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Twenty-five years ago, our community rented a dumpster for a weekend to help the neighborhood with spring house cleaning. That Monday morning, my sister and I passed it as we walked our kids to school. After we dropped the kids off, we came back to take a look.

The dumpster was too high for us to see inside and we weren't inclined to climb inside. But since the dumpster was overflowing, many people had parked their unwanted items around its base. While the kids were in school, my sister and I spent the morning going through the castoffs.

We found a few things we could use, but a lot more that we thought other people could use. It's mind-boggling to see what people throw away. We found household items, clothing in good condition, some unworn with tags. There were a lot of books, and magazines that were relatively current. We packed up as much as we could fit into my sister's station wagon and drove it to the Amvets in Laurel.

My sister and I weren't the only ones who wanted to keep useful things out of landfills, Deron Beal, organized a movement that has kept far more than a car load out of landfills. In 2003, Beal founded Freecycle, a network keeps the equivalent of 300 tons of stuff out of landfills every day.

From their website at

The Freecycle Network™ is made up of 5,089 groups with 9,305,801 members around the world. It's a grassroots and entirely nonprofit movement of people who are giving (and 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 local volunteers (them's good people). Membership is free.
Each freecycle group has its own rules, but the rules are similar. Here is an example from the group I'm in here in Virginia:
We do not allow: politics, spam, trading, barter, offering “this for that”, borrowing, coupons (bottle caps, labels, etc et al), prescription medications, pornography, alcohol, email harvesting, service posts, dating ads, conversations between members posted to the list (always contact members via their email address directly), “it’s on the curb at this address” posts, “first one to this address gets it” posts, address or phone numbers in group posts or questionable language. We don't allow advertising (no matter how good the cause) - which includes adding web addresses of your business, or a business near to your heart, at the end of your posts. We follow the standard Freecycle™ policy of “two strikes and you’re out”.
I've used Freecycle quite a lot over the years. I was the librarian in a school at the time and Freecycle helped me to obtain televisions for the classrooms that didn't have tvs.

When my son in Las Vegas needed to relocate for a new job, we decided to take Lily, his German Shepherd, since he was moving into a small apartment in California. We needed an airport approved dog crate, which would have cost over $200. Someone from the Las Vegas Freecycle group was kind enough to give us a dog crate that was perfect.

Originally I joined several Freecycle groups when I lived in Maryland: Columbia, Laurel, Baltimore, and Greenbelt. I was disappointed when they changed the setup so that you could only be a member of one group. I rarely used the groups for things I needed (other than the dog crate and the school tvs) but I loved using them for getting rid of things. I first listed a twin sized flotation bed (modified water bed) on the local group but had no takers. I relisted for the Baltimore group and a mother who had an autistic son took it and told me that the wave motion helped her son sleep through the night.  

When we decided to relocate to Virginia six years ago, the first thing our real estate agent told us is that we needed to declutter. Since we were still dealing with the contents of the households of our deceased parents, this was a major undertaking. I don't know how we would have accomplished this without Freecycle.

For a month, there was a continuous stream of large items out of our house. I'd largely given up donating large items to our local Goodwill, Purple Heart, and Amvets. I'd spent too many days waiting for them to pick up at their convenience only to be told, "we don't take that" for whatever reason.

One woman took the Nordic track which I rarely used and the bumper pool table that my adult sons didn't want. She helped to break down some steel shelving then crammed it into her station wagon.

We had been storing a 3' X 5' mirror my mother-in-law had used in her bedroom and I felt like I'd hit the jackpot when a woman said it was perfect to replace one she'd had that had broken.

I had tried to donate a five drawer file cabinet to a local charity, the driver refused to take it (because it would take more than one person to load it and unload it from the truck) we offered it through Freecycle. It was gone within a few hours.

I've joined the local Freecycle group, but I usually offer things I'm getting rid of through a local Moms' club first, and I've had takers for just about everything I've offered. A few years ago, my husband planted six bushes in the backyard and we had several boxes of dirt left from the holes. I mentioned it on the Moms' club discussion group and three people asked for the dirt. I'm sure that if I'd offered through Freecycle, I would have gotten several takers. There is usually someone who can use what you don't want, it's just a matter of getting the word out.

I've had some people caution me that some people lurk on Freecycle and get stuff just to sell it on ebay. I DON'T CARE. If someone is supplementing their family income with ebay sales, I applaud them for their resourcefulness. If the stuff is getting into the hands of someone who can use it and not into a landfill, that suits my purpose. If someone is in great need of something, e.g., you need a winter coat for your child, you can post "Wanted: A winter coat, Boys size 6-8" and someone will probably give you one.  

Today on my local Freecycle, here are a sampling of the offerings: boys size 1 shoes, girl's bike, playstation games, a tv, toddler's frog costume and a head of green cabbage (she thought the recipe called for two heads, but it only called for one).

Just a word of caution before you join Freecycle: Choose the option of reading the posts online rather than getting individual emails. Otherwise, you'll be getting 25-30 messages a day.  

2:07 PM PT: NChristine reminded me about Craigslist. I haven't used it for free stuff myself, but they seem to have a lot of listings. I can't add it to the poll since I already published it, but please add any comments about your experience with Craigslist.

Originally posted to JamieG from Md on Sun Mar 24, 2013 at 01:20 PM PDT.

Also republished by Maryland Kos, Virginia Kos, and Community Spotlight.


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