April 19, 2011

Freecycle Frustration

I have often sung the praises of Freecycle, and I wanted to mention it this week since it's Earth Day on Friday, and Freecycle is such an excellent way to do the REUSE part of reduce-reuse-recycle---er, and I guess the REDUCE part, too. I guess I'm a little confused about those three words, because they overlap so much. My point is that Freecycle keeps some stuff from being thrown out, and it keeps people from having to purchase some things, and the whole thing is a really good idea and is the kind of practical application of a big theoretical ideal ("We should save the earth!") that I find very satisfying.

We've used it many times to avoid buying something: a crib, when Henry's broke just six months before we planned to move him out of it; crutches when Rob twisted his ankle and only needed crutches for a few days; a toaster oven when we weren't sure we'd use or like a toaster oven. We've used it to get rid of tons of stuff I felt was too "USEFUL!" to get rid of but didn't have any urge to try to sell: baby equipment, pieces of furniture, clocks, lamps.

The downside of Freecycle is that you have to deal with people, and people can be unreliable cheeseheads. You'd THINK that if you were giving something to someone for free, something they said they wanted, something where THEY chose a convenient time for THEM to come get it, that they'd come get it. And yet again and again, unbelievably to me, they DON'T come to get it. We post an item as available, and there is a big clamor for it---several people saying "Ooo ooo pick me, pick me!" We choose someone; they say they'll come the next morning, they are SO excited, they need this SO badly and have NO money. We have a moment of feeling good about the way Freecycle society works: those who have, give! those who need, receive! WHAT A GREAT SYSTEM!

Then the next morning comes and goes, and the item has not been picked up. Evening comes; still nothing. We contact the next person who was dying to have it, and they say they'll come for it after work the next day. They don't show up either.

And so on. What...IS this? I can't figure out the motivation for saying you want something and then not showing up to get it. I understand it when it's something that costs money: maybe someone acted impulsively and now doesn't want to spend the money after all. I understand it when it's "Come by the house later, honey, I have two boxes of junk to unload on you!" But I don't understand it when it's "Who wants this for free?" "ME ME ME ME ME!!!" "Okay!" "THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU!!! *never heard from again*"

I am feeling particularly riled right now, because I am trying to get rid of my maternity clothes. Normally I don't bother giving away clothes on Freecycle, unless I happen to have a nice tidy group I'm getting rid of all at once; instead, I put them in a donation dumpster at the Humane Society. But plus-size maternity clothes are hard to find, and also I felt much squirrellier at the idea of putting them in a dumpster. So we put them on Freecycle.

MANY REPLIES. We picked the first one, and she said she was so relieved because she couldn't find plus-sized maternity clothes anywhere, and could she come by this very evening? Yes! No show.

We contacted the second one. Oh, thank goodness, she hadn't known WHAT she was going to do about clothes! She would be by in the morning. She emailed late morning to say she was having a bad bout of morning sickness and could she come after lunch? No show.

We contacted the third one, who said she couldn't believe we'd had two no-shows! She'd had a lot of no-shows this week too! But she PROMISED she wouldn't be a no-show, because she HATES no-shows! She couldn't understand why people would even DO that! She would come get the clothes the next day. NO SHOW.

It's frustrating. You might wonder if perhaps the clothes were in crummier shape than I could see with my sentimental eyes, and so maybe people DID show up but then tactfully left when they saw the clothes, and I thought of that too, but the bag was still knotted closed.

I put the clothes in the Humane Society dumpster. It's no big deal, but that was a lot of fuss for nothing. LUCKILY, this doesn't happen too often, and usually not more than one no-show per item (three was a record-breaker), or we'd probably stop doing Freecycle: it's hard to stay motivated to give away your things for nothing if there's a big hassle involved.

52 comments:

Amanda said...

It's a fickle place that Freecycle.

I'm surprised because hello? Maternity clothes?

Betsy said...

This is exactly why I completely stopped using Freecycle. I almost always have a few bags for the Kidney Foundation when they pick up in my neighborhood or I use Craigslist. Even if I don't ask very much, something about money being involved seems to make people more accountable for some reason.

LoriD said...

So frustrating. We have groups that call us asking for donations that they'll pick up from our front porch. NO SHOW - at least 5 times. Now when they call, I say no and tell the poor volunteer on the other end of the phone exactly why I will not be putting my wares on the front porch for them.

I only freecycle bulky things that I can't be bothered to haul off to Goodwill myself.

Marie Green said...

