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.
- My giving basket. Produce shared with neighbors in our Buy Nothing group.
And the gifts themselves are goods of all kinds and services.
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.
3 years later, my friend 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
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.
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. ”
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.
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.
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.
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.
— Liesl, Rebecca, and the Buy Nothing Project