35 Comments

Our Story

The Story Behind The Buy Nothing Project

What do the earliest settlers of the highest Himalaya and a modern social movement have in common? The gift economy. “At 14,000 feet, in high cliff caves, we’ve found a 1700-year-old-people who went to extraordinary lengths to ceremonially place their dead in human-carved shaft tombs. From their bones, we can see they lived healthy lives, not very different from the people who live nearby today, a testimony to cultural survival against all odds,” explains Liesl Clark, a National Geographic filmmaker and organizer of the archaeological expeditions led by her husband, 7-time Everest climber, Pete Athans. The Himalayan settlers thrived over the span of some 400 years in the thin air of the highest mountains on Earth because they relied upon each other and cared for the natural resources they depended upon. Today’s villagers continue to communally care for one another and their resources, an egalitarian cash-free gift economy connecting families in a web of interdependence.

“When our family brought 5 duffel bags full of clothing to a village last summer, the headwoman advised we divide the clothing equally into 17 piles for the 17 village households, each pile given equal amounts of adult and children’s clothes. But we noticed one “household” comprised of only a 68-year-old woman. We removed the baby clothes from her pile so she could have more adult clothing. When we pointed out our reasoning, the villagers explained: “The children’s clothing in the old woman’s pile ensures she’ll have something to give to the community.”  The health of a gift economy is dependent upon each member being both giver and receiver.

“This radical shift in our consciousness,” Clark posits, “seeing each member of a gift economy as a vital participant, no matter what their social status or economic situation, got us thinking. Could we try it in our own communities back home? And, more importantly, would it work?”

Clark teamed up with her friend, Rebecca Rockefeller, an expert in social media, and they launched a Facebook group called “Buy Nothing.” What began as an experimental hyper-local gift economy on Bainbridge Island, WA, in 2 months became a social movement growing to over 4,000 members in 16 groups from San Jose, CA to Seattle, WA. Whether people initially join to quickly get rid of things that are cluttering their lives, or to save money by getting things for free, they quickly discover the groups are not just another free recycling platform. “A gift economy’s real wealth is the people involved and the web of connections that forms to support them. Time and again, members of our groups find themselves spending time interacting, finding new ways to give back to the community that has brought humor, entertainment, and yes, free stuff into their lives.” Rebecca Rockefeller believes the sharing economy is here to stay. “The Buy Nothing Project is about setting the scarcity model of our cash economy aside in favor of creatively and collaboratively sharing the abundance around us, whether it’s the stuff we already own or our talents that we can freely offer to a neighbor.”

The Buy Nothing Project’s rules are simple: “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. No buying or selling, no trades or bartering, we’re a gift economy.” The transparency of Facebook groups’ design allows members to see mutual friends they share with relative strangers, and to build trust based on real-life connections visible through personal profile information. Clark and Rockefeller provide daily guidance and direction in the Buy Nothing groups, assisted by a team of over 200 volunteer local administrators who have on-the-ground knowledge of their communities. Each member can join only one Buy Nothing group, the group where they live, strengthening one’s commitment to one’s community. “We’re not about free stuff. Our rules belie a commitment to community,” says Rockefeller.

If statistics are a gauge of how well the project is doing, then it’s clearly a rapidly-growing revolution, having started just 8 months ago. Twenty-five thousand members-strong, The Buy Nothing Project is present in 4 countries (the US, UK, Canada, and Australia), and has over 150 groups.  “There’s a tried-and-true method to our madness,” says Clark. We have a formula that’s working, filling a gap that’s been missing in our lives for so long.” Buy Nothing members ask freely for services or items they want or need, they give and share openly, and, perhaps most importantly, they express their gratitude. “We collectively witness each action in the groups: the giving, the asking, and the gratitude. Each post, and many of the comments, provides a little dopamine hit for everyone in the group, a daily dose of feel-good connectedness with our neighbors. It’s close to what we’ve witnessed in the remote Himalayan villages, a strategy for survival that’s worked for millennia. And these are lessons we know we can apply here, for the survival of our environment and the resiliency of our own communities could clearly use gift economies to help bring us closer together.”

 

 

 

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35 comments on “Our Story

  1. what a blessing, only if all the world wold do this act of kindness what a better place it would be to live and what a difference it would make to teaching our children, there would not be so much crime. GOD BLESS YOU!!!

  2. I’d like to start a group in cayucos where I live or San Luis Obispo wher I work. Thanks!

  3. This video is touching. I love the fact that when visiting the Himalayan village the people decided to share and divide equally with each other

  4. Pinon Hills Estates for 30 years now. I have so much to give….I am blessed.

  5. I have no words to describe what I feel after watching your video, feelings like respect,admiration, I feel bless for been part of such a awesome group, and please count on us for anything that you need or the groups need. Please do it will be our pleasure to help. Thank you and may God bless all and every one of the members in your group.

  6. Would you have a group in Concord, CA? I would love to join.

    • Hi Vickie 🙂 there isn’t a Buy Nothing group yet in Concord, and we’d love to see a gift economy started for your community … We just need a local volunteer to join us as admin (our entire network is run by volunteers). Let us know if you’re interested!

  7. Wow awesome, sounds awesome
    But to let you know i dont celebrate Christmas, easter, or any other holidays except thanks given, i keep the Holy days in the bible
    But i do grow a large garden every yr and have some fruit trees and some extra efgs at times that I would love to gift

  8. Do u have to wait until u have this give away to let u know what we could use or give some things to u’all.?

    • Hey, Sarah! Not sure what you mean exactly, but I am thinking that you might be wondering how to participate. To participate, you join a local group that has been created for your area. Please have a look at the list, and copy/paste the link for your neighborhood into your browser, which will then give you an option to ‘request to join.’ https://buynothingproject.org/find-a-group/ Thanks for your interest in our social experiment!

