Thursday, January 17, 2013

Thrift Week 2013: The Online Edition

Happy Thrift Week, everyone! This year, I'm planning to use each day of Thrift Week to highlight a different website that I consider a useful tool for anyone trying to live a thrifty life. And it should come as no surprise to regular readers that my first pick is my perennial favorite, Freecycle.

I consider this site the ultimate in ecofrugality. For anyone who isn't familiar with it, Freecycle is basically a network of small groups around the country for people to pass on their unwanted stuff to others who can use it. What makes Freecycle da bomb is that it's an ecofrugal three-fer, because you can:
  1. keep your unwanted stuff out of the landfill;
  2. get stuff you need for free; and
  3. save the energy and natural resources that go into the manufacture of new stuff by reusing.
I first posted about the virtues of Freecycle three years ago, noting how useful I've found it for getting rid of any kind of item you no longer need, from furniture to books to empty cardboard boxes. (More recently, I have learned that there actually are a few things that even the folks on Freecycle won't take, such as my husband's old copies of Diablo and Diablo II, which have been on offer for over two weeks now without even a nibble.) Since then, I've posted several more times about the serendipitous discoveries we've made on Freecycle, from small (window shades for our smallest bedroom) to large (a huge pile of cement-block pavers that has been sitting in a pile in our back yard for nearly three years now. Seriously, we really do intend to turn into a patio someday—I'm hoping to get around to it this summer, in fact. We would have attempted it last summer if Brian hadn't hurt his back.)

If you're not already a Freecycler, it's easy to start. Just go to the main website at and type in your location to find a group near you. Not all parts of the country will have one, but if you cast a wide enough net, you can probably find one for your county, if not your specific city. Not all groups are equally useful, either; in general, you'll have better luck if you live in a city or other highly populated area, because you'll have a larger pool of people around to exchange stuff with. My mom says she has not had much luck getting rid of items through the Mercer County group, while I, living just a short distance away in Middlesex County, have found it very easy to get rid of most items (with certain exceptions, as noted above). I actually belong to two groups, one for Rutgers University/New Brunswick and one for Middlesex County as a whole; if I have an item to dispose of, I typically post it first on the smaller Rutgers group, figuring that I'm more likely to get a quick pickup from someone who lives nearby. If I don't get an offer within a few days, I'll post it on the Middlesex County group as well, and if it doesn't go after several days on both groups, I'll figure it's probably safe to assume that this is just an item that no one is ever going to want.

Once you join a group, you can decide how you want to be notified about new postings of items and requests for items. Some people choose to get a separate e-mail for each posting, which I imagine would only be practical if you live in a sparsely populated area where new posts don't show up more than once or twice a day. You can also receive a "Daily Digest" of posts, which groups together the day's new posts, 25 or so at a time, and sends them in a single e-mail. I use the Daily Digest for the Rutgers Freecycle group, since I'm more likely to be interested in an item if I don't have to travel far to pick it up. For the wider Middlesex County group, I've elected not to receive e-mails at all; if I'm looking for something specific, I just go onto the website and search for it directly. True, I may miss out on a couple of great finds this way, but on the whole, I prefer that to receiving a whole slew of posts every day for items I either don't want or don't consider it worth driving 20 minutes for.

Freecycle does have its frustrations, of course. Sometimes you see a listing for something you would love, only to find that it's already taken by the time you make your request; other times you offer something and can't get any takers; and most frustrating of all, you occasionally get "no-shows," who arrange to pick up an item and then never show up. (Our local group has actually started asking people to report no-shows to the moderators—presumably so that they can be educated about Freecycle etiquette and, if they still don't behave, kicked out of the group.) But on the whole, belonging to this group has been a major advantage to me in my efforts to live the ecofrugal life. I think anyone who is interested in saving money, helping the environment, or both should definitely check it out.
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