The advent of Facebook has given way to international online meetups, webinars, even marketplaces, and through this platform the Buy Nothing Project was facilitated. This project-turned-movement fosters a hyper-local gift economy through Facebook groups. Interested volunteers can start a Buy Nothing Project group in their area and invite others to post items or services they want to give away, receive or borrow. The movement has spread to 44 countries and counting, with several groups already created in the Delaware Valley area.
Rebecca Rockefeller and Liesl Clark started the Buy Nothing Project in Washington in 2013 as a way to promote a gift economy where the real wealth comes from “the people involved and the web of connections that forms to support them,” according to the Buy Nothing Project website. The local groups promote community, sustainability, and minimalism at no cost to participants.
The process is simple. All Buy Nothing Project groups created are listed on the website. After finding the listing that pertains to your address, you will be redirected to the correlating Facebook group. You can then request to join by providing two street names near your home to prove that you reside within the group’s specific geographic location.
Once you are admitted into the group, there are several simple rules to follow. You can request an item or you can list one to give away. Those interested in receiving your item or gifting one can comment with detail. It is recommended that the lister “simmer” for 12 hours or so before choosing who will receive the item. It does not necessarily have to go to the first person that replies. The giver/requester contacts their chosen person through direct message and organizing a pickup time. Due to COVID-19, direct contact between community members has been replaced with contactless porch pickups for safety.
The items gifted, requested, or borrowed run the gamut from children’s clothing to food to plants. Kitchen items and decorative houseware are the most gifted items in the Philadelphia Chestnut Hill/Wyndmoor/Flourtown, Pa. group, according to volunteer administrator Amy Miller.
“People ask for and give a wide array of items from furniture, bikes, baby items, clothing, garden items, food, puzzles, and books. We have seen an uptick in gifting and requesting food since the pandemic started,” Christina Belfiglio, a volunteer administrator of the West Chester (North)/Exton, Pa. Group, told the Delaware Valley Journal. “I think the ability to help neighbors who really need something, such as food, is one of the greatest ways we can help someone. The pandemic may have stilted our ability to meet each other in person, but I’ve seen people offer to pick up groceries for complete strangers who could not get to the supermarket. Someone volunteered to help people register for vaccine appointments when it could only be done online in the middle of the night.”
Sigal Drori Waters, another volunteer administrator of the West Chester (North)/Exton, Pa. Group, used the resource as a way to get toys and toddler items for her 2-year old, which would have otherwise been costly and unsustainable. “I love the community that we are building and a safe place to get to know your neighbors. I love the fact that we can be more sustainable and eco-friendly by not just buying an item that someone owns but has no need for,” Waters said.
“I think I first heard of the BNP through a local Facebook ‘playgroup’ where the admin posted a thread for moms to pass along items their kids have grown out of. I grew up across town in Delaware County and didn’t know many people locally, but as a first-time mom I needed help with simple things, like knowing where to find toddler-sized winter boots,” Miller described. “Someone offered to give me theirs and my love of hand-me-downs was born.”
When Waters joined the West Chester group there were about 250 people involved. Now, it has grown to over 1,100. The Chestnut Hill group has over 1,500 participants. There are groups created in Ardmore, Delaware County, Havertown, King of Prussia, Malvern, Downingtown and more.
The administrators commented that Buy Nothing Project groups are very different from yard sale groups, an aspect they emphasize. “[A] challenge is the yard sales group mentality of “interested” and choosing the first who requests an item. We are neighbors and a community so we ask people to speak to each other as you would to a neighbor; be kind, polite, and ask to be considered for an item,” Waters said.
“We also try to create a sense of community by giving a little information about an item we would like; perhaps storytelling the gifter how an item reminds someone of their grandmother or their child has been asking for that very item for ages. The person gifting the item picks whomever they like,” Belfiglio added.
“Another misconception is that it is just a place to unload your unwanted goods. If someone asks for something that you have and use, what’s stopping you from lending or giving it to them just because they asked? That is giving of your own abundance. It doesn’t matter if they need it versus want it. Life is about shared experiences, not just things,” Miller commented. “Maybe someone is asking for a rolling pin to bake with their child and you have great memories of baking with a parent. Doesn’t it sound lovely to pass along your rolling pin while chatting with a new acquaintance about your favorite cookies or the time you got your tongue stuck in the mixer? It is reminiscent of simpler times when we can engage with and rely on our neighbors in ways our society seems to have forgotten.”
After six years of the Buy Nothing Project movement, co-founders Rockefeller and Clark conducted a survey to ascertain the impact of growing hyper-local gift economies. One-third of Buy Nothing members reported they saved more than $20 a month using their group; 15 percent reported saving over $50.
The benefits often go beyond money, however. “At first you may think the concept is about eliminating waste or saving money, but as you read posts and engage with others you realize that it’s about belonging to a caring and engaged community,” Belfiglio commented.
“The BNP’s “experiment” is an admirable one. I hope more people learn about the project and its values, such as valuing people over things, completing interactions with honesty and integrity, and giving and receiving with gratitude,” Miller stated. “Human connection is the goal, which is something we all need more of… especially now.”