It’s probably no secret by now that we have lots of things to get rid in our home at any given time…

The list to eliminate has gotten shorter…but I think that oftentimes, when you start getting rid of stuff, you find yourself wanting to just keep getting rid of more. I’m sure at some point we will run out of things to declutter either by selling or giving it all away. But any time I can enrich someone else’s life with things that I was otherwise going to throw away, I’m a very happy camper. And as I’ve mentioned before, I’m pretty sure that Karma smiles down on those who give on Freecycle quite a bit since you’re not only blessing someone else with your junk, but also keeping it from ending up in a landfill for at least a little while longer.

Since I started using Freecycle a few years ago, I have run into quite a few people that have no clue what it is or how to get started. So I figured that instead of just making you figure it out, I’ll give you a lesson on How to Freecycle. I’ve always felt the process is rather simple but I’m also pretty tech savvy. Our neighbor at the farm had serious issues accomplishing the task even though I told him what to do multiple times, so I guess it’s not as easy as I thought.

What is Freecycle?

Freecycle is “a grassroots and entirely nonprofit movement of people who are giving (and getting) stuff for free in their own towns.” The entire concept was created so that waste could be reduced, resources could be saved and landfills don’t get filled up with things that still have a lot of use in them.

In fact, this it their mission statement:

“Our mission is to build a worldwide gifting movement that reduces waste, saves precious resources & eases the burden on our landfills while enabling our members to benefit from the strength of a larger community.”

The Freecycle Network™ is currently made up of 5,056 groups with 9,041,375 members around the world.  Basically every major city and many of its suburbs has its own group. Here in Berlin, we’ve got one group for the entire city…and when we lived outside Frankfurt, there were 3 groups that we participated in for nearby cities and areas.

There are no fees to participate in Freecycle and all the moderators of the groups are volunteers. If you’re trying to advertise something that you actually want to sell, I’m rather certain you’ll get one warning before they kick you out of the group. But the word “free” is in the name, and that’s what they intend for it to be. The items should also be legal and safe for all ages.

So basically what happens is that you join an online group and when people have something they want to get rid of, they write a message about it. That message is distributed to the group and if you want that thing, you send a message to the person that listed it. If you’re first, you get the “prize.” If not, maybe you’ll have better luck next time. You can also write a post if you are searching for something to see if perhaps someone has that item sitting around unused, they will contact you.

How to set up a Freecycle account

The process of joining a group is pretty simple, especially if you already have a Yahoo account.

  1. Go to and type in your city.
  2. A list of potential matches will come up. Click on the city you desire to connect with.
  3. You will now want to scroll down under the main box and look for the link that says, “Visit the ____ group and see the posts”. If you click the link to see the posts, you’ll be taken to the Yahoo Groups page which corresponds to that group — and it’s the path I recommend taking.
    There is another option which is creating a My Freecycle account, but the platform still seems to be in its development and adoption phase, and while smart in theory, nothing yet shows up under the listings when I try to view the Berlin group through there. You can also search directly in — but if anything I’ve said already was confusing, just stick with going over
  4.  Once you’ve clicked to see the group, you will be taking to the corresponding Yahoo Group. The page should look something like this (but probably in English if you’re not living over here). 🙂 Click here to access the Berlin Freecyle group.
    On this page are the general rules, a link to the current postings, a place to add a listing and links to any other information the group may have shared in there.
  5. If you have a Yahoo ID already, just sign in and join the group.
    If you do not have a Yahoo ID, then you will first need to sign up for one, and then apply to the group.
    In some cases, the moderators will manually approve memberships which means there may be a little delay until you can actually access the system.
  6. Once you’re approved, read the basic rules of the group, browse through the recent listings to see if there is anything you need or have to give and enjoy!

How to write listings

There are generally a few rules when it comes to Freecycle and each group may have its own variations of the rules. But basically, there are 3 types of posts: Offering (Biete), Picked up (Abgeholt) and Searching (Suche). (Please forgive me if these are slightly different on your Freecycle board but I’ve only used it in German so if the terms are wrong, feel free to correct me!) Some boards allow Promised to (Versprochen) emails but sometimes those will you with a stern reminder from the moderator about what is allowed in the group, so tread lightly there and check to see if others in the group are using those first.