Have you read "Freakonomics"? I'm (re)reading it right now (I SWEAR I've read it before, but... well, much of it also seems new to me, so...). ANYWAY, I think what the Freakonomics authors would say is that if something is FREE, people have less motivation to get it, than if they have to pay a small fee? I mean, a small amount of money commits them somehow. A too small amount of money makes them uncommitted, and a too big amount makes them back away, too.

(They also use the example of the daycare having tons of late pick-ups at the end of the day. The daycare imposes a fee- $3/kid/every 10 minutes late or something like that, and soon, the late pick-ups INCREASED because the fee wasn't great enough, and people felt LESS guilt being late because they were paying a fee.)

You know what, I KNEW what I meant when I started typing this, but I'm clearly not explaining it very well AND I've now confused myself. (But I still think you'd like the book!)

Also, I love that you do Freecycle-- I always mean to, but then I end up putting it in the garage sale pile or donating it to the local Neighborhood Service Center... where some of it probably gets trashed.

Becky said...

Is it possible that people are having trouble finding your place, and are too embarrassed (or too lazy) to write back? A friend of mine lives on 34th Ave in a town, and there is a 34 1/2 Ave a half a block up, and the house numbers are the same, and so often people trying to go to her house will go to that one. One time they were having gravel delivered and the people at that house just let the gravel people dump it there. People are dumb. Anyway, is that a possibility? Because otherwise...wth?

k bare said...

i tried to sign up for freecycle...
i say TRY because i got an email that said

i was DENIED
=(
what the heck is that?

Swistle said...

Marie Green- YES, I read that book! (I liked all of it except some of the stuff about baby names.) And YES, I think you're right: something about the stuff being free makes it seem worth less. (I LOVED that daycare example. I still think of it sometimes!)

Swistle said...

k bare- WTH? I have never even HEARD of that!

d e v a n said...

We've had that problem with Freecycle too, sometimes, and it's annoying. It's even WORSE on Craigslist, probably because of the money thing.

Swistle said...

Becky- Maybe so! So many people DO manage to find us...and I think of us as having a really easy address (we also have a distinctively-painted house)...but on the other hand, I've DEFINITELY had people tell me something was easy to find and then I couldn't find it, and I WOULD be too embarrassed to email and be like, "Um, I got lost."

k bare said...

and i quote:

Hello,

Your request to join the FreecyclexxxxxxxxxNY group was not approved.
The moderator of each Yahoo! group chooses whether to restrict
membership in the group. Moderators who choose to restrict
membership also choose whom to admit.

Please note that this decision is final and that Yahoo! Groups
does not control group membership.


i guess my stuff isn't good enough!
oh well. their loss salvation army's gain!!

kate said...

This post makes me think I should list my maternity clothes on freecycle instead of the "free" section of craigslist, because maybe you get people who, I don't know, read the ad? I want to get rid of my maternity clothes, too, but they include pants suits, and I really want to give those suits to someone who can use them (maternity suits are so ridiculously overpriced! And you can't get them second hand! And they're only sold at a few stores!). But when I put the ad on craigslist, and mentioned that specifically, all I got were replies like "WHERE IS YR ADDRESS, I WANT THE CLTHES". And I found that frustrating, so I still have all my maternity clothes clogging up my closet.

Misty said...

I sometimes get the paralyzed veteran organization to come to the house and pick up stuff. I don't like to Freecycle straight from my house because it creeps me out for strangers to know where I live.

Yes. Totally paranoid. Why do you ask?

Swistle said...

k bare- That is SO CRAZY! My mind searches for explanations!

Nowheymama said...

We took forever to pick a Freecycle item up, but we were clear with the person that it would take awhile. (It was a huge wooden swingset at the opposite end of our Freecycle area. We had to go measure it and come back with two trucks.)

Mrs. Irritation said...

I am going to go with the standard: People Suck.

But not us, though. Those other people.

Nik-Nak said...

This sounds like a good idea. Are all the items usually in good shape that people give away? Id hate to be the one who gets so excited over something we need and can't afford and then get there and its junk. That would probably break my heart....

I use a consignment sale every spring and fall for maternity clothes, baby and kids clothes, and baby equipment. Its a bit of work getting everything tagged but I always end up making a cool 200 to 300. At the end of the sale if the merchandise isn't bought it gets donated to a children's agency. I guess that's my way of helping out the earth a little bit.

Beth said...

I have NEVER had a successful Freecycle transaction, either seeking or giving. It feels like it is some sort of secret club that I don't know the rules of, and I end up feeling like they're all laughing at the silly girl trying to play with the big Freecyclers. So, last time I had some stuff I was tempted to FC, I stuck it on the curb with a "Free" sign. It was gone within 15 minutes. I hope it makes its way into the hands of someone who needs it.

