Buy Nothing, Gain Everything: Local Group Thrives on Community
Remember the days when you could run over to the neighbor’s house to borrow a cup of sugar?
Fortunately, though, the Buy Nothing Project is bringing that kind of ethos and connection and healthy interdependence back to our local communities. Started by Liesl Clark and Rebecca Rockefeller on Bainbridge Island, Washington, in 2013, after Clark admired the gift economy in the Nepalese Himalaya, the movement has made its way to the Rogue Valley.
With Facebook groups now in hundreds of communities across 17 countries, there are three groups growing here locally: Grants Pass, West Medford and Ashland/Talent/Phoenix.
The idea is to “ask before you go buy,” explains Talent resident Paula Mixson, 69, an administrator for the Ashland/Talent/Phoenix group, currently in its second year with 923 members. Unlike Craigslist or the classifieds, there is no currency allowed here. Only giving, asking and gratitude.
When Mixson joined in February 2016, she was required to do an exercise called Big Ask, Small Ask. “My big ask was for help with landscaping. My small ask was for a crockpot. I got both, and they were less than half a mile away.”
The project helps curtail unnecessary waste and spending, to be sure, but that’s not the primary goal, explains Mixson. “The real purpose is to create community with one-on-one connections.”
One such connection was created when Mixson had the spice grinder that fellow member Phoebe Quillian needed. “We ideally want to meet each other when we pick up or drop off a gift,” says Mixson, who brought the grinder to Quillian’s home. Living only one mile apart with common interests, the two women never would have met if it weren’t for the Buy Nothing Project. “She’s becoming a good friend, and I think I’ll be making a whole lot more,” Mixson says.
Gifts offered on Buy Nothing pages range from children’s toys to antiques, kitchen supplies to cars, organic eggs to homemade wine. Members can also offer gifts of service, which make for tear-jerker moments to rival a Hallmark movie.
One nurse offered her time to care for the elderly. One group answered a woman’s late-night request for over-the-counter medicines to help treat a painful UTI. Another woman posted she had a talent for face painting and was recruited to help at a neighbor kid’s birthday party.
Ashland resident and father of four Jace Green says the project has also been great for teaching his children about the merits of giving.
“I think it’s a good lesson for them. With my oldest, , it isn’t always easy to get rid of things. It’s really nice for him to be able to pick who it goes to, someone who’s going to use it.”
Green has also been on the receiving end. When he and wife Laurie met ten years ago, she had recently lost her guitar. “She talked about it on and off our entire relationship, about how she’d love to start playing guitar again, but we weren’t in a financial position to buy her one.”
With his wife’s birthday approaching, Green posted the ask, and Mixson provided, sneaking the guitar over when Laurie wasn’t home. “She was completely blown away,” Green says. “Now she’s able to pick it up again and bring music into our house for our kids.”
Mixson agrees it’s good to know where your stuff goes. “How many times have you had something that was really good and you didn’t want to take it to Goodwill, because it had some meaning for you, but you don’t really need it?”
At the time of publication, the Grants Pass group had 131 members and the West Medford group had 59 members. Local administrators are hoping to grow the groups and increase participation.
“I really wish that more people were involved in Buy Nothing boards,” says Grants Pass administrator Kaitlynn Green, 22. “Particularly because, who doesn’t like free stuff?”
However, Green echoes the sentiment that it’s not just about the stuff. “We ask that everyone be personal about it. None of that, ‘Interested,’ or, ‘Want it.’ We prefer if you give a bit more information, what your plans are for it.”
The Ashland/Talent/Phoenix group, at 923 members, may be “sprouting” soon, which means it will be broken into smaller, more local groups. The project aims to keep groups to fewer than 1000 people, so it remains about community connection as opposed to a first-come, first-served race to claim goods.
To join the Buy Nothing Project, visit buynothingproject.org/find-a-group, or search “Buy Nothing [YOUR CITY]” on Facebook.
Request to join and send a private message to the administator listed in the group’s description, so the admin can confirm that you are over 21 and live in the area, since the idea is to “give where you live.” Whether it’s a cup of sugar or a couple of friends, the Buy Nothing Project is providing a modern way to meet age-old needs, both material and humanitarian.
“We’re only limited by the human condition,” Mixson says, “And that’s limitless in my book.”