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Buy Nothing Groups = Random Acts of Kindness All Day Long

By Liesl Clark

IMG_5781 Given© Liesl Clark

© Liesl Clark

When people ask me what a Buy Nothing group really looks like, I tell them it’s a Facebook group that’ll give you a hands-on chance to take part in a social movement spreading across the country, enabling people and communities to commit episodic acts of daily good together. It’s rather an improvement on Freecycle, using social media to bring to the fore myriad random acts of kindness for neighbors to partake in day-in and day-out.

Interested in a sampling of what you might see offered or asked-for in a Buy Nothing group? We’ve seen it all. Really.

People give clothes, dinners, crock pots, plants, rabbits, snakes, rabbit-eating snakes. We’ve seen used and clean Ziploc bags offered, laundry detergent, antiques, bicycles, antique bicycles, canoes, kombucha, branches, flowers, cement blocks, eggs, beds, broccoli, custard, and crickets. There’s no limit to what you can give or receive.

I offer fresh organic eggs to our BN members every week. © Liesl Clark

I offer fresh organic eggs to our BN members every week. © Liesl Clark

It’s the services offered and off-beat requests that are perhaps the most touching, enabling people to give in the most precious ways. Here’s a list of a few things that happened in our local group last month to help you get started on your own Buy Nothing creative giving:

– A Nurse offers her time to care for an elderly person or give childcare.

– A woman needs some land, a final resting place for her beloved dying dog.

– An arborist offers her services to check the health of a landowner’s trees.

Gifting her services, arborist, Katy Bigelow, gets ready to climb one of our island's largest trees. © Liesl Clark

Gifting her services, arborist, Katy Bigelow, gets ready to climb one of our island’s largest trees. © Liesl Clark

– A woman needs over-the-counter medicines late at night to help treat a UTI, and neighbors respond quickly and compassionately.

– A librarian offers a recommended “book of the week” with a brief review.

– A man asks for blackberries for wine he’s making and then shares the wine with the whole community.

Community Blackberry Wine © Liesl Clark

Community Blackberry Wine © Liesl Clark

– A music store offers 4 free guitar lessons for a child getting started.

– A family whose son just had an appendectomy on vacation in HI receives gift baskets upon their return home.

– A Buy Nothing group Outfits a 10 year-old girl whose family just had a house fire.

– Several college students moving into apartments are gifted furniture and kitchen stuff.

– Flowers contributed from members’ gardens become large bouquets for a BN member’s friend who just passed away.

A community bouquet. Contributors picked flowers from their own gardens. © Betsy Daniels

A community bouquet. Contributors picked flowers from their own gardens. © Betsy Daniels

– A new first grade teacher’s room is outfitted with books, rug, and stuffed animals.

– A family that has been camping, awaiting an apartment to open up for them, is offered a home for a few weeks.

– A BN member asks homeless people in Seattle what they need (a guitar, winter coats, food), he messages the BN Community and they deliver the items to him which he takes to Seattle the next morning to hand out.

– A woman assembles a gift basket for a newborn.

– A ‘clothing boutique’ takes place, free clothing offered to all who attend.

A Buy Nothing Clothing Swap is Easy to Do! © Liesl Clark

A Buy Nothing Clothing Boutique is Easy to Do! © Liesl Clark

– A woman teaches a cooking class for interested members.

A BN cooking class led by a gourmet cook is a great community-building event. © Liesl Clark

A Buy Nothing cooking class led by a gourmet cook is a great community-building event. © Liesl Clark

– A crochet club is started.

– A free Halloween costume event takes place in a member’s home.

Outfit your children for Halloween at a BN costume swap. © Liesl Clark

Outfit your children for Halloween at a Buy Nothing costume boutique. © Liesl Clark

Buy Nothing groups are less about stuff and more about community. If there isn’t one in your community and you’d like to work with us to start one, contact us and we’ll get you started!

More than enough costumes for everyone at a BN Halloween costume swap. © Liesl Clark

More than enough costumes for everyone at a Buy Nothing Halloween costume event. © Liesl Clark

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The Buy Nothing Project Begins

Buy Nothing is hyper-local and hyper-logical. © Liesl Clark

July 31st, 2013
In just 3 weeks, an experiment we launched on Facebook has taken off faster than any venture we’ve ever tried. It’s taken us years to find the right combination of technology and community to create a sustainable sharing and caring economy. The new project is  a gift economy based on the simple acts of giving and receiving, no cash involved.

