“Free” category on Craigslist to be renamed “Haul away my old, bulky, broken crap for free.”

I used to love the “free” button on Craigslist. There were some killer giveaways on there, including things like antique movie projectors, great toys for the kids, ornaments, lamps and so on. But these days, at least on the Denver Craigslist, the free category seems to have been taken over by some rather blatant attempts to convince someone (anyone) to do an unpleasant job for free.

Look on the free category on Craigslist - Denver and you will be hit by a huge amount of the following, in various incarnations:

Old couches and sofas in really poor condition
Firewood (which comes in numerous forms)
Scrap metal (anything broken and made of metal)
Broken TVs
Broken or really outdated appliances
Landscaping rock
Old decks
Concrete chunks
Nasty old beds and mattresses
Old children’s backyard swingsets/playsets

old sofa

Scrap wood

Scrap metal

broken TV

I’ve posted a few pictures to give you an idea of what I’m talking about. I mean, this stuff is in pretty bad shape for even the most optimistic fixer-upper. Now, I’m not saying there isn’t a use for this sort of stuff, but maybe there should be a separate section on CL called “old junk” or “garbage” because to be honest, that’s what most of this is.

The free section used to be a place where genuinely useful objects with value were given away by people who no longer had a use for them, but didn’t want to just throw them away or be hassled with trying to sell them for a few bucks. Now though, the “free” section is quickly filling up with other people’s junk. Junk that they want you to dismantle and haul away, so they add words like “useful for a DIY project” or “firewood” when it is, in fact, just a bunch of junk. "A rose by any other name..." comes to mind.

What’s the reason for this rise in worthless junk appearing on Craigslist in such numbers? In my opinion, it’s the economy. Or rather, the poor economy and rocketing gas prices. Most refuse collectors won’t take a lot of this stuff, it has to be disposed of in a different way, under your own steam. Or rather, gasoline. And that takes cash that people just don’t have, or want, to spend.

There’s an old phrase that says if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Well in this case, if you’re convinced that someone else will have a use for something, even if it’s just garbage, then maybe posting it on CL will attract a willing person to come and haul it away.

I’ll still be checking the ‘list’ for useful free stuff, but to be honest it’s been many months since I’ve seen anything remotely cool. I know I can already here some people saying "well what do you expect, it's free!" But you know what else is free? My old toenail clippings, that empty carton of orange juice and that old notebook I used with most of the pages ripped out. The question is not one of free, but of usefulness. Maybe I'm mistaken, and there is a huge demand for wrecked sofas and broken console TVs. Anyone? Bueller? Bueller? If there isn't, maybe people should stop posting their old junk as a freebie. Just a thought.

And as an aside, if anyone finds something genuinely fantastic in the free section, let us all know. I’d love to see what people are giving away around the country.

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Linsey Knerl's picture

We love the free section of Craigslist near where we live.  We have gotten landscape rock by the truckload (which usually sells for $4-5 a bag), repairable washers and dryers (which can be fixed for under $25 and donated to the needy), brand new bathroom fixtures (with only nick or unnoticeable ding) and some other stuff my husband may not have told me about yet.  (LOL)

You have to be picky about what you pick up, and making one trip for multiple items is ideal.  You also want to only be getting stuff you can really use or need anyway.  We have found that often when you are there getting one thing for "free" the giver may have a few other things of use that they'll throw in.

We have met a lot of great people this way.  That being said, there is also a lot of crap that you couldn't pay us to haul away.  But it's no worse than digging through overpriced junk at the Goodwill to get that gem.  And it's totally free!

Cool article! 

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About 2 years ago someone posted a child's outdoor plastic playhouse for free on Craigslist. Since I lived only 2 blocks away I went to check it out, and discovered that it was in brand new condition (with the exception that it was missing the play portable phone). This was a $185 playhouse, they said that they bought it only a few months ago but that they had to have it gone before they moved. Since I lived so close they even offered to put the house in their pickup and drive it over to my home for me (I would have had to grab a friend and carried it otherwise). Over the years I have found some really good things on CL (for free, or really cheap) but this was by far my best find.

Guest's picture

I got a working fax machine. The business got a printer with Fax option and was getting rid of the one I got. It was perfect for my light use and it was only a block away! I was able to walk and pick it up, thus no carbon used. :-)


Guest's picture

I had some really nasty old air conditioners that I replaced. They didn't even work, and they were about thirty years old. I had thrown them in the yard and was dreading the day I had to deal with loading them on a truck to go to the (expensive) dump.

