Hey you, do you want a canvas cupboard in the shape of a TARDIS? ‘Cos if you swing by my house later on you can have it for nowt. No? How about household furniture, white goods, gardening equipment, boxes of DVDs… you name it.

And you – what about finding someone to take that old toaster, PC monitor and bag of outgrown babies’ clothes off your hands? The old chest freezer, still in working order but surplus to requirement, it will cost a bundle to dispose of it properly and it’s too big even for your mate’s big Volvo estate. Surely someone, somewhere would make use of it…

Imagine if there was on online marketplace where you could dispose of your old stuff and know it would go to a good home. Or acquire stuff you need – for free. Well, imagine no more. Freecycle has been around for ages, but the advent of a double-dip recession and tightened purses has thrown these online goods exchanges into sharp relief.

In the age of acquisition people are having to re-adapt to not simply buying something brand new if they have need of it. Of course there are house clearances, Ebay and charity shops but if your funds are low and you’re not fussy you can find something you may desperately need for nothing. What’s more you’re doing someone and the environment – a favour to boot.

It’s a very good idea, especially when you see the stuff that’s being dispensed with at Liverpool’s rubbish tips – the electrical goods and the stuff deemed too unwieldy or niche by charity shops is reduced to almost junk status.

As a society we still haven’t really got to grips with how to get rid of things we don’t want or need any more without either binning them or taking them to a charity shop.

Well, we say society. Obviously Liverpool society has, because we’ve got Bulky Bob’s – an outfit that picks up unwanted furniture, gives it a refurb and sells it in an outlet on London Road to low-income families. Smart.

But beyond the boundaries of Liverpool there aren’t necessarily similar schemes. So, big society that we are, we had the the bright idea of recycling our stuff to people who did want it. Using the internet, natch.

I’ve used Freecycle for a few bits and bobs, both ‘wanting’ and ‘offering’. I suspect if you weren’t too picky, had time to spare and a bit of nous you could fit out an entire house for the cost of driving over to the house in question and taking receipt of your latest acquisition.

Needless to say, there’s scope for misuse with schemes like this. Freecycle currently has a big red warning sign at the top of the sign warning against people requesting scrap metal. A sign of the times if ever there was one.

But Freecycle is also great, not just for getting free stuff, but for disposing of the things you’ve outgrown or don’t have space for. And without the guilt of simply chucking perfectly useful and useable stuff in the bin.

There is another use, though. Through the various wants and offers on the Liverpool group you can build up a curious portrait of the people who use it (and scavenge some unlikely delights).

In the same way that I might browse AutoTrader to find curios and weigh up whether I can afford a Porsche 944, I often browse the Liverpool Freecycle group, just to see what’s out there; just to see what’s being offered and what’s being desired. It’s like people watching through the medium of people’s junk, leftovers, bric-a-brac or hand-me-downs. Or the wish lists of people you’ll never meet; never know.

Currently on Freecycle, VHS tapes are big. Boxes of the things are offered by the, er, boxfull. VHS is literally without value these tapes; too charmless to be nurtured and cherished in the way vinyl is, too bulky to be chucked back into a drawer and forgotten about like C90 cassette tapes with their mysterious content (late-80s top 40? Evening session live performance? Early Mark and Lard show? Bootlegged gig? – every one’s a box of delights). Even charity shops don’t want VHS, which is a pity because there’s some enormously unlikely stuff on VHS that never made it to DVD.

Rather hopefully boxes of ‘bric-a-brac’ are listed too – surely another way of saying ‘junk’? This too is beyond even where charity shops fear to tread; the growing discernment of an Oxfam or Barnado’s testament to an age where people acquire crap they don’t want and just as quickly discard it.

Rubble, oddly, is fairly popular too in terms of being offered out. Bricks, hardcore, sand, flags – if you suddenly need to lay a drive over your front garden you’re in luck.

What’s that? You’re an outdoor type? Well how about 14 bags of garden soil? Only if you’re the less fair sex, though: “Would need a man to collect as fairly heavy. No time wasters please.”

