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Buy Nothing Groups for Beginners: A Complete Guide

Have you heard about Buy Nothing groups? I started using them a few years ago, and I’m obsessed. If you’re interested in reducing waste and saving money while building a positive community of gifting among neighbors, read on for more about how to use Buy Nothing groups in your community.

Buy Nothing

If you’re looking for a way to save money while also reducing waste and building community, Buy Nothing groups might be just what you need. As you can imagine, this combination of priorities is right up my alley!

These groups based on a hyper-local gift economy model allow members to give away items they no longer need and request items they do need, all for free. Founded on the principles of a gift economy, Buy Nothing groups are a great way to connect with your neighbors and reduce your environmental impact.

Joining a Buy Nothing group is easy – simply search for a group in your area and request to join. I covered that in more detail below. Once you’re a member, you can start posting items you want to give away or requesting items you need.

It’s important to note that Buy Nothing groups have specific rules and guidelines, such as no buying, selling, or bartering of any kind. Everything must be given freely. These rules help maintain the spirit of the gift economy and ensure that everyone has equal access to the resources available.

Toy cars we received from our Buy Nothing group

What are Buy Nothing groups?

Buy Nothing groups are hyper-local groups (sometimes on Facebook and sometimes on the Buy Nothing app) where members can give away items they no longer need or request items they need for free. The Buy Nothing Project was founded in 2013 by Liesl Clark and Rebecca Rockefeller of Bainbridge Island, Washington, and has since grown into a global movement with thousands of groups, including over 6 million members, across the world.

The concept behind Buy Nothing groups is simple: to create a gift economy where people can share resources, build relationships, and reduce consumption. Members are encouraged to give freely and ask for what they need, without any expectation of receiving anything in return. The idea is to create a sense of community, where neighbors can come together to support each other and reduce their impact on the environment.

Each Buy Nothing group is hyper-localized to a specific geographic area, such as a town or neighborhood, and made up of community members. This allows members to connect with people who live nearby, making it easy to arrange pick-ups and drop-offs of items. The local Facebook groups are moderated by volunteers who help to ensure that the rules are followed and that the group remains a safe and welcoming space for all members.

Buy Nothing Project Growing Pains

As the Buy Nothing movement has grown over the last decade, it’s had its share of criticism. I’m not super surprised. Does anything that serves 6 million people make all 6 million people perfectly happy? Of course not!

Many of the challenges to the Buy Nothing Project have come in the form of critiques of the rules around which the project was established. I think most would agree that the rules were developed with the right intentions in mind.

As the movement has grown to serve different types of communities, those rules don’t always apply equally well to every community despite having the same ultimate intentions of giving where you live to reduce waste, building community, and sharing your own abundance with neighbors.

If you’ve read the media’s clickbaity pieces on “Buy Nothing wars” or what-have-you, don’t let that deter you. Many of the groups are operating well. And even when the administrators are frustrated with the organization, I suspect many of the members within the group are still reaping the benefits of shared giving and community-building.

I’m not picking sides between the Buy Nothing OGs and the defectors. I don’t know enough details to know who’s right (and in the end, I’m guessing it’s just an issue of one set of rules never really being able to perfectly serve 6 million different people around the world). They’re both operating with the best of intentions. I’m just a big fan of the mission of these intentionally-managed swapping and sharing groups that bring lots of good to the communities in which they operate.

Now that we’ve set that aside, let’s dive into the details about how and why to join a Buy Nothing group in your community.

Why Join a Buy Nothing Group?

On the most basic level, Buy Nothing groups are great ways to share items we no longer need and find items we need for free when our neighbors might have excess. But in my experience, Buy Nothing groups are much more than “just another free swap group.”

More than other gifting and swapping communities, the way Buy Nothing groups work brings about a stronger sense of community than I’ve experienced with other platforms. I think that makes the experience of giving things away and receiving gifts feel more connected and less transactional.

Games we gave away on the Buy Nothing group

Why Buy Nothing Groups are Better Than Freecycle or Thrift Stores

I don’t want to trash other swapping platforms or charity shops. Each of them has its place, and anything we can do to keep items out of the landfill and extend their useful lives is great. But as a regular user of multiple online swapping and selling platforms and a donor to local charity shops, Buy Nothing is always my first stop for rehoming items I no longer need. Here are a few reasons why I think Buy Nothing is the best.