A couple of days ago, a guy knocked on my door and asked if he could have them. Of course, I gladly let him haul them away. Turns out they have copper wiring in them that can be sold. You never know...

Guest's picture

In our city we are allowed two free bulk pick-ups per year which is about a pickup load of your junk hauled away by the city for free. We would call, set the stuff out the night before and in the a.m. it would be gone - and the city would have nothing to take away - and it would be too late to cancel the "free" pick-up. Seems people just come by and take it if it is sitting there at the curb. Needless to say, now whenever we have anything to get rid of, we just set it out at the curb and within a day or less, it disappears. No calling, no advertising and needing to go to a dump.

Guest's picture

The local freecycle mailing list is the same way. There used to be some really good stuff on it, now it's broken this and 1/2 used packages of that.

Guest's picture

I just read about a woman who was down and out when she suddenly became a single mother of very young children after a divorce. She had no education, no skills, and had no idea what she was going to do to support herself and her kids. Then, she saw a man in the neighborhood going around picking up scraps of metal and hauling them away in his truck. She thought to herself, "I could do that." That's how she started her now multi-million dollar, 200-employee business! I also read that you can always tell how tough economic times are getting when manholes start to go missing. Again, it's the metal. Apparently, very valuable.

Thanks for the fun post!

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Who are you to say what nobody will want?

I gave away a broken TV to an eager Freecycler whose teenage son was taking an electronics class in high school. They were going to see if they could fix it as a class project.

Gardeners building raised beds will go ga-ga for free clean dirt, scrap lumber ("old decks") and/or landscaping rocks.

People going to Burning Man are often looking for ratty old couches to bring along so they don't end up ruining a perfectly good one.

People going camping are often looking for firewood. Some people even still keep their homes warm with it.

If I were filling something with concrete, I would certainly be interested in concrete chunks to take up some of the volume so I wouldn't have to use as much new concrete.

Our landfills are full enough. I think it's admirable to try to find a new life for things that may at first seem to be worthless. You never know what "crap" will be just what someone is looking for.

Guest's picture

First I try to sell just to see if I can get some return on the item, but if not, I then try to give it away on CL. We got rid of our old couch and loveseat that way, as well as mattresses and an old but working TV (almost all of these were also bought on CL or hand-me-downs. Yay college!). I always try to stipulate that they needed to pick it up and carry it out of my apartment themselves, though oftentimes I help out anyway.

Oftentimes the stuff being given away is snapped up too fast or not worth the gas to pick up, but it's certainly on the whole worth trying to see if anyone could have any use for it (even if it's just to be a prop in a local play or movie). Recycling goes a long way towards keeping waste and pollution down, so why not see if you can prevent someone from having to waste money and buy something new?

Guest's picture

Here's my free story. When my husband and I moved into our house, there was dryer in basement that tumbled but didn't heat up. We posted it on CL and it was taken by a guy whose father has alzheimers. The father was always a "fixer". He still remembers how to fix things (or figures can still figure it out). So they pick up broken stuff for him to fix. It fills his days and he doesn't wander off and get lost as much now.

Guest's picture

My hometown in Ohio is very small and rural. Our trash pickup allows "one large item" per week or something and so we tend to put things we no longer need out at the end of our long driveway to be picked up.

However, other people come and pick the items up before the trash service ever gets there! It's kind of an inside joke now that we time how long it takes for items to "disappear" from the end of our driveway.... the fastest has been 2 hours! Our home is on a pretty main road so I think that's part of the reason it works out so well.

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I just think the author is just ignorant to the uses of some of this stuff. When my sister got married and was moving out, she had me and my brother grab these two old beat-up couches from a neighbor's trash. Her in-laws own an upholstery shop and they fixed up those couches to pretty much brand new condition for free. Seeing it on craigslist, one might assume it was just "junk" or "garbage" because they were pretty bad looking, but to you never know what connections or situations there are where someone might want it. Deeming something "useful" is a value judgment, and as many people have commented so far, a lot of that stuff it very useful to other people.

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Guest T

I absolutely agree !!:-)

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My husband checks C/L almost daily, because DIYers often end up with leftovers after doing a project, and will give it away. He gathered enough free cinderblocks to save quite a bit of money on a foundation he had to build. We are in the building business, and when we have leftovers that we can't use, we also offer them on Freecycle or bring them to the Habitat Restore. Also, whenever we put anything of any kind of metal out for bulk trash pickup, it gets picked up anonymously, before the truck comes around. I feel like we're probably missing an opportunity........