IMG_5808 Received© Liesl Clark

© Liesl Clark

My giving basket. Produce shared with neighbors in our Buy Nothing group. 

And the gifts themselves are goods of all kinds and services.

Face painting is a gift, not just a talent. © Melisa Lunt
Face painting is a gift, not just a talent. © Melisa Lunt

When I first moved to the Puget Sound Island where we live, I started a Yahoo group called Island Garden Share.  Once a month, our members would meet to share our perennial plants we had divided from our gardens, including veggies and fruits we could replant. We were avid gardeners or newbies wanting to avoid spending a lot of money at the local nurseries to put in new perennial beds. It was the perfect way for me to make island friends. As time passed, after 2 years of meeting, the group fizzled out, mostly due to busy schedules.

Gifting. © Liesl Clark
Gifting. © Liesl Clark

3 years later Trash Backwards co-founder Rebecca and I started Bainbridge Barter, a chance for gardeners to share their bounty once a week at a public park. We treated it like a pot luck where members brought their own produce, laid it out on a table, and took from the table what they needed from other gardener’s offerings. I fed my family most of the year from the fresh fruits and veggies from this group. The Saturday a.m. meeting time became too difficult for many of us, so after 2 years the group petered out.

Neighbors Share Garden Bounty with Each Other in a Public Park, photo by Rebecca Rockefeller

Neighbors Share Garden Bounty with Each Other in a Public Park, photo by Rebecca Rockefeller

3 Weeks ago, the experiment in a local sharing economy took a new turn: Rebecca set us up as the administrators of a Facebook group we named Buy Nothing Bainbridge. She had asked her local Facebook friends whether they would be interested in joining such a group. Over 60 people responded positively. This was the critical mass that told us the group could be formed, a social media-driven alternative to Freecycle, with an instant membership. 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.

A Buy Nothing Bainbridge member swooning over fresh baked bread she received from a neighbor. © Melisa Lunt
A Buy Nothing Bainbridge member swooning over fresh baked bread she received from a neighbor. © Melisa Lunt

Here’s a description from our group page about the Buy Nothing Project:

“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. ”

There's something just plain funny about our stuff, especially when our pets are involved. © Karen Dueck Richter
There’s something just plain funny about our stuff, especially when our pets are involved. © Karen Dueck Richter

We all have stuff, whether too much or not enough, and in this modern world where we’re increasingly tied ever more tightly to our internet devices, we have opportunity at this moment in history to use social media at its best to share the bountiful material culture around us with our neighbors. At its core, The Buy Nothing Project is an experiment in gifting what we have, to prevent the overproduction of unnecessary goods. It’s also an opportunity to seamlessly move goods as gifts from the haves to the have nots with zero cash in the transaction.

This wedding dress was offered to the Buy Nothing group. © Julia Benziger
This wedding dress was offered to the Buy Nothing group. © Julia Benziger

Having seen first-hand the amount of plastic washing up on our ocean shores, trickling down our watersheds, Rebecca and I want to tackle the problem of manufacturers outproducing our ability to dispose of our waste. But this time we’re looking at the problem from a new angle, the Reduce  angle, the very first of the 3 Rs. But rather than approach the problem from the end-of-life perspective, i.e., the waste end, we’ve taken a dramatic shift forward, tackling the obvious usefulness of things before they become true “trash.” Giving stuff a new life, through gifting and reuse, means a potential new purchase of a brand spanking new item can be averted and a connection with a neighbor can be made.

Don't buy shelves, ask your neighbors for them. © Ellen Wixted
Don’t buy shelves, ask your neighbors for them. © Ellen Wixted

Three weeks into the Buy Nothing Project we have over 1000 members in our local groups, 4 more groups in our state, 1 in California, and many groups pending worldwide. Methinks the gift economy is ready to come to fruition in willing pockets of the planet.

Housewares, items from your garage, kids' toys, even services can be gifted. © Rebecca Rockefeller
Housewares, items from your garage, kids’ toys, even services can be gifted. © Rebecca Rockefeller

If you’d like to start a Buy Nothing group in your home town, let us know in the comments below and we’ll do our best to get you started.

