What is the Buy Nothing Movement? 

What is the Buy Nothing Movement? 

Learn how this gift economy incubator got its start and how you can join

Have you ever tossed something out that you knew still had some life left in it? Maybe a stack of magazines or a pricey vacuum cleaner with a broken part? We’ve likely all been there a time or two. The thing is, there are often ways to share gently used items, or even the new-with-tags thing you don’t have time to return or sell, with neighbors you may not have met yet.

Enter the Buy Nothing Project—a worldwide movement of communities with millions of members where recycling through sharing is the name of the game.

The founders, Liesl Clark and Rebecca Rockefeller were neighbors living on an island near Seattle who were appalled by plastic littering the beach where they took their children to play. So like-minded moms launched a program to keep unwanted stuff out of landfills and waterways. Then, the project began to take on a life of its own.

The movement has become “an international network of local gift economies,” notes the Buy Nothing Project community rules, adding “Buy Nothing offers people a way to give and receive, share, lend, and express gratitude through a worldwide network of gift economies in which the true wealth is the web of connections formed between people who are real-life neighbors.’’

How it Works

You can join a Buy Nothing Project group in your area and start offering items you might otherwise donate or throw away. You can also use Facebook and search “Buy Nothing Project” to find groups near you. The process is much like using other marketplaces minus the exchange of money.

If you have something you want to give away,

  1. Take a photo of the item.
  2. Describe what the item is.
  3. Post the item in the local group and wait for responses.

The hardest part may be deciding who to give the item to.

Community rules say that no money can be exchanged and the use of monetary values when describing an item is forbidden. Members are encouraged to join only one group.

Give and Take

Besides offering up things you no longer have a use for, members may also ask for products and services. For example, after a winter storm, people were offering to shovel snow from driveways and others asking for that service on Buy Nothing groups in the impacted area.

What’s Out There?

In a recent post, one member shared a photo of pale blue cabinets and a stackable Bosch washer and dryer she received through her local Buy Nothing group. She expressed gratitude for the appliances, noting the gift would allow her to continue to age in place. Smaller items are also up for grabs, including everything from half-eaten boxes of cereal bars to gourmet banana nut bread and everything in between.

There’s an App for That

In August 2023, less than two years after its launch, the Buy Nothing Project celebrated one million downloads for its app created for those who want to take part in the free-cycling community away from social media platforms.

… And an Online Course

For those with the time and inclination, the founders created a course with seven self-paced lessons that cover everything from the history of the movement to explaining the gift economy to social justice initiatives. After spending a few minutes browsing what’s available within your own Buy Nothing community, you may discover the best things in life are free.

With reporting by Casandra Andrews

Jean Chatzky

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