  9. My husband and I live in providence point retirement community 98029

    • Thanks for your interest! We’d love to have you start a group in your neighborhood. We have lots of help and guidance for new local volunteer admins. Some of it is in written form, some of it is via an admins forum here on FB, and some of it is via the Regional Admins who provide advice and mentoring at the regional level.

      To start a group in your neighborhood (or learn more about what would be involved in doing so), the next step is to follow up with the volunteer Development team. You will work together to define a manageable area for a new group for you community. (A map you can both access may be helpful in this process)

      Please feel free to send an email to thebuynothingproject@gmail.com with information about where you reside, so you can take a look at the details for starting a group! At the moment — just so you know what to expect – it’s been a busy month for the Development team, so there may be a bit of a delay.

  10. I live in Pinole, 94564. A friend, Megan Wichmann, started a group for Hercules and Rodeo. I guess she tried to add Pinole but the population was too big. I know our friends are in Pinole, Hercules, El Sobrante, and Richmond. Is it only by city? Is zip code too large? We all live on the borders of these “cities” and only 15 minutes at most apart. Just wondering. Thanks!

    • Hey, Christy –

      In Buy Nothing, we try to keep the groups hyperlocal to smaller areas, so that real-life neighbors can interact with one another, gifting and sharing. When the groups were set up, it sounds as though they only included certain areas that the regionals in that area would have assisted to get going, along with our volunteer development team. At some point, all areas are going to border other areas, so the groups have to create a boundary. If you live along the border, we ask that you only join one group at a time, the one in which you live based on the boundaries created by that group.

      Hope that all makes sense!

      Thanks for your interest in our social experiment!

  11. I want to join.

  12. Hi,

    I love this project and would like to join this network.

    Thanks,
    Andrea

  13. My address is {address removed for privacy} Monroe washington 98***

  14. My last name on facebook is diffirent because facebook will not allow me to change it, I got a divorce in April of last yr and my last name changed to Koelling, I really like your page and I really like what it’s about, so how can I become a member?

  15. Thank you!

  16. There is no better feeling than giving !

  17. Hello of like to start a group for Pryor Oklahoma there is not one for this town yet

    • Hi Brittni!

      If there isn’t a Buy Nothing group yet in Pryor, OK (check this list which is updated frequently https://buynothingproject.org/find-a-group/ ), we’d love to see a gift economy started where you are. We just need a local volunteer to join us as admin (our entire network is run by volunteers).

      If you’re interested, please fill out the form you will find on the page in the following link. Once you have done so, the Development Admin for your area will contact you. Please have patience, this process is done in our volunteers’ free time, as such a reply may take some time, but I assure you they will respond.

      https://buynothingproject.org/start-a-group/

      Thanks for your interest in our social experiment!

  18. A very interesting concept for the villagers of this Worthy project. Now that I know more about it, I think I will pass at the time as I have not yet search out some others b that I also believe need consideration. In addition I do not have as many clothes and things like that as I do household items that are actually Antiques and probably would not be used by these people. Good luck in your endeavors. I applaud the many different charities that there are hoping to keep our people warm and fed and not neglected like so many have been in the past.

  19. Interested in making a Facebook group for the Maxville, ON, Canada area. Please let me know how to do so.

    Thanks!

    • Hi Molly!

      If there isn’t a Buy Nothing group yet in your community (check this list which is updated frequently https://buynothingproject.org/find-a-group/ ), we’d love to see a gift economy started where you are. We just need a local volunteer to join us as admin (our entire network is run by volunteers).

      If you’re interested in becoming an Admin, please fill out the form you will find on the page in the following link. Once you have done so, the Development Admin for your area will contact you. Please have patience, this process is done in our volunteers’ free time, as such a reply may take some time, but I assure you they will respond.

      https://buynothingproject.org/start-a-group/

      Thanks for your interest in our social experiment!

  20. My name is Stephen and I would like to belong to your site I live in [Removed] my e mail is [removed]@gmail.com thank you for your time

    • Hi Stephen,

      Did you find your hyper-local Buy Nothing community group? Please have a look at the list, and copy/paste the link for your neighborhood into your browser, which will then give you an option to ‘request to join.’

      https://buynothingproject.org/find-a-group

      Also if you have already sent a request to join, there is a chance someone has already sent you a Facebook message.

      Remember to check your message folders in addition to the in-box.
      Message Requests: https://www.facebook.com/messages/requests

      Thanks for your interest in our social experiment!

  21. I don’t use Facebook.
    How can I find out if there is is a group on Long Island NY?

    • Hi Patrick,

      All of the Buy Nothing Project groups use Facebook. People often ask us why we chose Facebook as our platform for The Buy Nothing Project. 1) It’s free; 2) Most of our friends and neighbors are on Facebook; and 3) It’s transparent. Transparency is the key ingredient to keeping a gift economy sustainable over time. Though there are some limitations to Facebook, the BNP is a network of groups completely run by Volunteers, without a budget (or time) to put the effort required into developing and maintaining a stand-alone site at this time.

      To learn if there is a group covering where you live, please check this list of the groups for New York: https://buynothingproject.org/find-a-group/#NY

      Thanks for your interest in the Project!

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