  • Community Building: Because the groups are relatively small (300-400 members seem to be a pretty ideal size, though some are much larger or smaller), you connect with the same people repeatedly, exchanging things as both the giver and recipient. There is much to be appreciated about recognizing the people you’re gifting to instead of just dropping cardboard boxes of stuff into the abyss of a charity storage room.
  • Personal Communication: There is more communication and sharing about WHY gifts are important to people. Members are encouraged to share information about their gifts and requests as if they were speaking to their neighbors in person. This feels much more personal and engaging than other swapping platforms.
  • Quick Pick Up: Many gifts on Buy Nothing groups move pretty quickly. The person receiving the gift often picks it up via contactless pick-up, coordinated through Facebook Messenger or the Buy Nothing app. It’s super easy, and you don’t have to plan time to make a trip to the thrift shop or drive around with boxes in your trunk for days.
  • Dedicated Moderation: There’s nothing worse than a well-intentioned Facebook group that turns into a giant sales page. Buy Nothing groups have pretty focused rules and often have administrators and moderators that respect those rules diligently. This is super helpful in keeping the space relevant and ensuring it’s used for its intended purposes.
  • Stuff Doesn’t End Up in the Trash: Despite our best wishes, so much of what gets donated to thrift shops ends up in the trash. The volume of donations is just too much to sell. When you gift items through Buy Nothing groups, you can be pretty sure they are getting good use and not ending up in the landfill (at least for a little while during their next phase of life with your neighbor).

While it is my favorite way to rehome our things, we do still donate to charity shops from time to time when something doesn’t find a new family in our Buy Nothing group. Even though I think Buy Nothing is the best option, thrift shops are still better than the trash.

Books I gave away on Buy Nothing

How to Find and Join a Buy Nothing Group

If you’re interested in joining a Buy Nothing group, there are a few steps you need to take to find and join the right group for you. Here’s a quick guide to help you get started:

Step 1: Search for Your Local Buy Nothing Group

The first step is to search for your local Buy Nothing group. You can do this by going to Facebook and searching for “Buy Nothing” along with the name of your city or town. Alternatively, you can visit the Buy Nothing Project website and search for groups by location. Buy Nothing groups started on Facebook, but the organization has since built an app. Some groups operate on the app while others still use the Facebook platform.

Step 2: Request to Join the Group

Once you’ve found your local Buy Nothing group, you’ll need to request to join the group. This is usually done by clicking the “Join Group” button on the group’s Facebook page or selecting the group in the Buy Nothing app.

Some groups may require you to answer a few questions before you’re approved, such as your name, address, and why you want to join the group. Once you have answered the questions, the group admin will approve your membership request.

Step 3: Read the Group Rules

Before you start participating in the Buy Nothing group, it’s important to read the group rules. Each group may have slightly different rules, but most groups have guidelines on what types of items are allowed to share (i.e. genuine gifts vs. sales pitches and marketing), how often you can post, and how to arrange pick-up or delivery of items. Make sure you understand and follow the rules to ensure a positive experience for everyone in the group.

The Buy Nothing project set out years ago with its own set of Community Guidelines and rules. Most of these still apply to each local group, though group administrators have a bit more freedom to amend rules to meet their unique community needs. You can see the general Buy Nothing guidelines on their site (here) to get an idea of how the groups operate generally.

Step 4: Start Giving and Receiving

Once you’ve been approved to join the group and have read the rules, you’re ready to start giving and receiving items. Keep an eye on the group’s posts and see if there’s anything you’re interested in. If you have unwanted goods to give away, post them to the group and see if anyone is interested. Remember to be courteous and respectful to other members of the group, and always follow the group’s rules.

Joining a Buy Nothing group is a great way to give back to your community, reduce waste, and get to know your neighbors. By following these steps, you’ll be well on your way to participating in a thriving Buy Nothing community.

