Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Free Cycling - hints and tips

My guide to using freecycle/freegle in your area. Search for freecycle or freegle then your town or city name to find your local group. My favourite find has to be my chest of drawers in the bedroom or our new table, what's yours?

You are dealing with strangers on the internet, so some common sense rules apply.

  • I don't give out my address until I have set up a date and time with the person to collect, I do tell them roughly what area I'm in so they can tell me when they can be here though.
  • I try to set it up for times when Tom will be home and if it's not a possibility (he's never at home at the weekends for example when most people can collect stuff) I try to have the item ready by the front door so I can just hand it to them on the doorstep without them coming into the flat. I also don't advertise the fact that I will be home alone when they are coming to collect if that is the case, often saying 'we' will be home when it will likely just be me.
  • When collecting items from others the same rules apply, I try not to go alone, and if I do I wait outside the door for them to go and get the item, if it's something large like our wardrobes or table Tom will be there to help any way. Most people don't want you coming in anyway if they are following the same guidelines so will often have things ready.
  • I don't give out my phone number because I don't want to get crank calls, only my yahoo email address that I pretty much only use for freecycle. The groups are on yahoo groups message boards so I had to set up an account to join, but I already had an email address that I use for everything else. I have only once given my number out to a lady who was doing a house clearance for her elderly in-laws who were going into a nursing home, her mother in law wanted to speak to people on the phone before they came to her house, I felt OK to take a chance doing this because the lady was on her own (her husband was already in the home) in a large house with lots of people coming round and it was obviously a bit of an upsetting time for her. So you may prefer to speak to people in person first, I prefer to have it in writing, which brings us on to the next point...
  • I always make sure Tom knows when I am going to collect things or when people are coming to pick things up if he will not be there, just in case I don't come home. He doesn't always know the address exactly or who the person is but it would only take a quick look at my emails to tell him.
  • If you are unsure about the person or very nervous about having strangers round arrange to meet them somewhere neutral and public away from your home. 
Fairness and Politeness
You're dealing with the general public, doing this day to day at work is taxing enough sometimes for me, add in the fact that there is free stuff involved you can find people are sometimes not as polite or as reasonable as you might hope (although the majority are of course lovely!)

  • Some items go really quickly and get lots of responses, some take longer and you might have to re list them. There are different ways of deciding who to give an item to, some will wait a certain amount of time then pick a person at random from those who have emailed. Some (me included) will just go with first to reply and able to collect gets it. I usually want to get rid of stuff quite quickly so just go with whoever can come and get the thing soonest to get it out of the way. It's your property you are giving away for free so it's really up to you who you give it to, if only one person replies but for whatever reason you don't like them then you don't have to give it to that person. 
  • When emailing requesting items that have been listed bear in mind they may be waiting to get some responses before deciding, so if you don't hear back immediately then wait a while. Emailing again may make you seem pushy.
  • It's best to send a polite and properly written email, I hate when I get an email just saying something like, 'intrestd. still avail?' no name or anything. I usually reply to a listing with something along the lines of 'Hi Mr Smith, I would be interested in your whatevertheyhavelisted if it is still available, I can collect evenings after 6pm or on Sunday. Many Thanks, Katie. Doesn't have to be an essay just a nice reply with when you can collect and your name.
  • If someone emails you back that an item is available and you can collect it, give them a few times you can collect and let them choose one, then most importantly turn up when you say you will. I have had no shows before, once a person said his brother who's van he was going to use let him down, but he made no effort to arrange another date. The sofa he was collecting was at this point in the front garden (always a classy look) as we had had our new sofa arrive and we were living in a tiny house. It stayed there for ages while I tried to arrange to get it taken away until it finally got stolen! 
  • If you change your mind or no longer need an item (say you replied to 2 ads and both of them were available) then just say, not turning up to collect or ignoring emails is rude. If you get there and the item isn't what you thought or unsuitable don't be afraid to decline to take it, although bear in mind a lot of stuff on freecycle is being given away for a reason - don't expect every find to be in good condition or in working order, but the item should match it's description in the ad so if it's not working you should already be aware of that before you go to collect.
  • I also had someone arrange to come by one evening to collect a bathroom sink, they said between 7-8 I think, after 10pm they hadn't arrived so we just went to bed thinking they weren't coming. We got up in the morning to find the sink had gone, it was left out at the top of the driveway. They had however also taken a radiator that our landlord was hoping to sell for scrap. Obviously don't take extras from the persons home, you'd think everyone would know this!
  • If you can't make it at the time you said you could to collect something or won't be home when someone is picking something up, contact the person. Also if you replied to an ad but now have transport issues let them know. I think some people reply to ads before they have thought about how they will pick them up because they want to get in early and make sure they get the item (stuff can go really fast, especially furniture). I don't deliver stuff on freecycle, I'm giving it away for free so they have to come pick it up.
  • I also don't give out my address before setting up a time and day for convenience as well as safety, I don't want people just turning up whenever or having to wait around for them, and I have had someone just arrive unannounced before. I sent them my address and said something like 'I'm home after 5pm most evenings' before they sent me a time and date and they just turned up! The item was in the loft, so they had to wait outside in the rain while I went to get it, and I made sure I took ages up there :)
  • The second person to email me for our desk last week sent me a phone number on the bottom of the email, then didn't reply to my subsequent emails. I don't know if they were expecting me to ring them, but I wasn't going to. If I am giving away an item for free I don't want to be having to phone them to get them to come and pick it up.

