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Beginner's Guide: Freecycle For First-Time Buyers
April 21st, 2009
Research from the Alliance and Leicester in 2005 came up with a frightening figure.

In addition to legal fees and general moving expenses, the study found that first-time buyers were splashing out 4,617.81 on new furniture and electrical goods to create their dream home.

But attitudes have changed over the last year or so, and today's young buyers are likely to be less gung ho about getting into debt unnecessarily.

So the growing numbers of schemes to help us to redistribute our unwanted goods could be a lifeline for anyone struggling to furnish their first home.

What Is Freecycle?

If you could see inside all the homes on your street, in all likelihood you would find someone in desperate need for something they can't afford, and someone else drowning in unused and unwanted possessions.

So why not, thought the brains behind the phenomenon that is Freecycle, create an internet-based group to allow people to redistribute items they no longer need, rather than throw them away.

This worldwide gifting movement, that started in America in 2003, and has spread all over the world, is growing in the UK, with 486 groups and over 1.6 million members.

All the groups act on a local level, and, though they make some decisions themselves, they all adhere to the basic principle:

That Freecycle is a place to give what you don't need, or find what you need and don't have.

What Can I Get There?

The range of goods that appear on Freecycle is mind-boggling, though, fortunately for anyone setting up home, it tends to be items that are too big for charity shops such as furniture, and electrical goods, which the charity shops often can't take.

But, apart from anything illegal or alive, anything goes, and, among the more unusual goods that have been offered are an Anderson shelter, a human knee bone and a life-size cut out of Gandalf from Lord of the Rings.

Chris Lee, co-moderator of the Royston Freecycle group in Hertfordshire, has seen some bizarre items change hands on his site.

"Someone requested stick-on eyebrows for a fancy dress party." Luckily, another member was able to help. "And someone else wanted wood and wire netting to build a chicken mansion."

Chris himself has also given a home to many useful items. "My daughter said she'd love to play the clarinet. So I posted a request on Freecycle at midday on a Sunday, and by six I'd been offered a clarinet and lessons!"

But, of course, the idea of Freecycle is both to give and take, and, over the last few years, Chris has emptied his home of anything surplus to requirements.

"My view," says Chris, "is that the important thing is to keep stuff circulating and out of landfill."

What Can I Give Them?

Many people join Freecycle with the aim of finding new homes for their junk - a particularly good idea if you are decluttering to sell.

Samba dancer Emma Skilton, from Truro in Cornwall, needed to clear out her garage when she put her house on the market. "People are into Freecycle in Cornwall," says Emma. "It's seen as quite cool.

"Charity shops are quite expensive nowadays, and they're fussy about what they'll take."

After hearing about her neighbours' good experience with the site, Emma joined up and gave away a mountain of unused clutter, including an aquarium, a cappuccino machine, lawnmowers, chairs, and a sewing machine.

"It felt amazing. We can actually get in the garage now!"

But why didn"t she try to sell the items?

"People have given me things, and I want to give something back. Anyway, for the money I would've got it wasn't worth selling. And I wouldn't want to dump it.

"Also, it's really convenient. I needed to get rid of my boys' old beds - and someone came to pick them up."

Givers: Can You Trust It?

The system works on trust, and, inevitably, there will be a few people who will try to take advantage by selling on goods given in good faith.

"I know some people might take items and car boot them," says Chris Lee. "But there's no way really we can track that. I suppose I might get suspicious if someone has asked for three sofas, then if they asked for more I might bump them off."

And, usual safety rules apply when picking up or handing over goods.

"Take sensible precautions," says Chris. He advises, if you don't want to be burgled, that you avoid giving your address, and then telling someone when you're going to be out.

An Alternative: Time Banking

But it's not only goods that people all over the country are exchanging, it's also their time and skills.

Time banking, which has been big in Japan and the US for a while, is a simple system of swapping an hour of your time doing something you're good at, for an hour of someone else's time.

It doesn't have to be a direct swap; you bank any time you earn, and spend it when you need someone else's skills. You can even get into "debt" without incurring penalties.

The difference between time banking and other systems is that everyone's skills have the same value. So, an hour spent mending someone's computer is equal to an hour spent dog walking.

Freecycle moderator Chris Lee is also involved in organising his local time bank, and he has seen what a lifeline both schemes have been to people in difficult circumstances.

"We had a situation where someone had to move house very quickly because of domestic violence. She posted a message asking for basics like a kettle and a Baby Belling."

In fact, thanks to the local time bank, the lady also ended up with use of a van and willing volunteers to help her move.

If you're moving to a new area, Chris would recommend you join both Freecycle and your local time bank.

Not only will you find essentials and the services of local skilled people such as painters, gardeners and babysitters, but, by offering goods and giving up some of your own time, it will help you to integrate into your new community.

"It reduces a sense of isolation and gives you a feeling of belonging," says Chris. "It's about give and take."

Nikki Sheehan


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