Buy Nothing, Want Not: The Sharing Economy

The first Presidential debate was tonight — why am I writing about a Facebook group called Buy Nothing, where we share peanut-butter cookies and old greeting cards? Because if we don’t make the 21st century about sharing, caring and conserving resources, it’ll be about mistrust, petty jealousy, and war.

The Buy Nothing Project has become a way of life for me here in Seattle. Never heard of it? It is simply a group of 1,100+ of neighbors within about 10 blocks of me who have embraced a few key ideas. First and foremost is that we are happier with less stuff and more social connections. So we post things to give away freely, things we’d like to freely receive, and most importantly, we post about our gratitude.

You don’t have to pledge to literally buy nothing, but as you get more involved with the group, you find you really do shop much, much less.

What have I gotten from my Buy Nothing group?

Half a tube of tomato paste to help me avoid buying a new one. Seeds and starts for my garden. Many types of tea and a “tea house” shelf to store it in. Kids’ clothes that make back-to-school shopping unnecessary, and toys! A plastic airport, trucks, and an easel that I love having for my son but would have hated to buy new.

buy nothing group mirrorI’ve also been able to borrow lots of things that I just needed temporarily. Traffic cones, a second kid-sized wheelbarrow, and cake pans helped me throw a fun construction-themed birthday party last year. Today I borrowed window-washing supplies for the second time. “I’ll return these next week,” I told my neighbor. “Take your time,” she said. “I wash my windows about once every six years.” We have a low tolerance for clutter and still need to organize our garage, so the less I buy in terms of seldom-used tools, the better!

What have we given away? Veggies that threatened to go to waste, like last year’s huge zucchinis that made us groan by the 4th or 5th one but brought our neighbors so much joy. A SodaStream maker that was cluttering up our countertop and is now keeping someone else from buying plastic soda bottles. Embarrassingly large numbers of paper bags that my dear family members can’t seem to avoid bringing home from the store. Cloth diapers, potties, and books to help our neighbors quit disposables as soon as possible. A million little things.

Clean, green move-outs with Buy Nothing

This week, I’ve been very busy moving our elderly family member out of the basement apartment. It’s been a huge help and a relief not to have to deal with large piles of what he considers “trash.”

Moving is always a good time to weed through one’s possessions and unload unwanted items. But after Mr. 20th Century threw his beautiful Italian dress shoes into a wastebasket because he no longer needed them, I pulled them out plugged them back into the 21st Century’s “sharing economy.”

Posting a pic on my “hyper-local” Buy Nothing Facebook group, I instantly found someone of the same size in my Buy Nothing group who could wear them to work. Some of the most popular and easy-to-give items were wall hangings, a junky guitar case (interesting!), and a huge box of pens & pencils. Only one member expressed interest in the old glasses cases, but she took 3 or 4 for her whole family and was really happy with them!


The vacuum cleaner went to a disabled African-American neighbor whose family “just got housed” and was in need of furniture. Some of the food we might have tossed went to someone whose food budget was short this month. But we don’t distinguish between needs and wants, because we all have a lot to give and receive. Sometimes we use random number generators to pick who gets an item.

Physical “stuff” is not the be-all and end-all either. I also asked for a “gift of self” this week. The camera on my phone is acting funny, so I asked if anyone could come help me sort and photograph all the items to be posted. A lovely neighbor came over and I learned she was a French and Spanish teacher! It was a lovely time and made my clean-out task much more pleasant.

Spreading the Love

I love Buy Nothing so much, I helped start a group in my hometown of Framingham, MA. I hope the South Framingham / Ashland group  grows from its current 110 members to 1,100 too, and that someone in North Framingham volunteers to lead a group, too. I remember when Bill Clinton signed an education bill at our high school in the 90s because we were so diverse. It would be a great place to do more sharing and build understanding across cultural and socioeconomic lines.

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