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

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, 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?

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

  1. 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.

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