Let’s start with the simplest listings first:

  • Searching— As the name implies, these are listings from those who are hoping that someone in the group has what they are looking for. People put search messages out for everything under the sun, from furniture to kids’ stuff to cars. Honestly, I’ve seen just about everything come through there and you just never know who is going to read your message and realize they actually have what you need and would be willing to give it to you for free. So if you’re not picky, it’s worth a try.The first time I used Freecycle was with a searching post. I wanted to locate some German Weck canning jars and although I found them for next to nothing on eBay, I figured it never hurts to ask. As it turned out, I found a woman who had a massive stash of them to give, so I was thrilled. She was the only one who responded, but that one person was more than enough.
  • Picked up — This is a message to the group (or sometimes a plea) to let them know that a certain item is no longer available and you’d like them to stop emailing you about it. Certain things you put on Freecycle turn into highly desired items (and you may be surprised what they are) so you may end up with 50 emails in a span of 24 hours. So sending a message like this to the group will usually help dry up the surge of messages — and will also prevent you from sending the same message over and over again.
  • Offering— Before you send an offer, make sure that you know if the group prefers you to write all of your items into one long mail or if it’s ok for you to use separate entries. In Frankfurt, we used to split them up so we could see who was responding to various items easily. But in Berlin, they prefer that you use one email for the entire list.Start with a good headline that say what you have to offer. If you’re in a large city, you’ll want to include the area of the city you are in as well.
    In the body of the offer, try to be as thorough and descriptive about what you’re offering as you can. If you are listing furniture or something large, give the measurements. Otherwise, people will ask and you’ll end up writing it over and over again. To date, we have never had someone show up and not take what they indicated they wanted; but I have little doubt that it happens from time to time. I think if you’re descriptive and have a picture on there, there’s a lot less risk of confusion or disappointment.Also include your zip code and area of the city again in the offer. And if you have a deadline regarding when you want things picked up, put it in there. We’ve found that some people will want to come get things a few weeks down the road. So they write that they are interested, but then you find out that they are traveling for the next 3 weeks and you’re going to have to hold on to that stuff for all that time.

Scheduling the pickup

Now that you’ve put up an offer and gotten a bunch of responses, you need to start going through them and notify someone that they are the new owner of said item. Usually I go with a “first come, first served” principle. But if you’re in a hurry to get rid of something, you may want to look to see who can come get the item fastest and notify them first. At times, when we were listing 20-30 items a day, I was making sure things went in clumps to a single person just so stuff would be gone quickly. But there were also times when I tried to spread the wealth a bit, knowing that someone had already taken tons of things from us (without seeming to be very grateful) and so I would pass them up to let someone else get the goods. Perhaps it’s not the most fair way, but you get to be the king of the emails when they pour in, so go with the system that works best for you.

In the first response email, I usually just let the person know that they get to have the item and ask when they have time to come get it. If you have a limited window for pickups (after work, weekends only, etc) let them know that first so they can look at their own schedule. After we’ve started to hammer out a pickup time, I then send the pickup address and my cell number. Rarely have I ever given out that info in my first response to them, because you never know what kind of people are out there.

More How to Freecyle Tips

  1. Be smart and stay safe. One of our main concerns with Freecycle is that my husband is not always home when people come by. During the last few months at the farm, yes. But now that we’ve listed some stuff here in Berlin, it’s slightly more of a concern because things can happen with a woman and a small girl in a big apartment in the city. So staying safe is always a priority. Don’t give out your address or phone number in the very first contact email. And if you read a message from someone and they seem strange, don’t feel obligated to answer back.  To date, we have not met anyone who made us uncomfortable or was anything less than friendly and respectful. Some were a bit clueless and figured since we were getting rid of the stuff, we should also load it up for them. But that’s another story altogether.
  2. Filter your Freecyle messages into a folder. Since all of this runs through Yahoo, I use my Yahoo mail account for Freecycle messages. But I also get a few other random pieces of mail there, so I don’t really want a tidal wave of Freecycle messages pouring in all at once. So anything from a Freecycle group is filtered into a folder called Freecycle and I just check in there to see what is going on. Filters are also easy to set up in GMail and other programs.
  3. Add a picture to your offers. You can either use a free photo hosting site, or if you have your own blog or website, host them on there. I personally use images I host in the media section of my blog, and delete them when they are no longer needed. But it’s turned into a fun way to get people interested in the blog because they wonder what the domain is, wander into NOH and start reading. I’ve gotten to know several people a lot better that way which made it that much more fun — plus they are now still following our lives and keeping in touch, which I LOVE!
  4. Keep track of who, what, when and where! We’re rather organized and anal when it comes to things anyway, so we always had a spreadsheet to keep track of who was getting what. And I put (nearly) all the pickup appointments in my Google Calendar so we knew we’d be home. If you’re going to be giving away more than 10 things at a time, I highly recommend forming some sort of organizational plan for yourself to make sure the right things are going to the right people. Some days, we’d have 3 or 4 people showing up within a time frame and they wouldn’t actually say who they were when they got to the door. It got confusing FAST! And they don’t always remember exactly what they’re getting either, especially when they want things that you promised to someone else.

Do you already use Freecycle? What are you favorite things about the platform? Do you have any tips to share?