The Frugal Café | Photo credit: Rebecca Anne, "Flora's Cup"</a> | Creative Commons License,
Photo credit: Rebecca Anne, "Flora's Cup" | Creative Commons License,

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Ask and Ye Shall Receive: Free for All, the Little-Known World of Freecycling

By Vicki McClure Davidson

I stumbled upon Freecycling a few years ago while browsing the 'Net for info on getting freebies (tacky, but true). Through Yahoo Groups, I found the most miraculous, little-known world, a world where people post great stuff that they want to GIVE away. And others, posting their wants, also expected to get these for free. Wow. It brings the biblical phrase "ask and ye shall receive" into a new light. How can anyone resist the possibility of receiving something of worth that is offered for free? But down deep inside, don't most of us wonder cynically, "Free? Yeah, right... What's the catch? How will I be taken advantage of or scammed by anything said to be 'free' by a total stranger? What strings are attached to this so-called free thing?"

When something of worth is offered for free, we often assume there are hidden strings attached.

Normally, I, too, would react this way. "There is no such thing as a free lunch," the axiom chides, and anyone who does believe that there is a "free lunch" out there somewhere is a naive chump waiting to be fleeced.

However, in one special location on the 'Net, this is not true.

In my 3-year experience with the Freecycle organization, I've been enthusiastic about their community-based, reuse-recycle philosophy. After all, "One man's trash is another man's treasure."

People grow tired of things, people have to move out of state, people have leftovers from a garage sale and don't want to haul the leftovers to the thrift store or the dump... there are many reasons people will happily give away, free of charge, quality items.

I have been given, totally free, with no strings attached, an assortment of free, non-expired food items, myriad candles for a candlemaking project, two new adult baseball mitts, enough fabric for my daughter to sew together more than 130 Christmas stockings for a local outreach program, and hundreds upon hundreds of small hotel toiletries, mint-condition Beanie Babies, paperback novels, Christmas ornaments, and magazines to send to our soldiers in the war zone.

I've made a lot of new acquaintances and have had countless happy experiences. My most heartwarming triumph in "getting," though, occurred when I requested sports equipment for a troop stationed in Iraq. A number of people responded, including a gentleman about 10 miles from me. He had a huge canvas sack filled with baseball bats, footballs, a tennis racket, and many other sports items and gear that he had been putting off donating to charity. He had been housing them for years for a friend that was in the military, and while he knew his friend didn't really want them back, taking them to the Salvation Army just didn't seem right. So, this conscientious man donated them to my troop cause, saying that his friend would more than approve. And, as a result of the giving nature of Freecyclers, a troop stationed in Iraq was able to form a baseball team.

In return, I've offered and unloaded a huge amount of good, but no longer necessary stuff we didn't want cluttering up our home, but didn't have time (or have a vehicle large enough) for hauling it all over to Goodwill. We unloaded an inherited and cumbersome reclining chair. Zowie—the requests flew into my Inbox like seagulls following a fishing boat and the chair had a new home in less than two hours. And we had a nice, cleared walking space in our dining area that we hadn't had in months. A pair of my son's outgrown, but still good, baseball cleats were given to a single mom who couldn't afford to buy a pair for her son who was starting into Little League. He was a few years younger than my son, and while the shoes were a bit big on him, the grin of happiness on his and her faces said it all.

The term "freecycle" is a combination of the words "free" and "recycle." There are Freecycle groups in every state in the US, and many more in other countries. And it continues to grow in membership. I've seen a huge variety of things offered and requested daily: from bags of manure to computers, from baby clothes to gardening tools, from Halloween decorations to broken glass.

Per the site's mission statement posted on its home page:

"The Freecycle Network™ is made up of more than 4,550 groups with 5,528,000 members across the globe. It's a grassroots and entirely nonprofit movement of people who are giving (& getting) stuff for free in their own towns. It's all about reuse and keeping good stuff out of landfills. Each local group is moderated by a local volunteer (them's good people). Membership is free. To sign up, find your community by entering it into the search box above or by clicking on “Browse Groups” above the search box."

The Freecycle Network seems to be a win-win situation for all, and meeting a lot of nice, frugally minded people you normally would not have met is a bonus and a blessing. During these times of economic uncertainty, the Freecycle site can answer prayers while keeping still-usuable items out of dumpsters and the inevitable landfill.

I receive emails several times a day from my Freecycle group of the latest postings of wants and offers, so if there is something that we could use or that we could give away, I can respond with a request email right away. Granted, "wanting and getting" are miles apart, as many people tend to want the same things. You are not always chosen... in fact, for me, weeks can go by without me being chosen to receive an offer. But that's OK. With patience and persistence, you can be the lucky chosen one on a sorta-frequent basis. The more members a given charter has, the more stuff is requested and offered. Obsiously, the larger the group, the more freecyclcing activity.

When typing in the website address, be sure to get the url extension right: Freecycle-dot-ORG, NOT Freecycle-dot-COM. The dot-com is a BOGUS site, hoping to lure freecyclers to their list of services (not free) and goods (again, not free). The dot-org ( is the one you want.

Here is a snapshot of recent Freecycle emails (I belong to three groups in my area) that I received in my email Inbox. Once you sign up as a Freecycle member, I recommend opting for the daily email notices because to remember to visit the site every day is difficult to do with busy schedules. Your email notices may or may not look like these (each group does things a bit differently from the others, although the mission statement seems to remain the same with all). From here, open up the emails at your own discretion and respond to any of the Wanteds or Offers that are of interest to you. I've noticed that moving boxes are always being offered or requested. Using Freecycle, there may no longer be a need to buy moving boxes again!

An Example of My Freecycle Emails


Other Free-to-You Websites

There are several other websites out there that operate on similar "free-to-you" principles. There is a section on Craig's List for free stuff and exchange. I've tried it a few times, and while I did once receive a bag of current paperback novels to send to my deployed soldiers, it just wasn't the same for me as using Freecycle. More impersonal, I guess. But, you may like it.

Another website I recently discovered, but have not yet fully explored is's Free'N Exchange network. According to the site, is the first "green," interactive, collaborative, educational website to bring together communities, environmental organizations, universities, foundations, and corporations to reward individuals for making incremental positive environmental changes. Free'N Exchange provides a forum for Greenopolis members to take items that they no longer want or need and make them available for free to the rest of Greenopolis. Click here to read to the site's FAQs.

Keep our landfills clear for the real junk and spread the love, baby—there IS such a thing as a free lunch, after all.



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