from ours as well as various bits and bobs. It really is a godsend for us because we are so poor at the moment(I'm setting up a business and it's haaard times); we even managed to get our son's birthday present from there after we had to use the money we had saved to mend the car *ouch*. It seriously ticks me off that there are people who will take stuff just to sell on, when there are people who genuinely can't afford a new sofa or washing machine and need one. And don't get me started on the multiple 'wanted' posts from a single poster. I've nothing against a modest or truly desperate 'wanted' but the long lists or desirable electricals really tick me off.

  19. my application was rejected from joining my local group for no reason. so, i hate freecycle. i never tried to do anything with them again… it was a sad day for sure. i was super excited about the fun that you guys all talk about! oh well… shopping is more fun, right? right?

  20. I have never had luck getting items off of freecycle. I don't have any luck giving things away either. No shows, no reply backs so finally I just post it on Craigslist. This was nice stuff too! Futon, desk etc., all in great condition.

    • Please. I've checked back in with Freecycle a number of times at chapters all over California Arizona Oregon Washington and Nevada.

      1. there's about 1000% more listings on Craigslist and other similar groups
      2. Freecycle is just one large dumpster people go trolling through and then get bent out of shape when you or anybody else can't or won't relieve them of their trash for free.
      3. Thrift shops and charities get the goods people have before they go on Freecycle
      4. As a result, what's left – like any other more or less unused and unmonitiored space on the Web – has long ago fallen over into the hands of spammers scammers adbots and malware/spyware generators all attempting to ply their trades on one another.

      Best to leave it fall over the rest of the way and have the concept as a whole get closed down nationwide by the FCC.

  21. Best Freecycle story: I gave away an all in one printer to an older couple. Next day, I get a phone call, I had accidentally left cherished photos in the scanner bed. The husband, unasked, promptly traveled quite a distance to bring the photos back to me. This experience ROCKED!

  22. I love freecycle so much. We moved cross country and through it got everything from hangers and rice to tomato plants and a tv. It is a god send for poor grad students

  23. Please. I've checked back in with Freecycle a number of times at chapters all over California Arizona Oregon Washington and Nevada.

    1. there's about 1000% more listings on Craigslist and other similar groups
    2. Freecycle is just one large dumpster people go trolling through and then get bent out of shape when you or anybody else can't or won't relieve them of their trash for free.
    3. Thrift shops and charities get the goods people have before they go on Freecycle
    4. As a result, what's left – like any other more or less unused and unmonitiored space on the Web – has long ago fallen over into the hands of spammers scammers adbots and malware/spyware generators all attempting to ply their trades on one another.

    Best to leave it fall over the rest of the way and have the concept as a whole get closed down nationwide by the FCC.

Join the conversation

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

No-drama comment policy

Part of what makes the Offbeat Empire different is our commitment to civil, constructive commenting. Make sure you're familiar with our no-drama comment policy.