I woke up the other morning and found a huge rip in our 10-year-old, worn-thin microsuede couch that was already falling apart structurally. I've been thinking about a new couch for a while but was trying to hold off as long as possible. The rip (probably caused by the dog) was the last straw.

Before I headed out to furniture showrooms, I searched on a couple of Facebook yard sale sites where I'm a member. Buying a used couch can be a risk — smoke, pets, bedbugs and stains can all make a couch less than desirable — so I really wasn't counting on finding anything in acceptable condition that I liked. Much to my surprise, I found a couch that I really liked and was in great condition — for $80! By the end of the day, it was in my living room, getting a huge stamp of approval from my boys.

If you're unfamiliar with Facebook yard sale sites, they're an alternative to selling or buying items on Craigslist or eBay. They're set up within local communities or regions, so you're buying and selling from people in your area. Nothing needs to be shipped, and often the entire transaction can be completed in a day.

facebook-yard-sale-page Click 'join group' on a Facebook yard sale page and a message will go out to your friends who are already members asking them to approve your membership.

These sites are usually closed groups that you need to request to join. I'm in three local yard sale groups, but I didn't know how many were in my region until I searched for "yard sale" in my Facebook search bar. Dozens came up, including the one pictured above (of which I'm not a member). If I wanted to join, I'd click on "join group." An administrator of the group would approve my request, or any of my Facebook friends who are already part of the group could approve me.

Once you've been approved, you can scroll through all the items for sale, or you can post items to sell. Facebook has created a special posting box for yard sale groups that make adding the price, photos and descriptions easy.

Selling on Facebook yard sales

I've sold many items on these sites: kid's clothing, books, household items, craft supplies and other small things. Last year in early winter, I found a bag of snow boots, snow pants, hats and gloves in the back of a closet from when my boys were smaller. I waited until the first big snow storm prediction and listed them each individually. By the end of the day, every item was sold, and I had about $60 in my pocket.

When someone is interested in an item that's being sold, they make a comment in the comment section — often just the word "interested." Or they may ask more questions about the items though the comments section. Unless the description states otherwise, the unwritten rule is that the first person to comment with an interest has first dibs. Specifics about picking up an item are discussed through private messaging so the seller never has to post an address to the group. It's convenient to have both the posting and the communicating happen through Facebook.

When I sell, I meet buyers outside. I do not invite them into my home for safety reasons, and I always have them come during the day. Other ways that people keep things secure are offering PPU — porch pick-up — where they leave the item on the porch and trust the person picking up the item to leave the money in a mailbox or other pre-determined spot. Some communities have created safe spaces, often in police station parking lots, where buyers and sellers can meet, leaving home addresses completely out of the mix.

Buying on Facebook

I have bought only two items though a Facebook yard sale page — the couch I mentioned above and a bed frame. To pick both of these up, I needed to go into the homes. For safety reasons (and practical reasons of loading these items in a truck), I took people with me when I went.

When someone posts an item for sale, you can click on their name and go to their Facebook page. Even if their page is private, you can often see if you have any friends in common. I really like this about these yard sale pages. When I was looking at the bed frame, I saw that the person selling it and I had a friend in common. I messaged that friend, and it turns out the seller was her cousin and she could vouch for her. After that, I wasn't concerned for my safety when I went to pick it up.

Facebook yard sales vs. traditional ones

I love good old-fashioned yard sales, and I live in an area where they are plentiful in the spring and fall. Several communities hold town-wide yard sales where they encourage everyone who wants to hold one to do it on the same day. I've gotten lots of treasures from these sales at bargain prices.

green-couch My $80 Facebook yard sale couch, a sustainable, money-saving treasure. (Photo: Robin Shreeves)

Even though my $80 couch was a steal, I find the prices for the Facebook sales to be a bit higher than if I was driving around on a Saturday morning looking at items on people's front lawns. But there are other advantages to the Facebook sales. First, you can search for a specific item you need. When I wanted to look for a couch, I searched each group I'm a member of using "couch" and "sofa." Plenty of options came up. I could drive around for an entire Saturday morning and perhaps never see a single couch for sale. Second, these the Facebook sales happen 24/7, not just on weekends. For people who can't get around to traditional yard sales, they can get to these sales anytime they have the social media site open.

The sustainability of pre-owned things

I have a friend who recently furnished about 70 percent of her new apartment with finds from these sales. She bought bedroom, living room and patio furniture, artwork, rugs and more. You would never know from looking at her place that she furnished it with yard sale items.

Much of my home is furnished with things I've found at traditional yard sales over the years. There are items in excellent condition sitting in other people's homes, and websites like Facebook, Craigslist and eBay make selling and buying perfectly useful items easier.

When we buy and sell items like this instead of allowing them to be thrown away, so much good is done. Our landfills don't get clogged with things that truly are not trash. New items, along with all the resources that go into creating them, don't need to be made. Sellers can make a little money and buyers can save a lot of money. I like to think of it this way: The hundreds and hundreds of dollars I just saved on a couch can be used in part to buy better food from the store and farmers markets, and the sustainability sort of trickles down.

When I need something, my first instinct is not to buy new (except with underwear and shoes). I know there are pre-owned things out there that I'm going to be just as happy with, and Facebook yard sales have given me a new way to hunt them down.

Robin Shreeves ( @rshreeves ) focuses on food from a family perspective from her home base in New Jersey.