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Give, Receive, Reduce, Reuse, and Buy Nothing: How the Buy Nothing Project Teaches Kindness and Changes Communities

One of the fastest-growing movements in conservation, the community-based Buy Nothing Project has taken root all over the globe.

In July of 2013, friends Liesl Clark and Rebecca Rockefeller of Bainbridge Island, Washington, came together to start the inaugural group that would give rise to the Buy Nothing Project. An experiment at first, launched as a local Facebook group limited to a specific community, this first Buy Nothing group quickly spawned a worldwide movement with groups in more than thirty nations. 

Here’s the Buy Nothing Project mission: 

“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.”

Community is at the core of the movement. The act of opening hearts (and closets) with the gift of goods, time, or services creates a bond amongst people that returns us to the idea that sharing and connection is at the root of both very basic survival and the height of human experience. For buy nothing folks, the gift economy is a joyful system in which the “joy of giving” is not a holiday condition, but a lifestyle that fosters kindness, compassion, and relationships that can change lives.

A selection of Buy Nothing Project principles:

“We believe in abundance, we give, we ask, we share, we lend and we express gratitude.

We measure wealth by the personal connections made and trust between people.

We are inclusive and civil at our core.

We value honesty and integrity in all our interactions.

We view all gifts as equal; the human connection is the value.”

We value people and their stories and narratives above the ‘stuff.’

The hyper-locality of the project is also key. Each Buy Nothing Facebook group is limited by number of members and by region. This allows the formation of true person-to-person relationships and the strengthening of the community. And when a group starts to creep beyond neighborhood borders or  reaches capacity? It “sprouts,” creating an offshoot that will grow into a new Buy Nothing Facebook group, and a new opportunity for human connection. 

So how does it work? The concept of buying nothing is not about essentials that must be replenished, like groceries or gas-tank filling, but rather needs that can be fulfilled by sharing. Common asks and offers are for things like outgrown kids’ clothing, household items like an air-popper for popcorn or a set of bookshelves, even tasks such as cooking lessons. The directive “gift economy” drives the action. Instead of individuals and families living and purchasing privately and in isolation, the gifting mindset asks us to be open, assuring that it’s welcome to ask for help, and to offer when we have something to give, be it time, expertise, or tangible goods. Most parents tell their children about the value of sharing and being helpful. The buy nothing lifestyle shows kids the power of kindness, freely giving, and building connection.

“I admin the Bryn Mawr group and was admin of the Lower Merion group prior to the sprout,” says Leila Vaughn, local attorney, mom, and active member of her Buy Nothing community, along with friend and fellow Buy Nothing advocate, Natalie Sicroff. “Natalie watches my child and watered my garden when we went away one summer. I recently watered her plants when she was away. She also hemmed pants for me! Another neighbor came to my home and helped me organize. One year I did Christmas with almost all gifts coming from Buy Nothing, and I hardly ever buy new clothing anymore. We also collect for people in need together and we help each other recycle.”

Along with creating a communal pot of goods and services on offer, and teaching children (and adults) about the simple beauty in fulfilling needs, saying yes, and giving of oneself, the Buy Nothing Project is a powerful way to address environmental factors. By replacing purchasing with gifting of existing goods, we reduce spending, consumption, and our carbon footprint. “Reduce, reuse, and recycle,” is the creed of Buy Nothing members, one that translates directly into action, diverting waste away from our oceans and landfills, by re-homing quality goods that would otherwise be “thrown away.”

“The joy comes from extending the life of an object to avoid it going to waste,” says Dara Lovitz, mom of two, author, and attorney, adding, “I love when someone to whom I gift an object sends me a photo of her child enjoying it. I do the same when I receive an item. It’s so gratifying to see someone appreciate what you gave her.” 

This seemingly revolutionary movement is truly about returning us to simpler times, when the world, and maybe even human intentions, were cleaner and kinder, when reaching out to ask or offer was taken for granted as the right thing, the best thing, to do. As the Buy Nothing Project states: “Buy nothing, gain everything.”

To join or start your local Buy Nothing Group, visit the Buy Nothing Project

“I love my Buy Nothing group. I can’t even begin to list it all. My group is full of the sort of folks who will say, “Going out to grab a coffee. Anyone want me to bring them a coffee this morning?” We’re super respectful, and our admin is amazing. The reduction of waste is insane and the sense of community is so strong. When people post ‘ISO,’ tons of folks respond to help. It’s a wonderful thing I’m proud to be a part of.”

~ Brittany Marie

“When I was moving I found the Buy Nothing group in my new town and instead of throwing out tons of beauty/hair products I didn’t like or never used I was able to donate them to some teenage girls who could appreciate them.”

~ Brit A. Row

“I love my Buy Nothing group. I have acquired some wonderful items. I have become friends in real life with someone I met in my local group.”

~ Laura Jacqueline  

“I LOVE my local Buy Nothing group – everyone is kind and helpful and when people are in need, everyone jumps in to help. I’m a teacher and I live in the community where I teach, and so many have gifted things for my classroom and students. I also LOVE being able to gift to others and knowing that my once loved things are not sitting somewhere, unused or trashed. It’s just a good feeling overall!”

~ Julie Reyes 


Contributing Writer

  • Lisa Lauer June 27, 2020

    My group has popped up at a time when life was just plain hard. The people in our group are so giving and kind. Our small community is feeling the ripple from the goodness that exists within the walls of this sweet group. I’m honored to be a part of such goodness.