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And have for years.
I've seen everything from a box of macaroni to working cars and even a several-ton bridge given away.
I myself have given away working computers, non-working computers, aquariums, plants, an almost new crib in perfect condition, quilts, a massive waterbed frame, clothes, brand-news shoes, and too much else to count.
There is a guy on the list that looks for broken electronics; he scraps the metals and sells them. He keeps all sorts of bad stuff out of the landfill.
There is another guy who takes any piece of electronics, working or not. Working computers are spruced up and donated to students who need them. Non-working are fixed and donated or the valuable parts/materials are extracted and sold for parts to fix fixable machines.

So one person's trash is another person's treasure, as the saying goes.

Also: today on my local Craigslist's free section: a perfectly nice home gym, several working TVs, dirt, rocks, 2 chests of drawers, a loveseat in good shape, and so on.

Xin Lu's picture
Xin Lu

The picture with the bag of ropes and sharp objects looks like it would be great for a budding vampire slayer. 

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Okay, that just made me LOL, literally!

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I completely disagree that the Free Stuff category in Craig's List is useless... Like many other commenters have pointed out, you just never know what will be useful to someone. I also agree with the other commenter that we should all be more mindful of trying to avoid filling up our landfills with more junk if items can be re-purposed.

When I moved into my new house, I inherited a bunch of really old, battered furniture from the previous owner. It was so dilapidated my first thought was to take it straight to the dump. But my aunt just so happens to be incredibly talented when it comes to fixing up and reupholstering old furniture... She took an old footstool that looked like it had been in a fire and completely transformed it into a beautiful piece of furniture for just a few dollars worth of fabric and batting. A lot of times furniture still has "good bones," and there are plenty of talented people just like my aunt who really CAN use the stuff people give away for free on CL.

The author's main gripe seems to be that he's having to spend more time digging through what he considers to be worthless CL postings. Well I say, good! More free stuff for the rest of us! ;-)

Guest's picture

I agree with the author - there's too much junk on Craig's List. Every once in a while there is something useful, but it's mostly crap. Today's listing where I live:

dresser missing bottom drawer
toddler bike missing back wheels
large above ground pool - you must disassemble and haul away - sorry, does not include pumps or liner
5 ft x 3 ft mirror
CD towers (no pictures - wonder why?)

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I usually enjoy Wise Bread's blog, but this post REALLY rubbed me the wrong way. First of all, I won't even delve into the whole issue of "who are you to judge what's junk" because many posters above have already done it far more eloquently than I could have in my currently irritated state. As people have pointed out, you never know what someone can use, and if it gives the item a chance to stay out of a landfill, isn't it worth a try? My city is very liberal on what we can put out at the curb, so when I list something in hopes that someone else can use it, it's not because I want someone to "haul away my old, bulky broken crap for free." In fact, it usually takes MORE EFFORT for me to list the item on CL and answer emails about it than it would for me to slide it a few yards down my driveway to the curb. I go to the extra trouble for the benefit of the environment, not for selfish reasons. Besides, I'm always AMAZED at what people will take for free. To date, I've never had anything not taken, and on the few occasions when I've deemed something not even worth giving away, someone who was picking up something else has spotted it and asked to take it. (The best example was a cheap assemble-it-yourself armoire that was missing the doors, both drawers were broken/missing, it had some gross oily/greasy "gunk" on it from something in the garage that leaked, and it may have even had some moisture rings from wet glasses and such. I wasn't going to list it and I was amazed that someone asked for it but happy it was saved from a landfill). So after that I just don't even bother trying to guess or make value judgements on an item. Obviously toe nail clippings is a ridiculous example, but most real items have some usefulness to someone, so I say it's worth a try.

The next point I'd like to make is that by complaining about having to sort through listings of what you deem "useless stuff" to get to the "good stuff" you come across as extremely ungrateful. I mean, do you expect to get wonderful things for free and not have to do a little work for it? Before CL and Freecycle, people might have been "dumpster diving" to get these gems. Now that's gross (IMO). So I'd say I'm pretty grateful that all I have to do is read through a bunch of "useless" posts to find some great free items that I can really use. Now MAYBE I could agree with your complaint if people were misrepresenting the condition of the items, but if they're stating it's broken or missing parts, and even posting pictures, then what do you have to complain about? It's not like you're making a wasted trip to go pick it up. Honestly, if my children made a complaint like this, I'd tell them they're acting like spoiled, ungrateful brats and tell them that's not how I raised them.

My final question is, what does this post have to do with "living large on a small budget"? I usually come away from Wisebread posts with some nice thoughts or ideas on how to make the most of my money. The only messages I come away with from this post are, "Don't bother checking CL for free stuff, it's a waste of time" or "If you're going to list stuff on CL, don't list junk".

