Etiquette for Using Freecycle and Buy Nothing Groups

When I first wrote this blog post on using Freecycle, it was coming on the heels of a post about the dos and don’ts of using Freecycle and Craigslist. These days people may be using Freecycle less and Buy Nothing local groups more. Nonetheless, now seemed like a good time to revisit the topic of the etiquette of using these freebie groups like Freecycle and Buy Nothing.

However, this time I’m going to have a slightly different take on things. That is, I’ve come up with a list of simple rules to follow when using Freecycle or a Buy Nothing Group.

How does using Freecycle work

If you’re not familiar with Freecycle, here’s the basic concept: since many people want to keep their unwanted items out of the waste stream, they choose to recycle them (really reuse or repurpose them) by giving them away for free to others.

Freecycle works both ways. People can post when they’re giving away items. Also, people can post when they want items.

What you need to know about Buy Nothing Groups

Before I get into the list of rules, let me first address the rules of Buy Nothing Groups. 

One, if you are looking for a Buy Nothing Group near you, you may discover that there is more than one. Unlike Freecycle, which has no limit on how many sub-groups you can join, with Buy Nothing you can join only one. 

Two, Buy Nothing Groups live on Facebook. Once you find a Buy Nothing Group you like, you will need to apply to join its Facebook group. You’ll probably have to answer some questions to qualify. Make sure you do or you won’t be approved. 

Three, if you don’t have or don’t like using Facebook, then, at this time, you can’t use a Buy Nothing Group. That’s just the reality. However, the group is beta testing a website off Facebook. So, that could change in the future.

How to find a Buy Nothing Group near you

Fourth, if there isn’t a Buy Nothing Group near you, you can apply to start one. A friend of mine who lives in a Chicagoland suburb did just that. She said the training was intense and managing the Facebook group can be overwhelming. But as someone committed to buying less and throwing away even fewer items, she says it’s worth it.

Want to Save This Article?

Save this article and we’ll send it to your inbox. Plus, we’ll send you more great links each week.

Save Article
By submitting this form, you consent to receive emails from Leah Ingram

FYI, if you’re looking for a Buy Nothing Group Finder, you can use this link to find a list of existing Buy Nothing Groups.

Simple rules for using Freecycle and Buy Nothing

Here are my simple rules for using freecycle and Buy Nothing groups.

Using Freecycle or Buy Nothing isn’t about window shopping

It’s easy to think of Freecycle as a bargain, free-for-all. I mean, everything is free, literally. But that doesn’t mean that you should respond or window shop with every “offer” post that shows up on your Freecycle list. When people do this, it ends up making it difficult for everyone involved to get rid off their stuff.

Case in point: recently we cleaned out my office, got me a new desk, and put the old one up as an “offer” on Freecycle. When the first person responded, I let her know that she would need to get to my home within 24 hours to pick up the desk.

Guess what? 36 hours later when I still hadn’t heard from her and she hadn’t shown up, I gave the desk to the second person who’d responded to my Freecycle ad. I guess she was just window shopping for a desk.

People who use Freecycle are not your personal shoppers.

When you respond to a Buy Nothing Group posting or something being given away for free on Freecycle, it is your job as the interested party to get the desired item in a timely manner. To respond to an ad, then say, “Oh, I’m going out of town tomorrow; can you hold it for a week” or “Gas is too expensive; can you meet me somewhere halfway?” is just not cool.

These people are not your personal shoppers and shouldn’t be at your beck and call. You should be bending over backwards to pick that item up in a timely and hassle-free manner.

There’s nothing wrong with putting time limits in your “offer” ad

Recently, we were getting rid of some pretty big pieces of furniture, and I did not want them cluttering up my house any longer than they had to. That’s why when I posted them on Buy Nothing, I put in my ad “Only respond if you can come to my home by Friday of this week.”

Twelve hours after I posted the ad, I got an email from someone who wanted to come by to get one of the items in the ad. Six hours later, he was here, the piece was gone, and my house was a little less cluttered.

Using Freecycle doesn’t mean giving away trash

While the thinking behind Freecycle is that one person’s trash can become another person’s treasure, that doesn’t mean that you should waste people’s time putting actual trash out for grabs. Sure, there are so-called “curb alerts” that people post from time to time, which basically is carte blanche to go dumpster-diving when someone puts out the trash.

However, most people assume that others will have good intentions when using Freecycle and will only offer up decent items that someone can truly use or at least find useful. If you item is destined for the dump, it’s OK to post it in a Buy Nothing Group as a curb alert, but with the caveat that you will be throwing it out if no one comes for it.

Finally, these groups can be a great way to recycle or repurpose items, such as prescription pill bottles. Make sure you remove the labels before giving away to protect your privacy.

When posting an offer, it’s a good idea to include a picture

When you shop online, you really want to see something before you buy it. Well, using Freecycle and Buy Nothing are the same.

