Thursday, September 12, 2013

Streamlining the Search for Free Materials

One of the best things the Internet has done for modern homesteaders (and the Earth in general) is to facilitate the exchange of materials between the people who have them and the people who want them (rather than the people who have them and the landfills).  This type of materials exchange could be said to be the benevolent twin of peer-to-peer sharing of copyrighted music and movies, in a way.  A specific example on our homestead comes from the fact that building materials always seem to be in especially high demand.  (Almost as high demand as time!)  It turns out that purchasing wood new from the hardware store becomes costly rather quickly, and consequently, that much better deals can be found by exploring what one's neighbors are already looking to discard on Craigslist, Freecycle, or any number of other similar websites.

The challenge is finding good deals or worthwhile free stuff in a timely manner.  The best deals often have a window of availability shorter than an hour, with posters receiving a truly amazing number of responses as soon as the post goes live.  How do so many people find the post so quickly?  Do they spend all their time sitting on Craigslist hitting the refresh button on their search results?  The answer is, "probably not", and to compete with them, you don't have to, either.  In the long run, you will save a lot of searching time by doing the same thing they do: setting up automatic notifications on the items for which you have a chronic need (like lumber) or an acute but not completely urgent need (like a couch).

There are probably many ways to do that (including the RSS button hidden at the bottom of Craigslist search pages), but we recently found one that seems quite robust (thanks to a tip from the comments section here) and we're excited to tell everyone about it.  It's called IFTTT, which stands for, "If This Then That", like a logical statement.  There are actually hundreds of things IFTTT can do for you, but we basically use it to send us an e-mail when a new post fits our search criteria on Craigslist.  It works kind of like this:

The e-mail contains the information in the new posting.  There's also an IFTTT app for i-phones (apparently not for other types), but if you can check e-mail on your phone (i.e. if your phone can handle apps at all), there's really no benefit for the app that we can see.  (Maybe we're missing something--we're definitely not experts on the subject.)

This type of updating is obviously most valuable in highly populated areas with a lot of posting and a high demand for used stuff, but can still save time (and moolah) in more rural locations if projects are planned ahead of time so a 'materials checklist' can be programmed into IFTTT.

This is getting a little off-track, but the channels on IFTTT allow one to become part of his very own Rube Goldberg-like machine.  Consider the following example:

*Assembling hamburgers and juicing oranges have previously been tasks required in the national Rube Goldberg Machine contest.

In any case, we're excited to have found a way to automatically notify us of updates to our most common Craigslist searches, and thought you might be interested, too.

Are there any other ways you automate notifications of good deals on homestead essentials?  How else has the internet helped your homesteading efforts?  Let us know in the comments section below!


  1. I just read this blog post yesterday about how to set up notifications on ebay for used building materials: I agree with you that Craigslist probably has more options, though, at least around here. (Darren lives in Australia.)

    1. That's a good tip. Thanks, Anna! We haven't used ebay as much for local searching, but from Darren's post it sounds like the e-mail notification capability is built into the interface. We'll have to give it a try!

  2. Nice! I spend way too much time on CL trawling for obscure stuff. I am worried that my new IFTTT account could lead to some negative effects though, particularly when I get it configured to update me to the "new releases" on Netflix streaming.

    On a more philosophical note, I do agree completely that this web 2.0 thing (peer-to-peer) has completely changed the game for homesteaders, DIY-types, farmers and other wierdos. It's amazing to think that the knowledge and materials for any whacko enterprise you can dream up are now available all in the palm of your hand.

    1. Indeed. Just imagine if Dr. Frankenstein would have had CL and IFTTT!