The Buy Nothing Academy: Lesson 3
How to Build Your Local Gift Economy
Lesson 3.1 – Sharing


The best way to get your Buy Nothing community rolling is to start posting. When new community members see active Gives, Asks, Gratitude, and inspiration being shared, they’re much more likely to join in. Look around at what you have to give and get creative!

  • Post Asks of your own, starting with items from your shopping list or wish list. Set an example that shows it’s fine to start by asking for gifts and others will feel comfortable doing the same.
  • Post Gives of your own. Look around at what you have to give and get creative - if you don’t have items to offer, try a Gift of Self such as helping to fix someone’s broken toaster, meeting up for a board game at a local coffee shop or library, or an hour of garden help.
  • Offer inspiration and insights from other participants and communities by sharing posts from the Buy Nothing Project Facebook Page.
  • Highlight Buy Nothing joy by sharing posts from our Instagram account.
  • Tell the Buy Nothing story using media coverage about the Buy Nothing Project from our In the Media page.
  • Post a video from the Buy Nothing Project’s YouTube page or search YouTube for “Buy Nothing Project”. There are some excellent examples of how a BN gift economy works.
  • After you’ve given or received a gift, try sharing your gratitude with your community.

A note about the importance of Gratitude: Gratitude is the glue that brings delight and helps connect neighbors with each other. We all tend to remember the gratitude posts because they’re warm and thoughtful. Perhaps you’re grateful for a gift you received, or for someone giving your barely-worn bunny slippers a new home, or for an interaction while picking up a gift on your neighbor’s doorstep that cheered you up. You’ll find Gratitude inspiration by opening the BuyNothing app, tapping on the magnifying glass icon in the topmost taskbar, typing in the word “Gratitude” and searching the app for expressions of thanks from your fellow Buy Nothing-ers. Here are a few direct links to get you started (note, these links will only open on a smartphone or tablet):
Activity 3.1
Make a list of some of the things you have to give away and go post them to your community, or simply post your list to your community to inspire other people to Give or Ask for these types of things. Your list could inspire others to come up with unexpected and readily available gifts to give.
If you feel you have nothing, here’s a list of some of the random but popular things that are often in abundance, and that make popular Buy Nothing gifts:

– Empty baby food jars (for baby food, arts & crafts, classrooms, etc)
– Broken ceramics (for mosaics artists)
– Crayon bits (used for candle making and in crayon crafts)
– Tasty Leftovers (some families just make too much dinner, and gift the leftovers)
– Fallen trees (many people love firewood)
– Foraged herbs, greens, flowers, fruit, etc.
– Half-burned candles (candle-makers and crafters love wax)
– Bubble Wrap, boxes, and packing supplies
– Bottle caps (for various crafts and household DIY projects)
– Wine corks (so many uses!)
– Books & Magazines
– Fabric scraps
– Kids’ and adults’ outgrown clothing

Of course, anything (legal) goes!

Also, please join us in the BN app to share a picture of your BN front porch, door bin, lobby table or other sign that you're a Buy Nothing home (and you can share this post with your group as well!) - You Know You're at a BN Home When...
Lesson 3.2 – Grow Your Community

Grow Your Community

Without community participants all those great posts you’re doing will go unseen. How do you get neighbors to join?

The answer to this is going to vary from area to area and from person to person. In a nutshell, spread the word in every way you can, in conversations, in social media posts, in an email to local friends and family, etc. If you’re new to your area and don’t know anyone, you’ll get a chance to meet people while you grow your Buy Nothing network - starting a Buy Nothing community has helped many people build connections and friendships in new hometowns.

It’s especially powerful to share your joy whenever your Buy Nothing-ing makes you or someone else happy. Shared joy has all of the benefits of Gratitude, listed above, so share yours outside of your BN community to inspire people to join in.

