How to use Freecycle effectively to furnish your home

by - Monday, March 18, 2013

A few years ago we found ourselves in a very dire situation and in desperate need of some essential furnishings for our home. Luckily for us, I was already aware of the wonderful sites, Freecycle and Freegle. These are community-led sites where you can offer (and ask for) unwanted goods to help keep them out of landfill.

As the old adage goes: one man's junk is another man's treasure, and I'm happy to say we were thrilled with those items we were able to recycle.

In the years since, we've virtually furnished our entire home using these sites, and have received everything from a set of drawers to a washing machine; picture frames and even a large television set!

There are certain rules and guidance which you should be aware of to use sites like Freecycle and Freegle successfully, so in this post I'll explain the tips and techniques we have used to have the best experience of these sites.

The Basics

You will need to sign up to your local Freecyle or Freegle site and have your membership approved before you can begin using the service. Visit the homepage for the site you are interested in joining to be directed to the group operating in your area.

Each community group may have it's own rules about posting which you're encouraged to read before signing up (for example, in some groups you may have to offer an item before you can post a wanted ad), though almost all groups will incorporate the following standards:
  • Anything offered or requested must be free. You can not offer or expect payment for anything advertised on these sites.
  • Do not advertise (or ask for) live animals
  • Do not post an advertisement for anything illegal (pirated copies of DVDs, firearms, etc)
  • Only post an advertisement once per week
Usually posts are moderated before they appear on the site, and you'll receive an email explaining why your post was declined if you contravene any of the group's rules for posting.

Don't expect miracles!

Goods which are offered via Freecycle and Freegle are unlikely to be perfect or new. While you may crave a 32 inch flatscreen TV or a designer pushchair for your newborn, you are very unlikely to receive one!

Consider that everything offered on these sites are unwanted goods: they may be in perfectly good condition, but are no longer required. Someone who has recently purchased a new sofa, for example, may need to get rid of their old one and offer this on the site. It may not be modern, it may need throwovers to cover a few marks, but if you don't have a sofa at all this may be exactly what you need for your home.

Ensure you are able to collect

Those offering large items (such as sofas, beds and appliances) will expect recipients to be able to collect the item themselves - promptly! 

It can be very annoying to receive emails about an item you have offered asking for it to be delivered; indeed, many Freecyclers consider this to be poor manners! If you know you need a large item, be sure to have arranged for adequate transport and enlist someone strong to help before replying to such posts to ensure you don't waste anybody's time.

When you are absolutely desperate and cannot arrange transport, it is better to post a "Wanted" ad with a brief explanation of your circumstances and offer to cover petrol costs. Admittedly you may not receive many (if any) responses and cannot be in the slightest bit picky in your requests, though you may discover members who are willing to help. 

Be polite!

Good manners are absolutely essential when responding to offers on Freecycle! Impolite emails are generally ignored, and are the biggest complaint among members of these sites. 

Rather than use "txt spk" or simply asking "Can I have it?", compose a polite message asking if the member still has the item. Be sure to include your name (and telephone number if the post requests it), and explain when you would be able to collect.

Respond to any replies as soon as you can. Often freecyclers may want to get rid of an item quickly and may pass it on to someone else if you don't reply in a timely manner.

Always let the member know if you are delayed or cannot collect at your pre-arranged time. It's incredibly annoying to be kept waiting only to find the member doesn't turn up! It's also nice to follow up with a thank-you email to let the gifting member know you are a grateful recipient.

Don't wait for email digests if there's something you particularly need

There can be high demand for certain items, so be sure to check your local group's website regularly if there's an item you particularly want to find. Quality sofas, cabin beds and modern televisions are highly sought after, so you need to be quick to respond if you want to be on the receiving end!

Search existing posts before publishing a "Wanted" ad

Check the past fortnight's posts on your local group to see if the item you need has been offered recently. Members who post an "Offered" post may not be actively checking "Wanted" posts, meaning you could miss an opportunity by forgetting to check first!

Be open-minded

When posting a "Wanted" ad, try not to be specific about what you are need. For example:

WANTED: Ikea Poang Chair in black leather

may receive no replies whatsoever (and a few tut-tuts from those who read the post!), whereas

WANTED: Comfortable chair for lounge

is likely to receive several replies, perhaps even offering styles ideal for your decorating vision you may not have previously considered.

Last year, I was trying to find a sewing machine to help me make up cushions for our home. For a few weeks I sought out a "working electric sewing machine" but even this vague description didn't throw up any offers. Eventually I asked for "any basic sewing machine" and was offered a beautiful manual antique machine which - after a little maintenance - works perfectly well for my needs (and forms a lovely piece of furniture too). I couldn't have been more thrilled!

Give back!

Giving back to the community is important, particularly in close-knit communities where member names are recognised for how often they "want" or "offer" items. 

Whenever possible, consider offering any unwanted items to your local group before dumping in the tip, even if they are broken or seem unusable in their current state. Lately I have gifted my broken microwave to a man who broke it apart for spares to repair others, and a soiled carpet off-cut to be used on an elderly gent's allotment. 

Most importantly, remember that the objective of communities such as Freecycle and Freegle is to keep potentially useful items out of landfills!

Final thoughts

For me, Freecycle has been invaluable in transforming my empty shell of a house into a comfortable home. Our house is no "show home", but it's comfortable and inviting with its own peculiar character of old and new. Most importantly, we were able to create our living space at very little cost by reusing furniture and furnishings which may otherwise have ended up at the tip!

Do you use Freecycle or Freegle? If you have any further tips for using such services effectively, or would like to share your own experiences, please feel free to leave your comments below.

Image credit: Ollie Crafoord, via Flickr

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