How to start a freeshop

Start a FreeStore in three simple steps !

What’s a FreeStore?
A FreeStore is a shop where all items are free. It’s as simple as that. Everyone is welcome to get stuff or to bring stuff.

FreeStores are fun, but are also seriously committed to building a better world. Do you really need all the things you own? Can’t you occasionally give some stuff away? Things you simply no longer use, for instance.

Give your unused products a second life! Re-using products is better for the environment, but bringing your stuff to a FreeStore also helps people out who can really use the things you no longer need.

The first FreeStore was opened in 1999 in Leiden (The Netherlands). Ten years later, about 30 FreeStores exist in the Netherlands and Germany. All these shops are run by volunteers who are committed to building a better world.

You can help out too! Bring your unused stuff to a FreeStore near you. Check out for the list of FreeStores. Or even better: start your own!

Step 1: Talk about it
You can’t change the world on your own. But you can start with small steps. Talk to others about the idea behind FreeStores. You want people to think about whether it makes sense that everything revolves around money. You hope that people realize that they have a lot of things at home that they don’t really need.

You protect the environment by giving a lot of products a second or third life. And of course it’s good to give things to people who don’t have piles of money. But more important is the philosophy behind the stores: the world is a better place if we share a little.

Our motto is a wisdom of Mahatma Gandhi (1896-1948):

“There is enough for everybody’s need, but not for everyone’s greed.”

You wouldn’t start a FreeStore to keep or resell stuff. If you do, you don’t understand the concept.

FreeStores are there to improve the world. Don’t settle for less. If you share your enthusiasm with others, you will get a group of people together to start a brand new FreeStore.

Step 2: Find a place
You need space for your store. So go out and hunt. A FreeStore doesn’t have to be in the middle of the main shopping street,but on the very outside of town doesn’t work that well either. In some countries you are free to squat empty, unused buildings. You can also ask community centers or individuals to help out.

The first FreeStores in the Netherlands were mainly located in squats. Then more and more FreeStores started up in community centers or garages of houses.

There are only three requirements for a FreeStore. The location should be fairly accessible. There must be (some) electricity. And last but not least: the roof shouldn’t leak. That would ruin all the cloths that come in.

Some FreeStores are camped in old vans or trucks. That’s also a solution.

Step 3: Begin!
You have a ‘crew’ and you have the location. Now you can start. You can announce the opening of your FreeStore a week or a few weeks in advance. Use posters and flyers, for example. Try to get some attention of the media. That always works well. Call local magazines or the local radio.

It is useful to agree on the opening hours before you open the doors of your store. Then you can immediately let the customers know.

You will have to explain the ideas and logic behind a FreeStore many, many, many times. A ‘FreeStore’ is a pretty weird concept in this capitalistic world. It conflicts with the idea that owing a lot of stuff equals ‘successful living’. Shouldn’t you be showing off with your brand new products, famous brands and dollars? That’s what people learn from radio and television.

Even in Leiden (a Dutch city that now has had a FreeStore for ten years) people are still surprised by the absence of a cash register. But our reward is that surprise and the fact that you see people thinking: ‘How do they do this?’. The answer is simple: people like you and me just make a shop where money doesn’t matter!

Practical tips
If you have your own FreeStore,or you’ve become a volunteer in a local FreeStore, now it’s handy to talk about some practical issues.

Many FreeStores have rules. Unfortunately this is necessary.

Maximum of five items
The word ‘free’ can bring out peoples’ greedy sides. Some people would like to take everything. That’s why many stores hold the rule of ‘five items’. People can take five items, but no more. This fits well with our motto: “There is enough for everybody’s need, but not for everyone’s greed.”

‘Bad’ volunteers
What’s true for customers sometimes unfortunately also counts for employees. It has sometimes happened that volunteers proved to be traders. Get these people out of your group and keep them out of the store.
[edit] ‘Non-profit ‘goals

For the same reason, it is useful to be careful with ‘idealistic goals’ of other people. Sometimes people are trying to make money using some made-up project. This is difficult to control. Let the customers just come to the store. Stick to the neighborhood.

Keep the storage clean
A very practical tip is to not only keep the store clean, but also your storage. Preventing accidents is smarter than waiting for them to happen.
[edit] Talk to customers

The shop is more fun if people actually feel connected. Chat around. Not only with costumers, but also with people who bring stuff in. Thank them for their contribution!

No religion
FreeStores are often politically ‘left’. But politics and religion actually remain outside the shop. These stores are about sharing and caring. Not about a certain religion or political party.

Take a trip
Visit other FreeStores to see how they work. Check this site for a list of addresses and contact information:

This leaflet was written by one of the Leiden FreeStore volunteers. Do you want more information? Just send an email to: moc.oohaynull@erotseerfatrats

Poster in shop
How does it work?

Can I just take anything? Yes, you can. You make take up to 5 items. Everything is free. We might ask you why you’ve decidedtake some things. That’s because we want to make sure you’re not going to sell our stuff.

Should I help clean up? Please put the products back where you found them. Keep the shop tidy. Our volunteers have more things to do then cleaning up.

Do you get money from the government, of any other organization? No. We are totally independent. This shop is about ideals. Our shop is not about money, but rather compassion and respect.

Is everyone welcome? Yes! You do not have to prove that you are poor or anything. Everyone is welcome. Here we recycle stuff and try to make people happy with things that would otherwise be wasted.