A lovely reader asked for more information about my local Buy Nothing group after a recent post. So here it comes!
Buy Nothing is an international movement. It isn’t just a thing happening in my neighbourhood. So if you’re reading this and English is the dominant language in your country, it might be happening near you. It happens in other, non-English-speaking parts of the world too–but–BN started in the USA and there are more BN groups in any capital city in Australia than in the entire continent of Africa (based on the www site). I am going out on a limb here to suggest that white folks (I am one) especially, and all folks, living in big cities in highly individualistic countries probably need a sharing and neighbourliness intervention more than folks living in societies and cultures where communalism is a present reality as well as a long tradition.You can go to the Buy Nothing site and find out if it is happening near you–and you can also find out how to set up a group if you want. A lot of thinking has gone into scaffolding this project and it’s there to help you.
Buy Nothing was set up to build community connectedness. It’s about getting neighbours talking to each other. It isn’t primarily designed as a way to reduce waste or give and get free stuff . But since it is part of the gift economy, both those things are also going on. I’ve had a lovely time meeting people–giving away seedlings and meeting keen gardeners. Helping people pick fruit that they have in excess and finding out about their lives and their families. Meeting people I would never otherwise meet. Picking up some random item and learning it is part of a heartbreaking family situation. Gifting things to people who want to set up a new home, encourage their child into healthy habits, or support the aspirations of someone they care about. Sweethearts are everywhere! And–especially during pandemic times–sometimes meeting people completely online who pick up their item from my porch without my ever meeting them in person. Or dropping something to them in quarantine.
For me, Buy Nothing has been entirely on Facebook. Frankly, it’s one of the better things about FB for me. But it has its own app now so that it doesn’t have to be part of a social media experience for those who have managed to stay off social media. However–I hear the app isn’t going so well (in this article setting out the history and complexity of the project). So–research it or try it out!
On BN, you can give things away. You can ask for something you want or need, including someone’s time. Folks post sometimes needing something because they are in covid isolation–and people offer help. Once or twice someone has written asking for food because they are out of cash, and they have received a lot of home made and home grown food.
In Buy Nothing groups, there are some core principles, and one of them is that you ‘give from your abundance’. I think the concept here is that you give what you can, and give it freely. This means I can give away seeds I have saved from my garden in such quantity I won’t need them all. I can propagate more seedlings than I need, knowing that there are lots of gardeners in the neighbourhood. Once I delivered some, found the recipient had just had surgery, and planted them for her while I was there! Sometimes I’ve had the time to offer to meet someone’s need by making the thing they are asking for–cleaning cloths, worm farm insulation blankets, bags for a child’s birthday party. Once someone asked for use of a sewing machine that could make eyelets, and came over and used mine!
The local nature of BN means that I have been able to get to the whole area of my local group readily by bicycle, the entire time I’ve been part of it. In that time, our group has “sprouted” twice–meaning that it reached 1000 members and split into smaller groups, which are also thriving.
Now, BN has its critics and downsides, and in unequal societies, it’s unlikely that anything is going to be 100% sunshine and puppies. However, I’m in a thriving group. I can offer anything–people do not need to take up my offers. So people offer very low value items. Example: I wear orthotics and frequently that means removing the insole of my shoes. These are usually made out of plastic based foams. I’ve given these away in minutes on BN to people who will use them. People post asking for cardboard boxes or offering big boxes for children’s play. Second hand children’s clothing gets put back into circulation. Things that come into our street library that don’t belong (jigsaws) or don’t fit (coffee table size books that slide out when the door opens), get given away on BN.
I use BN to give away a lot of things my parents or friends no longer want or need. This week, an apron. Sometimes it’s a tent or a tool. When a neighbour was propagating fruit trees to increase the amount of fruit grown in our area and build the tree cover, I gave away dozens of small trees for her, ranging from pomegranate, fig and loquat to lilly pilly. She was happy and so were all the gardeners.
On BN the item is going to someone who wants it or needs it. It isn’t being added to the pile of things op shops in our area don’t want or can’t handle. I also use it to give away things I find dumped or on hard rubbish that are clearly no longer wanted but are sometimes new or unused–or I just can’t bear to see something so obviously useful going to landfill. I’ve given away fairy lights, a rug and a pet bed this way. Sometimes the item needs untangling or laundering and I’ll do that, and then give it away. Most dumped items I deal with I triage to rubbish or recycling unless I have a use for them (the classic example in my case being plant pots). I give away big things–the biggest was an exercise machine. I give away small things like tiny sample packs of moisturiser. In the image below–my ginger beer plant. Sourdough starter, kombucha and kefir are travelling around my neighbourhood through BN. I often lend someone a cookbook as well as gifting them sourdough, or a ginger beer plant. I gave away loads of Climate Action Now signs before the election through BN where many people wished they had one and didn’t know how to get one.
I also request items. At one point I needed more second hand denim than I had for a project, and it came from BN members’ worn out jeans. Some had been hoarding them because they distopt want them going to landfill. Perfect. I once made a 5 way trip with my bike trailer picking up jam jars from all over the area for a big batch of olives and jam. When my antique fitbit died, I requested another and got two or three offers. One was unable to be charged and the other is on my wrist!
I’ve received all kinds of things ranging from spatulas (I love those things) to a piece of furniture that is a perfect match for another cupboard in the same room but had a broken leg. I basically try not to express interest in items people put up–I don’t need anything more than I have most of the time, and recognise this as a privilege others do not share. But when items I could use find no taker I’ll claim them. I post saying “I will take this if no one else wants it”. And sometimes explain what I will do with it. For example, I think it is a better use for a sheet to go on a bed, than to be torn up and repurposed. But it is much better that I convert it into a quilt back or a series of climate action patches, than for it to go to landfill. I took two irons from someone once, rehabilitated one (by researching how to clean it online and cleaning/descaling it twice) and gifted it on through BN, cured of the issue the original owner told me it it had. The other is awaiting the same kind of treatment, or a trip to electrical recycling. I also take unwanted haberdashery and use it to populate mending kits, which I then give away.
This last picture is me visiting the local electrical recycling drop point, delivering things from our house and from people on BN who I’d collected lemons and denim from that day. All the others are things I’ve given away, found at random in my pictures gallery… because there are so many to choose from! Wishing you luck if you join BN and I’d be delighted to hear what other folks’ experiences are.