Your community will thank you if you start a Buy Nothing group there. © Jodie Garhardt
Your community will thank you if you start a Buy Nothing group there. © Jodie Garhardt

— Liesl, Rebecca, and the Buy Nothing Project

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How To Set Up Your Own Buy Nothing Group

Welcome to the Buy Nothing Community!

© Christa Hinchcliffe

© Christa Hinchcliffe

Want a Buy Nothing group in your own neighborhood? Here’s how to make it happen:

  1. Let us know that you would like to set up a group by sending us an email here.  We’ll set up a Facebook Group for your neighborhood – Since you know your region better than we do, think about what makes sort of an area makes sense as a single group; you’ll want an area large enough to gather a critical mass of members, but not so large geographically that it will be difficult for members to connect in person to share things.
  2. Your group will need one or two volunteer administrators. Group admins are responsible for answering questions and helping to keep the Buy Nothing culture developing in a kind way. If you can’t volunteer as the local administrator of your new local Buy Nothing group, recruit a friend who can!  From here on out, the directions will assume that you are going to be one of these administrators.
  3. If you don’t already have a Facebook account, you’ll need to create one. Buy Nothing Project groups connect online through Facebook group pages, so each Buy Nothing member needs a Facebook account.
  4. We’ll notify you when we’ve set up your group and will invite you to join, then upgrade you to administrator status. We’ll co-admin with you to help things run smoothly, answer questions, and share tips from other groups around the world.
  5. Invite your local friends to the new group, and ask each of them to invite their friends, and so on and so forth.
  6. Start posting! Groups need to see examples of every sort of interaction that Buy Nothing fosters: Things being given freely, things being ask for freely, items up for loan and sharing. The more there is to scroll through, the easier it is for new members to see how things work, and the more inspired everyone will be to add their own things to the mix.
  7. It’s that simple!
© Liesl Clark
© Liesl Clark
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Just Start The Giving

By Liesl Clark

A Fairy Bed, Made From Leaves, a Pod, Feathers and a Flower. Photo © Liesl Clark

Giving is complicated. There’s a growing perception among many of us that only the “haves” can give, only those who have excess or more than enough can contribute. No one would want what the “have nots” could offer.

Wrong.

At The Buy Nothing Project, we’re a collection of local gift economies that have popped up all over the United Sates. We have groups  from Galveston, TX to Amherst, MA and Upper Kittitas, WA to the Upper Keys, FL. And there’s one fundamental truth that underscores each gift economy: Giving begets more giving. Think of it as a cup of yogurt. For that yogurt to exist, you need a tiny bit of starter yogurt to make the next batch. Like yogurt, giving economies need a tablespoonful of starter giving to sustain more giving.

Local Fresh Goatsmilk Yogurt in Kolapani. © Liesl Clark

What strikes me is the similarities I see in the growth of each Buy Nothing gift economy. First people sign up quickly, wooed by the idea of joining a local giving circle where items and talents are offered for free and anyone is welcome to ask for what they need. It’s a utopic alternative to the market economy. There’s no judgment involved, just a celebration of the bounty around us, and it’s all free. But then, at the early stages of a startup gift economy, there’s a lull in the giving. At first it doesn’t even happen at all. People are, indeed, afraid to give, thinking they couldn’t possibly have anything that anyone would want. This is the crux of the problem of a stalled-out gift economy.

Stalled out? Why? People often think they have nothing to offer their community, perhaps they are struggling to make ends meet. Some members of the group might start things off by asking for items they need in an “ISO baby clothes”- type post. There’s no information about who you are or a story or picture of your baby, and the ask feels anonymous and, well, inhuman. People retreat into skepticism of whether a giving economy could truly work. It’s too good to be true. There’s too little out there and therefore not enough for me. This is the modern sickness of scarcity-thinking which is blind to the abundance in us all.

How do we kickstart a gift economy and overcome our fear of giving? We need to see ourselves as sources of bounty, whether it’s a story you can offer a group of elderly people or a cup of sugar to your next door neighbor, just start the giving. Even the poorest neighborhoods in our country have bounty to give. I’ve been stunned countless times by the generosity of people who are subsistence farmers in Nepal, who invite my family into their homes and offer us endless cups of tea, sweets, cookies, the best of what they have in their kitchens as a gift of pure generosity, celebrating our connection as humans. In a gift economy we can do the same, offer the members of our village a little of what we can spare, to spread the good will of our connectedness which spurs our neighbors to do the same.

