Learn how to find and join a Buy Nothing group in your community—or start one of your very own.
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The first time I heard about a Buy Nothing group was about two 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. Two years later, Buy Nothing groups number in the thousands and there are not one, but 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. If you're curious what a Buy Nothing group is and how you can join one yourself, read on.

What is a Buy Nothing group?

Buy Nothing groups started out as a project of two women who lived on Bainbridge Island, Wash. Liesl Clark and Rebecca Rockefeller's original idea was 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've written a book about it, too).

How do you find your local group?

Finding your local Buy Nothing group is as simple as choosing your country and state in the group finder on BuyNothing.org. You'll be directed to your nearest group's Facebook Group. For now, the groups are almost all hosted on Facebook, so you'll need an account to join, but Buy Nothing is at work on their own app.

What are the rules of a Buy Nothing group?

Each group has its own admins and therefore its own code of conduct, but there are a few rules that are universal, namely: No buying, selling, or bartering of any kind. Everything must be given freely. The Buy Nothing Project also asks that you join only one Buy Nothing group (and join the one where you live), so that you can "give where you live." 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!

Why should you join a Buy Nothing group?

Free stuff? A place to offload your clutter? It's not quite that simple, though those are both benefits of joining a group. Lindsay Downes, a professional organizer in Alexandria, Va., says she likes Buy Nothing for "re-homing items" instead of just tossing them in the trash or leaving them at the Goodwill, where they may also end up in the landfill. "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.

Plus, Buy Nothing helps keep things out of the landfill. Elizabeth Partridge, a mom in Brooklyn, N.Y., says that she has been on the giving and receiving end of items that would have otherwise certainly ended up in the trash. Partridge gave away a stash of opened beauty supplies that she had tried but not liked and two different 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 it better than Craigslist or a charitable organization?

"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 it is much faster and more satisfying than trying to sell items. Partridge says it's also extremely 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 gifts, it's for sharing 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 also encourages "gifts of self, talent, and time" (think: giving a ride somewhere, tutoring, or being a workout buddy). When New York got hit with a big snowstorm in February, members of Partridge's group asked for and offered help to dig out sidewalks and parked cars.

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

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, N.Y. says that while it's convenient to give things away to the first responder, Buy Nothing encourages people to let items "simmer." That allows people who don't have 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 do express interest in something and get chosen to receive it, make it easy for the gifter to give it to you: Message them back as soon as you can and stay on top of the messages until you've secured a time to meet.

How do you start your own group?

If there's not a Buy Nothing group in your area, you can start your own. 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 "mainly, it's the upkeep of the member requests." Jadín 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, especially now," she adds.

Partridge's original group split into four smaller groups this spring, 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 will be worth it!