Why I’m Obsessed With My Local Buy Nothing Group — and You Should Be, Too

Insights + Opinion
buy nothing project
Buy Nothing Project

I found Buy Nothing during the pandemic, and it was kismet. When the dumbbells were flying off shelves and I needed to offload some furniture in my apartment to make more space (an apartment can feel spacious until you spend 24/7 in there!), it couldn’t have been better timing than to find a neighborhood group where I could find things I wanted or needed and sustainably get rid of things I didn’t — all for free when money was tight.

The Buy Nothing Project started in Washington in 2013 by friends Liesl Clark and Rebecca Rockefeller as a way to reduce plastics in the environment. Since then, it has exploded internationally with more than 7,000 Buy Nothing groups and more than 5 million members.

Although giving and receiving items for free is a major appeal to prospective members, Buy Nothing’s emphasis on hyper-local groups is what makes it so special. It really is a community-building project, where neighbors break free from a market economy to embrace a sharing economy. Simply give from your own abundance or ask for what you need.

“BuyNothing offers people a way to give and receive, share, lend, and express gratitude through a worldwide gift economy network in which the true wealth is the web of connections formed between people. We believe that communities are more resilient, sustainable, equitable, and joyful when they have functional gift economies,” the organization’s website states.

The hyper-local focus is impressive, too. I first joined a Buy Nothing Facebook group for my larger neighborhood, but it quickly became a popular spot. Once over 1,000 members joined, our group “sprouted” into two smaller groups. While it was sad to see less of the familiar faces from the larger group, this also meant that my group shrunk to a walkable distance of close-by neighbors, making giving and receiving items even more convenient for everyone.

Yes, Buy Nothing is mostly on Facebook for now. It is broken into different groups based on cities or neighborhoods, depending on where you live. Fortunately, the organization has also launched its own platform to grow the Buy Nothing community there, instead. For now, I’m still in the Facebook group, and it is one of the only reasons I remain on that social media app. What can I say, I love my Buy Nothing group!

I’ve given away furniture when I needed to upgrade my work-from-home desk and coffee table, freshly baked breads, coffee makers, tons of gardening pots and supplies, and jewelry that just wasn’t getting the wear it deserved. All the hobbies I tried to take up at the start of the pandemic left me with a lot of yarn, knitting needles, and other craft supplies that I was able to give away to loving homes. Along the way, I’ve met wonderful people that live just minutes away from me.

At the start of the pandemic, I developed a daily exercise habit, but as we all know, it was hard to find any weights or workout gear for several months. I reached out to my Buy Nothing group, and they really delivered. I was able to go pick up some nearly brand-new ankle weights the same day I asked for a set.

The generosity in this Buy Nothing community is nothing short of impressive. I’ve seen people do porch drop-offs of meals and groceries to people who are sick. One member has set up a new Little Free Library, complete with decor and a reading bench nearby, and regularly weeds the area around it and shares what new items have come in each week. I’ve even seen members share free skills lessons and IT help.

AJ_Watt / E+ / Getty Images

Our group also has “traveling” clothing boxes, jewelry boxes, and even a nail kit for members to regularly rotate their wardrobes without buying new things. 

Aside from giving and receiving, Buy Nothing members may also share “gratitude” posts to shout-out others, and it’s always a heartwarming experience, even if you weren’t involved in a specific interaction.

“Each of us has the power to form a local gift economy around us that is complementary and parallel to worldwide cash economies; whether people join because they’d like to quickly get rid of things that are cluttering their lives, or simply to save money by getting things for free, they soon discover that Buy Nothing is not just another free recycling platform,” Buy Nothing states. “A gift economy’s real wealth is the people involved and the web of connections that forms to support them.”

I haven’t been involved with Buy Nothing for long compared to many other members, but I won’t stop sharing it with everyone I know. I know of no better way to spend time online than by sharing with my neighbors and making new friends in a community of like-minded individuals who want to reduce waste and make the world a better place.

If you want to become a Buy Nothing-obsessive like myself (and many others), you can start by finding your local group on Facebook or joining the new Buy Nothing platform. If there’s no group near you, you can apply to start one yourself.

Buy Nothing is also looking for volunteers for things like UX design or grant writing as it grows out its own platform. And if you just want to learn more about the group and the sharing economy, you can check out the founders’ book, The Buy Nothing Get Everything Plan (bonus points if you borrow it from a fellow Buy Nothing member or your local library).

There are so many ways to get involved with Buy Nothing. If nothing else, you can get some free stuff. But more than likely you’ll find much more, from friendships to a strong sense of community, in your hyper-local Buy Nothing group.

Based in Los Angeles, Paige is a writer who is passionate about sustainability. Aside from writing for EcoWatch, Paige also writes for Insider, HomeAdvisor, Thrillist, EuroCheapo, Eat This, Not That!, and more. She earned her Bachelor’s degree in Journalism from Ohio University and holds a certificate in Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies. She also specialized in sustainable agriculture while pursuing her undergraduate degree. When she’s not writing, Paige enjoys decorating her apartment, enjoying a cup of coffee and experimenting in the kitchen (with local, seasonal ingredients, of course!).

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