© Liesl Clark

Everyone Has Bounty To Give

“I’d be happy to receive a wheelbarrow-load of dandelions,” my friend Rebecca declared. That was when it struck me: People are afraid to give because they believe they don’t have anything to offer, we lost our belief that we’re connected to each other and are needed by our neighbors. What if we started our Buy Nothing giving groups by asking for things that we know anyone can contribute? A bagful of dandelions would be gold for my chickens, but my neighbors don’t know this.

A tattered old book can be a DIY project for a craftsperson.

A box of old Christmas cards could be this year’s wreath for a creative spirit.

Mound of Christmas Cards © Jenny Lange

Shredded paper could be bedding in my henhouse.

Shredded Paper Bedding Photo © Liesl Clark

Broken ceramic dishes are coveted art materials for a ceramicist who makes mosaics:

Blue Daisy Stepping Stone:  From a broken serving platter and gems purchased at the Rotary Auction. Photo © Gillian Allard

A box of unwanted little plastic toys and stickers can be rewards for good reading in a teacher’s classroom.

The things you take for granted are what your neighbors would love. Those are the gifts that are the soul of a gift economy, the items you see everyday that someone on the other side of your town can put to use in new ways.

The bay leaves on the tree in your back yard, the corks from your bottles of wine:

photo © Earth911

Your clean odd socks can be treat bags for another person’s kids in the bulk department:

Clean old socks and tights make great small bags for treats from bulk bins. Photo by Rebecca Rockefeller

The flannel from a torn or stained  set of sheets are material for a seamstress’s creation:

Cotton Pads are Easy to Make and Reusable © Emily Groff

Your old wedding dress could become a young girl’s dream dress:

Dress.SandraFortierVisnack

Your old fishing lures and the stories that go with them could make a boy’s dreams of fishing come true.

The ability you have to paint faces can make a group of children happy:

FacePainting.MelisaLunt

A gift economy requires a shift in consciousness where we see ourselves not as individuals but as connected selves where we understand that together we have our things, our talents, even our ideas to give to our community. Each week we all can contribute in ways that make a difference to everyone else and therefore ourselves because gifts create bonds between people, and when the whole community witnesses the gift-giving in their Buy Nothing groups the community is strengthened. I believe, no matter what your socio-economic situation, the bounty is there, hiding in plain sight. But we can’t benefit from it if we don’t ask for it or see the beauty in each gift we can offer to start rebuilding our connectedness to each other — And this great shift in consciousness, the search for the sweetness in our communities, the utopic ideal of a giving economy, can’t happen until we just start the giving.

DSC_0242.2, Photo © Liesl Clark

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An Introduction to The Buy Nothing Project

BNP generic 2015

Our Buy Nothing Project Mission:

We offer people a way to give and receive, share, lend, and express gratitude through a worldwide network of hyper-local gift economies in which the true wealth is the web of connections formed between people who are real-life neighbors.

 Principles:

  • We believe our hyper-local groups strengthen the social fabric of their communities, and ensure the health and vitality of each member.
  • We come from a place of abundance ~ not scarcity.
  • We believe in abundance, we give, we ask, we share, we lend and we express gratitude.
  • We are a gift economy, not a charity. We see no difference between want and need, waste and treasure.
  • We measure wealth by the personal connections made and trust between people.
  • We value people and their stories and narratives above the ‘stuff.’
  • We are inclusive and civil at our core.
  • We value transparency and honesty in all our interactions.
  • We view all gifts as equal; the human connection is the value.
  • We believe every community has the same wealth of generosity and abundance.

Join Us:
Buy Nothing: Give Freely. Share creatively. Post anything you’d like to give away, lend, or share among neighbors. Ask for anything you’d like to receive for free or borrow. Keep it legal. Keep it civil. No buying or selling, no trades or bartering, no soliciting for cash. We’re an adult-only, hyper-local gift economy. We are not a charity or community bulletin board.

By joining a Buy Nothing Project group, you agree to abide by our Mission and Rules.

You can join one group only, the group where you live so you can literally “give where you live.” This is what builds community.