An intriguing proposition, the Freecycle garden soil timewaster. Would he turn up, kick the bags a bit, exhale through his teeth and attempt to talk down the quality of the soil in search of an even better deal? We’ll never know.

Some items recur again and again. Cots and various baby paraphernalia, for obvious reasons. A4 folders seem very popular currently. And interior doors. We blame Llewellyn-Bowen.

Kerry seems to have made a mistake. In the ‘offered’ section is the eye-raising “Stolen items from house” listing. Closer inspection indicates that Kerry is trying to locate her stolen car, along with the things in it, which include a black 42-inch Panasonic plasma TV “with sellotape on the left hand corner that won’t come off”. Good luck Kerry.

What, then, of the offerers? What can we glean about Mike, who seems to be making most of the content of his home available? Maria is offering an indoor football skills tin, bought for her husband but never used. Lea wants to express her gratitude to Gill “who gave me a filing cabinet i am so happy”. Ah, bless.

Got wood? We have.

There are, it must be said, items it’s hard to imagine anyone wanting. A double mattress that’s “still springy” with only “a few stains”; a sketch of Fernando Torres; “Reverse Osmosis Mixture for fish”; green carpet offcuts; “3 packs of tablets – one unopened” and a shit load of fresh yeast.

Yet there are curious delights. Items that you can imagine someone, somewhere would dearly love. The aforementioned TARDIS Canvas Wardrobe. A gaming chair (imagine a vibrating, noise-emitting chair with ‘gun arms’). And surely someone, somewhere needs the bumper for a purple Mazda MX-5?

And there are strange requests. Maria wants a ‘man bike’. Laura is looking for a set of boules. Strategy board games “ideally from Avalon Hill and Victory Games”. Amanda wants an Orange Wednesday cinema code so she can take her little brother to the flicks. A bow and arrow.

It’s not clear if some people get the point of Freecycle. It’s hard to take seriously people wanting a MacBook or Blackberry for free. Or, for example, a rottweiler that “must be good with kids”.

And there’s a lingering suspicion that some of the hard-luck stories from people asking for ‘anything’ to fill houses or flats are not simply unscrupulous landlords or house clearance businesses trying it on – taking advantage of something set up with the best intentions in mind.

But them’s the breaks with things like this. They are open to abuse but you have to trust people not to ruin it for everyone else. Personally I think Freecycle is a great idea, not because you can get stuff for free, but because it’s a neat evocation of a make-do-and-mend society that you sense we need to get back to before we gobble up our precious resources on shit we don’t actually need.

That’s fairly counter-intuitive in a society and economy that’s predicated on acquisition as a totem of happiness and success. And, given that we’ve been told that there’s “no such thing as society,” it’s nice to see people helping each other out for no other reason than it seeming like a nice thing to do.

I’ll be offering out a collection of flagstones (pictured, top) I inherited when I bought my house next. I was planning to do something with them, but I think someone else would put them to better use.

My most recent Freecycle acquisition is a load of scrap wood, picked up from Pilgrim’s Progress Antiques on Bridgewater Street. They’ve got loads if anyone wants some. It will help keep me warm in the winter – along with a little glow afforded by the knowledge that there is still some good in the world.

You can join the Liverpool Freecycle Group here

  • AE

    I always find it interesting to see what people ‘NEED’ on Freecycle, it’s amazing how many people consider a PS3, macbook or a 42″ plasma TV as an essential item.

  • http://www.sevenstreets.com David Lloyd

    Time and Recycled Dressers in Space?

  • Freecyclist

    I just found another Freecycle garden soil timewaster, or not far off. I listed two large bags of good soil-grown compost as I have made more than I can use. A man replied and arranged to collect it on Sunday, so on Saturday I turned it, shovelled it into bags and put it out, emailed him and left him a voicemail. No response. On Monday I ended up shovelling it all back on the heap again as if left in bags the worms die and go rancid. Didn’t do my arthritis a lot of good and I missed a day’s gardening. Not the first time I have been similarly let down though it’s usually people who say they’ll make arrangements then never do. When Freecycle works it’s great, however timewasters let everyone down.