Christy said...

Every time we have a Craigslist no-show, my husband emails the person a nasty-gram about how their rudeness ruined his day/delayed someone who needs the item from getting it/made him lose faith in humanity/etc. Basically, he tells them to think of other people before acting like a jackwagon. I think he secretly enjoys writing these emails, actually.

Swistle said...

Nik-Nak- Our list seems really good about representing things: not everything is in good shape, but we've never gotten something and been disappointed in its condition. Like, people will post "broken VCR" or "dinged-up end table" or "old couch, upholstery grubby but intact," so you go into it knowing what you're getting.

Elizabeth said...

I ALSO got rejected from joining Free Cycle and am obviously totally bitter about it. Instead I shove the stuff in a donation dumpster at 7-11. I hope you're happy, Free Cycle!

JEN said...

People are so weird and unpredictable.

I thought the baby names chapter of Freakanomics was so interesting. When I read it I wondered what you thought of it as you are the baby naming guru.

Beth said...

i love the IDEA of freecycle for all the reasons you mentioned. but unless something is too big or bulky to drive to the nearby donation center at Goodwill, I never use freecycle anymore. too many no shows, too much trouble. there should be a freecycle system for reporting no shows and mabye kicking them off after 3 strikes, but that is a lot of trouble, too.

Swistle said...

Elizabeth- What. the. HECK? I wonder if it's defunct groups, or closed groups, or WHAT COULD THIS POSSIBLY BE? Is there another group near you? We belong to two Freecycle groups because there are two local to us.

Swistle said...

Beth- We didn't start Freecycling until the Goodwill near us closed. That was sooooooooooo much easier---and more satisfying because it was for a good cause, and we didn't have to worry that there were people who were taking the stuff and selling it on eBay or in their own yard sales or whatever.

Nicole said...

That's so...weird. We use something called kijiji, and we advertised many things as "free" and we always have people emailing us that they are ON THE WAY and then seconds later they are hauling our stuff away. It's been very satisfying so I just don't get it. Um, why be so desperate and excited if you can't be bothered to come and get it? Weird.

jen (melty) said...

I have had okay luck with freecycle and craigslist too - both paid and free. I can't remember if I had a no-show. I had someone come by and look at the item I was giving away and just drive away without it... that made me laugh because it was kind of dirtier than I thought, and I didn't see it with fresh eyes until after he peeled out. But the next guy took it (it was a box spring, with the elusive water-stain-that-I-swear-isn't-pee)

Last summer we put a whole bunch of crap on our lawn and we posted our address to freecycle and craigslist as well as put signs up around town and damned if it wasn't all gone by the end of the day! That was the best thing ever, and I didn't have to talk to anyone or do anything more than point to the "first come first served" sign and maybe if I was feeling generous I'd tell someone if a particular item was still there if they emailed me. I can't wait to do that again, I have a whole pile of crap in the basement that's going. And I don't even care if they resell it.. good for them for having more patience than I do! hehe.

I think people want free stuff, and they want to come when they want - I hate being "committed" to a time! I know the times I had an item I would talk to the person and tell them where I was putting it, and that they had all day to get it, and that I'd put it outside the next day too, until trash day or whatever. Conversely I don't care who takes it or about anyone's hurt feelings, thus I tell EVERYONE who wants it that this is where it'll be, first come first served. That lights a fire under the serious ones.

Jean said...

I donated large sized preggo clothes to the local Young Women's Resource Center. They were THRILLED.

Jean said...

Also - here's a funny - I had a friend who had 4 good tires that he wanted to get rid of. He put them out in front of his house with a sign that said 'FREE' and the tire size. They sat there for two weeks. He made a new sign - 'Set of 4 Tires - $50'.

They were gone the next morning. Someone swiped them.

Brooke said...

I have this same problem, except that I don't post offers, I just scan the wanted section. So my no-shows have ACTIVELY posted that they want something. I have offered to provide it annnnnnnd no show. It's happend the last three or four times I've tried to give something to someone who specifically asked for it, and I'm totally hacked about it. So much so that I'd give up on Freecycle if I could stomach throwing this stuff away.

Katie Swaner said...

Our freecycle implemented a no-show policy last year. If you don't show up, we report it to the moderaters and they get 3 chances, then their membership is revoked. It has greatly reduced no-shows. But not eliminated ...

That reminds me - I need to report one.

Swistle said...

