Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

Buy Nothing: Give, Share, Build Community (And Maybe Get Hemorrhoid Wipes, Too)

I know it can seem like I’m a big fan of consumerism, what with my weekly (monthly?) picks, and my gift guides, and my book wish lists — and it’s true, I do enjoy cool stuff. But I consume less than it may appear (I “window shop” a lot more than I actually shop), and I really appreciate the trend of buying less and sharing more. A few months ago I joined my community Buy Nothing group, which I found on Facebook. Buy Nothing is an “experimental hyper-local gift economy” started a couple years ago by two women friends in Washington. It has since become “a worldwide social movement, growing to over 280,000 members in eighteen nations with 1300 groups and over 1700 volunteers.”

The model is simple: give away things you don’t want and/or which you want someone else to have; ask for things you need or want before or instead of buying them. People, like me, who join their local Buy Nothing groups (which you can only do on Facebook, fyi) “quickly discover that [the groups are] not just another free recycling platform. A gift economy’s real wealth is the people involved and the web of connections that forms to support them.” It’s a great way to de-clutter and to save some money, while feeling good about supporting and meeting people in your community. It’s not all about “stuff” either: “everything from toilet paper roll springs to rides home from the doctor; burial sites for beloved pets to freshly-baked bread and casseroles have been given freely; our members share things mundane and meaningful in equal measure, and throughout it all connect with each other by means of the shared personal stories and chatting encouraged by the platform.”

I joined my group in January, and I quickly embraced the February challenge of posting at least one item every day to give away. I succeeded, and in the process I met about twenty of my neighbors and I cleaned out several drawers, a couple of closets, a few baskets of toys, and most of our kitchen cabinets. It felt so great to de-clutter and also see things that had been collecting dust go to new homes where they would likely be much more appreciated. Since the February challenge, I continue to give away things on a regular basis (with kids, there’s always stuff that’s been outgrown and you’re ready to part with), and I’ve scored a bunch of stuff myself.

Over the weekend, on Earth Day, we had a Buy Nothing meet-up in our community garden, where a bunch of us carted stuff over and laid our things on benches and tables and blankets on the ground so that we could all “shop around” while mingling and enjoying nibbles that people brought. I got rid of some costume jewelry I no longer wore, some kitchen utensils, a couple of handbags, some nail polish I’d tried once and didn’t like, a couple of hats, and some vintage leather gloves. I found a great necklace for myself, and all the things Joanie is wearing or pushing in that picture above (the rain jacket is two sizes too big, but she doesn’t care–she couldn’t wait to put it on), in addition to a few other things. All free! And I got to meet some more neighbors and to also clear out some more clutter from our home. Of course, this is good for the environment, too — keeping things out of the landfill that you might have otherwise thrown away and using something already in circulation before buying something new that will eventually make its way to a landfill.

For all these reasons — saving money, growing community, de-cluttering your home, and practicing environmental consciousness — I encourage you to join (or start) your own local Buy Nothing group. You can find existing groups here. If you’re already in a Buy Nothing group, what are some of the things you’ve gifted or received? One of the weirder items I saw up for grabs was an unopened box of some sort of postpartum hemorrhoid wipes gifted to the giver by her husband’s ex-girlfriend. That seemed like a missed opportunity for a DW letter, if you ask me.

9 comments… add one
  • ktfran April 25, 2017, 12:38 pm

    I love this post and I wish it had come a few weeks earlier! I’m shedding so much of my apartment, as we’re moving to our new condo Monday. Woohoo!

    Saturday, I took 8 garbage bags of clothes, 2 shopping bags of shoes, and a box of miscellaneous items to a women’s shelter. I’m also donating furniture, which is also being picked up. And I have yet to figure out how to get rid of 5 boxes of books. Those might have to move with me because the place I want to take them can’t pick them up until May.

    Anyway, I have just sent a request to join Buy Nothing in the closest neighborhood to where I’ll be living. Thanks for posting this!

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  • Bittergaymark April 25, 2017, 1:34 pm

    I am constantly amazed by how much useless crap people have…

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    • Dear Wendy April 25, 2017, 2:22 pm

      Only useless if the person in possession of it isn’t using it. Once it’s given to someone who will use it, it’s no longer useless.

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  • Lianne April 25, 2017, 1:39 pm

    I love this! I am going to see if there is a local chapter to me.

    Similarly, the moms I met through the hospital I delivered at started a children’s item swap. It’s so much better to go this route than buy new all the time!

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  • anonymousse April 25, 2017, 1:53 pm

    I’ve scored some neat things on Buy Nothing. I’ve given so much away, and that really makes me happy.
    There are a ton of swap or yard sale pages local to your area (if you are lucky) and that’s been great for finding good bargains on gently used items, which is just awesome for children that grow so fast!

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    • Dear Wendy April 25, 2017, 2:20 pm

      Joanie had two pair of jeggings that she finally wore holes through in the knees and I think those are literally the only items of clothing of hers that I haven’t given away after she outgrew them. Our babysitter has a granddaughter (who lives with her) who’s a year younger than Joanie, so it’s been great to pass down almost all of joanie’s gently-used clothes and toys and baby gear to her (and have the clothes by seasonally-appropriate, too). Jackson is pretty gentle on his clothes and he still grows so quickly, that most of his stuff is in like-new shape when he outgrows it, so I’m able to pass his things to friends with younger boys. And I love when we get high-quality hand-me-downs, especially stuff like rain boots and snow boots and snow suits and those things the kids might wear just a handful of times.

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      • anonymousse April 25, 2017, 2:28 pm

        I wish there was a place to even rent kids stuff like that. Snow suits for example. Or you could sign up for a lot of a size of clothes or something.

      • Dear Wendy April 25, 2017, 2:43 pm

        Make an app, get rich!

  • kare April 25, 2017, 8:29 pm

    I grew up on hand-me-downs and thrift store stuff, so I try to make a regular habit of clearing out things to donate. Plus if anything you donate isn’t considered sellable, the items are usually recycled or repurposed (of course this varies across organizations). I don’t have Facebook, but I do hit up thrift stores and yard sales for things. Most of my furniture is secondhand which I think is cool, but a lot of people I know think it’s gross.

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