Buy Nothing, Build Community

There’s nothing like beautiful weather to prompt us to clean our homes to start with what feels like a fresh, clean slate. You may notice in your decluttering, however, that you have extra items to toss or donate. Maybe it’s old clothing items you’ve outgrown, a chair that you no longer need, or books you’ve already read? Finding new homes for these items can be tricky, and many of us wish that our old items can receive some second-hand love without the trip to the thrift store or the fear that they end up in the landfill. On the other end of things, maybe you’re looking for a new house or kitchenware to spruce up your home but aren’t looking to spend. Lucky for you, the Buy Nothing Project, a local gift economy, was born as a creative solution to this problem! Today, you can find Buy Nothing Facebook Groups which are intended for neighbors to give and receive by gifting, as opposed to trading, buying, or selling. Engaging in these groups can be a solution for sustainable disposal and building a culture of reuse in your community. 

What is the Buy Nothing Project?
The Buy Nothing project was started by two friends, Rebecca Rockefeller and Liesl Clark in Bainbridge Island, WA, who decided to create an experimental hyper-local gift economy. Momentum built and it has since become a worldwide social movement, with groups in 30 countries. Local groups form micro gift economies that are complementary to local cash economies. People join to quickly get rid of things cluttering their lives or to save money on free items, often allowing for the discovery that the true value of the gift economy comes from the network that supports it. Interactions initiated by the group turn into other opportunities for connection, humor, entertainment, and more free stuff. 

The Buy Nothing Project is so much more than a free recycling and disposal platform. It has become a place for people to feel more connected to their neighborhood, especially during a difficult year of health precautions and distancing. In the past year, so much community support has been built in these groups. It’s wonderful to be a part of a community with supportive neighbors that can lend a helping hand whether you were displaced and need some furniture in a pinch, need gardening advice, or simply need a cup of sugar for the batch of cookies you’re making. 


What qualifies for a gift economy?
You can give or ask for whatever you would like in the Buy Nothing Group, but honesty and respect is the policy. Examples of gifts include household items like dishes and furniture, children’s toys or games, flash gives of food that needs to be given away, etc.  

Juliana of the Buy Nothing Group in South Berkeley (West of MLK Way) says,

“Trust and honesty are key to making a gift economy work. When you post an item, please be honest about the condition of the gift. That includes noting any damage or defects, expiration dates, age, or any other pertinent info that could affect its usage.

On the flip-side, when you request a gift feel free to ask questions that will help you decide if it’s right for you! Sometimes issues may not have been apparent to the giver, and in those cases, try to assume good intent.

Don’t worry, broken or damaged items are still welcome in the group! Many things can be repurposed and repaired, and you never know who might be interested in giving it new life. New or old, whole or broken, all gifts are welcome here as long as the giver is honest about the condition.”


How does the Buy Nothing Project work and how do I join a group?
The Buy Nothing Project utilizes Facebook Groups and open source documents, where people set up Buy Nothing Project groups online for their own neighborhoods. Members can easily join and participate in their local group. 

Why Facebook? When the Buy Nothing Project started, Facebook was the primary and free social media platform that would work for what they needed. They have now adopted new open source models to open up possibilities. You can visit the Buy Nothing Project website and use their tools, non-commercial and non-monetized, to create a group wherever you like. They also have a volunteer support network for the Facebook Groups, but not for any other platforms yet.

“Buy Nothing Project rules are simple: Post anything you’d like to give away, lend, or share amongst neighbors. Ask for anything you’d like to receive for free or borrow. Keep it legal. No hate speech. No buying or selling, no trades or bartering, we’re strictly a gift economy.”


Join the Buy Nothing Community!

Berkeley Facebook Group Links:
Central Berkeley
Claremont Hills/ UC Campus
North Berkeley/Berkeley Hills (South)
Northwest Berkeley
South Berkeley (East of MLK Way)
South Berkeley (West of MLK Way)
Southwest Berkeley

There are other many ways to get involved in the reuse community – check out our blog: Shop Sustainably, Bulk & Refill Shops in the East Bay to learn more about businesses that practice reuse!

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3 thoughts on “Buy Nothing, Build Community

  1. I would very much like to join but I am not a member of Facebook. I have some estrangements in my family and I’m trying to avoid sadly. What are my other options? Please!

    • Hi Chuck, sorry for the delayed response. If you’re still looking to participate in a gift economy, you may want to try the app OLIO or the website . These resources might not have the same community aspect as Facebook groups, but you can still get and get rid of items for free.

      Another option would be to join or start your own group on Nextdoor, which may work for you since you can only view posts and profiles from your neighbors.

      Hope this is helpful!

  2. Hi Andrea,

    I am researcher currently writing a paper about life in Berkeley during the pandemic and specifically about recycling.
    I have a couple of questions about BuyNothing page.
    Can you please let me know what works best for you?

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