It sounds to me like this is a personal rant masquerading as a useful blog post. I hope it will be the last one or I'll be unsubscribing. I have no use for people who lack gratitude. No one is forcing you to use CL. Reading this post (and subsequently being so irritated that I had to have a little rant of my own) has been a huge waste of my time and energy. I'm really disappointed.

Guest's picture

I don't think that anything is wrong with the Free section in Craigslist. You can find some really great things. And the saying "One man's trash is another man's treasure" is so true.

BUT, I do think that people need to be extra specific when they post their ads.

Case in point: I needed boxes for moving. I saw an ad that said LOTS of moving boxes. So I drove the half hour to another city, got to the apartment, and the lady had 5 small boxes! And they weren't even broken down!

I was still happy to get them, but geez!

Guest's picture

Yes, one man's trash is another man's treasure, but crap is crap no matter who has it.

You're not getting the point of the post. Instead of people legitimitely trying to help out or keep things from the landfill, they are posting on CL in hopes someone will take trash off their hands.

The "Free Firewood" section always gets me. It comes in two forms

1. construction or remodeling junk that people can't get rid of, like picture 2 in the post. It is expensive to take that stuff to the landfill, and my city expressly prohibits you from placing "construction lumber or products" in the trash and will not pick it up. So people are trying to unload this any way they can, and of course they are trying to get rid of it through CL or freecycle. Construction lumber is almost always pine or fir, which burns very quickly and is not a good choice for firewood. The paint gives off toxic fumes when burned and there will also be LOTS of nails left over after the fire. Not a good thing for feet or the environment.

2. trees that you have to cut down and haul away. What happens here is people get an estimate from a tree service and don't want to pay that much, so they are trying to sucker someone into doing it for free. The last one I read said "must be insured and know what you are doing". Hmm, if you're that concerned you better hire a tree service.

This is just one example - I think you are being way too cavalier if you think there's no such thing as junk, even if it is for free.

Guest's picture

(Quote): "Yes, one man's trash is another man's treasure, but crap is crap no matter who has it." (end quote)

Huh? (scratching head). I always thought crap and trash could pretty much be used interchangeably, and according to the American Heritage Dictionary definitions 4 and 5, crap is "Cheap or shoddy material. Miscellaneous or disorganized items; clutter."

And I think we've already established that opinions on what constitures cheap and clutter vary from person to person.

So since "one man's trash is another man's treasure" is just a pleasant way of saying "one man's crap is another man's gold mine" I'm not really sure what point the guest is trying to make with that quote.

In a nutshell, sounds like he's saying, "Sure, one man's trash is another man's treasure, but trash is trash no matter who has it." Unless of course he's talking about crap in the traditional sense, but I really can't see anyone digging that out of the toilet and posting it online. (Well, who knows, maybe if it belongs to someone famous...you never know what crazy things people will do...)

Guest's picture

...you said "I have no use for people who lack gratitude. No one is forcing you to use CL."

And who exactly forces you to A: Read Wisebread, and B: Rant for 5 minutes?

Seems like this is a pot and kettle situation to me.

Guest's picture

I agree with commenters that you just never know. It depends who you are and what you do.

Broken furniture or appliances with parts missing can be made into other furniture items, art, planters, etc. My family had one of those wood console TVs - with the TV taken out - when I was a kid. The old TV part had to be disposed of, but the wood made a really cool toy box. We kept board games in it.

People take old dressers, bookshelves, or entertainment units that are partly broken or missing drawers or shelves and make them into display cases for your beer stein collection, a play kitchen for kids, puppet theater, liquor cabinet, etc. I bet some smarty enviro types could make a broken washing machine into a giant solar oven. Heck *I* could, if I wanted to!

And since you brought it up, cut orange juice cartons make some of the best free seed starter trays for the frugal gardener.

Repurposing stuff just takes a little creativity, imagination, and the willingness to use a little elbow grease.

Maybe you don't want any of that stuff, but you just never know.

Guest's picture
Janice Muller

We have a new Chaplain at our race horse track at Arapahoe Race Track in Aurora, Colorado.
We desperately need a trailer (5th wheel or bumper pull) to park at the race track beside our chapel for him to live in during the race meet. Our race meet will be over Aug.9, 2009. Our chaplaincy council has no money at this time to buy or rent a trailer. We are hoping God will lay the desire upon someone's heart to help us out. We have an older single wide mobile home that has been renovated as our chapel. There is a small room and bathroom he has been staying in, which has not been sufficient for him. Please can anyone help us? Thank you...
God Bless You,