One Duluthian's junk is another Duluthian's treasure

"I remember postings from one guy who asked for framed pictures, to make his apartment more 'homey,' since he was bummed that his wife kicked him out," one local Freecycle user recalled in an e-mail to the Budgeteer. "A few days later, he was ask...

"I remember postings from one guy who asked for framed pictures, to make his apartment more 'homey,' since he was bummed that his wife kicked him out," one local Freecycle user recalled in an e-mail to the Budgeteer. "A few days later, he was asking for baby equipment for his pregnant girlfriend."

The request was simple: "WANTED: Your Freecycle stories!" That was the message sent out by this author -- using the preferred format of the group, of course -- to the local Freecycle chapter.

I wanted to know more about this group -- with 3,145 members (as of this writing), easily one of Duluth's largest online communities -- and what makes it tick: its rules, its mission, its appeal, etc.

But, to begin understanding why so many people (this author included) are drawn to the local chapter, one should probably know a little more about its parent organization.

The Freecycle Network was founded in 2003 by Deron Beal. The network stemmed from his work with RISE, a nonprofit organization that, among other things, provides recycling services to businesses in Tucson, Ariz.


"As the team recycled," Freecycle's Web site states, "rather than watching perfectly good items being thrown away, they found themselves calling or driving around to see if various local nonprofits could use them."

In the five years that have passed, this premise of earth-conscious recycling has spread like wildfire. Freecycle now boasts more than 4,000 groups and 4 million registered members worldwide.

How it works

After acquiring a free membership, individuals can post anything to their community's Freecycle page -- as long as it's free, legal and appropriate for all ages, of course -- that they feel will be of use to someone. (The site's basic aim is keeping stuff out of landfills.)

These local groups are moderated by local volunteers. Duluth's "owner" is Summer Emison, who operates a daycare center in Lincoln Park.

"I don't usually get a lot of stuff, but I've gotten a few toys for the kids," Emison said. "I usually try to dump my stuff -- get rid of it as opposed to taking it back in." [Laughs]

The local chapter (Superior also has its own group) is in its second incarnation, as its first owner just up and quit.

"She closed the group up and was done," Emison says matter-of-factly, mentioning that she just sort of ended up with the gig a few years back when everything was said and done.


Aside from breaking up a few fights (like when someone doesn't get an item they were promised), Emison said her role is pretty ho-hum; and that collecting the posts for the group's daily "digests" usually takes less than an hour.

This week in weird

Sometimes Freecycle is just as entertaining as it is useful.

"I know there's been weird stuff on there," Emison says enthusiastically, "lots of it."

When I opened up my "investigation" to Freecycle's local users, responses came pouring in.

"Freecycle is a good thing, but there are lots of 'Wanted' ads that are pie-in-the-sky wish lists, too," Carol Surine said in an e-mail. "This makes me irritated that people are greedy. 'WANTED: Snowmobile. Must be in good condition'?

"Well, jeez, that makes me want to run right out to my garage and see if I can fix 'em up with one. Not."

Another classic tale came in courtesy of Kathy Wilson.


"The weirdest thing I've seen was a bag of dryer lint offered," she wrote, "but the offerer did include a link to a Web site that detailed things you could use it for...."

Yet another user, Laura Christman, remembers someone asking for a Playstation 3 (currently retailing for $399.99 or more). She was quick to size up the situation: "A downright odd thing to ask for."

Benefits of membership

Though each Freecycle group has its share of odd requests, the amount of decent, usable offerings usually makes up for any greedy, "Yeah right!" ones.

"I am quite surprised at what people offer and what others want," wrote Cheryl Sundstrom, who recently moved to Two Harbors from the Dallas area. "There are many items I have seen listed that I had and did throw away thinking no one would want them.

"Was I wrong. Now I will list everything first and then, if there are no takers, get rid of it."

(In case you were wondering, Sundstrom said Duluth's group is "so active" in comparison to her old one in the Lone Star State.)

Another user, Christy Lamminen, said she's bummed because she found about Freecycle only after hauling away the no-sells of a recent rummage sale.


"I would estimate I've already saved myself about $100 on things I was going to buy and have been overjoyed with my finds," she said. "I love that it's a very fast-moving site and the members offer such a great variety of items.

"One person's junk is another one's treasure."

Others tout being active in Freecycle as another way to stay "green."

"It keeps garbage out of the landfills," wrote Stacey Solem. "... Please, everyone come join us in keeping our earth clean and helping out a neighbor while you're at it."

On the good neighbor tip, Solem said Freecyclers are able to help those who might not be able to afford an item; and that the local group is full of "kind, considerate and caring people."

"Just this week," she continued, "I gave two old strollers to a gal that works at a shelter for homeless. A father's stroller had broken and he needed a way to get his child through the snow, we all know how heavy even a small child can get.

"Who doesn't feel good about helping someone out?"

The darker side of Freecycle


Despite the goodwill nature of the Freecycle movement, it's not without its share of problems.

In addition to the aforementioned "fights," one user suggested that I put a beware in the article.

"I had someone that didn't pick up the item offered, so it was given to someone else," she wrote. "I then returned home two days later to find that the guy took it upon himself to, from my e-mail address on Yahoo, find me in the phone book and start to call me about the item. I never gave him my phone number. It is not hard for someone to find out your name and then look you up in the phone book.

"It was kinda scary."

To combat incidents like this, the Freecycle powers that be remind users of the site's lengthy list of rules and no-brainer tips (like meeting up in a public place instead of having a stranger come to your house if you're home alone) each and every month. Still, most users who responded to my post agreed that the benefits of Freecycle far outweigh the no-shows or rude members.

"There are many people who are reserved at having others come to their home," John Alberding wrote. "I have dropped stuff off, picked up, left items out by my driveway, even took down a whole basketball pole -- full of concrete -- for the backboard and hoop, and only once I did not receive some sort of thank you."

Some users, including Julie Jeatran, even mentioned making new friends because of the site.

To join the local chapter, visit the "Duluth's Freecycle Site" link above.

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