Smile Politely

The Freecycle Network

As Mica Swyers pointed out the other day it’s moving time. There are lots of new people in town. And lots of others, ex-dorm residents, are experiencing homemaking for the first time. For you newbs who’ve just stepped off the boat, congratulations on finding Smile Politely already. You’re on your way.

Although it seems as if you’ve left civilization and landed in the sticks, we actually have a higher level of urbane sophistication here, what with the average I.Q. skewed ungodly upwards. (Emphasis on the “ungodly.”) We even have our own page on Craigslist. That is so city.

If you’re hoping to furnish your new digs on the cheap, Craigslist will help. But there’s really no reason to pay any money for stuff, as long as you don’t mind a few scuff marks. The Freecycle community continually churns out just about each item you’d expect to find in a household. There’s no cost to join. And the only catch is that the earliest bird catches the juiciest worms: You must constantly monitor the incoming messages if you want to get the best stuff. Because you are Generation Facebook, you’ll hardly notice.

Champaign-Urbana’s Freecycle is one of hundreds around the country. The Freecycle movement began with a single goal: to keep useful stuff out of the landfill.

New York University is famous among dumpster-diving New Yorkers. Freegans have learned that rich kids would rather buy new stuff every year or so, rather than burden themselves with lifting it, or moving it. In Illinois, Sheridan Road carries a certain cachet among second-hand hopefuls. Champaign-Urbana finds fewer designer clothes, rare art and collectible furniture left along its curbs. But there’s a ton (probably a few hundred tons) of useful stuff.

For example, you should never have to buy a teevee set, an end table, or a computer monitor. If you’re satisfied with CRT and charmingly outdated styles, it’s out there — literally at this moment. Just sitting in the parkway of a hundred apartment buildings and rental houses. So is your new old Weber grill, and an incomplete dinette set.

You can find all these things by cycling through town. (You also get exercise, and familiarize yourself with the area. You might find there’s a nearby Asian grocery you’d never known about. Or a branch of the local library. Or a cute little park with a jungle gym.)

But if you’re looking for something specific, or if you’re looking to unload, stay right here. Online is the place to be.


Freecycle works really well — if you use it correctly.

Each message should tell Which, What & Where in its subject heading. That is, by reading just the title of a posted email, you should be able to figuring out which kind of transaction (offering free stuff, or seeking free stuff) involving what kind of items (couch, television, kitchen sink) and where specifically (southwest Champaign, campus area or Paxton) the item is sought/waiting for you.

Lots of people get it wrong, though. Instead of OFFER: blue couch in Savoy, some people just write “couch” or “offer.”

Users skip these messages. Regular freecyclers find them annoying. Freecycle gets hundreds of postings per week, and one has only so much free time to open random postings, hoping to find that tennis racket, loudspeaker, set of matching tea cups and saucers, 5 person tent, inner tube, 17 boxes of wooden-stick matches, about a half gallon of yellow interior latex paint, Slazenger® golf balls, neckties from the 1950’s, a tea cozy with a quilted emblem of a chicken.

If you don’t tell them what it is and where it is, your item will continue to sit on your porch, or in front of your house, growing mold.

And if you are the one who needs it, you’ll be smart enough to ask very specifically for the thing you need. Right?

Well, I hope so. But experience tells me that a lot of people post “ISO” and “Needed in Champaign” hoping the world will beat a path to their door, begging to know what they want.


For well-thought out reasons, there are some things you can’t do on Freecycle. They stay away from politics and religion. You can’t move animals. And it’s not a place for the needy to beg for things. The movement makes a specific point about this: Its purpose is not charity, it’s to keep stuff out of the landfill.

Freecycle is a monitored listserv. For the most part, that’s good. But there have been occasions over the years when the moderators played favorites, were overcautious, and maybe got involved just so they could have authority over someone. In this sense, Freecycle is also a great soap opera.

It comes as a daily digest, or individual emails. The digest will stop your inbox from filling on a daily basis. Here’s a list of what was available just recently.

Have fun!

Messages In This Digest (25 Messages)

4.OFFER: Dog House – Champaign From: sidneylucente
5a.Wanted: Yarn From: Faith
6.ISO dishwasher racks From: altstann
8.Small carpet scraps From: julie_lynne_61854
10.INO APA writing style book From: ozisnice
11.WANTED- Crib Mattress From: gin198809
13.OFFER: twin bedroom set From: londonblutopaz70
16.ISO: Small white vanity. From: kestrelhengist
21.Offer: Champaign From: allieshepko
22.PROMISED – Twin bedroom set From: londonblutopaz70


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