Brought to you by The Buy Nothing Project. Looking for a group near you? Visit our Find a Group page. Want to join the Buy Nothing Project network and there’s no group in your area? Visit our Start a Group page to learn about how we set groups up.

© 2015 Liesl Clark and Rebecca Rockefeller

All Rights Reserved

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Letter From a BN Admin

By Lissa Jagodnik

© Lissa Jagodnik

© Lissa Jagodnik

As promised, I’d like to share this little story about how the Buy Nothing Project has impacted my life. This is Hans Olo. Hans is a foster dog, living with me while the Woof Project finds him a permanent home. Originally, he was picked up as a stray dog in California somewhere. Then he was adopted. He was then returned, because he played too rough. He was then shipped up here to WA and entrusted to us. I have 3 other dogs, and of course they have a million toys, but I really wanted Hans to feel welcome in our house. I wanted him to have his *own* toys and a bed and I wanted him to feel safe.

© Lissa Jagodnik

© Lissa Jagodnik

Being that it was January, not long after Christmas, and my partner and I run a small remodeling company, all I can say is – things were pretty tight. It’s like this every year, and I’m used to it. Nobody wants you remodeling their houses during the holiday season. Basically, I didn’t have a lot of extra money to spend on dog toys. So, I thought I’d give this Buy Nothing thing a shot.

© Lissa Jagodnik

© Lissa Jagodnik

In that picture, you can see Hans playing with the Kong Frisbee that was gifted to us by a Buy Nothing member. Somewhere behind him is a plush toy that came along with it. Each night he eats and drinks out of dog dishes that came from the same person.

© Lissa Jagodnik

© Lissa Jagodnik

At bedtime, he sleeps on a futon soon to be covered with a futon cover that I received from a different Buy Nothing member, and when we take him upstairs to meet the other dogs in our house, we all get to relax and get to know each other, thanks to some baby gates that I also received through Buy Nothing.

© Lissa Jagodnik

© Lissa Jagodnik

These may all seem like very small things, but they have made ALL the difference to us, and to this dog. He is warm. He is comfortable. He is safe. He has toys and dog dishes and he is loved, and this is all 100 times more than he had a month ago. Thank you all for being a part of something so simple that can make such a huge difference. And Thank You for letting me be of service to such a wonderful community.

© Lissa Jagodnik

© Lissa Jagodnik

5 Comments

Buy Nothing Brings Healing

By Erica Sternin

Erica Sternin in Her Healing Garden.

Erica Sternin in Her Healing Garden.

I can’t express…. If you’ve never been there, it’s just hard to imagine. Almost three years ago, I was diagnosed with breast and thyroid cancers. I went through an extremely strenuous year of treatment. As I went along, I realized that every person, whether medical personnel, or folks that came to the library where I work, co-workers, family, friends, neighbors I came into contact with was part of my Healing Team.

Vicki (Buy Nothing Northeast Seattle member) shoveled and hauled 4 wheelbarrow loads of heavy wet compost up the to veggie garden beds. I can do ONE wheelbarrow load per week - so this put me WAY ahead of things. Plus, it cleared up the old compost pile so that I can move the current pile to that location.

Vicki (Buy Nothing Northeast Seattle member) shoveled and hauled 4 wheelbarrow loads of heavy wet compost up the to veggie garden beds. I can do ONE wheelbarrow load per week – so this put me WAY ahead of things. Plus, it cleared up the old compost pile so that I can move the current pile to that location.

For some reason, I imagined I’d feel better a month or so after treatment ended – NOT SO! I’m about 18 months out from the end of treatment and JUST beginning to really get my feet under me. So anyway – my garden has been my spiritual practice, my sanctuary, my party place – where friends, family and neighbors gather.

Sara (Buy Nothing Northeast Seattle member) pruned hellebores and ferns and cleaned up the hillside garden. This puts me WAY ahead of the curve for Spring!

Sara (Buy Nothing Northeast Seattle member) pruned hellebores and ferns and cleaned up the hillside garden. This puts me WAY ahead of the curve for Spring!

Fortunately, when I got sick, my garden was well established and only needed maintenance care. For three year,s friends and neighbors have generously assisted me. I have also continued to work in the garden, to the extent possible, because it feeds me in a way that nothing else can. I don’t have even the energy, and certainly not the money to pay someone, to downsize the garden, and I’m waiting to find out the degree of my physical limitations before I do something drastic.

