What I learned from my local Buy Nothing Group

In 2019, my husband and I bought our first home. We were excited to get to know our neighbors and put down roots in a community. But by the time things settled down and we climbed out from under piles of empty cardboard moving boxes, we were hit with a global pandemic, and getting to know members of the community got a little tricky, to say the least.

When a dear friend of mine kept mentioning how much she was loving her local Buy Nothing Group and the friendships she was growing in despite social distancing, I got curious.

I’d never heard of Buy Nothing Groups, so I did a little research and discovered that Rebecca Rockefeller and Lisel Clark started The Buy Nothing Project as a hyper-local gift economy experiment in Bainbridge Island, Washington, in 2013. Almost a decade later, The Buy Nothing Project has grown into a global movement with groups in 44 nations.

The rules of Buy Nothing Groups are straightforward: Members can give away, share and lend almost anything they want with their neighbors. They can also ask for anything they’d like to receive or borrow. The main things that don’t happen in Buy Nothing Groups are buying, selling and trading. This is because Buy Nothing Groups operate on what Rebecca and Lisel call “a gift economy.”

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Joining my local Buy Nothing Group in the thick of COVID-19 restrictions was exactly the gift I needed in 2020. Now that the world is slowly getting back to normal, I’ve loved getting to meet neighbors face to face, and I’m excited for the community I’ll continue to get to know in 2021.

Over the past year, I’ve given and received countless gifts — but some of the gifts I’m the most grateful for are the lessons this group has taught me about generosity, gratitude and community. Here’s what Buy Nothing Groups have taught me so far.

There will always be enough to go around

When I first joined my local Buy Nothing Group, I was hesitant to give anything away. I’d clean the house and come across things like a 12-cup coffee pot I hadn’t used in years or clothes I hadn’t worn for a long time, but I couldn’t bring myself to make a post sharing them as a gift with my neighbors.

What if I needed that coffee pot again for a big brunch with friends when the world opened up again?

What if the perfect occasion to wear that dress I hadn’t touched since college was right around the corner?

But after just a few weeks in the Buy Nothing Group, my mindset started to shift. I let go of the fear that I wouldn’t have enough if I gave things away. Buy Nothing Groups are built around the idea of abundance, not scarcity. Members are confident that there will always be enough to go around — and that’s exactly what I’ve experienced during my time in my Buy Nothing Group.

Sure, I may not have that 12-cup coffee pot sitting in my basement in reserve for the next brunch. But I’m confident that if I ever need one again, all I have to do is ask.

Gratitude is the magic of Buy Nothing Groups

There are three types of posts that you’ll find when browsing through your local Buy Nothing Group on Facebook. The first is a “give” post, where a member gives away something to their community. The second type of post is the “ask” post, where a neighbor will ask for something they specifically need. But my favorite posts to read are the “gratitude” posts. These posts usually come after a member receives what they were asking for or picks up a gift that someone gave away.

In my local Buy Nothing Group, these gratitude posts have involved everything from videos of kids breathing new life into toys that had been long neglected in someone’s basement to pictures of freshly decorated apartments for members who are starting over after tragedy. Seeing the gratitude for gifts received truly inspires continued generosity with the members of the Buy Nothing Group.

Witnessing this culture of gratitude has not only inspired me to make my own gratitude posts in the group, but also to grow in gratitude with my family and friends outside of the Buy Nothing group.

Generosity builds trust

When I first joined my local Buy Nothing group, I used the Facebook group as the motivation I needed to do some summer cleaning around the house. But by the end of the summer, I made my first “ask” post. We’d started a garden in our backyard and no matter where I looked, I couldn’t find any tomato cages at local garden stores — they’d all been purchased by a growing group of first time gardeners that year.

At first I was hesitant to ask. It felt vulnerable — would my neighbors critique my amateur gardening skills? Would they think I was crazy for asking for something that was such a hot commodity in our local area?

But when I asked, I was only met with encouragement. Some neighbors offered to pick up tomato cages for me if they came across them while doing their shopping. Others asked if they could message me with some tomato cage alternatives. And one kind woman offered three of her own tomato cages, which were exactly what I was looking for.

That ask for tomato cages was just the encouragement I needed. Over the summer, my trust in my neighbors (and my community as a whole) only grew. I’m not hesitant to ask for what I need anymore. With every ask, I know that I’ll either receive the thing I’m hoping for or receive just the encouragement that I need from people I’ve grown to trust.

The best gift to give (and receive) is friendship

Not every gift that is given and received in Buy Nothing groups is something that can be picked up off a porch. Although the most common posts found in my local Buy Nothing Group involve people cleaning out their homes and giving away the results of decluttering, there’s another kind of gift that is one of my favorite aspects of belonging to a Buy Nothing Group — the gift of self.

In these “gifts of self” posts, members share their talents, passions and time with each other. In my neighborhood, gifts of self have included a couple opening up their home for a class on sourdough starters, a retired woman offering her time to come snuggle with babies and toddlers while exhausted new moms get some rest, and a neighbor sharing her crochet and knitting expertise with local kids who are anxious to learn a new craft. When one of our neighborhood families contracted COVID-19, the group put together a meal train and made sure they didn’t have to cook while they recovered at home.

Is picking up the exact thing I need that’s been sitting unused in my neighbor’s garages satisfying and exciting? Sure. No doubt about it.

But even better is meeting my neighbors and forming lasting friendships with the people who live down the street from me. Their friendship and generosity is the best gift I’ve received from my Buy Nothing Group.

Do you want to experience the radical generosity and gratitude found in your own local Buy Nothing Group? One of the more than 6,000 Buy Nothing groups may be in your own neighborhood! Find your local group by visiting the Buy Nothing website. I can’t wait for you to receive and give the gifts you discover!

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