© 2023 St. Louis Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Sign of the times: There's FREE stuff at the curb

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Aug. 6, 2009 - CURB ALERT! There's a microfiber loveseat for the taking on Farview Avenue in St. Ann. It's structurally sound and needs a deep cleaning, but it's FREE. Come and get it!

It's a weekday morning, and we're scouting the "Free" section of the St. Louis edition of craigslist. Since dawn, the items have been trickling in, posted by owners motivated to keep yesterday's treasures out of the landfill tomorrow. Surely, someone can use five cans of leftover paint in blue, red, green and yellow.

THIS JUST IN! A black and "orangy-tan" marble chess set in Webster Groves with 10 marble checkers but no chess pieces.

"I thought of inserting a clock motor in the middle and using the checkers for the hours, but I'll never actually do that," wrote the very honest owner. "Maybe you will, or you'll do something better. Maybe you'll just smash it in your driveway. I don't care; just get it."

Hey, who out there can use a set of Encyclopedia Americana, missing volumes 2 and 19? Yours for the hauling in St. Charles.

Or, a bathroom mirror, 36 by 48 inches, available in O'Fallon, Mo.

Moving? There are sturdy used boxes on the curb in the Central West End and Mascoutah.

Take one, take all ... before the trash man cometh.

Take It. Please.

From used furniture and computer equipment to clothing and children's toys, watching the "free" list on any given day is a little like Forrest Gump's box of chocolates: You never know what you're gonna get.

Lightly used grey carpet.

Two headlights from an '01 Grand Am.

Or, 200 cans of food, all expired, with this explanation: "If someone wants to take the time to empty them to recycle the cans. I feel sick about having to throw them away. My grandma was hoarding food ..."

A business in St. Ann would like to give you apple cores, orange peels and banana peels for composting on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. (Someone already nabbed Wednesdays.)

Yes, we know that one man's junk is another man's treasure - particularly, if he'll haul it away.

That's what motivated Bill Meyers of Ballwin to offer up a stack of firewood that's been sitting "out back" for three years. Meyers is a newbie to craigslist - a friend introduced him to the website - and he sees its merits.

"I don't use my fireplace any longer and rather than me throwing the wood away someone can use it," he said. "And I don't have to lift a finger. It's win-win on both sides."

Some posters happily acknowledge that you will be doing them a big favor to take an item off their hands, as in this note about the back seat of a van: "You remove it from the van, and it's yours. It's bolted and screwed down so please be a person that knows what you're doing and thank you. It's like blue velvet material."

Going, Going, Gone ...

Michelle Greenlaw of South County got more than 30 calls within 15 minutes of posting a children's outdoor playhouse on the free list Wednesday morning. The lucky winner called within five minutes, and Greenlaw scrambled to remove the listing so others wouldn't be disappointed.

"It's an amazing experience," said Greenlaw.

Within a half-hour of that first call, a mother of five arrived at Greenlaw's house to cart off the playhouse that she got used several years ago.

"She said she had no outdoor play equipment," Greenlaw said. "It feels good to know that something you can no longer use is being recycled. I just hate to throw things away."

Greenlaw said she used the "free list" for the first time this past weekend to get rid of unwanted items as she readies her home for sale. She said she has friends who use craigslist all of the time.

"My neighbor said, 'Don't ever throw anything away. There is always someone out there who can use it,' " Greenlaw said.

Some "free listers" don't mess around, leaving terse, explicit instructions: Don't call me. Don't email me. It's in the driveway if you want it.

Others, like Christina Brown, 29, of St. Louis, take a cheerier approach.

"Hi everyone! I have a couch and loveseat that I am giving to the first person who picks it up,'' she wrote. "Sorry, no pics because my computer is acting up, but the set is only about 1 years old. I bought it from rothman furniture (sic), and I have three little kids, so it is kind of stained up. It will need a good cleaning, or maybe some slipcovers. It is dark brown, and microfiber material. ... The only reason why I am giving it away is because I am getting a new one tomorrow, so I need it gone ASAP."

Brown, who said she checks craigslist daily, not only watches the free offerings, but also looks to purchase items, including gently used clothing for her children, ages 2, 5, 7.

"It reminds me of one big garage sale on the Internet," Brown said.

She was pleased that her couch and loveseat found a worthy taker - a young woman expecting a baby who is moving into her first house.

But Brown still has a coffee table: Free. Needs refinishing.

Recycling and the Economy

Greenlaw believes the popularity of the "free list" - and craigslist, in general -- is driven by a combination of factors: environmental awareness, the recession and online social networking.

"Part of it is that people are so busy, this is a way to connect," Greenlaw said.

Unlike newspaper classifieds or some online services, it doesn't cost anything to post on craigslist. There are some websites devoted to recycling, such as www.freecycle.org , that are free but require people to join the sites.

Deborah Sivia of Bethalto said she used to frequent eBay to buy and sell items but has shifted to craigslist, partly because of its regional focus; she can connect with people in the St. Louis geographic area.

Sivia had one of the more interesting items in the free column: She wants to cut down your live spruce tree.

"I am insured and will cut down your spruce tree for FREE!" she wrote. "Yes, call me or email me and give me the information. I will need this tree in the middle of November. I will cut it down, remove the branches, trunk and clean the area. I make grave blankets for my family."

So far, the posting had netted one phone call: from a man whose tree was already dead. But Sivia remains hopeful because she and her husband usually have no trouble finding someone each fall who will let them cut down a misshapen or overgrown tree.

Sivia said she only considers checking out items on the "free list" if they include photographs because some people really do have worthless junk they are trying to get hauled off for free. She is a fan of the concept because she hates waste.

"There's always somebody who doesn't have as much as you have. There's always somebody with less," she said.

Sivia said she has noticed signs of the economic downturn in the posts, including those from people who can no longer use all of their furniture because they are downsizing from houses or larger apartments into smaller residences.

"They don't have the room they used to have," she said.

Some posters cite the economy, as in this offer from Troy, Ill., of a free coupon for one adult and one children's ticket to Six Flags: "Would like to give to two different people during these crazy economic times. Will be out this evening but will let the chosen folks know tomorrow a.m. Thanks and happy Six Flagging."

That said, some of the postings seem just a bit out there. Like one offering free "used" bottles of lotion in Imperial.

"See attached picture," suggested the writer. "Used lotion (all over half full except for the Merry Cranberry, which is half full.) All in good condition, I just can't ever use it all!!"

Oh, and the taker must pick up -- no deliveries.

Mary Delach Leonard is a veteran journalist who joined the St. Louis Beacon staff in April 2008 after a 17-year career at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, where she was a reporter and an editor in the features section. Her work has been cited for awards by the Missouri Associated Press Managing Editors, the Missouri Press Association and the Illinois Press Association. In 2010, the Bar Association of Metropolitan St. Louis honored her with a Spirit of Justice Award in recognition of her work on the housing crisis. Leonard began her newspaper career at the Belleville News-Democrat after earning a degree in mass communications from Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville, where she now serves as an adjunct faculty member. She is partial to pomeranians and Cardinals.