When we left our civilized city career lives, we set a goal of spending as little money as we could, rather than focusing on ways to make more money. Toward this end, we remain disconnected from the utility grid, eat mostly our farm-grown food, and save money on toilet paper by using tree bark.
OK, that last part was a lie.
(Although we actually did look into, but reject, mullein leaf TP at one point!)
But generally, wherever we reasonably can, we avoid shopping and stores – rather than make a purchase, we first consider getting by without it, or re-purposing something we already have (which is why a well-stocked “junk pile” is crucial).
We are blessed by our proximity to the Twin Cities, which seems to be one of the more active Craigslist urban areas in the country – and we’ve become pretty effective scavengers on it. As you may know, Craigslist has a “Free” section where people give things away. In many cities, this section is a ghost town populated primarily by unwanted kittens, scams, and people seeking freebies. But not Minneapolis.
If you’ve ever checked it out casually, you probably were not too impressed – lots of old TVs and couches, and if you did find something interesting and tried to make contact, it was already taken by someone else.
Perhaps, someone like us.
The trick to successful Free Craigslisting is vigilance and speed. Anything good will be quickly snatched up, so we check frequently for new posts, and respond to good ones immediately – including our phone number, names, when we can pick up, and maybe even why we want it.
When someone will be getting a ton of responses, you want to stand out from the pack – more than once we’ve been told we were selected from a bunch of emails because we’re an organic farm that wants to use the item – and not a metal scrapper just looking to melt it down for a couple bucks.
More than anything (other than maybe lucky), you need to be flexible – open to using something unexpected, and open to things coming when they come and not when you think they should. (And of course,you need a trailer or a truck to haul the larger items!)
Giving people farm tours at our end-of-season pizza party, I was constantly describing various features as coming to us “free off Craigslist” – which inspired me to try to put a list together, which led to this post.
Here are just some of the many Free Craigslist scores that we rely on at the farm:
- Semi truck (aka the Barn)
One thing we really lacked in the early days was storage space – places to keep things out of the elements. We really lucked out when we found a free semi truck trailer on the list – and then the means to move it out to the farm came up with ridiculous serendipity. Parked on the edge of the field, this has become base to our solar panels and batteries, a storage area for field-related tools and supplies, a shade wall for the packing area, and a trellis for hops.
- Farmers market trailer – born in the 60’s as a pop-up camper, transformed into an ice-fishing shack, and then put up for free adoption on Craigslist- where we found it and brought it home to become our farmers’ market trailer, used to store & haul the canopy, tables, chairs, and miscellany we need for our booth. (Kristin’s dad added a sheet metal wedge to the front to make it more aerodynamic when we found it was like pulling an open parachute down the road).
- Playhouse chicken coop:
it wasn’t easy to get this overbuilt kids’ playhouse down off its stilts and get it back to the farm, but it was worth it in the end – it has made a wonderful chicken coop for our laying hens.
- Rust shack frame – my favorite guest shack on the land is sided in old body panels from 1920s/30s cars, which we originally scavenged simply for their aesthetic and historical appeal, from the ruins of a Depression-era homestead in what’s now state land. When we scored a free “pallet fort” off Craigslist and hauled it home, the panels were reborn as shack siding once more …
- The Albatross (mobile home guest cabins) –
In spring of 2015, the Albatross gave us two guest bedrooms, a bathroom (now with composting toilet and gravity solar shower),and a common area living room and kitchen – quite the upgrade, for only the cost of moving it to the farm (it was tricky to get a mover willing to haul such an antique, but we got lucky).
- The FishHouse ice shack
16×8 feet of insulated, easily-assembled, cozy indoor space for free! This not only has served as WWOOFer housing, but also as our cold weather quarters (also came with a free woodstove), and a controlled environment for sweet potato curing and herb drying.
- 12×18′ Screen Porch – At certain times of day and season, mosquitoes can be a real menace – a free screenporch from someone upgrading their lake cabin’s porch to an all-aluminum version provided us with a much-needed safe haven when the vampires were swarming.
- Fluorescent lighting – back before we built the little greenhouse, we had to start our seedlings indoors, on wire racks under lights – lights which we scored for free from an office that was switching to LEDs.
- Fire bricks and clay – we wanted to build a wood-fired rocket mass heater for the greenhouse, on a low budget. Craigslist graciously provided … first thousands of pounds of pure clay (we have literally no clay soil to use on our land), and then piles of insulative fire bricks!
- Raspberry bushes – hundreds of them! We just had to dig the roots up from the up-pick raspberry farm that was closing down.
- SO MUCH MISCELLANY… such as truck toppers (made into woodshed and chicken coop roofs, furniture, doors, windows, boards, bricks, blocks, hay bales, freezers, ladders, pallets, barrels and several 600 gallon IBC tanks for rainwater storage, water heater tanks, garden carts, two gargantuan 450 lb rolls of paper …… wooden stairs, shelves and cabinets, tons of rocks, hundreds of gallons of potting soil, a propane stove, a giant chalkboard (cut up into signs for the market booth), a clawfoot tub for off-grid hot baths …
… loads of horse and rabbit manure, hundreds of oranges and grapefruits (made into preserves and juice, while WWOOFing down south) …… a DIY wood-fired water heater core, electric oven turned electric smoker (which we turned wood-fired) …
… etc! I’ll amend this post as time goes on, since I have no doubt at all that Craigslist will continue to be a source of many free treasures – things that make our deliberately-low-budget lifestyle not only possible, but fun.