Monday, November 16, 2009

My Experience with Giving Through Freecycle

Last week I was insanely busy at my office. We are going to be moving at the end of the year, and last week we started cleaning out our storage area. We need to get some units cleared out so that they can start moving them over ahead of time. Well, since going paperless quite a few years ago and having gone through several downsizings, we have accumulated a ton of miscellaneous office supplies. Most were gathering dust in the back. Since we don't use them anymore we don't want to move them over to the new office, where we have considerably less storage space.

The first thing we did was go through and take all the stuff we wanted to get rid of and put it all in one spot. Then we encouraged employees to help themselves. Then we donated a ton to to a couple of charities (churches and preschools.) We still, however, had some things left - and those I decided to Freecycle.

I am going to give you my personal views on working with Freecycle-ers. Let me state these are merely my opinions after 5 solid days of giving away office supplies, getting emails from over 100 people and giving things to over half of them. Your experience in your town might be completely different. First off, I love the concept of Freecycle. Basically you post what you have, and people who are interested email you and then (theoretically) come pick it up. Here we were looking at this huge pile of "office stuff" and my boss and coworkers wanted to pitch it all. But the hippy in me, combined with my inner frugal Dutch woman, could not bear to see all this perfectly usable stuff go into a landfill! On the other hand, I didn't have time or energy to deal with eBaying it. I didn't want to make trips to the post office, package it all up, then still have to deal with what didn't sell. Besides, I didn't have that much time - everything had to be gone in a week. Essentially I just wanted to wave a magic wand and make it all disappear. My magic wand was Freecycle....

I would post an item on Freecycle, say 500 used manila folders. (They are perfectly good if you turn them inside out or great for craft projects.) I would very clearly ask people to tell me how many they needed. When they responded, I would give them driving directions to the office and ask when they were picking them up, and for a name to hold the items under. Once they responded, I would grab a scrap paper and jot their name and the day they were coming, and put it on the item. I had a holding area for items waiting to be picked up and I had sections for different days. That way when someone showed up I could easily grab their stuff for them. This part all went pretty well... the quirky part was dealing with the people themselves.

Here are my little rules for Freecycle-ers:

1.) I immediately delete any emails that use text speak. First of all, this is a completely personal thing - I hate text speak. It feels incredibly disrespectful to me. If you can't take the time to type the word "you" I don't want to attempt to have a conversation with you. However, there is a practical reason to delete these emails as well - people who are too lazy to type, are too lazy to return emails. Every time I broke my own rule and responded to a "Will U Save these 4 me?" email they never responded with a name or time for pick up. In fact, not one person who used text speak actually picked up an item. Nothing irritates me more than me taking the time to set something aside for you and you not even bothering to come pick it up.

2.) If someone can't follow the directions in my post, they are going to end up being a pain. This little lesson took me a long time to learn. I would write, in all caps, at the bottom of each post, "PLEASE, TELL ME HOW MANY YOU WANT. This helps me distribute these among everyone who is interested." For example, I had 6 working 19" monitors. Big fellas, these were monstrously heavy and took up a ton of desk real estate - but hey, they worked - and I was giving them away free. People would say they were interested, but not how many they wanted! Well, this just makes more work for me, because now I have to check - and in the meantime I was getting deluged by emails. I finally learned to give away items to the people who responded properly first, then if I had anything left, I would offer it to the non-direction followers.

Amounts weren't the only directions people had a hard time following, though. For example, on the monitors I included in my post the size and weight, and encouraged people to bring someone with a strong back to carry them. Well, you guessed it, I ended up offering one to one of the people who didn't tell me how many they wanted. Who did she send to pick it up? Her 60+ year old mother, who was about 5'3" and maybe 100 lb soaking wet and her father... who had a broken back! Seriously, I couldn't make this stuff up. Guess who (while wearing heels) ended up loading it into their van.... yeah....

3. People who can't follow driving directions are wackjobs. Okay, I know this sounds horribly judgmental and I am not known for my keen sense of direction myself, however, as bad as this sounds, it's still true. I don't mean wackjobs in a scary sense, I mean it in that kind of affectionate, slightly frustrated, roll your eyes kind of way. I gave everyone very clear, very simple directions for how to find our office. Of the 4 people who called from the road to get directions - every single one of them was a wackjob. I'm not sure the correlation between not being able to follow driving directions and being wacko, but there you are. Maybe they not only dance to their own drummer but they drive to their own navigator?

Two of these folks wanted to talk to me forever afterward. These were not comfortable conversations - these were "conversations" where I pretty much didn't get a word in edgewise and where I kept hoping a coworker would rescue me. One of them went by her "stage name" which was vaguely uncomfortable to for me to say. Lady Fallopian Tubes, (not her real stage name, but close enough) completely creeped me out. The final directionally challenged wackjob called three times, apparently not believing 1) my driving directions, 2) the hours I said we would be open, 3) that we were really an office and 4) that we would actually give away all these great used manila folders and monitor stands. Sigh.... I think he wanted to chat too, but I pretty much gave him his items then hustled him out the door.

4. When you find a good one - give 'em all they can carry. Some of the freecycle-ers were great! They followed directions, picked their things up on time and thanked me, and then left. They were awesome! These folks I loaded down - not only with what they originally wanted, but they were the ones I emailed later with a "Hey, I also found this... could you use it?" One of my favorites was a gal who was opening her own law office with four of her fellow recent grads. I hooked her up - she said it was like Christmas! That's me... helping the Michigan economy 1 box of legal sized green hanging folders at a time.

5. Freecycle helps everyone - even though the week was rather hectic, I feel really good about it. Not only did I keep a lot of stuff out of the landfill, I also managed to unload things we would have had to pay to get rid off. We had hundreds of pounds of broken and/or unusable (by us) computer, printing and fax equipment. To have that picked up and recycled would cost us about $.12 a pound. Thanks to Freecyclers - especially the local Steelworker's Union who took 3 broker Phaser printers (at 100 lb+ each), 3 broken fax machines (65 lbs each) and all the supplies we had for each (thanks guys!) I saved the office quite a bit of money. I like that a lot.

Photo by: fatmandy
via flickr

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