How To Use Freecycle: Save Money, Reduce Clutter

Freecycle is frequently mentioned as a great way to save. This is a quick tutorial on how Freecycle works and how you can help save money and reduce clutter in your home by joining Freecyle.

What is Freecycle?

Freecycle is a way to exchange items for free within a community.  You can pick up items for free, give away things you are cleaning out, request something that you need, or help out a fellow Freecycle by giving away something they need that you are no longer using.

Started in 2005 with the basic idea of keeping good items out of the landfill, this Arizona non-profit started off with funding from Waste Management. Freecycle is a Think Global, Act Local organization.  Their official tagline: Changing the world one gift at a time.

Members of the local Freecycle group send out an ad via email to the yahoo-group moderator.  Items are typically left on a porch or near the home for easy pick-up.  The new owner is responsible for driving to the location to get the item.  Some members will meet people in a public parking lot to give distribute a bunch of their items at that appointed time & place.

How to Join Freecycle

Freecycle groups are local, based on a town or region since items are picked up personally.  Go to and see the nearest group and number of members.

The Freecycle Ads

Once you join, you have the option of receiving member’s ads directly to your email or a Daily Digest where you can view the ads online.  The number and frequency of ads will depend on your group’s activity level.

You will receive a welcome message from your local group’s moderator on how to place ads, but all groups basically follow the same rules.

In the subject line, place the word OFFER, WANTED, TAKEN, or RECEIVED and a short description of the item.  The body of the ad will include more information about the item.

OFFER – the OFFER ad gives something away.  The subject line of the email starts with OFFER – and then a short description of the item or items. Take a moment to describe the item in the body of the email.

WANTED – the WANTED ad requests something.  The subject line of the email starts with WANTED – and then a description of the item.  The more specific you are in describing what you want and why you want it, the more likely another member will realize they have the item to give away.

TAKEN – the TAKEN ad is an edit of your earlier OFFER ad.  The subject line is changed to TAKEN with a description of the item once the item is claimed or picked-up.

RECEIVED – the RECEIVED ad is an edit of your earlier WANTED ad.  The subject line is changed to RECEIVED with a description of the item.  This lets the community know you are no longer need an item.  Many Freecyclers will include a nice thank you note.

Responding to Freecycle Ad

When you see the ad or online post for an OFFER or WANTED item, you respond directly to the Giver’s email and only they see your message.

If you want to be selected to receive the item, you’ll have greater success if you mention how you will use the item and how quickly you can pick up the item.

If you are giving away an item on Freecycle, you get to pick the new owner!  There’s no rule on how you select who gets your item.  You might select the person that describes how they will use the item, the person who lives closest to you, the person that can pick up the quickest, the person that gives away frequently on Freecycle, or the person you might know personally beyond the Freecycle group.

Decluttering Made Easy

Freecycle makes it easy to declutter your home. If the local group is active, an unwanted item can be in its new home within 36 hours of you deciding to give it away!  The only effort on your part will be writing & responding to the emails and putting a name tag on the item when placing on your porch.

What Can Be Freecycled?

Items being given away range from pipecleaners to large sofas. Some things will be new and most things still have some life left but need a new home. Food is actually very popular and in demand – a coffee you didn’t like, a gift of candy that will break the diet, etc.

Today’s ads on my Freecycle group include clothing, an mp3 player, plant cuttings, dryer sheets, craft supplies, a sofa & loveseat set, coupons, and costume jewelry.

Tips for Freecycling

Be considerate in your responses.  A “Me, Pick Me!” request is a little rude.

Be safe!  Go into neighborhoods you know and during daylight hours.  If you have any concerns, pick up in pairs so someone is waiting for you in the car.

Be smart! Put items out for pick-up only during daylight hours to prevent falls on your sidewalk or slow driving cars on your street that might concern your neighbors.

Be kind and pick up your items on the day and time you promised.

Be specific. If you only need to borrow the item, mention that in the subject line.  We have let Freecyclers borrow our crutches we didn’t want to give away. A fellow Freecycler let my daughter borrow a beautiful red leather jacket to use as a costume in a performance.

One of my fellow Freecyclers sent me this quote: Those who take, eat well.  Those who give, sleep well.  Sleep well by giving away the things you don’t need – and save money by using things from Freecycle.

How does your Freecycle group work in your community?  What are your best Freecycle stories? Leave a comment below!

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  1. TekGems

    If you are offering something, state the date and times you are available. I like to post when I at least have a few hours available afterwards. I’ve had a lot of unnecessary back and forth because those terms were not stated upfront.

    Any product with high resell value like a mini refrigerator or microwave will be very desirable, so this allows you to be more stringent with your terms.

    Avoid the people that reply to all your offers and want to take it all in a truck.

    Just take what you need and leave stuff for people that really may need it.

  2. Joolie

    The town where I used to live had an excellent, active Freecycle community. Coupons were not allowed as they really don’t follow the mandate to keep garbage out of the landfill and can clutter up the email pretty quickly. Most items offered were good quality and I could count on people to pick up as promised, or contact me if they could not.
    As I prepared to move it was an excellent outlet for the many things I didn’t wish to take with me, but were still useable.
    My new city, however, has been a disappointment all-around. The quality of items offered is poor, coupons are prevalent and worst of all, in my opinion, people have been extremely unreliable in picking up. Either they are late or simply never show up. I gave it a couple of months before I stopped receiving any notices and rarely find myself using it any more.

  3. Carrie - Careful Cents

    I’ve never heard of Freecycle, but it sounds like a great idea. I am planning to move towards the end of Summer 2012, and I will add this to my list of ways to declutter before moving. Thanks for the excellent write up.

  4. Marianne

    I have not had a tonne of luck with freecycle yet- mostly because I haven’t put much time into it since I’m not fond of the interface. This article has inspired me to give it another try though…

  5. 20's Finances

    I’ve used freecycle to both get a few needed items as well as get rid. I love the concept. It saves the environment while also being financially wise.

  6. Cass

    I love Freecycle. The Freecycle in our community is great. I have picked up great clothes and shoes for my kids among other things. As part of clearing the clutter, Freecycle is my friend from getting rid of TVs, kids clothes and a coffee table to a huge entertainment center. I wrote about one of my best finds here (a pair of blue snow boots). When I was looking to get Dave Ramsey’s book, The Total Money Makeover, my freecycle community answered the call and I was able to pick one up within a day of my request (what a way to save right there).
    Yes I love Freecycle in my community.


  7. Red

    Why give away stuff for free when I can get a few dollars off it from Craigslist or eBay? I tried to get into Freecycle but maybe it was my area, there just wasn’t anything useful and very few listings.

    • SAHMama

      Not all your old stuff is going to sell. Who wants to pay for stained cloth diapers? But someone might take them off your hands for use as animal bedding or cleaning rags. Who is going to pay for your half a can of coffee that you didn’t like, or the dead Christmas tree you’re done with?