There comes a point in the life of every young woman when the urge for a full-length, full stretch, warts-and-all mirror of your very own becomes overwhelming. I’d survived without one for years; perching precariously on laundry baskets or gazing into darkened windows in an attempt to assess my outfit from top to toe – but with my 22nd birthday just over the horizon, it dawned on me that now might be time to Grow Up.
Unfortunately, this epiphany did not entail money – a shiny new designer mirror was no more within my financial grasp than it ever was – but I was sure a little foraging in the name of Freeline would turn up something sufficiently reflective sooner or later.
Cue Freecycle – the website where people who don’t want their old stuff give it to people who do, and Freeline’s new best friend. I’d read loads about it of course, and I’d even gone so far as to sign myself up – but I’d yet to join a group, offer some stuff and actually get involved. Yet with the mirror situation now getting dire (I’d fallen off the laundry basket three times last week trying to see if my heels matched my skirt) I decided it was time to jump on the bargain wagon.
Joining a group seems easy at first. A quick search revealed groups in Croydon, Lewisham, Tower Hamlets and Hackney, and a large ‘Join this Group’ button appeared with each one. I clicked. Within minutes an email from Yahoo groups arrived asking me to confirm my request to join by hitting ‘Reply’. I clicked.
Yet as with so many things online, the devil was in the detail. Each Yahoo Group has a moderator who accepts or rejects people and manages membership. By simply sending a blank email as confirmation of my request, I’d neglected to give the moderators personal details as to where I lived and who I was, nor had I shown any knowledge of the ‘Freecycle etiquette’.
The ‘Etiquette’ rules themselves are straightforward, and could probably be summed up in a matter of two words; Be Nice. But unless you prove in your reply email that you have read and acknowledged this rather basic requirement, it is the unenviable duty of the local group moderator to reject you and everything you stand for in the Freecycle world.
‘You failed to answer the four questions we sent you in a separate email’ spake the freecycling moderators of Hackney, Tower Hamlets and Lewisham – although the email with the questions had never been received.
‘You displayed a lack of understanding of the Freecycle ethos, ie you seem to think we are a ‘freebie site’ from which you are entitled to furnish your home for free!’ I was sure that wasn’t really fair, but ‘for the same reason we reject applications from people who are members of groups some distance from where they live because in our experience people who join several groups usually in areas perceived to be affluent are looking for rich pickings. We also do not wish to encourage travelling by car with its effect upon your carbon footprints’.
Lastly, but by no means least insultingly, they postulated that I may be ‘a known spammer/scammer’. If only I was, I thought. I might have found the system a little easier to operate.
With freebies of three of the four East London Line boroughs now officially off limits, I turned to Croydon. They hadn’t rejected me – they didn’t seem to care that I hadn’t read the rule book – and it was only a matter of minutes before the first ‘offering’ arrived in my inbox.
‘I am offering a black JVC hifi. It has a turntable (the lid is badly cracked), double tape deck, radio and output for cd player (cd player not included). Maybe good for parts. Please note ; this needs a plug and doesn’t come with speakers’
I thought daisycupcake was pushing her luck somewhat with a broken music player that was missing plug and speakers, but just as I was contemplating whether I could make use of a turntable, more emails came whooshing in.
‘WANTED: seed trays’ ‘WANTED: stilletos’, ‘TAKEN: JVC Hi Fi’ (who took that I wonder? ‘OFFERED: tropical fish’ and so on throughout half a dozen emails, each of them seeking an answer and pick-up within a matter of days.
Four hours, seventy emails and several shouts of exasperation later, I was still mirrorless. The endless pinging of emails was driving me to distraction, and my efforts to change the email address on my Freecycle account to one I used less frequently were proving futile.
Freecycle recognized my change of address; Croydon Freecycle didn’t. The Unsubscribe emails were bouncing, the group page on Yahoo could only be accessed if you had a Yahoo account (I don’t) and the group moderator, though understanding when I emailed her explaining that I was getting ten emails an hour to my work address, was as bemused as I was as to why it wasn’t being changed.
What’s more, to add insult to mounting fury, the mirror I was seeking had been and gone; snapped up whilst I ploughed through the hundred other emails from Croydon Freecycle to find the one that told me how I could leave.
The nightmare continued for five days. No other mirrors came up – though plenty of sofa beds – and in the end the only thing that stopped me from writing an Angry Letter to the Freecycle HQ was the sterling efforts of the Croydon moderator, who worked out how to adjust my settings so I only received emails of administrative importance.
I’m still a member – and I’m still looking for a mirror. I’m told by people who have freerecycled successfully that it’s a really positive experience, and I’m not ruling it out. But with 200 old freecycle emails still gathering dust in my Trash box, I’m wary of using it on a regular basis. One man’s trash is not every man’s treasure.
When you sign up, don’t use your work address. Have an email address you specifically use for chain mail, and use that.
When you email your confirmation to join a group, say something about yourself; where you live, what you do and why you’re in Freecycle. Say you’re out for freebies, you’ll get rejected. Say you’ve not much to offer, you’ll get rejected. Say nothing, you’ll get rejected.
Make sure you sign up to your most local group – the idea is to minimize your carbon footprint, not increase it by travelling miles to pick up a free sofa.
If you can, offer something first before you send out a request – and, when you do put a bid in for someone’s stuff, make sure you work out how to transport it first. If its going to cost you a hundred quid to hire a van, drive to the other end of the borough just to pick up a fourth hand carpet, you might as well buy new.