What if getting free stuff could bring you closer to your neighbors?
The Buy Nothing Project is a movement that aims to build community by providing a forum for people to give and receive items amongst their neighbors.
An avid fan of saving money everywhere I can, I was initially excited about the prospect of “free stuff,” and I’ve found the project to be so much more! Based in Facebook groups which are limited to local areas, the main idea of BNP is that members can post what they want to give, share, or lend; or ask for what they might need to acquire or borrow.
Since I joined my local Buy Nothing group, here’s what I’ve found
While it’s similar to Freecycle, the format of having Facebook groups puts a “face” (picture) and a bit more of a personal spin on the requests, as well as an easier way to post pictures of items, collect responses, and notify interested parties. It is strictly a “give freely” economy, with no bartering or trades allowed. In addition to saving money and reducing waste, BNP explicitly aims to have its members build a sense of sharing, community, and taking care of one another, with the idea that people will come to know each other over time through small interactions. Anything is fair game: clothing, kitchen items, sporting goods, children’s toys, appliances, plants, you name it.
Members are generally encouraged to decide how they’d like to gift an item. Some state that it’s “first come, first served,” while others will draw a name out of a hat if many people leave a comment saying they’re interested. Others ask you to write a sentence or two about why you want the item in question and choose to give to the member whose story resounds with them.
Pros of Buy Nothing Groups
- The spirit of community is noticeable and shows up in what’s offered. Yes, people post items with missing pieces or that need some love (which they clearly denote). But they also post nearly new items, or items in great condition with lots of life left, that they simply don’t need anymore. I’ve already gotten a toddler bike, 10 sealed pouches of baby food, and a nearly-new waterproof mattress pad in just a few days (items that would have cost me anywhere from $30 at Goodwill to $100 new). I’ve also seen members give away a Ninja blender and brand new bread maker that they simply weren’t using and wanted someone else to get good use out of.
- People also get creative! Members offer loaves of fresh-baked banana bread and veggies from their garden. They request items needed for a hospice patient or for help painting trim at the home of their widow neighbor.
- The Facebook-group-based interface means my email inbox doesn’t clog, and Private Messages can be used within Facebook to share pickup addresses without posting private info to the group.
- In addition to getting free stuff, you can gift items to others to clear out your clutter, or you can request to borrow an item that you may only need for a short time (e.g. a punch bowl for a party, a pack & play while a guest with kids is in town, or a tool you need for a project).
- When I miss out on an item (because it’s given to someone else), I sometimes have to tame my inner green monster. I put this in the “pro” column because I find it good practice to remember the difference between needs and wants, and that if I truly need something I can probably request it on the group page and may find it that way. Otherwise, I can live without it! But there may come a time when it’s just easier not to see how many things I “missed out” on.
- Unlike Craigslist, where you usually have to negotiate a pickup time, many members offer “PPU” (porch pick-up) so that you can go by at your convenience to grab what you’re gifted.
Cons of Buy Nothing Groups
- The Facebook-based interface means it’s also easy to spend way too much time watching the group to see if something interesting or useful goes by.
- You may (frequently) not be gifted something you want due to high interest (though this is also true with Craigslist and Freecycle).
- Currently in 30 US states and six countries, you can search Facebook (try looking for “Buy Nothing [your city here]”) or check out current locations on the BNP website. If there’s not one near you yet, you can check back soon (they’re growing rapidly) or try to start your own!