Let's hear it for Freecycle.org!

February 25,2009
Lindsay Hutton( )

It's hard for those of us in New England to believe, but spring is definitely around the corner. And you know what comes along with springtime: spring cleaning. Time to sort through all of the stuff that has been accumulating in your closets, cupboards, drawers, basement, attic, and garage.

I'm all for getting rid of stuff I'm not using, but I also hate to throw out things that are usable, functional, presentable, and/or nonperishable. "Someone somewhere can use this" runs through my mind, every time I start putting aside the things I can live without. You can try to sell things on your local Craigslist or through newspaper classifieds, but the object has to be worth something and the price has to be right to get someone interested. There's the old put-it-in-a-box-for-Good-Will ploy, but somehow the box never makes it to Good Will, or it does get there and they can't get rid of the stuff, either.

That's where the genius of the Freecycle Network makes the difference. You can find a home for anything--and I mean anything*--with a Freecycle member who absolutely wants it. (*Note: Items being offered must be legal, safe, and appropriate for all ages.)

Freecycle.org is a grassroots and entirely nonprofit movement of people who are giving (and getting) stuff for free in their own towns. It was launched in 2003 by an environmentalist in Tucson, who wanted to encourage people to recycle instead of throwing things away. Today the Freecycle Network includes some 4,688 groups with 6,489,000 members across the globe. Each local group is moderated by a local volunteer, and membership is free.

Once you become a member, network etiquette calls for you to give some things away before asking for anything. You can offer big items (e.g., that extra refrigerator in the basement that's running up your electric bill) or tiny ones (e.g., a box of buttons or pairs of shoelaces). Miraculously, someone will want whatever you offer, and it will be up to them to come to you and carry their prize away. You can post requests for anything that you need--I've even seen people ask for a car and a house (I don't know whether anyone came through on those). You cannot barter, and no money can pass hands. Items are freely given and freely received.

Just this past week I discovered that I had FOUR bottles of furniture polish, only one of which had been used (and that one was still three-quarters full). My spouse scoffed when I said I was going to put three of them on Freecycle.org, but do you know I've had at least seven people express interest in them? (I got rid of them the same day I posted them.)

No doubt many of you know about this great online movement. What's the most outrageous thing you've given away or received?