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Spring clean with a little help from the web

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Sandra Vogel Sandra Vogel | 11:48 UK time, Friday, 15 April 2011

You’ll recognise this scenario. I have lots of things I no longer need. They aren’t broken, some of them aren’t even old, but I just don’t need them. Because I care for the environment and can’t abide waste, I don’t want these things to go to landfill. But nor do I want them to simply sit in my home gathering dust. I want them to be used.

A collection of second-hand books

Belongings you no longer need can be rehomed online

The internet is great for helping me realise these ambitions thanks to sharing and donating services which let me reach lots of people at once simply by listing what I’ve got on offer.

One of the best known networks of people who want to give things away to each other is Freecycle.  Its origins lie in a very small, local recycling scheme set up in Tucson, Arizona in 2003. Since then it has grown to reach more than 85 countries and to have millions of members.

But the service is also very, very local. It works on the basis of groups which cover relatively small geographical areas. You can sign up at the website and then join groups based in your location. You can join as many groups as you want to, but be careful – it’s a busy site. My most local group, focussed on one London borough, has more than 6,000 members.

Once you’ve signed up it is easy to make an ‘offer’ of a particular item. People will see the offer, decide if they like it, and get in touch for more information. Just because you don’t want or need something doesn’t mean others won’t find it useful.

I once listed a duplicate music CD on Freecycle and ended up giving it to an orchestra member who was about to play the piece and wanted to hear different recordings of it!

The service also works when you want something. Just post a ‘wanted’ notice and see what happens.  I’ve picked up some amazing things this way, including a wonderful old bicycle that just needed new tyres and a service to get it on the road.

Discipline is important when browsing what’s on offer as it’s easy to get tempted and end up acquiring more stuff. This rather defeats the de-cluttering concept but I have been known to succumb. Particularly when someone is giving away a ‘big bag of books’.

Freecycle isn’t the only scheme of this kind available. A very similar alternative is Freegle, a UK based network whose name reflect their ethos - ‘FREEly Given, Locally, Easily’. And there are other takes on the reuse/recycle theme.

If you need some equipment for a project, or have something you think others might like to borrow, then the Ecomodo web site might be able to help. You can even use Ecomodo to set up local ‘lending circles’ that benefit people in a small area or a shared interest group can pool resources.

And there are a number of online recycling services specialising in particular types of goods. For example, if you’ve got old computer equipment you can offer it on specialist websites that concentrate on this area such is Donate A PC which is specifically targeted at charities and not for profit organisations.

You can also check charity websites to see if they will collect items from you. The British Heart Foundation, for example, will collect furniture and electrical items – and you can book collections on their website.

The internet really does offer a lot of potential to help you de-clutter your own space without simply sending a lot of stuff off to landfill. And that has to be a good thing.

Visit our Internet Basics course Registering on a website to learn about signing up to sites.

Sandra Vogel is a technology journalist who has written for many web sites and magazines. She's written several books on computing. As well as technology she enjoys running, growing vegetables and playing the saxophone.


  • Comment number 1.

    Freegle is totally UK run and now has well over a million members in about 18 months since it started. More members are always welcome !!

  • Comment number 2.

    Many Freegle groups are also available to use purely from Facebook, if that's your thang.

  • Comment number 3.

    I use my local Freegle group a lot; I have got rid of mountains of stuff to appreciative people, and got a few things for myself as well. It makes de-cluttering so much easier if someone wants the stuff; takes all the guilt away compared to binning it.

  • Comment number 4.

    I totted up that even in sleepy rural Shropshire Freegle has almost 14,000 members who exchanged around 3000 messages between them - I can only guess at the amount of items that have been kept out of landfill so for now we'll just say lots!

    I love the way you can have as many or as few emails as you like and the message maker makes it really easy!

  • Comment number 5.

    Freegle is a fantastic community resource - I have used it a lot to get rid of things I don't need but which are still useful to someone, and I have been lucky enough to find other stuff that I have wanted. It's free - a great thing in a recession! and keeps stuff out of landfill. What's not to like?
    I would recommend anyone to find their local group and start using it!

  • Comment number 6.

    I love using Freegle - it has such a good community feel as well as saving stuff from landfill. And it is so satisfying to pass on something you no longer want or need to someone who does - win, win!!

  • Comment number 7.

    I'm a member of my local Freegle group, a truly British run recycle/re-use organisation. It's a fantastic free service where everything is given away entirely for free and without strings. It's a great community resource. Find your local group here:

  • Comment number 8.

    It's great to hear that people are so enthusiastic about using online recycling websites. I'm moving into my first house soon and I'm going to need so much furniture (and I also need to get rid of some as well!) - it's really good to hear your positive experiences.


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