OFFER: “I have a female parakeet. She is not hand tamed. You will need to bring a cage.”

TAKEN: “Shammy has found herself a nice new home! Thank you!”

With that simple posting on the Internet, Jen Pellegrini of Sabattus found a home for her parakeet, and Nancy Caswell of Lewiston acquired a new pet.

How did these strangers from different towns come together?

Both women are among the more than 5,000 Mainers who are members of one of the Internet’s biggest bargain-finding secrets: freecycle.org.

You name it, and it’s probably been posted on freecycle.org., where members know that it really is possible to get something for nothing: a male boa constrictor, a car (good for parts only), a hot tub – even a mobile home.

But, more often they find common household items, such as baby necessities, toys, books and furniture. Freecycle.org., a national Web site that turns one person’s trash into another’s treasure, requires no subscription fees, and everything listed on the site is available free of charge.

Rare is the item that goes unclaimed, as everyone seems to find a use for the posted items, whatever condition they’re in. An item’s condition is usually included in the posting. If it isn’t in working order, all that may be required is a few turns of a screwdriver or a replacement part. It’s up to the person requesting an item to find out the details and to make arrangements for pickup or drop-off.

Items on freecycle.org are usually offered in the well-known phrase: “as is.”

Just a year old

“I was able to give away a bunch of cross-stitch supplies that I have held onto for way too long,” said Caswell. A three-month member of freecycle.org, she has both placed offers of items and acquired items. “I received my parakeet and was also able to help a local group collect some items people were donating that they were not able to drive the distance to pick up. I’ve also received two beautiful end tables,” she said.

Freecyle.org was created just last year.

In May 2003, Deron Beal, a Tucson, Ariz., resident and part-time employee at a local recycling facility, decided to try to find homes for the many usable items people dropped off or left as trash on the street.

“We all have something that we don’t want to admit that we’re not using and will never use,” Beal told Salon.com in a November 2003 interview. He believed there had to be a better way of disposing of these items than dumping them in a landfill. Freecycle.org was born.

Joining the growing ranks of freecyclers is an easy process. Registering is free. With more than 500,000 members worldwide, the Web site is divided into smaller groups, divided by a country’s region and state.

Once a person finds a freecycle group that’s local, he or she can sign up for any or all groups in the area. In Maine, there are 13 groups posted on the main freecycle page for people to choose from. The only limitation in signing up for a group is how far a person is willing or able to travel for an item. Long-distance travel doesn’t stop most people, though.

“I freecycle with people all over the state!” says Laurie Patoine from Biddeford. “I’m meeting up with someone from New Hampshire soon for an item I posted, and a person from South Paris has been calling me with stuff I was looking for on the group.”

Its own etiquette

Once registered, a person will receive, via e-mail, a welcome letter to the group, along with the rules. The rules are basic and about the same for every freecycle group. The Lewiston-Auburn group, Howe2Freecycle, provides the following bits of “freecycling etiquette” to all of its members:

• No politics or spam – two strikes and you’re out.

• Keep it free. No trading or selling, please.

• Pick up can be arranged as you like.

Although the rules are few, they are vital to keep the group functioning well. Like many Internet groups, members of freecycle look at themselves as a community.

Alex Richards, a moderator-leader of one of Maine’s freecycle groups explains, “Freecycling members often discover common interests through postings, replies and ‘offer’ transfers. Postings often spark a dialogue between members.”

Richards says the side conversations can be a challenge to moderators, since their job is to keep the group’s activity focused on simple offers, needs or takens.

“Chat (rooms) and databases are available to groups for these purposes,” adds Richards.

Getting acquainted

With registration complete and the rules read, a member is finally ready to get to the fun stuff. The best thing to do first is to scroll through the listings, as the volumes of postings can be a bit overwhelming to a newcomer. All the postings fall into three categories: wanted, offer or taken. Wanted postings are items that members want are looking to acquire. Offer postings listed by people who have items that are no longer needed. Taken listings are posted by the person who offered an item when it has been taken by someone else.

Some typical postings, then, may look like this:

WANTED: Twin mattress needed for my daughter who is moving into first apartment.

OFFER: 4-week-old tabby cat. In good health and in need of loving home.

TAKEN: Tabby cat has a new home. Thanks for inquiring!

People who are offering items have the choice about who gets an item. Most members follow a “first come, first served” unspoken rule, but this isn’t always the case. Many times, it depends on pickup arrangements. All transactions are conducted privately, through e-mail, to keep the lists moving and clutter free.

Keeping it safe

An offer has been made and taken. All that’s left is the drop-off or pickup. For some, this can be a concern. After all, most members on freecycle haven’t met. So, how safe is it to be arranging a meeting with a stranger to pick up or drop off an item?

Katie Corcoran of Lewiston, who is the moderator for Howe2Freecycle, offers the following advice for people who may hesitate at the notion of meeting someone they don’t know: “If someone makes you feel uncomfortable, then don’t deal with them. If you want to, then make the trade in public. You also don’t have to give an item to the first person who replies. Go over your replies and give it to whomever you choose.”

Some members have no hesitation in giving out their phone number or address. Others get to know each other better through e-mail before arranging a meeting. But, in the end, whether it’s at a home or in public, items can change hands wherever a member feels most comfortable. Trust and safety are two of freecycle.org’s most important keys to success.

The great thing about freecycling is that everyone’s a winner.

Kit MacGregor of Windsor sums it up nicely as he gets ready to take home a newly acquired microwave and cabinet: One person is able to get the clutter out of his house and “someone else can find a perfectly good use for it. Most importantly, we keep good stuff out of the landfills. It’s good for the person who gets rid of the stuff, good for the person who needs it and great for the environment. Plus, we get to meet some nice people. You can’t beat that.”


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.