Guidelines and Rules for Participating in Buy Nothing Groups

Buy Nothing groups are based on the principles of gifting and sharing. As a participant, it is important to follow the community guidelines and rules to ensure a safe and welcoming environment for everyone. Here are some guidelines to keep in mind:

  • Keep it legal and safe: Do not offer or request illegal items or services. Do not post anything that could be harmful or dangerous to others.
  • Be respectful: Treat others with kindness and respect. Do not discriminate or use hate speech. Do not make negative comments about other members or their requests.
  • Keep it local: Only post items and requests that are within your local community. Do not offer or request items that require shipping or long-distance transportation.
  • Be honest: Provide accurate descriptions of the items you are offering and their condition. Do not misrepresent the items or their value.
  • Do not buy or sell: Buy Nothing groups are for gifting and sharing only. Do not offer to buy or sell items or services.
  • Do not spam: Do not post the same request or item multiple times. Do not use the group to promote your business or services.
  • Respect privacy: Do not share personal information about other members without their consent. Do not use the group to collect personal information.
  • Use common sense: If something seems inappropriate or questionable, do not post it. If you have any concerns or questions, contact the group administrators.

By following these guidelines and rules, you can participate in Buy Nothing groups and contribute to the local gift economy positively. Remember, the goal of Buy Nothing groups is to build connections and relationships within your community and to reduce waste by sharing and reusing items.

Broken crayons I requested and received from my Buy Nothing group for a project

Tips for Successful Buy Nothing Transactions

Joining a Buy Nothing group can be a great way to get rid of items you no longer need and find things you do need without spending any money. However, to make sure your transactions go smoothly, there are a few tips to keep in mind:

  • Be clear about what you’re offering or requesting. When posting in the group, make sure to include a detailed description of the item you’re giving away or looking for. Include any relevant details, such as size, color, condition, and whether it’s for pick-up or delivery.
  • Communicate clearly and promptly. Once you’ve found someone who’s interested in your item or has something you want, make sure to respond to messages in a timely manner. Be clear about when and where you can meet, and if anything changes, let the other person know as soon as possible.
  • Be respectful of others’ time and space. If you’re picking up an item, make sure to arrive on time and be respectful of the other person’s property. If you’re giving something away, make sure it’s clean and in good condition. Alternatively, giveaway items that may need repairs or a little TLC but be transparent about the condition so the recipient knows what they are receiving. I’ve seen many items scooped up on my Buy Nothing group that were not in great condition but had a lot of life left in them for parts or with a little bit of maintenance from someone with the right skills.
  • Follow the rules of the group. Each Buy Nothing group may have its own set of rules and guidelines, so make sure to read and follow them. This can include things like how often you can post, what types of items are allowed, and how to handle disputes.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help. If you’re new to the group or unsure about how something works, don’t hesitate to ask for help. Most Buy Nothing groups are filled with friendly and helpful members who are happy to assist.

Benefits of Participating in Buy Nothing Groups

If you’re new to the Buy Nothing movement, you may be wondering what benefits you can expect from participating in a Buy Nothing group. Here are a few benefits to keep in mind:

1. Save Money: One of the most obvious benefits of participating in a Buy Nothing group is the opportunity to save money. By giving and receiving items for free, you can avoid the expense of buying new items or paying for services. This can be especially helpful if you’re on a tight budget or trying to reduce your environmental impact by consuming less.

2. Reduce Waste: When you participate in a Buy Nothing group, you’re not only saving money, but you’re also helping to reduce waste. By giving away items you no longer need, you’re keeping them out of landfills and giving them a new life with someone else who can use them. This can help to reduce the environmental impact of our consumer culture and promote a more sustainable way of living.

3. Build Community: Another benefit of participating in a Buy Nothing group is the opportunity to build community. By connecting with your neighbors and sharing resources, you can build relationships and foster a sense of belonging in your local area. This can be especially valuable if you’re new to an area or looking to connect with like-minded individuals.

4. Learn New Skills: When you participate in a Buy Nothing group, you may have the opportunity to learn new skills or try new activities. For example, you may be able to borrow a tool or piece of equipment that you don’t own, or you may be able to try out a new hobby or activity that someone else is offering. This can be a fun and educational way to expand your horizons and learn new things.

5. Give Back: Finally, participating in a Buy Nothing group can be a way to give back to your community. By giving away items you no longer need, you’re helping others who may be in need. This can be a rewarding way to contribute to your local community and make a positive impact on the lives of others.

Overall, there are many benefits to participating in a Buy Nothing group. Whether you’re looking to save money, reduce waste, build community, learn new skills, or give back, a Buy Nothing group can be a valuable resource for you.

Slip ‘n’ slide we gave away on Buy Nothing

Buy Nothing Group Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

If you’re new to Buy Nothing groups, you may have additional questions about how they work. Here are some frequently asked questions:

What is the Buy Nothing Project?

