Need Something? Buy Nothing

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Editor's Note: This story originally appeared on Surviving and Thriving.

“Need something? Buy Nothing!” That’s my new motto, since discovering the Buy Nothing Facebook group phenomenon.

Sort of like an intensely local Freecycle group, a Buy Nothing Facebook group is a great way not just to keep things out of the landfill, but also to connect with your community.

I’ve gotten so much good stuff from my Buy Nothing group for free, including but not limited to:

  • A waffle iron that had been used just once (and it has a beeping timer – no more scorched waffles!)
  • A never-before-played “Game of Thrones” board game, which became a Christmas gift
  • A pair of slippers for my partner’s grandchild to wear when she visits (this is Alaska, and shoes go off at the door)
  • A wraparound-style fleece poncho (very soft and cozy)
  • A bright-red colander (which I use to drain my homemade yogurt)
  • Plastic storage totes
  • Lots of food: apples, powdered milk, flour, dried beans, yeast, lentils, baking powder, pasta, split peas, canned vegetables, fruits, fish and Spam (some of which we donated to a food bank)
  • Dig-your-own horseradish roots (always looking for new garden challenges)
  • A huge roll of parchment paper (a crucial ingredient in making this ridiculously simple, ridiculously delicious rustic bread)

My Buy Nothing group also helped me find an elementary school teacher who was delighted to take some empty Altoid tins off my hands. She was also stoked about receiving fidget spinners, slap bracelets and any other fun items I bring back from the Financial Blogger Conference. (Teachers are always looking for things for their classrooms.)

My partner and I have given away a bunch of other things, too, such as books, clothing and fresh rhubarb.

My niece has been able to find new homes for some decorative items when she changed decor, some outgrown toys and kids’ clothing, and a big bag of shredded bedding for pet cages after her snake died. She’s picked up some birthday and holiday gifts for her two teens.

She and I both check the page regularly, to see if anyone’s giving away something useful. Or looking for something useful — the Buy Nothing group runs both ways. If you don’t see what you need, you can ask.

For example, one woman was looking for a bike helmet for her 5-year-old. My niece told her that a nearby fire station was giving away children’s helmets.

Another woman wanted books for her granddaughter. A member provided the location of a Little Free Library set up specifically for children’s books.

Maybe the first woman was on a tight budget and a free bike helmet gave her a little wiggle room. Perhaps the grandmother needed to gift carefully because her retirement income goes only so far. It could also be that both have resolved to go secondhand in order to reduce their impact on the planet.

Either way, the Buy Nothing Facebook group is a great resource.

The theory of Buy Nothing

“Give where you live” is the idea. Buy Nothing is based on the idea of the “gift economy,” in which people share items, talents and time.

“[T]rue wealth is the web of connections formed between people who are real-life neighbors,” according to the Buy Nothing website.

Modern life being what it is, meeting your neighbors isn’t always easy. Hence a Buy Nothing page. From the enthusiastic messaging that occurs on the group I’m in, people are meeting people this way. Instead of making the trip to drop stuff off at Value Village or Goodwill, they’re connecting personally with others who can use it – and in the process, finding others who also have kids or who share the same hobbies.

And that red colander that’s been so useful to me? When the person giving it away messaged me to give her address, it turned out to be…two doors down from where we live. They were new to the area and I hadn’t met them yet.

I expect in truly ritzy areas, like Manhattan, the pickings are mighty fine. (Ever been to a garage sale in an expensive neighborhood?) But the stuff I’ve seen locally is pretty great.

A beautiful red sari, handmade in India. Children’s boots worn just a few times before being outgrown. A full-sized stove. Toys still in the shrink-wrap. A freezer. A push mower. Hard-sided suitcases with a cheerful op-art print. A two-week pill organizer, a pair of decorative baskets, a Disney Princess sleeping bag. A portable greenhouse. Shelving, a child’s raincoat, board games, chicken wire, a breast-pump shield.

Again, some of those items were offered and some were being sought. The beauty of a Buy Nothing page is that it lets you give and receive, lets you boost your budget or shore up someone else’s.

One particularly resourceful person said she had a bunch of junk that had to go to the landfill. Apparently, none of it was reusable. So…did anyone have one of those free dump passes that come with the annual property tax bill?

How to find a Buy Nothing page

Like Freecycle groups, Buy Nothing groups don’t exist everywhere. Organizers and moderators are needed to get them going and keep them running.

To find out if there’s one in your area, visit the Buy Nothing Project’s “Find a Group” page and click on the country in which you live. From there you’ll be led to find a neighborhood page. (Fun fact: The city of Perth has more than 100 groups.)

If there isn’t one in your area and you feel there’s a need, talk with friends about starting a Buy Nothing page. If all goes well, the money you save on buying new stuff (and paying dump fees) will more than pay for the time. You might even make a new friend or two.

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