Nicole- And if I were being FAIR (instead of FRUSTRATED), I'd have to say that MOSTLY it IS that way: we post something, someone responds, and they spirit the item away like fairy magic. It's just these certain things that seem to get CLOGGED.

Swistle said...

Jean- HA HA HA!

Betsy said...

This is why we either leave stuff on the street or list things on Craig's List for a nominal price. It's amazing how a $5-10 price tag will weed out most of the crazies.

Laura said...

One of my biggest Freecycle qualms aside from NO SHOWS are want ads begging for new/expensive items. I literally saw an ad where a woman was asking for a Flat Panel TV greater than 32" and designer ONLY jeans. This is FREECYCLE.I never see anyone else complain about this, so maybe it's just my area that has this problem.
But no shows! WHY!? I don't have all day! PLEASE SHOW UP! GAH!

Christina said...

I feel the same exact way! I love love love Freecycle, but I avoid putting my own stuff up there b/c I have to DEAL w/ the ppl.

My other Freecycle pet peeve is when they try to make their story super pathetic and needy - like "Oh my nephew has cancer and my sister is an amputee and my dad just fell down the stairs and broke his hip. I'm supporting 3 African refugee children with a minimum wage job but I really need that coffee table so PICK ME!" -- our Freecycle moderators actually post reminders every once in awhile to keep the sob stories to a minimum.

I specify from the beginning a major intersection near my house b/c I think a lot of times distance is a deterrant. They get your address and then they're like ... "oh. 14 miles round trip for a used coat?" I also don't play around w/ times and crap like that. I ask for their first name, a day and morning or evening and I put it on my porch w/ their name on it. It's always gone later.

When ppl keep being annoying - I had one a few months ago that kept emailing me these TRAGIC delays "her car broke down, her mom was in the hospital, etc etc etc" so now I'm more hesitant to post. BUT if your freecycle allows "Curb Alerts" those are grand. You pick a day (usually a day or 2 before trash day) and say -- here's my address and this crap is going to be on the curb. Come get what you want, leave what you dont - garbage day is X and it'll be picked up then if you don't get it. I guess the URGENCY that it WILL get thrown out makes them come and get it b/c I've never had stuff go in the trash.

Slim said...

Laura -- YES! I will join you in that complaint. "I need a flat panel TV, 32" or larger, because I'm going to grad school." Oh, bite me. In my day . . .

A recent irritant: I was freecycling several things, I told a woman she could have one of them, I gave her my address, and I told her to tell me when she was coming so I could put it out for her. She never told me, she just came, she took someone else's stuff (I have bags with names on them), and then she COMPLAINED that she had gotten the wrong thing. And when I pointed out where things had gone wrong -- ie, with her -- she wasn't willing to bring it back.

Lawyerish said...

I'm annoyed just reading about the flaky no-shows! SO frustrating.

We have sold a few things on Craigslist, and NEVER AGAIN. Too many no-shows and too many PICKY PEOPLE who griped about how our couch was not floor-sample perfect even though they were getting it for a song and it was clearly advertised as used.

Anonymous said...

The no shows drive me nuts.

Thats why if I don't sell an item, I just drop it off somewhere for charity.

So I don't have to deal with the no shows...

Anonymous said...

To cut down on the no shows and even the flakes that are BUYING an item (on Craigslist) - after we email back and forth and have set a specific time for them to get the item - I ask them to call and confirm, on the day of the pickup...if they don't call - they don't have my address & I then move onto the next person.

This seems to work. I think a phone call makes them feel accountable.

Mama Bub said...

Same crazy making behavior with craigslist. I'll get a slew of emails asking if the thing is still available, then nothing. I think the reality of having to go meet a stranger sets in after the initial thrill of the find wears off.

Elizabeth said...

All I know is that I tried to sign up for the Sacramento Freecycle and was DENIED. I was already totally annoyed because you have to sign in through Yahoo and I don't have a yahoo id so I used my husbands and then you have to wait to hear back and then I was REJECTED so at that point I was all "Whatever, Freecycle, you can bite me."

Becky said...

It's not just free stuff - I've had the same problem with Craiglist several times. (I've had some success though too, which is why I still use it.)

I've come to find that it's always the people who gush the most (how it's what they always wanted, how much they need it, etc.) who are the most likely NOT to show. Not sure why that it is.

Bibliomama said...

I found a good piano teacher on Kijiji, but I've never used it to give stuff away, or any of the other groups, because I'm afraid that the people who aren't no-shows will be homicidal lunatics who will murder me and stuff me in a freezer.

jonniker said...