This pile of brush has been in the back yard for 3 months - I pick away at it, try to get one can to the curb each week, not always successfully - Vicki packed three cans for me - there's just a little bit left to finish up, definitely manageable for me.

This pile of brush has been in the back yard for 3 months – I pick away at it, try to get one can to the curb each week, not always successfully – Vicki packed three cans for me – there’s just a little bit left to finish up, definitely manageable for me.

I want to thank Sara, Vicki, Kristin, Betsy, for generously and light heartedly helping me this month. One of the blessings of going through something that brought me so close to my mortality is that I have become VERY clear about what is important to me, and I found that being part of a Community is one of my core values. The EXCITEMENT I felt when I realized that complete strangers WANTED to be with me in my precious garden – You have no idea how Healing that is for me, I really can’t express it, but I do know it and I wanted to thank you and the other folks on Buy Nothing who are forming up a community. I’m proud and grateful to be a part of it.

Erica's yard and garden.

Erica’s yard and garden.

4 Comments

The Little Teapot

By Laura James

© Laura James

© Laura James

I grew up part of my youth in E. Washington and am very familiar with the Barter Faire, where you trade items that you made or have, for other items that someone else made or has. This is different.

It is not about ‘getting things for free’, its about redistribution of stuff that is not in use at one persons home, just sitting there taking up space, that could be well utilized in another home. Or a service such as a cooking class or portrait photo shoot that you can readily to give away.

Today I was gifted an adorable little Japanese teapot from a Buy Nothing West Seattle member. I wanted a teapot as I’ve made the switch from coffee to green tea and was making tea in a moderately sized stainless steel milk frothing pitcher. The important thing here is that it isn’t about the $$, I’d already planned to head down to the international district some afternoon and pick out a pretty one, but just in case, posted an “ISO teapot” with, of course, a few more words because The Buy Nothing Project is all about storytelling.

The feeling of ‘asking’ for something for free, when I absolutely have the money to buy it, and that is not a true need is odd.

The feeling as a recipient of a ‘gifting’ economy is also rather foreign. I wanted to give her something back, and felt guilty that i hadn’t stopped and gotten her a thank you card or something.

Screen Shot 2014-01-11 at 5.01.43 PM

We all have things in our home that we hold on to for sometimes no other reason than we simply don’t know what to do with them. Often we have some vague attachment, and would prefer that the item goes to someone that really wants it and hopefully use it as opposed to just go sit on a shelf at Goodwill. That is where the Buy Nothing Project comes in. It plugs you in to a network where you can feel ‘good’ about giving the items to their next home. Although I know logically consumerism is what helps keep our local businesses in business, and that the products are likely already made and will be consumed by someone else anyway, somehow it feels very ‘right’ to give a little teapot a home.

© Laura James

© Laura James

It’s a bit like going to the gym more regularly… As this teapot’s second home, we’ve now halved its ‘carbon impact’ in a round about way. Instead of each of us having a teapot that travelled a long way to get here, we are sharing its trip.

Okay, so maybe i’m being true to my nature and over analyzing, and it is just a teapot, but it feels like something more.

Thank you Rachel from Buy Nothing West Seattle.

© Laura James

© Laura James

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My Buy Nothing Experiment

By Jeff Wenker

It’s easy to explain why The Buy Nothing Project has meant so much to me: Fun.

Example: someone on my local Buy Nothing Bainbridge Facebook page asked for a toilet paper roll thingy. I’d just seen a toilet paper roll springy thingy in my Junk Drawer (not to be confused with drawers where junk is kept). Later that day I met a total stranger at the Aquatic Center and made her smile by giving her a toilet paper roll springy thingy. I got something almost priceless for something almost worthless. A smile from a stranger is the first step toward friendship.

The Buy Nothing Project is hard to explain cuz it’s like a Friendship Borg where people you kinda know pop in to do and say funny, amazing things and then drift away leaving an ethereal vapor which transcends the digital world, enters our physical reality, and builds communities by transforming brains. Giving changed my brain. I believe this. Last month Dr. Marilyn Price-Mitchell spoke at the local high school during a leadership conference. Among other things, she talked about how altruism, or relational experiences, can trigger serotonin (dopamine) bursts in the brain and actually change the way our brain works. I’m not a neuroscientist (never played one on teevee), I’m a student-teacher with an abnormal brain who has become addicted to giving. I give credit to The Buy Nothing Project.

