Are Freecyclers getting too greedy?
Wanted posts ask for Xboxes, laptops, GPS
In recent months, she has noticed a shift in the tone of the emails on the local Freecycle mailing lists, part of an international network in which people offer for free items they no longer want and ask for items they need. These days, she says, she is seeing an increasing number of “wanted” posts, where people are asking for items.
“It just seems wrong,’’ she writes. “To me, Freecycle is about what you have -- about what you can give -- not about what you want to get. If you want things, you sign up for the updates. Perhaps what you need will be posted. Perhaps not. It's the nature of the site.”
Abby’s mother, MSN Money’s Living With Less columnist and Smart Spending contributor Donna Freedman, found Freecycle a wonderful resource when it came time to give away items Abby had left behind in her recent move.
We run hot and cold on Freecycle. At its best, it’s a wonderful community resource that allows people to pass on things they don’t need to people who do need them, and in return to get some things they can use. Even though it isn’t a trading site, the theory is that you would give at least as much as you get. But there are definitely participants who are less than courteous and sometimes make Freecycling more trouble than it’s worth.
When I moved, I used Freecycle to give away things ranging from extra cleaning supplies to old TVs to a large kitchen island.
I found giving stuff away more work than I had expected. People would say they wanted things and then not show up. One woman, who had posted that she wanted a VCR, came up with excuse after excuse as was to why she couldn’t come but asked me to please hold it for her. Two weeks before I moved, I gave her a deadline. She actually wanted me to take the VCR to my new home and hold it for her there. I gave it to someone else.
Like Abby, I’ve recently noticed a number of “wanted” requests that seem a bit cheeky: flat-screen computer monitors, laptops, specific colors of furniture. Last week, someone even asked for a GPS. Maybe people do have these things lying around unused and are happy to give them away, but I’m skeptical.
“The sheer number of ‘wanted’ posts boggles the mind,” Abby wrote. “There's about one for every two posts actually offering something. Some days, the ratio is a lot worse than that.”
Some Freecycle groups have tried to rein in the greedy. Most require you to give something before you can get something. One of my Freecycle groups allows only one wanted post per person per month and doesn’t allow requests for big-ticket items such as Xboxes, digital cameras or cars -- though anyone is free to offer such items. Some groups allow people to explain why they want or need things, and others ban any commentary at all, deleting anything beyond the request for the item. All the lists are run by volunteer moderators.
Meg, a commenter at I Pick Up Pennies, points out that Freecycle is not a charity group and not just for people in need. “It's for people of all income levels because their primary goal is not to help those who can't afford to buy things, it's to keep things out of landfills,’’ she said.
“Personally, I don't see any problem with want posts -- at least so long as individuals aren't posting so much that it's spammy. I've posted quite a few myself over the years even when I could definitely afford to buy something new because I'd rather first see if I can get it used and not just save money, but also save the environmental costs of having to have something produced from scratch. Does that make me greedy?”
I rarely respond to posts on Freecycle because the good stuff goes quickly, and in my community it’s usually way across town. But I did get a great set of dishes from someone who lived just 10 minutes away and a few pieces of artwork and a lamp from a guy who was moving.
I have met a number of courteous and punctual people on Freecycle, including artists who wanted odd items and leftover paint to use in their work. One young couple starting out in their first apartment who came for a rug also ended up adopting a homeless cat I had found.
These days, I tend to offer on Freecycle only items that are too big for me to take to a charity myself or that a charity won’t accept.
Angelia, responding to the post at I Pick Up Pennies, has adopted the same strategy. “I have almost stopped making Offers post to my local group because of this very topic,’’ she says. “People will take things they don't need and sell them on local online auctions, (and) ask for things that are just beyond charity or need. Last week someone asked for an Xbox, controllers and games. Are you serious?? If I come across an Xbox that is not usable and is headed for the landfill, I'll be sure and post that up for you.”
What has been your experience with Freecycle? Are people asking for too much? Have rude and discourteous people ruined what was once a great way to exchange resources? Or is your Freecycle community a joy to participate in? What do you think makes a difference?
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ABOUT SMART SPENDING
Editor Bev O'Shea lives and works in the foothills of the Appalachians. A former copy editor for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the Orlando Sentinel, she joined MSN Money in 2007. She's a fan of sunsets, college football and free shipping, among other things.
Having worked as a writer, reporter and editor for more than 25 years, Editor Julie Tilsner is the sort of person who can't help but correct grammar in Facebook postings and on billboards. She's written for BusinessWeek, the Los Angeles Times, Parenting, Redbook, AOL and others. She lives in Los Angeles County with her family and loves to drink wine and practice yoga, although not generally at the same time.
A writer for MSN Money since January 2007, Donna Freedman won regional and national prizes during an 18-year newspaper career and earned a college degree in midlife without taking out student loans. She also writes about smart money tactics for magazines and on her own site, Surviving and Thriving.
Mitch Lipka has been warning people about scams and shining light on questionable business practices for more than 20 years. Mitch, the consumer columnist for The Boston Globe, has also been a reporter and editor at The Philadelphia Inquirer, Consumer Reports, South Florida Sun-Sentinel and AOL. He won the 2010 New York Press Club award for best consumer reporting online and was honored in 2011 for his reporting on child product safety.
Marilyn Lewis is an award-winning writer with a passion for getting readers clear, straight information that helps them stay out of financial trouble. A former reporter for The San Jose Mercury News, she works from her home in Port Townsend, Wash. Contact her at MarilynLewis@Outlook.com.
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