Thursday, May 2, 2013

Having a Freecycle blast

Lately, Brian and I have been doing a bit of spring cleaning. Our shed, which was nearly impossible to walk around in, is now probably the tidiest it's ever been. Unfortunately, I didn't think to take a "before" picture to show you just how chaotic it used to be, but at least you can see from this "after" picture that it's quite neat and well-organized now. Whenever I go in there now, I find myself standing there for a few minutes just savoring all this room we have in there.

Most of the stuff we cleaned out of the shed eventually went back in, just in a more compact and well-organized way. But we did end up with several items to give away, so over the course of the past few weeks, I've been posting them all on Freecycle. I'd list three or four items at a time, and as they were taken, I'd remove the posts and list more items in their place. And since I was making all those posts anyway, I also started working my way through the box of stuff marked "giveaway" that's been sitting on a shelf in the shop for the past year or so, as well as listing a few other superfluous items. I actually belong to two different Freecycle groups, one for the Rutgers University/New Brunswick area and one for all of Middlesex County, so I started out by listing items on the Rutgers group in the hopes of giving them away to someone who lives close by. (I figure it's less wasteful to have the items picked up locally, since it involves less driving, and I also assume—or at least hope—that people who live nearby will be more likely to pick things up promptly.) If an item doesn't go within a few days, I'll post it on the bigger group, and if it still hasn't been taken within a week, I conclude that no one's interested.

Anyway, it occurred to me that this "Freecycle blast" might be a useful way to collect some data about what kind of items generate the most interest on Freecycle, and what kind are hardest to get rid of. As I worked my way through my pile of items, I kept track of what kind of response each item got: how many people responded, how quickly, and how long it took before the item was picked up. We still haven't completely gotten rid of everything, but most items have gone, including all the big ones, so I think I can go ahead and present my findings. So, here they are: Livingston's Laws of Freecycling.
  • The items that are most in demand are useful, as opposed to decorative. A set of jumper cables, a beat-up old shovel, a half-full bag of dry cat food, a bottle of hand lotion, and an assortment of curtain rods all got multiple requests within the first 24 hours. By contrast, a glass jar for displaying a floating candle went several days before getting a nibble, and I still haven't found anyone willing to take any of our assorted mugs with cartoons on them (something everyone has too many of already).
  • The condition of the item doesn't seem to matter that much. Whenever I post an item on Freecycle, I always disclose any problems with the item up front, because I don't want the person who picks it up to have any reason to feel cheated. Yet we had no trouble giving away a rusty old shovel, a digital camera that won't start unless its batteries are charged up to the brim, and a truly antiquated flatbed scanner.
  • Bigger items are more likely to be taken on the larger Middlesex County group than on the local group.  Both the scanner and our old recirculating range hood got no offers when I first listed them, but when I posted the same items on the bigger group they were snatched up immediately.
  • The more information you can provide about an item, the better. Of the two Freecycle groups I belong to, only the Middlesex County group lets you include a photo with your listing. However, I have discovered that when I post to the Rutgers group, I generally get a better response if I can find a picture of a similar item somewhere online. That helps people get a clearer idea of what's being offered, so that (a) they'll know if they're interested, (b) they'll know if they aren't interested and won't change their minds after seeing the item, and (c) they won't be disappointed with what they get. I also try when listing electronic items to include as much of the original documentation, software, cables, and other paraphernalia as I can scrounge up.
  • In addition to being specific in describing the item, it's wise to be specific in stating your expectations about the pickup. I made one post offering three vintage glass ceiling light covers (see the photo for an example) with the note "please take all," and I still got two requests from people who wanted to take just one of them. Next time, I'll spell it out: "Please reply only if you are willing to take all three."
  • It's best to avoid promising an item to someone unless that person can commit to a specific date and time for picking it up. Sometimes I've been kept dangling, waiting for a reply to my "So when should I expect you?" inquiry, while being forced to put off other people who asked for the same item and offered to come get it that very day. I used to give my address right away to anyone who requested an item, but lately I've taken to saying first, "Let me know when you can come get it, and I'll send you the address." I'm not as strict as some people, whose posts always include instructions to "include a date and time for pickup in your FIRST e-mail," but I might end up adopting that approach.
I'm hoping these rules will stand me in good stead when we finally get around to cleaning up the shop, which will probably be a much bigger job than the shed and yield an even larger volume of stuff to be Freecycled.
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