Sustainability

What Is a Buy Nothing Group? Only the Best Thing I’ve Joined.

Christine Platt, aka the Afrominimalist, on the powerful idea that changed the way she consumes—and recycles.

July 10, 2021
Photo by Meredith Jensen

Simply Living is a new column by Christine Platt, aka the Afrominimalist. Each month, Christine shares her refreshing approach to living with less, with clever tips for decluttering, making eco-friendly swaps, and creating a more mindful living space that's all you.


Early in my journey to living with less, I did what most people do when they are ready to part with items that no longer serve them: I gathered up my donations and drove them to my local Goodwill. I recall feeling so accomplished while waiting in line to drop off my items, a feeling that only grew stronger as my car approached the free-standing donations’ trailer. Until one day, I found myself pulling up right when items were being transported inside the local facility. Given the angle of my vehicle, I could see directly into the Goodwill storage area. I was horrified. I had never seen so many industrial-sized rolling bins overflowing with things.

As I drove away, I asked myself: Do my donations really help? Or was I just adding to the load?

I have since learned a more appropriate term for my behavior. It was a form of wish-cycling, which is when people put questionable items in their recycling bins… hoping, wishing, and praying they can be recycled. I was doing the same with my donations. Conveniently dropping them off at the nearest thrift store in the hope that someone would come along and want to buy them. But when I got a peek inside that storage area, I knew the truth: my belongings were more likely to end up in a landfill.

Determined not to wish-cycle at a thrift store again, I sought out better ways to pay it forward with my donations. And I discovered there were more eco-friendly and impactful alternatives. Whenever I went through my wardrobe, I invited girlfriends over to shop my closet. I offered up furniture to family and friends. And then I discovered an eco-friendly, community-focused solution: the Buy Nothing Project.

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Top Comment:
“I love the idea of a community bulletin board! If your needs are already being filled by existing groups there's certainly no need to join another. :-)”
— Christine P.
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Founded in July, 2013, the Buy Nothing Project’s co-founders Rebecca Rockefeller and Liesel Clark envisioned a different way to pay it forward with items that no longer serve us—by encouraging people to donate and recycle items within their local communities. These actions (which Rockefeller and Clark call ‘gifts of self’) are not only an opportunity to improve one’s own community but also to build community. Buy Nothing Project groups are small and localized to ensure travel to minimal drop-off and pick-up time. Currently, Buy Nothing Project’s twenty-five thousand members are active in the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, and Australia. There are more than 150 groups worldwide!

I've got so much more that I ever imagined out of joining my local Buy Nothing Group (BNG)—and here are three reasons why you should consider joining one, too:

Your Donations Go Directly to Those In Need.

Trust me, there is always a family ready to part with new and gently worn children’s clothing or someone looking to offload household wares before a big move. One of the foremost reasons is because you know your donations will be used by someone who actually needs them—instead of going to an organization that doesn’t—and is therefore less likely to dispose of them. Most donations posted with your local BNG will be claimed immediately, and many groups have established guidelines and protocols to follow for items that don’t. Members will even suggest helpful alternatives for donations like leftover tiles from your kitchen renovations; it’s how I learned about Habitat for Humanity ReStore, which accepts new and gently used appliances, furniture, building materials, and other household goods.

Gifting items to neighbors in need has been so rewarding. The dining table that was too large for my home but perfect for another family. The introductory music books and resources that my daughter had outgrown finding the perfect home with another budding violinist. And so much more! Of course, there’s the joy of receiving photos from fellow BNG members enjoying the items you gifted them.

You Join a Community.

In addition to knowing your donations will actually be used, you’ll get to know more about the people who will use them: your neighbors! When I joined my local BNG, I was surprised to discover that one of my colleagues was also a member. Their family has since become a point of contact for my donations, posting pictures of my items online as well as arranging for drop-offs and pick-ups. And because they are a young family of five, I make sure to pay it forward by gifting dinner from one of their favorite restaurants in exchange for their assistance. And when another member decided to open a Little Free Library, I gladly donated free copies of my children’s literature at the opening party.

At a time when people rarely know their neighbors, a BNG is a great way to meet people that live on your street. When you join one, you become a part of a community—especially beneficial during the pandemic. From furniture to baking products, people turned to their local groups for items that were in short supply or not in stock. And of course, there was the added benefit of talking to and being in the company of others with shared values during such an unprecedented time of isolation.

You Help the Planet.

BNGs serve an essential purpose by ensuring your donations don’t end up in landfills, especially bulkier items like f-waste, one of the biggest burdens on landfills: approximately 8.5 million tons of furniture end up in landfills every year. These pieces take up too much real estate in thrift stores, and some chains have even halted these types of donations. But, more than likely, there’s a member of your BNG who will be more than willing to take gently used and once-loved pieces off your hands. From newlyweds to new college grads, your furniture will be accepted and appreciated by someone in your community instead of ending up in an already-overflowing landfill.

Bonus: Becoming a member of your local BNG, also means that you have a resource the next time you find yourself in need of something. You have a trusted community to turn to… instead of spending money on something that someone is likely to donate, or even just share for the day, anyway!

What's the best thing you've received from your Buy Nothing group? Tell us about it in the comments below.
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Christine Platt

Written by: Christine Platt

Author of The Afrominimalist's Guide to Living with Less

18 Comments

witloof September 20, 2021
I happily participated in my local BNG, gave away half of my kitchen, clothes, shoes, books, jewelry, art objects, 30 years worth of accumulated craft supplies and toys, and received new curtains, a beautiful antique dresser, a glass door pantry for my kitchen, a wonderful bookshelf. I confess I stopped participating because a new member started swooping in and claiming every single item on almost every single post, and never offering anything of her own. I know I shouldn't care that she is probably selling these things on Craigslist but it took all of the joy out of the group for me.
 
