One Man's Trash Is Another Man's Treasure

Americans live in a society that promotes consumption--not just consumption of things like food, but consumption of big, durable goods that most societies would consider to be a once-in-a-lifetime purchase.  We upgrade to newer, bigger TVs. We buy shiny new appliances to match the new kitchen cabinets. We get all new furniture to compliment the new carpeting in the living room.  It's out with the old, and in with the new.

But where does the old stuff go? It takes up space and clutters our houses, so we want to be rid of it once it has been replaced. A lot of the time, our old "junk" isn't broken or unusable.  We've just outgrown it or gotten tired of it. Usually, we can't sell it, because everyone is trained to want to buy only shiny, new stuff these days. Heck, that's exactly why we're getting rid of our old stuff in the first place!  So, what do we do with all of our obsolete things? Unfortunately, the answer to that is all too often that we throw it away.  Perfectly good, albeit well-used goods wind up in landfills, where they will never do anyone any good.

It's understandable, in a way.  Selling our old stuff often isn't worth the effort.  Advertising costs money, and selling an item on a site like eBay doesn't work well unless it is small enough to be shipped.  Bed-frames, headboards, old washers and dryers, refrigerators, end tables, and countless other household items can all be difficult to sell if they aren't in pristine condition.  Rather than deal with the hassle, many people opt to just throw them away because it's cheaper and easier.

There is a great alternative, though.  In an effort to help people find items they need and keep still-usable stuff from winding up in landfills, a non-profit group called The Freecycle Network was formed in Tuscon, Arizona, to promote the concept of freecycling. Freecycling is the act of giving away your used goods (hence, free) to those who need or want them, rather than removing them from the consumer cycle by discarding them (hence, cycling).

The Freecycle Network has since spread to 85 countries, with more than 7 million members, myself included.  The group operates in two ways.  Originally, the group formed local chapters through the Yahoo! Groups system, and some chapters do still operate through these old groups.  In 2008, the network launched its centralized website at, and all new groups are now started through the central site.  Older groups have the option to migrate to the new site, but some (like my local chapter) have chosen to remain with Yahoo! Groups.

So, What's Involved?

Prospective freecyclers can go to the organization's website and search for their local group.  The website will tell them what the group is, and whether it operates through the main site or a Yahoo! Group.  Signing up is absolutely free.

Once a freecycler has signed up, they can search through postings to post one of their own items to others (an "Offer"), or to request an item of which they are in need ("In Search Of", usually abbreviated ISO). It is a general rule and common courtesy, however, to make your first Freecycle post an offer.

There are some rules as to what you can post on The Freecycle Network.  Weapons, pornography, alcohol, and tobacco products are off-limits for obvious reasons.  While posting pets is allowed, it is discouraged.  The Freecycle Network doesn't want the forum to get overloaded with offers of pets, and the number of people looking for pets generally can't keep up with the offers.

Posters include their preferred contact methods and time, and people who want the item respond.  The person offering the item chooses who gets it.  The two most common ways posters decide who gets the item are to give it to: a) first to respond, or b) the person with the greatest need.  The two of you set up an arrangement for picking the item up, and you're all set!

Some Dos and Don'ts

Don't offer your stuff to "whoever comes and picks it up first".  Many of the people who look for things on The Freecycle Network are low-income families. Someone who is struggling to make ends meet can't afford to drive to your location just to find out that someone already picked up the item.

Do figure out the arrangement for pick up with one person, and keep your word.

Do keep a list of other people who have asked for the item until after it has actually been picked up.  If the original person fails to claim it at the agreed-upon time, you can easily contact the next person on the list.

Don't post items to more than one group's list.  This is called cross-posting, and it is against the terms of using The Freecycle Network.

Do be aware that some items are in very high demand, while others are not.  If you post an offer for a large appliance, furniture, or baby items, you will probably receive a lot of inquiries very quickly. If you post an item that nobody wants right away, don't re-post it immediately.  Wait at least a few weeks.

Don't ask for money for anything you offer on The Freecycle Network. Ever. It is not a classified ad network.  Asking for money violates the most basic concept of freecycling, so just don't do it.

What Kind of Items Get Freecycled?

You name it.  I've personally freecycled a set of twin-size bunk-bed frames, a washer, and a dryer (all three of which are in incredibly high demand).  People often give away old VHS tapes, magazine collections, clothing, bicycles, computers, VCRs, microwaves, houseplants, televisions, refrigerators, tables, chairs, sofas, construction materials... the list just goes on and on. I have even seen a few mobile homes being freecycled!

Remember that a lot of the goods being freecycled are well-used.  If you do use The Freecycle Network to find things for your own use, understand that they will already have some wear and tear on them, and never insult the person giving them away by pointing it out. Remember, this is about doing something nice for others, while helping to reduce waste.