How "Buy Nothing" Facebook Groups Work to Create a Gift Economy in Communities

Give and receive for free in your local Buy Nothing group. 

Sophie Hirsh - Author

Jul. 29 2019, Updated 3:12 p.m. ET

buy nothing facebook groups
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As the saying goes, one person’s trash is another person’s treasure. With that in mind, Rebecca Rockefeller and Liesl Clark founded the Buy Nothing Project back in 2013. Now, six years later, the project has expanded to thousands of locations all over the globe. Buy Nothing Facebook groups help people live sustainably by saving them money, reducing waste, and strengthening their community — so it’s pretty much a win, win, win.

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Read on to learn everything you’ve ever wanted to know about Buy Nothing groups.

What Is a Buy Nothing Group?

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A Buy Nothing group is a Facebook group hyper-localized to your town (or if you live in a big city, your neighborhood), where locals can post items they want to give away or are in need of — for free. The founders of the Buy Nothing Project call their Facebook groups a “gift economy.”

What Is the Point of Buy Nothing Groups?

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Have you ever had something that you wanted to get rid of, but couldn’t bear to send to the landfill, and it wasn’t quite valuable enough to sell? Well, with a Buy Nothing group, you could instantly have access to hundreds or even thousands of people in your community, one of whom is bound to need that twin bed frame, those 10-pound weights, or that bag of apples that are going to go bad before you have time to eat them all.

On the flip side, Buy Nothing groups can be a treasure trove of amazing finds. By just lurking in your local Buy Nothing Facebook group, it’s kind of like you’re in a thrift store 24/7, where everything is free. Not only will you save money by getting things you need for free from Buy Nothing, but you will also help reduce the demand for more of those items to be produced.

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Additionally, Buy Nothing groups can help grow community ties. The person who you give your old set of dishes to could wind up becoming your newest neighborhood pal.

What Do People Give Away on Buy Nothing?

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Everything and anything! Furniture, clothes, food, compost, toys, garden tools, shoes, artwork, cleaning products — it’s all fair game on Buy Nothing.

You can also give away or offer services, such as haircuts, yoga lessons, lawn mowing… whatever you would like to offer to your community!

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How Did Buy Nothing Groups Start?

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In the summer of 2013, Rebecca Rockefeller and Liesl Clark launched an experiment called the Buy Nothing Project in their island community off the Seattle coast, according to a video launching the project on YouTube. As the two women explained in a blog post on their website in July 2013, it took them years to “find the right combination of technology and community to create a sustainable sharing and caring economy.”

A few years before launching the Buy Nothing Project, Clark started a group on Yahoo called Island Garden Share for her community on Puget Sound Island, according to the blog post. Group members would meet up once a month to swap perennial plants, so that people could start their own new plant beds without spending money. A few years later, after Island Garden Share had tapered off, Clark connected with Rockefeller, who had already founded an app called Trash Backwards. The two teamed up to start Bainbridge Barter, a weekly meetup for gardeners to swap produce they grew in their backyards. 

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Bainbridge Barter also fizzled after a few years — but Rockefeller and Clark rebounded by setting up a Facebook group called Buy Nothing Bainbridge. In just three weeks, the group had more than 60 members. Things grew from there, and there are now Buy Nothing groups all over the world.

How Do Buy Nothing Groups Work?

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Once you’ve joined your local Buy Nothing group, you can post any items or services you are looking to give away for free — but nothing you are trying to sell. If you see someone post that they’re giving away something you’re interested in, you can go ahead and comment on the post, and hopefully start messaging with the poster about it. 

When it comes to how you will actually get or give the item away, that’s up to you. You and the other person can decide to meet up in a public location in your area, or you can choose to meet at one of your homes. Meeting up with a stranger always comes at your own risk — all the Buy Nothing group does is connect two people on either end of a deal.

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How to Find a Buy Nothing Group Near Me

To find your local Buy Nothing group, you can simply search “Buy Nothing” and the name of your town or neighborhood, and see if a group comes up. You can also go to the “Find a Group” page on the Buy Nothing project’s website, where every official Buy Nothing group around the world is listed and hyperlinked.

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How to Join a Buy Nothing Group

Once you find your local Facebook group, all you need to do is click the “Join Group” button, and then answer the three questions provided: What are two cross streets near your home? Are you a member of another Buy Nothing group? and Are you at least 21 years old?

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Buy Nothing Group Rules

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Buy Nothing groups all follow the same set of nine rules. The most notable rules include: Keep it legal; keep conversations civil and don’t discriminate; don’t message members unless they commented that you can message them; do not buy or sell; and be creative with what you ask for and give — instead of asking for money, see if anyone is giving away a good or service that could help you.

As Rockefeller and Clark stated in their original blog post: “Buy Nothing: Give Freely. Share the bounty. 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. Keep it civil.”

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How to Start a Buy Nothing Group

If there isn’t a Buy Nothing group in your community, you can fill out Buy Nothing’s Start-a-Group form. But first, read the corresponding blog post, and make sure that you can commit to being an admin for the group, which involves volunteering to monitor the group’s activity for 15-60 minutes each day.

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If your request gets approved, Buy Nothing will then have you go through a seven-day training session. (They take things seriously!) From there, Buy Nothing will create the official Facebook group for your town, which you can then promote, monitor, and use. As long as you feel comfortable committing to overseeing the group, it will totally be worth starting one.

Buy Nothing vs. Freecycle

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In 2003, 10 years before Buy Nothing began, a nonprofit called Freecycle was founded. Freecycle and Buy Nothing have similar goals, but Freecycle is hosted on its own website, as opposed to Facebook. Rockefeller and Clark thought the model might work well on Facebook, so that’s where they chose to host Buy Nothing. Facebook was not founded until 2004, a year after Freecycle was created. Freecycle even predates Myspace by three months!

Rockefeller and Clark actually acknowledge that Buy Nothing was inspired by Freecycle. As explained in that original blog post, the first thing Rockefeller did was post about her idea to start a Buy Nothing group on Facebook — and more than 60 of her Facebook friends responded affirmatively. "This was the critical mass that told us the group could be formed, a social media-driven alternative to Freecycle, with an instant membership,” they wrote in their original blog post. “We would use Facebook as our free app, our friends and neighbors as our evangelists, and our own stuff to seed the flames of a smoldering community fire aching for connection and a means of sharing our communal bounty.”

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Books About Buying Nothing and Spending Less

Liesl Clark and Rebecca Rockefeller are working on a book called Buy Nothing, Get Everything: Discover the Joy of Spending Less, Sharing More, and Living Generously, which will detail how buying less can positively impact your life by saving you money, fostering community, and more. The book is available for preorder, and will be released on April 14, 2020.

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