Each freecycle group usually has it's own rules, they will probably be sent to you when you sign up. Make sure you read them and stick to them. I also have a few self imposed rules and hints about what I will or will not list and what to expect from freecycle
  • The point of freecycle is to save usable stuff going into landfill, so don't ask for an item for the sake of it just because it's free. Some people will ask for anything and everything just because it's going free and probably end up throwing it out after a while.
  • I will list most stuff on freecycle, you never know what someone might need! The only things I would leave off (but have seen advertised) are opened cosmetics or toiletries, food (I've seen opened packets of baby milk advertised as no longer needed, kind of right sentiment but you never know how long it's been open etc), stuff that is broken to the point of being unsafe and obviously anything illegal or dangerous (not that I have anything illegal or dangerous!).
  • I expect everyone to be polite and thankful, I am giving away something for free so when they reply to the ad and then collect the item I expect them to be nice to me! Goes without saying really, but sometimes people can be a bit funny. I think these people may sometimes not be being rude on purpose they may just not have been raised with such good manners as me and Tom...but manners cost nothing and if someone is rude to me or I feel they are being abusive I will decline to let them have the item, or will decline to take the item they are offering.
  • When listing loads of items at once I find they go quicker when listed separately rather than in an 'Offered, Various' post. I suppose if you're checking the list every day for a particular item you skim over it, so don't click into every post and might miss something in one of these long posts. 
  • If you're looking for a particular item then check the message board at least once a day (more often if you can), the moderators are often volunteers who will approve messages at particular times (often morning and evening), so get to know when ads go live and check around that time.
  • We've got so much stuff from freecycle, but also have given a lot away to others. In the start we mainly took as we had nothing, then once we started replacing things or finding things were surplus to requirements after moving house etc we started giving stuff away. Some things like our desk we got from freecycle then gave away on freecycle as they still had life left in them. Circle of life and all that.
  • Don't just use freecycle to get rid of or acquire household items, you can use it to get free garden work done! I used freecycle to get rid of a large hedge at our last house. It was blocking all the light to our window but it was a massive (over 7ft tall and 4ft wide) hedge that someone could use. I advertised it as free to whoever wanted to come and dig it out, I had loads of responses! The family that turned up chopped the whole thing out roots and all and took it away to hide an outbuilding in their garden. I've seen similar listings for patio slabs, turf even bricks from outbuildings that need demolishing. 
  • For the garden work I did make it clear that he person collecting would be expected to do all the legwork, and I expect this of all items. I have had people turn up just themselves and their elderly mother expecting me to help them move a 3 seat sofa down a flight of stairs that turned 180 degrees. On my own. When the ad and all emails I sent to them clearly stated that they would need to bring someone to help move the sofa as it was upstairs. Um no, they had to go and get some help and come back.

That's my list of general hints and tips, it makes it sound a bit negative in some places but I really like the idea of these groups! I find the issues, as always, are just with a few people who can spoil your view of the whole group, most are lovely and will collect when they say they will and respond to all of your emails and are polite and helpful. I would definitely recommend it for people just starting out and also for tenants who don't want to spend a lot on furniture.

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