With inflation and the rising costs keeping families from making big purchases, many people find items they need right in their backyard without paying any money, thanks to an ever-growing worldwide movement that lives up to the old adage that the best things in life are free.
The Buy Nothing Project encourages people to minimize their environmental impact and share with their neighbors. By connecting through an app or the collection of hyperlocal Facebook groups, members give away and receive items — with neighbors — all for free.
I learned about the Buy Nothing Project from friends in other states a few months ago. Intrigued by the concept and having a whole closet full of unused items, I joined my local Facebook group. What I have witnessed in a short time is impressive.
Every day, I watch group members gift or request extra cupcakes, a raspberry plant, a pregnancy pillow, children’s toys, furniture, a half-eaten pie, empty cans, and much more. As long as it is legal, almost anything is fair game (one friend has seen people offering rocks) with the proviso that money does not change hands.
What is the Buy Nothing Project?
The Buy Nothing Project is a collection of gift economies. If you have an item you longer need, you give it away. When you need something, you ask for it. Two Seattle-area friends, Rebecca Rockefeller and Liesl Clark, founded the initiative in 2013 after becoming concerned about plastics washing up on local beaches. They decided to take action, encouraging their neighbors to exchange items between themselves rather than buy a new version of the same item — an idea Clark experienced while living in Nepal.
The project’s mission is to build resilient communities where true wealth is the connections forged between neighbors. The idea took hold and the project expanded organically mostly through closed Facebook groups. Soon, groups formed nationwide with members giving, receiving, lending, and expressing gratitude with no buying, selling, or bartering allowed.
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The Buy Nothing Project had become a global initiative by the time the pandemic arrived. Today, the Buy Nothing Project comprises 6.5 million members across multiple continents and 7,500 groups.
In a time of widespread social disconnection, people in Buy Nothing Groups are improving the collective well-being of their neighborhoods. The founders feel strongly that the Buy Nothing group offers a roadmap to creating a more sustainable and equitable society.
“Our vision for the Buy Nothing Project is to have a hyperlocal gift economy in every community on Earth within the next five years so that neighbors can give, ask, and share their gratitude with each other daily,” says Clark. “This is how we hope to bring about social, economic and environmental change.”
How Buy Nothing Works
One of the core values of the Buy Nothing Project is the belief in the power of sharing. By exchanging resources, time, and skills, participants reduce waste, build relationships, and create stronger bonds within their communities.
Buy Nothing Project groups are purposely small and hyper-localized to ensure minimal drop-off and pick-up times. Volunteer moderators ensure groups follow the guidelines. Initially, most groups used Facebook Groups. But a Buy Nothing app is now available as an alternative.
In addition to giving and receiving, members often ask to borrow items — an inflatable bed for a houseguest, a bike rack, an iron … One woman in my local group threw a Buy Nothing wedding with gifts and borrowed items, helping her and the groom save thousands on their special day.
Building Stronger Communities
While other initiatives and websites such as Craigslist and Freecycle (Rockefeller and Clark met in a freecycle group) offer items without cost, the Buy Nothing Project aims to foster something else along with the goods — meaningful connections with neighbors, a sense of belonging, and a willingness to help each other.
“Being knit into a local web of sharing in which we each play a vital role is more fulfilling than the lonely hoarding of stuff for our own private use,” Rockefeller and Clark wrote in their book, “The Buy Nothing, Get Everything Plan.”
This sense of community is especially helpful to individuals experiencing financial hardships or those feeling lonely and isolated. During the pandemic, the initiative was a lifeline for those seeking connections and those who couldn’t afford certain items.
The project also strengthens the bonds between neighbors and local businesses by encouraging community engagement. Members often discover new community services and resources, supporting local entrepreneurs and independent businesses.
A More Sustainable and Equitable World
Another benefit of the Buy Nothing Project is reducing consumers’ environmental footprint and contributing to a more sustainable lifestyle. The project encourages participants to think critically about their needs and make sustainable choices. Giving away unwanted items keeps them out of landfills and gives them a new life.
With consumerism and material goods often dominating our lives, is there a place for a gift economy? Based on the growing popularity of the Buy Nothing Project, the answer is yes. Given what I have seen in my own backyard, the movement is making a difference to members and in communities.
While the Buy Nothing Project has proven transformative in many communities, challenges exist. Maintaining the momentum and engagement of participants over time can be difficult. Keeping the groups active and inclusive requires dedicated volunteers and ongoing community support. However, as more people become aware of the project’s impact, opportunities for collaboration and growth continue to emerge.