It sounds like the ultimate spending diet: buying nothing. If you haven’t heard of the concept, it’s spreading with Buy Nothing groups popping up throughout the world. Thank the Buy Nothing Project, a nonprofit organization with chapters now in 44 countries with more than 6,500 communities.
So what is the Buy Nothing movement, and should you join a local Buy Nothing group?
Don’t worry: This isn’t a cult, and the concept doesn’t have to be taken to the extreme. Yes, you can still buy stuff. We’ll explain.
What Is the Buy Nothing Project?
In 2013, two friends, Rebecca Rockefeller and Liesl Clark, created a gift-giving group on Bainbridge Island, Washington. The idea was that instead of bartering or offering gifts with strings attached, you’d just give away stuff you don’t want to people in your community who might be able to use it. And what do you get in return? Hopefully a nice thank you.
Within Buy Nothing groups, members offer up everything from baby gear to furniture, but it’s not always about “stuff.” Sometimes people give or receive expertise, says Katie Emery, a Los Angeles resident who belongs to a Buy Nothing group. For example, she says a member in her group offered to gift one hour of her time to advise someone on gardening.
“I’m a novice gardener, so I took her up on her kind offer. She spent over an hour with me and showed me what plants would work best in various sections of my garden, and even showed me how to arrange my potted plants better,” Emery says. “That one hour meant a lot to me, and I hope to give back to my community with my own knowledge soon. It was so inspiring.”
Another member gifted a 100-year-old sourdough starter, Emery says.
“Suddenly, everyone in the neighborhood was learning to bake sourdough bread. And even the finished bread was gifted to other neighbors,” Emery says. “It’s been such a great experience, I can’t recommend it highly enough.”
Where Can I Find Buy Nothing Groups Near Me?
The Buy Nothing Project provides links to Facebook groups in states, cities and sometimes neighborhoods. Most Buy Nothing groups are on Facebook, and the Buy Nothing Project is also working on an app.
How Buy Nothing Works
After you join a local group, you can ask for things you want or need or offer things you would like to give away – or a bit of both. You can also lend items to people in your community.
Saying “thanks” is the main payment for getting free stuff, so be sure to make it clear to the giver that you appreciate what you’re receiving.
Here are some of the main reasons to join a group, according to members:
Save money and live better. Daniela Sawyer, in San Mateo, California, has belonged to a Buy Nothing group for about six years – in part, she says, because money was tight.
“Buy Nothing enabled me to get second-hand clothes, shoes, novels and toys for my children,” Sawyer says.
Do something good for the planet. Sawyer says she likes her Buy Nothing group for this reason as well, and that giving something away “provides the item another chance to be used and keeps it from going out in a landfill.”[
Feel good about giving. Rebecca Churchill, in Oakton, Virginia, says she joined a Buy Nothing group after helping her mother pack up her home to relocate to a smaller place.
She likes the idea of giving things away to help others. “I don’t need a new handbag, but there are Afghan refugees moving to this country who need everything, and there are children in my own town who are going to bed hungry,” Churchill says.
Get rid of clutter. Another selling point is downsizing belongings to make your home more manageable and organized. “There is peace in living more simply, and I feel mentally more organized and calmer when my home is not choked with visual clutter,” Churchill says.
Get to know your neighbors. You can feel good about helping people in your community, and as an added benefit feel a little closer to your neighbors. You’ll be giving things to people you either know or will get better acquainted with.
What Are Buy Nothing Group Rules?
The rules require members to “give freely” without any expectation of reward or compensation. “Trading, bartering, buying or selling is counter to the Buy Nothing Project mission,” according to its website. It also suggests that members “give creatively,” for example, by sharing skills or through community lending libraries, clothing share events and bike programs.
What Is Buy Nothing Day?
If you’ve heard of Buy Nothing Day, it actually has nothing to do with the Buy Nothing movement. It was started as a protest against consumerism by a Canadian artist, and officially or unofficially, in the U.S., it’s held the day after Thanksgiving (countering one of the biggest shopping days of the year, Black Friday).[
Buy Nothing: the Bottom Line
The main thing to remember is that “buy nothing” isn’t all or nothing. Buy joining, you aren’t pledging to never buy anything again, never hold a garage sale or never list something for sale on eBay, Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace.
Of course, you’re going to shop and live your life. But if you join a Buy Nothing group, you may be able to seamlessly incorporate it into your life and enjoy some of the benefits while getting to know more people in your neighborhood.
In any case, when you happen to have stuff that you no longer want but don’t feel like selling and are loathe to throw away, a Buy Nothing group can do a lot of good.
That’s why Christine Alemany likes her Buy Nothing group in New York City. She says a lot of people leave things behind when they move out of the apartment building she lives in.
“We have found rugs, art, furniture when people move out. Some are lightly used. Others are antiques. I hate that these are being thrown away. So why not give to the local community?”
She and other fellow tenants have done just that.
“These items can mean so much to people and would otherwise be put in a landfill. Instead, students and people who are starting over can furnish their apartments. They can then use the money that would otherwise be spent for medicine, health care, etc.,” Alemany says.
Besides, Alemany says, “it just feels good.”