The Buy Nothing Project is a global network of local gift economies that promote sustainable living and community connections. It allows people to give and receive items without any expectation of payment, thereby reducing waste and fostering a sense of community.

Does it cost money to join a Buy Nothing group?

Nope! Joining is totally free. Once in the group, you’re not even allowed to ask for money, sell items, or exchange compensation of any kind. The premise is built on totally free giving of your abundance, no strings attached, outside of a market economy.

Do I need to do any work or attend any meetings to be in the group?

Nope! Buy Nothing communities are simply online groups where you can post to give or request items from neighbors. You can participate as much or as little as you like, though a group full of non-participating members is pretty useless, so it’s definitely helpful to be active when you have something to share.

What can I give and receive in a Buy Nothing group?

You can give and receive any item that is legal and appropriate for all ages. This includes clothing, furniture, books, food, home decor, toys, equipment, and so much more! However, some groups may have specific rules about what can be given and received, so it’s important to check with your local group before posting.

You can also share gits of varying sizes and values. The Buy Nothing group rules are very clear that no gifts should be considered more or less worthy than others. What is valuable to one person may have a wildly different value to another.

I’ve given away small things like open skeins of yarn to larger items like a bounce house and a bed. And I’ve received everything from plant cuttings and juice boxes to gaming chairs.

Further, Buy Nothing groups don’t just focus on physical items. Members also share skills, services, and experiences with each other. While most of the items gifted and requested in Buy Nothing groups are tangible items, I’ve seen people share their time as well as their knowledge.

A couple of years ago, I offered chicken of the woods mushrooms and allowed neighbors to forage these mushrooms from a dead tree in our yard. This gift was a huge hit (and one of my favorite gifts I shared in our Buy Nothing group)!

What are the rules of a Buy Nothing group?

Each Buy Nothing group has its own set of rules, but they are all based on the same principles of giving, receiving, and gratitude. The rules typically include guidelines for posting, such as how often you can post and what information to include, as well as rules for interacting with other members. It’s important to read and follow the rules of your local group to ensure a positive experience for everyone.

The Buy Nothing administrators are pretty strict about enforcing the rules of the group. When I first joined, this felt a little harsh to me. I actually broke a rule (accidentally, of course) in one of the first comments I made. While the admins protect the boundaries of the group vigilantly, I’ve never had any bad experiences with them being mean or unfair.

After being part of these groups for many years, I understand that the guardrails (mostly around what you can post and how you post it) are really important to maintaining the spirit of the group and not letting it turn into a mess of self-promotion and solicitation.

How do you give away free stuff on Buy Nothing groups?

Once you are a member of a Buy Nothing neighborhood group, you can post items into the Facebook group or Buy Nothing app group space. It’s helpful (though not required) to include one or two photos of the item you’re gifting as well as a description of the item.

Because the groups are intended to strengthen local communities and help build community, it’s nice to share about the item in a way as if you’re describing it to a neighbor or friend (and not just a quick few words like it’s being set at the curb for pick up). Again, this is not required, but it does make the space feel more warm and welcoming (in my opinion).

So the group doesn’t become a race to continuously refresh the page and see what’s available, it’s best to let gifts “simmer” for a few hours or a day if you can. Then you get to choose from all those who have commented that they are interested in the item.

There are no rules about who to choose. You can draw randomly, select your best friend, choose who you think has the best story about why they need it, or simply pick whoever you want for whatever reason that resonates with you. The giver gets to choose the recipient, plain and simple.

You then notify the recipient via comment on the post or a PM (private message) and communicate directly through Facebook Messenger or the Buy Nothing app to coordinate pick up or delivery of the gifted items.

How do you request an item in a Buy Nothing group?

If you’re requesting an item that you need, and it’s necessarily being posted as a gift, you simply post a request for the gift in the gift. While respecting privacy needs, some people will share why they are requesting the gift (i.e. for my daughter’s art supplies, for sharing with a friend who had a house fire, etc…). Though there is no requirement to share why you need what you are requesting.

If you are hoping to receive something that is being gifted, you’ll generally respond to the post with a comment noting that you’re interested in the item. If the giver chooses you to receive it, they will often reach out via PM (private messages) to coordinate pick up or drop off.

Can I sell items in a Buy Nothing group?