So I stopped using Freecycle for a very specific reason:

A few years ago (five?), I asked for, and got, a used floor cleaning machine from a nice woman who lived a few developments away from me. We emailed, arranged a pick up, I picked it up, we chit-chatted, etc. etc., transaction over, I am happy with my cleaner, END OF STORY.

Except it was NOT the end of the story, because a few months later, I get this crazy group email from her husband -- he had used her address book in email -- telling us all (ME! A STRANGER!) about this horrible, unexpected death she suffered, and how she loved us all dearly, and how devastated he was, and there were FUNERAL ARRANGEMENTS, and DIRECTIVES to some of us (ME! A FREECYLCER!) and it was ... honestly, it was weirdly traumatizing.

So I quit Freecycle, even though I was happy with it. I just ... I DO NOT WANT NEWS OF UNEXPECTED DEATHS WITH ACTION ITEMS FROM DEAD WOMEN'S HUSBANDS.

velocibadgergirl said...

I freecycle, too, and I usually love it...but yeah, some people are dicks and ruin it for everyone. Or just make me feel like they're trying to pull one over on me.

Recently I got all soft-hearted over this dude who posted that he needed pajamas for his little boy. Probably because his kid wears the same size as my kid and I was all over-identifying with him and thinking "What if it were me, what if I couldn't afford pajamas for my little son?"

So I went through Nico's stuff and pulled out three nice pairs of hand-me-down pjs that he didn't really need. I emailed the dude and arranged to meet him at the library one day after work. He was SO GRATEFUL and SO HAPPY to have the pjs. And then I waited for him and he never showed. I finally texted him and said, "Waited 20 minutes, didn't see you." He replied that he had slept through our appointed time and asked if we could meet the next day, because his wife was upset he'd missed out on the pjs. I said sure. Then he texted me again and said to never mind, they wouldn't have the gas money to drive to meet me.

So at that point I just felt awful about that poor little boy with no jammies and his parents unable to drive to get some for free. A few days later I had a freecycle thing to pick up near where they lived, so I offered to drop them by their apartment. The guy was really nice and happy about it. But when I dropped off the clothes, his wife answered the door. She barely opened the door, looked at me like I was selling something, and then when I said I had clothes for her kid, she said "Oh," took the little bag, and shut the door in my face. I wasn't expecting her to gush over it or anything, but couldn't she at least have thanked me for going out of my way? Then two days later the wife responded asking for a big stuffed animal I posted (which I specifically said had to be picked up at my house) and I thought to myself, you can't drive five minutes to get clothes for your kid, but you can drive twenty minutes to get a stuffed Tigger? SHADY. SHAAAAAAADY.

velocibadgergirl said...

And, Laura, OMG! On my local freecycle I have seen people requesting an elliptical, a hot tub, and a car! THE HELL?

Swistle said...

Jonniker- Annnnnnd...I think we have a winner for Craziest Freecycle Story.

Dr. Maureen said...

I can't stand the no-shows either. Although one time, I forgot to put a thing out and my MIL was over and saw the woman coming up the steps and said nothing (because she didn't know) and the woman rifled around looking for whatever it was and then left. As she walked to her car, my MIL told me someone was just here and I was all "NOOOO!!!!" and tried to run down there, but it takes me five minutes to get to the porch because I live on the second floor. So. I felt terrible. Because worse than leaving something on the porch for a no-show is actually GOING to the place to pick it up and it's not there as promised. I emailed an apology.

My favorite thing about Freecycling is the way you can list just one thing and have it gone; you don't have to wait around for a respectable amount of stuff to bring to Goodwill or have a charity pick up or what have you.

The two of you who were rejected from Freecycle? I am very confused. That is quite mysterious.

Alicia said...

this is just bizarre to me. i've never used freecycle or craigslist because of the stories i've heard (particularly about craigslist). i really don't get it. one co-worker, in particular, told me a story about trying to sell a ~$400 rug on craigslist for like $15 and having to deal with probably three hours of questions from people and drop-bys and people going to ATMs to get the cash and just never coming back. SO WEIRD.

alice said...

This makes me appreciate the sometimes rigid moderators of our freecycle list - they've got a strict 'no-show' policy, and they hold to it! If someone doesn't show up when they said they would, you let the mods know. Someone who does that 3 times is banned from the list. They're harsh in other areas, too, but this one makes the most sense to me - I can't imagine what it'd be like without that! (OK, I can, because you've described it to me, but still.)

Kelsey said...

I can totally understand if someone has a change of plans and suddenly can't come when they thought but not to call or anything? Baffling?