“We offer people a way to give and receive, share, lend, and express gratitude through a worldwide network of hyper-local gift economies in which the true wealth is the web of connections formed between people who are real-life neighbors.”
This is the mission statement of the Buy Nothing Project. This hyper-local gift economy exists as a network of Facebook groups representing different neighborhoods in different cities across the world. Each Facebook group has a community of members that offer up goods and services to others in the community for free. Members of the community create a post offering something and other community members can request to be considered for the gift. The offering member will wait a certain amount of time before replying on the post and gifting the item to a member in the group that requested consideration. Members can also make a post asking for something specific and other members can comment to offer to fill the need.
I’ve been a member of my local Buy Nothing group for over a year now. Prior to focusing on a simpler life, this group contributed more to my “stuff” problem than it alleviated it, although most of the gifts I requested were clothes, shoes and toys for my kids.
How Buy Nothing Helps Me Simplify My Life
Now that I’m on a journey to a simpler life, the Buy Nothing Project has become an even bigger staple in my life. It represents two main opportunities to help me declutter:
1. Gifting to others in my community makes it easier to let go
Prior to the Buy Nothing Project, I often found myself driving large heaps of goods to my local charity store or often, to the dump. Many times I held onto things because I wasn’t sure if they would even be put out by the charity or if they would be thrown away. Now, when I post items in the group I can gauge the interest in the item – I’m often surprised at the number of responses.
The best part is that you get to pick who will receive your gift. Sometimes I choose based on the details in the response, sometimes I choose based on who has gifted things to me in the past and sometimes I just randomly choose a name.
As a bonus, the Buy Nothing Project makes it easier for the whole family to get on board with decluttering. If your kids have a hard time letting go of old toys or clothes, let them choose who they gift the item to, it might even make them eager to find more things to give.
2. Beating Consumerism
As a member of the Buy Nothing Project, I no longer have any reason to buy a lot of my everyday things. Members post gifts of food, clothes, toys, electronics, tools, beauty products and even services. Members of my group have offered free photography sessions, car mechanic work and babysitting services, just to name a few. People are also more than happy to lend items out for special uses – gardening equipment, large vehicles to haul furniture, snow sleds, printers and formal gowns. With such a generous community I often find I can save money even on the things I really want or need.
As an example, I recently decided to declutter my life by switching to ebooks. I wanted to purchase a Kindle but before I did I took a long shot and asked the community. Sure enough, someone had a Kindle Paperwhite they were willing to gift. It’s a few years old but it does the trick and it saved me from spending $100 on a new one.
My kids have benefitted from the surplus of free clothes/shoes/toys. My girls are only 2.5 years old and don’t have much of a fashion preference. While other kids that they play with have designer outfits and endless accessories their parents purchased, my kids have second hand clothes, shoes and even toys. At the end of the day I spent $0 on my kids attire and instead I can save those unspent funds for something else that brings more value to their life like a new experience, family vacation or a savings account for college.
It’s important to note that gifting items through the Buy Nothing Project takes time. Taking your items to Goodwill or directly to the dump is certainly faster than gifting items individually online. The process can be time consuming: taking pictures, making a post, choosing a recipient, bagging the item and tagging it with someone’s name, messaging with the recipient to give them your address and sometimes making arrangements for a specific pickup time if the item is too big or fragile to leave on the porch.
When I first kicked off my decluttering I started with my bedroom closet and after an hour I had 3 full boxes and 4 full bags of clothes and accessories. I contacted an admin with my predicament: Lots of stuff to gift and not enough time. She suggested I sort items by category and offer up each box to someone who was interested in the contents and willing to re-gift anything that didn’t work for them. The background picture above is one of those boxes that I gifted. This saved me hours and hours of the gifting process and still allowed me to give the items to people who wanted or needed them.
A Sense of Community
The Buy Nothing Project offers me more than just a place to deposit things I don’t want anymore, it’s greatest contribution to my life has been the sense of community. While general conversation is discouraged in the main Buy Nothing groups, our group has a separate community page where we can ask questions, share tips about local events and offer each other encouragement or advice. When I was researching the experiences I wanted to pursue in my “30 Before 30″ challenge, I sought input from the group on which experiences to include and where to find the best deals or best classes. One person even loaned me equipment for one of my experiences. The feedback led me to new discoveries and has helped to breed the potential for new friendships.
A Word of Caution
As someone who is seeking to live a simpler life with less stuff, I find it easy to restrain myself from requesting gifts of items that I don’t really need. If you’re pursuing a clutter-free life and are not sure you could resist the temptation of lots of free stuff filling up your news feed, make sure to turn off notifications and visit the group only often enough to offer up your items or make special requests.