No, the Buy Nothing Project is based on the principle of giving and receiving without any expectation of payment. Selling items is not allowed in Buy Nothing groups, and Buy Nothing group members who attempt to sell items may be removed from the group.

What if I have a problem with another member?

If you have a problem with another member, it’s important to try to resolve the issue directly with them. If that doesn’t work, you can contact the group admin for assistance. However, it’s important to remember that Buy Nothing groups are based on the principles of kindness and generosity, so it’s always best to approach conflicts with a positive and respectful attitude.

Can I join multiple Buy Nothing groups?

It depends, but likely yes. Historically, the Buy Nothing project intended for people to only participate in one group in order to “give where you live.” But as the organization has evolved over time, there is more flexibility around being in multiple groups.

No matter which group(s) you’re in, it’s important to keep in mind that each group may have its own rules and guidelines, so make sure to read and follow them carefully. Additionally, it’s important to be an active and engaged member of each group you join, so that you can contribute to the community and build relationships with others.

Where do Buy Nothing groups operate?

Buy Nothing groups operate in communities all around the world. The Buy Nothing Project is a global movement with thousands of groups in more than 30 countries. You can search for Buy Nothing groups on the Buy Nothing Project website, which has a directory of active groups by location.

Groups are typically organized by neighborhood, town, or city, and members are encouraged to share items with others in their local community. If you can’t find a Buy Nothing group in your area, you can also consider starting one yourself!

How do I start a Buy Nothing group in my community if we don’t have one?

Starting a Buy Nothing group in your community is a great way to connect with your neighbors, reduce waste, and build a more sustainable community. Before starting your group, be sure to check out all the resources to start a Buy Nothing group on their Buy Nothing Project website. They have a huge library of resources as well as a Buy Nothing Academy to help make sure your Buy Nothing group is a success. Generally, the process to start a Buy Nothing group will include the following steps:

  1. Check if a Buy Nothing group already exists in your area: Before starting a new group, search the Buy Nothing Project website to see if there is already a group in your community.
  2. Find co-founders: Starting a group is easier and more effective if you have a team of people to help you. Reach out to friends, neighbors, and local community organizations to find others who are interested in starting a Buy Nothing group.
  3. Choose a platform: You can create a Facebook group or use the Buy Nothing Project’s platform to start your group.
  4. Define your group boundaries: Decide on the geographic boundaries of your group, such as a neighborhood, town, or city. Make sure to clearly define the boundaries in your group description. In some respects, this might be informed by existing Buy Nothing groups in your area. It’s helpful to have groups that don’t really overlap and also serve areas not already being served by other groups.
  5. Set group rules: Establish rules and guidelines for your group, such as what types of items can be shared, how to make requests, and how to arrange pick-ups. The Buy Nothing project site has lots of resources about how to create these rules as well as posts to share with the group to educate members.
  6. Promote your group: Spread the word about your new Buy Nothing group through social media, local community groups, and word-of-mouth.
  7. Launch your group: Once you have a core group of members and your rules and guidelines are established, launch your group and start sharing!

So should you join a Buy Nothing group?

I’m going to give you a resounding yes. I’ve been really happy with my experience. Not only does it help me throw away fewer items and find new homes for things, but it’s also helped reshape my mindset about giving and asking for support from my neighbors.

Before joining the Buy Nothing group, I was much more hesitant to ask to borrow things like garden tools or offer up extra cake from a party to my neighbors. The Buy Nothing group has shown me that many neighbors really appreciate this connection. They are happy to share their abundance, and who doesn’t love cake?!

More Information About Buy Nothing Groups

I’ve written about Buy Nothing groups quite a bit. So if you’re still curious, check out more about using Buy Nothing groups and how they can help you live a more eco-friendly life while also building community and saving money.

Jen Panaro

Jen Panaro, founder and editor-in-chief of Honestly Modern, is a self-proclaimed composting nerd and advocate for sustainable living for modern families. To find her latest work, subscribe to her newsletter, Stepping Stones.

In her spare time, she’s a serial library book borrower, a messy gardener, and a mom of two boys who spends a lot of time in hockey rinks and on baseball fields.

You can find more of her work at Raising Global Kidizens, an online space to help parents and caregivers raise the next generation of responsible global citizens.

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    1. Not that I am aware of. You are gifting to individuals, not 501c3 organizations under the tax code who could receive tax deductible donations.

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