by Elizabeth Howard
Recently my husband and I acquired a Connecticut-sized house and suddenly it occured to me that I needed stuff. Not just the decorative, make-it-your-own stuff, but basic, don't-want-to-look-like-a-squatter stuff: a rake, a lawn mower, bookshelves, lamps. Where we lived before, we had much less space, and no grass.
So there I was, wandering in Home Depot, depressed. I couldn't bring myself to buy that plastic rake and that shiny shovel. I mean, there is something wrong about buying a clean hoe. You just know the next day you'll turn the corner and spot "10 for $10" sign on a pile of rusty, dirty, perfectly good garden tools at a tag sale.
Letting the weeds grow and the garden fester, I researched. Craigslist was good. But Freecycle one upped it.
So what exactly is Freecycle?
The Freecycle Network is a web of individual groups across the globe. It's a grassroots and nonprofit movement of people who are giving away and getting stuff for free in their own towns. Currently, there are about 4100 local groups and almost 4 million members in the world. Groups are moderated by local volunteers. In the U.S. these groups are run through Yahoo Groups. Membership is free.
How do I join?
In Connecticut there are currently 34 Freecycle groups, including groups for New Haven, Stamford/Greenwich, Litchfield area, Torrington, Bridgeport area, Hartford, Shelton/Oxford area and many others. The Freecycle website makes it simple to find the groups nearest you, and you are welcome to join more than one. However, some groups may ask for a zip code to verify the area you live in. This is to limit the groups to the local areas and to prevent spammers on the web groups.
What happens after I join?
After your membership is accepted, you'll have access to the message board. It's a simple set up, a list of three types of messages: offer, wanter, or admin. Each message is followed by an email address to contact the message poster. Email addresses are "hidden" -- your actual email address does not appear on the site.
Freecycle Etiquette asks that your first post be an offer. Moderators are likely to send you a polite if motherly email to remind you if your first posting is a wanted.
How do I make the exchange?
Once you post an item to offer, any potential new owner can contact you by email to express an interest. It's up to you who gets the object. You can arrange with them to come to your home or to meet you at a mutually acceptable location to collect. Leaving stuff at the curb and posting a "Anyone can come and get it" offer is not encouraged.
Is it all junk?
Definitely not. I've seen listings for file cabinets, light fixtures, beds, desks, tools, children's toys, garden implements, flower pots and hundreds of others items with years of life still in them. You never know what treasure you will find.
Is Freecycle for me?
This is something I asked myself. Do I mind strangers dropping by to pick things up? Am I ready to let go of the things I have? Do I really want to be a part of bigger community, if it means the chance encounter with people I don't know?
Sometimes we talk green, but with no action. Following through on our pledge to reduce and reuse is as simple or challenging as we make it. Freecycle gives us that opportunity.
Journalist and author Elizabeth Howard advocates green life through attention to detail, however gory or silly. She details her own imperfect experiences at Letters from a Small State.