How to get what you want from freecycle: tips and etiquette

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. I purposefully haven’t separated it into tips and etiquette because, really, the best tip I can give you is to follow etiquette. 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.
But first, another picture of a favourite find to keep our freecycle enthusiasm up… a chest of drawers. (Yes, it could do with some paint or to be restained and that hardware will have to go at some point, but I love how tall it is and the shallow drawers are super useful because you can keep teeny nick nacks well organised like this).


Freecycle Tips and Etiquette


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


The longer version:


1) Work out a way to be able to check your freecycle notifications frequently without them overwhelming your inbox. I signed up to get every message sent as an individual email, then used filters to manage these in my inbox. You can see how to do this here. If I am looking for a specific item (eg. a bed) I will set up another filter that either leaves any freecycle message mentionning a bed in my inbox, or forwards it to the email I check most often (eg. my work inbox). You can also just get ALL the emails and deal with them, or you can refresh the website constantly (like you would craigslist, I guess).
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…


2) 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.

3) 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 anything like 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 on 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.


4) 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).
In my opinion, 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.
If you do choose to post a wanted ad, remember the person if doing you a favour so don’t be too demanding. You see posts saying things like: “Hi, I need a new desk, I’d like it to be solid wood and sturdy. Please send pictures.”


3) 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. I find it it too hard to co-ordinate giving stuff away on freecycle! I’m ok with this morally, as I do give a lot of stuff to charity shops. So in terms of give-and-take karma overall, I’m coming out ok. But my freecycle history doesn’t reflect this, and I’m sure there are freecyclers who check someone does offer stuff as well as take it before they say someone can have it. At the moment, I’m willing to accept this, but if I ever wanted to get the absolute most out of freecycle, you can bet I’d be offering lots of junk from around my house pretty pronto.


6) And finally, have fun (but be safe). Right, the staying safe stuff is simple. Follow your instincts. Tell someone where you’re going to pick stuff up. Preferably don’t go to someone’s house on your own. Google someone’s name if you can 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 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 like the time I trekked over to someone’s house in the snow, only to find out what they’d described as a “trinket tray” was actually more like a saucer. Then there was the time I walked for ages to pick up a “tent” that was actually the poles of one tent and the fly sheet of a different one. Useless! But all in all, I met some fun people, saw some cool houses and got some awesome free stuff. 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 cycle will continue. I just don’t think Ikea crap can compete with that.


Have you used Freecycle? What’s your favourite score? What are your top tips? Wackiest person you met?

Edited to add: I’ve since turned that wooden dresser into a mint green cabinet.


  • ashlie
    September 26, 2011 - 4:14 pm | Permalink

    Great tips! I also hate it when people ask for over the top items – I saw one once asking for a GPS. Really? You think someone is just going to give one away? I also hate it when someone will post that they’re looking for something understandable (like a dresser or something) but it’s right above someone else’s offer for a dresser. Do your research – you can’t expect everything to walk right to you!

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