Tuesday, September 29

Is Freecycle getting greedy?

Ever since I heard about Freecycle - lo, those many years ago - I have been a fan. It's just a terrific concept, really. People trying to reduce clutter can offer up their unwanted items to others who need them.

More often than not, I don't need or want whatever is posted. But it's nice to know that there is a place where things I need might come up. Perhaps it's a strange sort of comfort, but it's mine all the same.

That said, before we moved, I had already begun to notice a shift in the tone of emails. People were writing an increasing number of "wanted" posts. For those of you not familiar with Freecycle, that is simply stating that they need/want a particular item. If anyone has such a thing lying around unused, the poster will get a reply.

It just seems wrong. To me, Freecycle is about what you have -- about what you can give -- not about what you want to get. If you want things, you sign up for the updates. Perhaps what you need will be posted. Perhaps not. It's the nature of the site.

So this attitude of the posters strikes me as odd. Would these people dictate a list of needs to a thrift store worker? No, of course not! (At least, I hope not.) Because what you see is what you get. If the thrift store doesn't have it, it's because no one has donated it -- or the ones that were donated were snatched up already. And given that you actually pay the thrift stores money, I really don't understand how that attitude extends to something where people are gifting it to you.

Please don't mistake my distaste for cynicism. If we were talking about kids' clothes or something dire, I would of course support it. But that's not what gets posted. People request random things, few of which ever seem all that necessary. Often, I open these posts, to see why the person felt justified in asking for it. I've yet to see anything like, "Brother in hospital, parents flying down, have no bed for them to sleep on." It's usually just a quick couple sentences about the desired item.

And I should add that I'm not alone in my surprise at people's attitudes. About six months ago, some of the Seattle Freecycle mods wrote a note about the increasing number of "wanted" posts. It reminded people that Freecycle was about giving, not receiving. That did decrease the number, at least for a time. But the frequency was picking up again by the time we were preparing to move.

But if I thought it was bad in Seattle, boy oh boy I was in for a shock. The first week we were here, I signed up for Freecycle. I hoped to find some furnishings for our new place. No such luck, I'm afraid.

Still, getting email updates for Phoenix Freecycle groups has been quite educational. The sheer number of "wanted" posts boggles the mind. There's about one for every two posts actually offering something. Some days, the ratio is a lot worse than that.

These people aren't shy about asking for things, either. One poster wanted furnishings for a new apartment. The post literally just asked for furniture. Nothing specific or humble about it. Another person actually asked for a laptop computer. (!!!!) Based on the wording and writing style, I'm pretty sure it was the same one who then added another post asking for plates, silverware and glasses.

And yes, I know the old adage about a few bad apples. That's what I thought at first, too. But we're in our third week here and the "wanted" posts show no sign of decreasing. These people never explain that there exigent circumstances, or they just moved and have no money til payday to get a bed. They just state their needs and hope.

I guess, technically, there's no law against being brash. To use another cliche, the squeaky wheel gets the grease. But it seems like they're taking a selfless system and tarnishing it with their greedy expectations.

Who are these people? The more cynical part of me says it's the same people who overspent during the boom. They got further and further into debt with their consumerist ways, thinking they deserved to have nice things and a big house; now, in the economic contraction, they think they've found a whole new way to fulfill their sense of entitlement -- all while staying in budget. Sort of like breaking the spirit of the law in order to follow the letter of it.

But perhaps I'm wrong. Maybe those people are finally learning their lessons and it's some other group entirely. Perhaps it's random people from various walks of life, all burned out by the recession and the constant self-denial.

In the end, though, it doesn't really matter who it is, does it? Whoever they are, why they are doing it... The fact is that it's happening. And there aren't many ways to get around it. Sure, the mods can banish them. But they can get another screen name and come back. There are enough free email accounts out there to tide someone over until the next millenium.

Nope, this greed is probably here to stay. I only hope it won't pollute the whole system. There's been enough of that in this country already.

Are you a member of Freecycle? Have you noticed any change in posts? Do you think it's okay to request things in these sorts of forums?



Blogger Alissa said...

Before I moved, I did belong to the local freecycle group. I did notice a number of wanted posts, and thought that defeated the whole purpose of the list. Perhaps there should be a whole separate list for the wanted items. I've never picked up anything via Freecyle, but it is a good concept, better than sticking something out at the curb and hoping someone happens to drive by and snatch it up.

September 29, 2009 at 5:47 PM

Blogger Money Dieter said...

I belong to Freecycle Atlanta and I agree that there has been an increase in wanted ads. I don't usually read those, but it would help if they're bunched together since sometimes I forget that they're "wanted" and not "offered."

