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  • Writer's pictureMarni Jameson

Buy Nothing Part 2: Got Stuff? Give Stuff. It's the Neighborly Thing to Do

When I was a kid, my mom would often dispatch me to a neighbor’s house to borrow an egg, or a cup of sugar. My dad regularly loaned out his tools or lawnmower.

That’s just how it was. But as a (one might argue) grown-up, I can’t remember ever asking to borrow anything from a neighbor. If we’re out of eggs, or need a new rake, we run to the store.

The Buy Nothing Project, a local effort started by two friends that has gone global (the social movement now has over 4 million participants in 44 countries), is working to make the world a little more like it used to be. Last week, I wrote about the Buy Nothing phenomenon, where neighbors post items they are either giving away ― from plant cuttings to pianos ― or would like to get on Facebook. In the process, they thin out their homes, save money, lighten the load on our planet, and help us return to the days when we knew our neighbors.

After learning that my town had a Buy Nothing Facebook group, I asked to be let in. (This took a few days. Apparently, they had some doubts.) Once admitted, I noticed one of my friends was an active member. I called her. Lisa Everett, of Winter Park, Fla., joined the group a few years ago as one of its original members. She’s watched it grow from 10 members to over 830.

“It’s really come in handy,” she said. “Now that I’m an empty nester, I have been trying to declutter, and this gives me and easy, feel-good way to get things to new homes.” She especially likes meeting her belongings’ new owners.

She estimates she’s gifted at least 20 items, including a gigantic stuffed lion gone to a mom with two young daughters and a sick dog, a large crystal punchbowl that was not earning its keep in her pantry, and a pair of porcelain china teacups and saucers that went to a woman looking forward to using them during her frequent teatimes with her mother.

She also re-homed 50 ceramic tiles left over from a home improvement project. “I would have probably put them in the trash, but noticed that someone in the group was looking for materials to use to make mosaics.”

To test the waters, I posted a set of three colorful make-up cases for girls, and a triple-wick, never burned “Tiki Beach” candle available for contactless “porch pickup,” the preferred pandemic method. I had interest in under five minutes, and by that afternoon they had gone home with a mom and her 9-year-old daughter.

Simple as that.

Since starting the all-volunteer project in 2013, Buy Nothing founders Liesl Clark and Rebecca Rockefeller, who live on Bainbridge Island, off the coast of Washington State, have put their share-more-buy-less philosophy into a book, “The Buy Nothing, Get Everything Plan: Discover the Joy of Spending Less, Sharing More, and Living Generously (Atria Publishing, April 2020).

Next, they plan to move group members off Facebook and onto an app, which Clark says will be ready for a global launch this summer. Eventually, they also hope to be paid for their efforts.

Though they have done fundraising to support their public benefit corporation, their neither Rockefeller nor Clark, nor any of their administrators has been paid. They are looking to change that. “We are coming to a crossroads,” Clark said. “It’s not sustainable as it is. Maybe the answer is a tip jar. We don’t know.”

To get a better feel for how this system of giving and getting works, I asked Clark to share some examples, and also looked at the posts in my community’s group. Though far from a comprehensive survey, I found these superlative exchanges:

· Most cherished: A woman lost her wedding ring while gardening. After searching her yard, she asked her Buy Nothing Facebook group if anyone had a metal detector she could borrow. With the help of a neighbor they recovered her ring.

· Most minor: Someone lost the inner spring in their toilet paper dispenser, which could constitute a national emergency in some households. Sure enough, someone nearby had a spare spring.

· Most generous: An older couple was downsizing, and wanted to see that all the furniture they couldn’t take with them would go to a good home. Turned out, it was just what a young couple starting out needed.

· Most resourceful: After displaying a 20-foot-long “Happy Birthday” sign across their front yard for one day of glory, the owner offered it up to the group. To date, nearly 30 members have used it and passed it along.

· Most furiendly: A professional pet photographer offered to take free portraits to help anyone trying to find homes for foster dogs.

· Most interactive. A woman cleaned out her closet, filled a box with spare clothing, and announced that she had a box of size medium clothes out front. A neighbor picked up the box, tried on and took what she wanted, put her castoffs in the box and posted for the next woman to do the same. Called Round Robbins, these exchanges can work for many categories, including kids’ toys, kitchenware or bath goods, Clark said.

· Most historical. In our group, someone posted a vintage stand-up scale that had once belonged to beloved retired physician in the community. One group member put the giver in touch with the city’s historical society, which happily took in the small-town memento, along with the good doctor’s microscope.

· Most uh-unusual: And then there was the person training a dog for vermin control, who asked whether anyone had any dead mice they didn’t need.

“Eeyew, did they get any?” I asked.

“Oh, yes!” Clark assured me. “It was spring. People had plenty of mice in traps.”

Now that’s downright neighborly.

Photo caption: Bountiful ― Buy Nothing Project founders Rebecca Rockefeller (left) and Liesl Clark plan to start moving their 4 million users off Facebook and onto an app platform this summer. Photos courtesy of Liesl Clark.

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