Eight years ago, a psychiatrist diagnosed me bipolar. Genetic, this seemed a life-sentence. Until recently I accepted it as such. Manic highs mixed with deep depressions, a moody rollercoaster predictable yet not; every period of elation inevitably followed by a crippling low, time and triggering circumstances unknown. I felt trapped, waiting for the descent, wondering how steep, prepared somewhat for its arrival because it had never not come. Now, though, here was a PhD telling me the altruistic acts Buy Nothing Bainbridge enabled me to perform spurred production of chemicals that actually helped heal my misfiring synapses.

Details: I am becoming a teacher, conducting my demonstration teaching at a Seattle public high school. My walk takes me along Alaskan Way, a street occupied by a not insignificant number of the city’s homeless, who, as they do, asked me for change. You can’t give change to everybody. Twelve years of Catholic school filled immense guilt reservoirs. I felt bad. I believe most people feel bad passing people they think they can’t help. It diminishes us. Given the chance, people would rather help people than not. The Buy Nothing Project gave me such a chance.

Jan and Dave stood in front of the telescopes by the Seattle Aquarium. I passed them every day, one day Jan smiled at me and I smiled back. It felt good. The next day, I stopped and gave Dave a dollar. Someone else stopped and gave Jan a bag, in the bag I saw a box of noodles. I asked them if they could boil water and they said yes. I had pasta, lots of people had pasta, I asked for pasta on Buy Nothing Bainbridge and wrote about this couple from Oklahoma who had lost their house and come to Seattle on the promise of a job, a promise broken.

Hope For Those Living on the Street. © Liesl Clark

Hope For Those Living on the Street. © Liesl Clark

My Buy Nothing group makes generosity easy. We gave Jan and Dave food, clothes, a tent, tarp, and a big blue backpack. More than anything, though, I’d like to think we gave them hope. They wanted to get to Sacramento to stay with Dave’s brother until they could get back on their feet. One morning they weren’t there, their spot empty. I walked around and saw the big blue backpack past the fountain, so explored. I met Rick and Randy who told me Jan and Dave got enough money together over the weekend to catch that bus to Sacto, and gave the backpack to them. Even those with little to give can give.

Things have meaning. Giving someone a dollar is different than giving someone a backpack or a guitar. Jessie stood in front of Starbucks with a plastic cup dangling from a stick, a sign saying “Fishing for Kindness” tucked in said cup. I’d stop and talk and one day asked him if there was anything he wanted, convinced now that Buy Nothing Bainbridge could provide anything. Jessie told me a year ago someone stole his guitar in Portland. He’d love a new guitar. I asked for one online and Ashley on Buy Nothing Bainbridge said she had one and met me on the ferry the next morning with it. On Alaskan Way, I walked toward Jessie and held the guitar aloft. He smiled then cried then told me it was the same color as the one he’d lost and then started to tune the guitar. I can’t tell you what song he played, I had to walk on before I broke down.

It made me happy to help Jessie. He shared his story with me as I am sharing mine with you. He eventually left A-Way. I’d like to think he went back to Coos Bay to be with his son and ex-girlfriend.

Who knows?

These are two stories; relatively good stories (in the ending if not the telling). There are others not yet good and not yet finished. There are thousands of these stories. But, there are millions of us. Not everyone has the capacity to give. Not everyone has the capacity to ask. The amazing thing about The Buy Nothing Project is how it provides access to those abilities, no matter who it is we may be.

In giving we are receiving. I believe giving changed me. Whether or not the science behind the change is true is irrelevant as long as I believe it’s true. Belief is hope and hope is key because hope becomes possibility. The Buy Nothing Project is a platform, an idea which makes the amazing possible. Buy Nothing Bainbridge makes me happy, being happy changes brains, changed brains make better communities, ergo: The Buy Nothing Project makes better communities. Quod erat demonstrandum, You’re welcome.

Jeff Wenker on the Bainbridge-Seattle ferry taking warm clothes to homeless men in Seattle. © Liesl Clark

Jeff Wenker on the Bainbridge-Seattle ferry taking warm clothes to homeless men in Seattle. © Liesl Clark

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