September 29, 2009 at 6:15 PM

Anonymous Donna Freedman said...

Several readers of the Smart Spending blog and message board have made the same observation: Why so many greedy folks?
As the author notes, it's one thing if someone's been burned out of his house or has a sick family member. But just to ask for a computer and a houseful of furniture...wow.

September 29, 2009 at 8:05 PM

Blogger Meg said...

I don't know how it is in other groups, but our group here sort of discourages the kind of posts with long explanations about why a person needs something -- mostly because it shouldn't be necessary. Freecycle is pretty clear that it's NOT a charity group and not just for those "in need". It's for people of all income levels because their primary goal is not to help those who can't afford to buy things, it's to keep things out of landfills.

Personally, I don't see any problem with want posts -- at least so long as individuals aren't posting so much that it's spammy. I've posted quite a few myself over the years even when I could definitely afford to buy something new because I'd rather first see if I can get it used and not just save money, but also save the environmental costs of having to have something produced from scratch. Does that make me greedy?

September 30, 2009 at 6:28 AM

Anonymous Angelia said...

If I'm not mistake, Freecycle was created to help keep things out of the landfill. With that in mind, I have almost stopped making Offer post to my local group because of this very topic. People will take things they don't need and sell them on local online auctions, ask for things that are just beyond charity or need. Last week someone asked for an Xbox, controllers and games. Are you serious?? If I come across an Xbox that is not usable and is headed for the landfill, I'll be sure and post that up for you.

September 30, 2009 at 7:13 AM

Blogger Ginger said...

I don't have a problem with the wanted ads. I've posted a few myself. Sometimes you don't realize that you have something to give away until you see that someone wants it.

For example, someone once posted that they were looking for a book on Norse mythology. I realized that I had one and that I could part with it since this other person wanted it. So I gave it to her.

I think that as long as there is a balance between the offer and wanted ads then it is good. The idea is to reuse items and keep them out of the landfill, whether that means not throwing it out, or simply not purchasing new.

September 30, 2009 at 9:04 AM

Blogger Abby said...

Meg, I don't think that makes you greedy. Then again, you're not asking (I hope) for a laptop computer or something as non-specific as "furniture."

I suppose my problem lies in the fact that the people who tend to post the "wanted" ads never seem to offer anything of their own. That's strictly discouraged, at least in the Seattle groups. They ask that you offer something before you request something.

Meanwhile, the sheer volume of things that have been posted as "wanted" are becoming rather spammy.

Both you and Ginger have a good point about the overall purpose of Freecycle. Still, it seems to me that the system is being overrun with greedy folks. There's a big difference between asking for a book on Norse mythology and asking for a laptop or Xbox.

September 30, 2009 at 11:58 AM

Blogger Meg said...

I could see myself asking for a laptop or furniture if I needed those things. Why not? Certainly there is a lot of furniture and even laptops out there in need of a good home -- and I'd hate to see those things end up in landfills! It breaks my heart to see a lot of the things people throw out or even just leave on the roadside thinking that someone will pick it up (though more likely it will stay there because everyone assumes there MUST be something wrong with it -- or there is after it rains).

In fact, we've given away a few computers and other electronics we had just laying around (that happens when your husband is "the computer guy"). We didn't think much about some of them until friends asked if we just happened to know where they could get a free/cheap computer. Then we were like, "Actually, now that you mention it..."

And I could definitely see someone asking for "furniture" in general if they were just starting out or just moved out of a situation where their old roommate/ex kept the furniture, or they lost most of their furniture in a fire or flood. Living in a college town as we do, a lot of people move here planning to acquire most of their furniture once they're here rather than pay to move furniture here if they're planning to only be here for a semester or two. And in fact, many students take shorter leases here and go back "home" during the summer to save on rent.

But anyhow, I don't even have a problem with people taking stuff on Freecyle and selling it -- at least not so long as they don't lie about it. What's the problem with that? Last time I checked, there's nothing on Freecycle that says you can't do that. Again, they're keeping stuff from the landfill. And, if they're taking my stuff, they're doing me a favor because then I don't have to figure out another way to get rid of things.

Now, people who don't show up to pick up things you've offered on Freecycle or even call to say they're not coming -- THAT drives me crazy.

September 30, 2009 at 12:21 PM

Anonymous Momma said...

I am on the Freecycle list in my county. I know that here, the mods will not allow you to post wanted requests unless you have posted offers. I haven't been paying attention to them these days, since the entire area I live was devastated by floods (including my parents' home). I'm sure there has been an increase in wanteds here, just for that reason.

October 6, 2009 at 11:30 AM


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