Here are some concrete examples of ways you might reach others to invite them to become part of your BN community, with thanks to Alexa Carey for sharing some of these ideas she’s used:
  • Join social media groups in the area and ask those admins if it’s okay to post about your new sharing community.
  • Advertise in local community message boards, forums, tag sale groups and swaps, churches, festival pages, government pages, parks, etc. If you do a search for your town, you will find all kinds of pages and groups devoted to your particular area.
  • Mom/parent groups can be a great way to get the word out. Kids are always needing larger size clothes or new toys.
  • Neighborhood associations or apartment complex newsletters, bulletin boards in cafes, laundromats or libraries are all great venues for spreading the word.
  • The best way is through word of mouth. When you have something great going on, people tell their friends, and their friends tell their friends. Use the challenges listed in Lesson 3.3 to spread the word.
  • Tell the community that you want to grow! In your own words, explain why you participate in your Buy Nothing community, and what you hope for it to become, with help from your neighbors in spreading the word.
  • Show the community that the Buy Nothing Project is special/different from what is already out there like the typical ‘free’ sites and Craigslist/Freecycle, because we focus on PEOPLE instead of stuff. You can share your own words, films from our Buy Nothing YouTube, posts from the BuyNothing app, or content from our Facebook page and Instagram account.

Once you have between 75-100 participants for the Giving, Asking, and Gratitude, you’re likely to generate the level of activity needed to pull other neighbors in. People will become daily participants when they realize the community is coming alive. When that new family with the young kids who need cleats is getting fully outfitted while your closest neighbor thankfully just passed along those noisy windchimes to another household on the other side of town, people join in as much for these stories as they do for their own Gives and Asks. Building this sort of Buy Nothing community may feel like it takes a long time. Don’t give up! Keep posting and modeling – and whenever a new member posts or comments, comment back or ‘like’ their post. As your neighbors feel your commitment to building community, they'll participate in their own ways and help it grow.
Activity 3.2
 Choose at least one idea from the list above and give it a go!

You can also share our First Gift Challenge with your community by either copying and pasting our words and adding your own photo to your post, or simply copy/paste this URL into a post in your community: (note this link will only open in a smartphone or tablet)

This is the easiest way to share the creative community-building activities we host on the app.
Lesson 3.3 – Creative Connection Ideas

Connect Creatively with Your Buy Nothing Community

Buy Nothing works best when you have neighbors committed to participating in the gift economy, willing to take part in the magic of this social and economic experiment, rather than going out and buying new. Once your community has started to grow, offer some group activities.

Our absolute favorite Buy Nothing “collaborative consumption” activities are Round Robins and Lending Libraries. Here’s how to run them:

Round Robins/Traveling Suitcases are very popular! You can start a Round Robin or Traveling Suitcase anytime you'd like:
  • Put together a collection of things you'd like to give away, packed into boxes, bags, or yes, even a suitcase
  • Post your collection as a Give and include #roundrobin and/or #traveling suitcase and a description like this: "I'm starting a Round Robin. I've put all of my size 5-8 kid clothes into some bags, and I'm ready to send this around the community. Comment below if you'd like a turn with this collection. You can take what you like, put in whatever kid clothes in the same size you have to add, and pass everything to the next person in line. When we get to the end of the list of names, the last person can post what's left to start again, donate whatever they don't like elsewhere, or do whatever they'd like with the collection"
  • Popular collections include kitchen gear, spices, clothing in specific size ranges, puzzles, board games, arts and crafts supplies, bedding, throw pillows, etc.

Lending Libraries are another way to help share our items, especially things you don’t need every day like a power washer, an iron/ironing board, hedge trimmer, an extra tall ladder, etc.
  • You can start your own BN Lending Library anytime you'd like!
  • Post a photo and description of anything you'd like to lend to your neighbors
  • Include "#lendinglibrary" in your description and include any rules you choose
  • Invite people to comment on your post if they'd like to be considered as a borrower, including the dates they'd like to pick up and return your loaned items
  • Popular BN Lending Library items include: Camping gear, sports equipment, mobility and accessibility devices such as crutches & wheelchairs, wedding and party supplies such as dishes, silverware, cloth napkins tablecloths & cake stands, tools for home repairs and gardening, etc.

Buy Nothing Day is an alternative to whatever day in your country retailers encourage you to BUY, BUY, BUY. Black Friday, Boxing Day sales, and Cyber Monday sales can be special Buy Nothing Days where we each work creatively to provide No-Buy solutions within our communities. Here’s a post encouraging neighbors to create their own Buy Nothing Day Wishlist so the community can fulfill the items on their lists.

Sharable Buy Nothing posts: We have many posts you can share that encourage connections and sharing activities in your community. Here are some examples to get you started (note: these links will only open in a smartphone or tablet):
Activity 3.3
Try one of the ideas listed above to explore new ways of growing your Buy Nothing circular economy. Then try another one, and so on. If you're not sure where to start, we recommend starting with a Wish Wednesday or the ABC Challenge!