Bailey July 13, 2021
I LOVE my local BNG! I’ve been in it for about a year, and have given away good things and received good things and helped out with projects that needed more hands. Two folks even lent me a juicer when I was drowning in citrus, and one neighbor left behind a nice printer when they moved because they’d recalled I needed one. I’m moving now and can’t wait to join one in my new city. I often feel millennials have trouble knowing our neighbors the way our parents and grandparents did, and I’ve loved beginning to rectify that in my own life. So happy to see this article! Thank you!
 
Arati M. August 1, 2021
I feel exactly the same way about my local BNG, Bailey. It's been such a wonderful way to feel connected to a new neighborhood and home—and during last year, a more isolating time than any I've known, the BNG group offered a tremendous sense of comfort.
 
someconcerns July 13, 2021
I am a long time member of several freecycles (all of which overlap my area), one trash nothing, the community bulletin board listserve and the local neighbor nextdoor.

The community bulletin board is by far the most useful, where people sell things, give things away, ask for things (the giving and asking for being close to the function of other group types), sharing recommendations and warnings about doctors, other professionals/vendors, wildlife sightings, lost animals, etc.

The freecycles are for giving and asking and have been an easy way to give things away to someone actually wanting them. Includes untold numbers of boxes, bubblewrap, and things we no longer use.

Trash nothing has been great for giving things away. I responded to a request just yesterday to someone wanting old CDs/DVDs for decorating a wall. Other than other people doing decorative crafts, THOSE were clearly just headed to a landfill.

Nextdoor is clearly the most commercial of the enterprises.

Hope to someday try a buy nothing group, but most of our needs are filled by the existing groups.

 
Author Comment
Christine P. July 13, 2021
I love the idea of a community bulletin board! If your needs are already being filled by existing groups there's certainly no need to join another. :-)
 
someconcerns July 13, 2021
Hi Christine, This is true, but I've always kept an open mind about these groups. One daughter belongs to a Buy Nothing in her area. I joined a freecycle in Queens when we were trying to give away many things which had belonged to my in-laws. I joined a group in Brookline, MA when we were looking for furniture to start said daughter in an apartment up there. She then had an active bulletin board in the building to give everything away. I resigned from both of those freecycles after they had served their purpose years ago.

You should be commended for promoting this very useful group.
 
Carol F. July 12, 2021
150 groups world-wide seems like a very low number. I'm on my 3rd group, all at the same address. I joined five or six years ago when the group included two neighborhoods. That group split into three when it got to a certain size, then the group I ended up in split again. I've given and received many things but one of my most rewarding experiences was an "Ask" for help from a member who was facing a deadline to move out of her house that had been sold. A group of us pitched in, helped pack and set her up for a successful estate sale. I've stayed in touch with that member even after her move and became friends with several others that helped that day. The community aspect really is the best part of belonging to a BNG!
 
Author Comment
Christine P. July 13, 2021
I think there are many different names for freecycling (which is essentially what BNG are) which is why the numbers probably seem low. I also wouldn't be surprised if some people have formed their own BNGs and aren't 'officially' registered, you know? For some reason, I feel this is an extension of what our foremothers and forefathers did minus the technology. I remember my family borrowing and sharing with our neighbors quite often growing up, you know? And I agree with you -- the community aspect really is one of the best parts of belonging to a BNG! :-)
 
hvoltmer July 12, 2021
I joined my local BNG at the beginning of the year and have loved seeing things seeing the exchange of items with my neighbors and knowing that they are going to real people who will use them. I'm constantly amazed at how things I thought no one would want like left over items from construction projects or baking supplies are claimed and given new life. I especially love the gratitude posts in the group where people share how they are using their new gifts.
 
Author Comment
Christine P. July 13, 2021
Isn't it amazing? I also love seeing pictures of people enjoying items. It brings me so much joy! :-)
 
Rachelm July 12, 2021
I'd do it if there were groups that were not on Facebook, as I am not on Facebook. I guess there's a certain level of buy-nothingness on Nextdoor but it isn't very well thought out.
 
hvoltmer July 12, 2021
I know what you mean, I didn't use Facebook much until I joined my local BNG group and I will say it is much better than Next-door.
 
Author Comment
Christine P. July 13, 2021
I love the idea of a community bulletin board as one commenter noted above. I can see how limiting it to Facebook can be challenging. I have to do some research about Nextdoor as I've only recently learned about it!
 
nikkipolani August 2, 2021
BNG is actually coming out with their own app so that those not on FB can join in. People have the option to do one or both. The app is supposed to be functioning soon (go to buynothing.org to read updates).
 
Josie July 11, 2021
I used to job-coach disabled high-school students who "worked" at Goodwill (it was me who did the work). Our job was to pull the items that had been there too long and put them in the dumpster.
 
Author Comment
Christine P. July 13, 2021
Oy! I often tell people that sometimes thrift stores just delay the inevitable trip to the landfill. :-(
 
wendyg July 10, 2021
So glad to see a post about the Buy Nothing Project! I learned about it through a friend just a few months ago and wish I had joined sooner. It feels so good to know your items are getting a second life with someone in your neighborhood who will appreciate them, AND you reduce waste in the process. I hope others read this and are encouraged to join!
 
Author Comment
Christine P. July 13, 2021
Thank you! Yes, I think they are such a useful approach to freecycle -- everyone benefits! :-)