Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Buy Nothing Groups

Learn how to find and join a Buy Nothing community—or start one.

I first heard about a Buy Nothing group a few years ago when a friend joined one in her Brooklyn neighborhood. A local group devoted to giving things away for free sounded cool but, at the time, it seemed like a niche idea particular to her close-knit corner of New York City. Today, Buy Nothing groups number in the thousands, with two in my own neighborhood. It seems I hear about them every day on social media as friends discover the joy of a giving community. Read on if you're curious what a Buy Nothing group is and how you can join one.

What is a Buy Nothing group?

Liesl Clark and Rebecca Rockefeller of Bainbridge Island, Washington, started the Buy Nothing Project to create a "hyper-local gift economy" in their community. Their simple idea—to create a platform where people could give things away, lend, and share amongst neighbors—has grown into what could arguably be called a movement. (They wrote a book about it, too.)

What are the rules of a Buy Nothing group?

Each online community has its own admins and code of conduct, but a few rules are universal, namely: No buying, selling, or bartering of any kind. Everything must be given freely. They're so strict about the gifting mentality that you're even forbidden from mentioning the monetary value of an item you are giving away! The Buy Nothing Project also asks that you join only one Buy Nothing group (one near where you live), so you can "give where you live."

Why join a Buy Nothing group?

Free stuff? A place to offload your clutter? While those are benefits of joining a group, it's not quite that simple. Lindsay Downes, a professional organizer in Alexandria, Virginia, says she likes Buy Nothing for "re-homing items" instead of tossing them in the trash or leaving them at Goodwill, where they may end up in the landfill anyway. "Knowing these items are going to a good home makes the separation so much easier, and hearing the gratitude from recipients always makes me feel so good!" she says.

Elizabeth Partridge, a mom in Brooklyn, New York, says she has been on the giving and receiving end of items that would have otherwise ended up in the trash. Partridge gave away a stash of opened beauty supplies that she tried but didn't like, and two training potties. On the receiving side, Partridge picked up a stack of blank CDs from a neighbor (because her mother-in-law still burns CDs).

Why is Buy Nothing better than Craigslist or a charity?

"My clients are often hesitant at first, but once they get going and see how rewarding it is, they get really into it," says Downes, who notes that Buy Nothing is faster and more satisfying than trying to sell. Partridge says it's also user-friendly, "I like that Buy Nothing is on Facebook and is therefore easy to use. The photos are clear, you can see what people have, and you can communicate quickly."

What else is Buy Nothing good for?

Buy Nothing is not just for sharing tangibles, it's also for goods and skills. "I've seen people borrow baby gear for visitors and yard equipment," says Downes, who adds, "I've even borrowed books when the library waitlist was too long!" The Buy Nothing Project encourages "gifts of self, talent, and time" (giving a ride somewhere, tutoring, or being a workout buddy). When New York got hit with a big snowstorm, members of Partridge's group asked for and offered to dig out sidewalks and parked cars.

What are the dos and don'ts of Buy Nothing?

Don't try to conceal poor quality. "Be honest about the condition of the items you are giving away," says Downes. "That being said, you might be surprised what people can find a use for, so it's always worth it to post! I've given away laundry detergent that was half-used because it was not tough enough on my kids' stains and someone else was happy to have it."

Do give everyone a chance. Diana Jadín, an admin for a Buy Nothing group in Queens, New York, says that while convenient to give things away to the first responder, Buy Nothing encourages people to let items "simmer." That allows people without constant access to Facebook to have a chance to claim popular items.

Don't ghost gifters. If you say you want something but then change your mind, just say so. Never leave a gifter hanging.

Do communicate quickly. If you express interest in something and get chosen to receive it, make it easy for the gifter: Message them back ASAP and stay on top of messaging until you secure a time to meet.

How do you start?

Take a class. To learn more about the Buy Nothing program, the website suggests "an optional online course called the Buy Nothing Academy that provides you with all the resources needed to steward a local gift economy. According to the website, founders Rockefeller and Clark along with Jennifer Lansdowne have "written this course as a means to provide you with background on what flourishing gift economies can look and feel like, and how you can help to build and sustain an equitable and inclusive gift economy in your community."

Join or start a Facebook group. Buy Nothing communities started via local Facebook groups. To go that route: go to Facebook, search your area for The Buy Nothing Project, and follow directions there.

After becoming an administrator for her Buy Nothing group last year, Jadín says she spends about an hour a day volunteering her time to her group, noting that "mainly, it's the upkeep of the member requests." She says the Buy Nothing Project's training documents were very detailed and left her prepared for her duties. It's a time commitment she feels is worthwhile. "Something rewarding about being an admin of a group is that it helps you be part of the community," she adds.

Partridge's original group split into four smaller groups, and the experience gave her a taste of what it would be like to be in a start-up group. "It's harder with a smaller group," says Partridge. "The stuff doesn't get claimed as quickly and in-search-of requests are much less likely to get fulfilled." But both women agree: The payoff of getting one going is worth it!

Download the app. Understanding that not everyone can or wants to access Facebook, Buy Nothing developed its own independent platform, which they think is better suited for local sharing. Anyone, anywhere can get started quickly via the app, which is custom-built specifically for local sharing, with new features each month.

Happy sharing!

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