I’ve found that when I’ve been in a rush and posted an offer without a picture, I didn’t get a lot of responses to my Freecycle offers. However, if I was able to upload a picture, stuff just flies out the door.

Think about it this way: if you sell stuff on eBay or Poshmark to make some extra bucks, then you know that having a picture always ends up with your item getting more bids.

Here is my article about consigning clothes on Poshmark.

Include as much details as possible in your Freecycle or Buy Nothing postings

Before we moved from our first house, I sold all of my kids’ toddler toys. They’d been taking up space in our basement but surely didn’t need to move with us now that my girls were older.

So, in addition to posting pictures, as recommended above, I also included brand names and their dimensions.

In fact, it’s always a good idea to include dimensions or weight when giving something away. Not only does this help the “buyer” decide if the item will fit in their home but also will fit in their vehicle.

We gave away the sink vanity, below, after we upgraded our bathroom. I made sure to include its dimensions and how much I thought it weighed. Within a day someone came to get it.

There are no givebacks or returns with Freecycle or Buy Nothing

Have you heard the phrase caveat emptor? It means buyer beware.

That saying applies perfectly to getting stuff for free on Freecycle or Buy Nothing. You get something, it’s yours. You don’t get a return policy or a warranty. And you’ve got to live with the outcome.

For example, last year, I figured out how to get gardening goods for free by posting a “wanted” ad on Freecycle. That had me going to people’s yards with my shovel in hand, and digging up plants and bushes that they no longer wanted. Like this one family that was putting in a fence and was going to have to pay someone to take out their Rose-of-Sharon bushes. Nope. I did it for them. Now, is it their problem that when I got home, replanted the Rose-of-Sharon, and they all died? Nope. It was the risk I took in getting plants for free.

Looking to buy a used Peloton bike? This post can help.

Just be nice in whatever dealings you have with people

You know that little thing called karma? Yeah, well, I think that in situations like Freecycle and Buy Nothing, it really is important to keep karma in mind.

You are doing something good for someone by giving them something for free–or taking something off their hands for free–and there’s no reason to be high-maintenance about the transaction. Smile, say, “Thank you,” and I’m confident that karma will come back to reap her rewards on you in one way or another in the near future.

Looking to use Freecycle or Buy Nothing for find an ugly Christmas sweater but are striking out? This blog post can help.


  1. Just a note about Rose of Sharon bushes…when transplanted they will go into shock and look like they are dying, but wait they should plump back with good soil and water. I have transplanted mine many times over the 30 years I have had them in my yard and they do very well transplanted as well as cuttings. They are one of the only plants I have good luck. Enjoy 🙂

  2. I try to follow all the rules, thank you for the tips! Have you ever heard of BoxGiver? It’s similar to Freecycle

  3. Good idea with the rules, Freecycle is a great resource but sometimes it can be hard for new Freecycle members to adjust to how it all works. I’ve built a new free site that tries to make it quicker and easier for people to use their existing Freecycle groups at

    I’ve also created a map-based directory of all the freecycling groups in the world at It makes it really easy for people to find their local groups.

  4. Good article. In addition as an experienced craigslist seller and buyer, in your posting include make/model, dimensions, use the 4 photos allotted for different camera angles, and price the item about 10% to 20% above the amount you truly wish to receive for that item – buyers love the thrill of negotiating for a lower price.

  5. This is an excellent reminder. I love giving things away through Freecycle, but it makes me crazy when people don’t follow through. When I respond to someone who wants something of mind, I make it clear when the item needs to be picked up. I do one reminder email if they don’t follow through and then I move on to the next person on the list.

    On the receiving end, I was lucky enough to get all of my moving boxes through Freecycle!

    1. Protip from a long time dumpster diver:

      Boxes are already free.

      Most strip malls, grocery stores, dollar stores, etc have a cardboard only dumpster behind them and as long as you’re in and out pretty quickly and don’t leave a mess they don’t care if you come grab all the boxes you need.

      Most gas stations have milk crates by their dumpsters you can grab, too. Just ask the clerk. The worst they’ll do is say no.

  6. I love Craigslist. Thank you so much for posting these rules. I hope more people take note of them. After many transactions, I am still floored when responders ask if I would deliver the item I have for sale.

  7. Thanks for all of the articles about Freecycle! I didn’t know about that resource before, and now my fiance and I are planning to use it to (hopefully) give away some old electronics. (Don’t worry – they do actually work, they just wouldn’t be worth much money!). Thanks for posting about this great idea!

  8. I wish more people would follow these rules! I stopped using freecycle because I wasted so much time waiting for people who didn’t show up when they said they would.
    It is amazing how people will take advantage of others giving away free things. We had some working speakers and put them at the curb with a “free” sign on them, and plans to take them to Goodwill if they didn’t get taken. They disappeared and then an hour later they were back. Someone had taken them, removed the guts from them and then returned the empty shells! At that point they were useless to Goodwill, so we put them in the trash.

Comments are closed.