What is a Buy Nothing Group and How Can I Join One?

published Apr 21, 2021
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A woman sitting on the floor, putting clothes into a cardboard box for donation
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This winter, when my 6-year-old’s plastic tiara broke into pieces before her virtual ballet recital, she asked if I would put out a call for a replacement to our local Buy Nothing group. I made a quick post, relaying the tearful request of the ballerina in my midst, and within a few hours, we were on our way to retrieve a replacement from behind a potted plant on a neighbor’s stoop.

In July 2013, Rebecca Rockefeller and Liesl Clark started the first Buy Nothing Project on Bainbridge Island, Washington, as an experiment to create a hyper-local gift economy. Their project has now been replicated in thousands of communities around the globe. In rural towns and big cities, Buy Nothing members are on a shared mission to buy less and to generously share what they already have with neighbors. 

How does a Buy Nothing group work?

Currently The Buy Nothing Project uses private Facebook Groups as their messaging and exchange platform (there’s a Buy Nothing app in the works too). Local administrators handle requests to join each group and monitor the posts for general adherence to the Buy Nothing rules, which are simple enough: “Post anything you’d like to give away, lend, or share amongst neighbors. Ask for anything you’d like to receive for free or borrow. Keep it legal. No hate speech. No buying or selling, no trades or bartering, we’re strictly a gift economy.” 

The concept is simple, but also radical. Links and referrals to the cash economy are strictly forbidden, as is even mentioning the monetary value of an item. Instead of the standard system of cash exchange for goods and services, Buying Nothing members embrace sharing and giving. In lieu of giving away items on a first come, first-serve basis, administrators encourage members to let their postings linger giving everyone a chance to be on the receiving end of the bounty.

Instead of posting impersonal “in search of” messages or statements of interest for an item on offer, members are encouraged to write as if messaging a friend about what they need or have to offer. In our group, some items like steam cleaners, folding tables, and a traveling birthday banner circulate regularly from member to member. Certain members are known for their niche gifts (a member in our group who regularly gives away plant food made from fish poop comes to mind).

Are Buy Nothing groups good for families?

In our two years as members of our local group, my family has been on the receiving end of one-of-a-kind treasures — like a vintage school desk that someone alerted the group had been put to the curb — and we’ve been able to opt out of the cash economy entirely when it comes to simpler, everyday material needs of a young family.

Our 1-year-old sleeps in a crib that two Buy Nothing families used before her and when she outgrows it, we’ll pass it along to another family in the group. We’ve received and shared car seats, baby carriers, baby bouncers, and strollers, not to mention onesies, socks, and board books. When I accidentally melted the small plastic valve of my breast pump in the dishwasher, I was able to meet up with a neighbor for a replacement the next day. These meetings are brief, and in the time of COVID, socially distanced, but the spirit of abundance and gratitude is strong.

“Post anything you’d like to give away, lend, or share amongst neighbors. Ask for anything you’d like to receive for free or borrow.”

How can I join a Buy Nothing group?

If this sounds like something you’d like to be a part of (and I hope it does!), check out the Buy Nothing Project website’s Find Your Group page to find your local group. To keep things hyper-local, you’ll be asked to select only one group in your immediate community. Most groups operate on Facebook and will require new members to click the “Join Group” button and answer three basic questions to receive approval from the groups administrators. Local groups might have particular rules or guidelines based on the particulars of their area, but generally all groups follow a set of standard global rules, so familiarize yourself with those to get started.

Wherever you join, it’s more than just a place to score free loot or offload your castoffs: the Buy Nothing Project is a place to find community. Last week, a member of my group messaged me to say that the three clippings from the string of hearts plant I’d given her in September were thriving. She included a photo. The clippings had grown to fill a small pot and the plant, which had never flowered in my charge, was blooming.