Several years ago, my husband pulled into our driveway with his pickup truck and said, “Honey, you’ve got to come with me to this yard sale. They’re giving everything away for free!”

We drove up the street, following the signs to the “Yard Free.” A family was moving out of state and downsizing from a large Colonial home to a condo. Rather than try to sell the items they didn’t need anymore, they were just giving them away. They probably figured that they could get rid of a lot more stuff that way. And I’m sure they did. We took home a patio umbrella, a lounge chair, a set of bowling balls in their own custom bag, a set of four outdoor chairs, and plenty more that I can’t recall at this point.

I’ve never seen another Yard Free, but there’s something almost as good out there – the Freecycle Network. Freecycle permits you to post notices about things you’re getting rid of – or things you want to acquire — on the internet. A list goes out each day to everyone in your Freecycle group, and if someone wants an item – or can fulfill a request for one – they e-mail you and make arrangements for pickup. There is no cost involved, and you end up giving away or getting stuff for free.

There are 4,342 Freecycle groups around the world, including 82 in Massachusetts alone. It is recommended that you join the most local network so you don’t have to use up precious fuel driving all over the place to pick up your free stuff. Some local groups include Bridgewater, Brockton, Canton, Cape Cod, Carver, Hingham, Holbrook, Kingston, Plymouth, Quincy, Rockland and Weymouth.

According to Freecycle, “It’s all about reuse and keeping good stuff out of landfills. It is *not* a place to just go get free stuff for nothing. It *is* a place to give or receive what you have and don’t need or what you need and don’t have — a free cycle of giving.”

Basic Freecycle etiquette asks that you give at least one thing away on the network before you start posting notices for things you’d like to receive. And that once you’ve claimed a Freecycle item, you pick it up promptly from the giver – don’t just say you’ll be over “eventually” for that sofa for which they are itching to find a new home.

It’s such a green thing to do. By passing along an item on Freecycle, you are reducing the amount of trash you discard, as well as reusing things that still have life in them.

What can you post on Freecycle? Almost anything. I gave away a child’s car seat that my family didn’t need anymore, as well as two small vacuum cleaners. I’ve got some clothing slated for a future giveaway, as well as some VHS tapes and old computer equipment.

What can’t you post? The usual no-nos – pornography, alcohol, tobacco, drugs of any kind, firearms/weapons or human beings (this isn’t a place for personal ads or matchmaking services). You’re also asked to leave your politics, religion, moneymaking schemes and bad manners at home.

My rules for putting something on Freecycle are slightly more complex. Is it worth my time to sell it on eBay? If not, can I give it away locally? To a friend? To the clothing bank? To the food pantry or another charity? If not – if it’s too bulky (a giant bolt of floral fabric), too strange (a handsome painting on velvet of a Doberman Pinscher), too random (37 partially-used balls of wool yarn), it’s time to post it on Freecycle.

It feels good to pass along things that are still perfectly usable – just not by you. You get to de-clutter your house without feeling guilty about supplying yet another item to the already-too-full local landfill. Plus, you know that someone else is making use of your cast-off.

Plus, the Freecycle Network makes it easier to get rid of something you’re fairly —— but not entirely – sure you won’t need again in 12 years. If it turns out, many years down the line, that you really did need that set of snowshoes, you can post a notice stating so, and very likely someone else in the network will have some they’re ready to part with.

So far, I haven’t found much on Freecycle that I’ve wanted to acquire. I was delighted to receive two metal folding chairs that I needed for a yoga class. Soon I will post a notice seeking one of those plastic (or wooden) outdoor playhouses for our son. I’ve been tempted by notices for other toys, as well as ink jet printers and a wooden fence – but not tempted enough to actually send an email to find out whether the items have been claimed or not.

I’m looking forward to further opportunities to pass things I don’t need on to other people. Freecycle is inspiring me to take stock of and part with items that have been cluttering up my house for years. Especially now with many towns adopting Pay As You Throw trash removal, Freecycle provides an excellent alternative to just-throwing-things-away.

By Kezia Bacon-Bernstein, correspondent
April 2008

Kezia Bacon-Bernstein’s articles appear courtesy of the North and South Rivers Watershed Association, a local non-profit organization devoted to the preservation, restoration, maintenance and conservation of the North and South Rivers and their watershed. For membership information and a copy of their latest newsletter, contact NSRWA at (781) 659-8168 or visit