The Buy Nothing Academy: Lesson 2
What A Gift Economy Looks Like
Lesson 2.1 – Gift Economies: A Past, Present, and Future Tradition

Before we dive into what a Buy Nothing community looks like, let’s take a look at gift economies throughout history. The act of giving a gift builds “social capital”. In The Buy Nothing, Get Everything Plan, we define social capital as “the productive social relationships in any community that make up the true web of mutual bonds.” In small communities where the whole community has to work together or perish, gifting strengthens the bonds between community members. A stronger community is more likely to survive than a weaker one. Gifts of time are given to harvest crops or build a barn. You just literally can’t do it all by yourself and neither can your neighbor. Gift giving in a gift economy strengthens relationships.

As described in our book: “There are intact gift economies and giving cultures around the world, including dama in Mali, the Pacific Northwest First People’s potlatch tradition and surrounding economy, and the shared American tradition of passing along baby and children’s clothes as hand-me-downs. Cooperative economies are ancient, and have been with all of us in diverse forms throughout human history, yet many of us have never been exposed to, or don’t recognize, this traditional way of sharing resources and strengthening ties between neighbors. There is a power and magic in a local connection-centered sharing economy.”

We started Buy Nothing to provide the world with modern access to this traditional way of connecting and building communities. Many of us feel very isolated and disconnected from our neighborhoods. When we give and receive gifts without strings attached, for the sheer joy of it, we build new bridges between ourselves and break down the isolation and lack of meaning that many of us feel. We also lower our environmental impact and build new identities as valued community members.
Activity 2.1
We’re crowd-sourcing resources about gift economies, so we can host a comprehensive reading/watching/listening list of books, videos, podcasts, etc. Do you have a local resource like a time bank or pay it forward kitchen? If you don’t know, take this as an opportunity to look and see. Do you have a favorite book, video or podcast about gift economies? Check out other gift economy resources in the crowd-sourced Gifting Economy Resources that prior students of the Buy Nothing Academy have helped create! If you have more resources to add, share them with everyone using this Google form.
Lesson 2.2 – What Buy Nothing Communities Look Like

An active online Buy Nothing community features many posts that fall into the Give, Ask and Gratitude categories, each with a discussion attached to it. People also share their suggestions about how to improve the community, and offer activities or games to help bring people together through sharing. Not sure what that looks like? Check out your Home feed in the BuyNothing app to see a live gift economy in action. If your local community is still getting started, you’ll see Global posts that show how Giving, Asking, and Gratitude sharing work in Buy Nothing. You can also search for #buynothingproject, #bestofbuynothing, #buynothinggroup, or #buynothing on Instagram, where you’ll see posts shared by people around the world.

Take a look and see what resonates with you. People post in a variety of ways that show their personality. Picking the recipient of your gift can also be done creatively. We encourage people to experiment to find what works best for them. There is no rule or expectation that anyone needs to use “first come first served” to choose a recipient for their gift. In fact, always choosing the first person can turn your giving community into a daily race to get the stuff, and it leaves many people out. Instead, we encourage you to think about giving in ways that include new people, people who aren’t online all the time, etc. The more you vary the ways you choose recipients, the more you’ll connect with new neighbors and build a stronger local network.

How Do People Know What to Do?

Check out our How to Buy Nothing page!

The more you model with your posts what is possible, the more others will see, understand, and copy your lead. This is the most sustainable means for replicating the gift economy mindset in every community around the world. This is a participatory social experiment - The more you post your own Gives, Asks, and Gratitudes, the more your neighbors will do the same.

For a fun look into what a Buy Nothing gift economy looks like, take a look at this post in the app, and please add your own anecdotal observations! You know you're in a Buy Nothing Community when....

What best practices can you model? We share Buy Nothing Tips in the app every week, and you can share a link to each of these posts wherever you’d like. The BuyNothing app is your admin toolbox! In the app, find the Buy Nothing Community profile and scroll through all of our posts, tap on the 3 gray dots in the upper right hand corner of each post, then tap “share” and copy the URL.

Here are a few examples:
(note: these links will only open on a smartphone, iPad, or tablet)

Welcome to Buy Nothing
Introduce Yourself
Give, Ask, Lend, Borrow
New Years Goals
Practice Gratitude
Keep Trying!
Private Message Etiquette
Buy Nothing Stories: Surprises
Buy Nothing Front Doors
Offer a Gift of Self
Unsolicited Private Messages
When a Gift is Not Picked Up
Activity 2.2
  • Become a Buy Nothing Community Builder:
  • Share 2 posts in BuyNothing - You can Give, you can Ask, you can share your Gratitude.
  • Comment on at least 2 other people’s posts - You can offer encouragement, welcome someone, request a Give, or offer something in an Ask.
  • Then complete this form to register as a Community Builder. We’ll recognize you with the Community Builder badge on your BuyNothing profile.
Lesson 2.3 Give From Your Own Abundance

A Buy Nothing gift economy gives each of us a chance to build a resilient community with all of the resources we already have in our neighborhoods. Focus on what you can give from your own hands, heart, stuff, and skills. Please do not tell people where they can purchase an item, pay for a service, or receive charitable assistance. If you know of a free assistance program or community resource that would be helpful, we encourage you to fill out the Community Freesources document we offer, then share that with your community. This can become a document that lists and links people to free community resources they may find useful. Then everyone is able to turn their own focus to how we can share with each other as individuals.
Buy Nothing gift economies are not charities. Each is a person-to-person gift economy that subverts the charitable have/have-not“ relationship. Everyone in a gift economy is both a “have”, with things to give away (whether those are tangible goods or gifts of self), and a “have not”, with wants and needs that the community can help fulfill.
This Buy Nothing social experiment is about finding ways to strengthen connections, person-to-person, between neighbors through giving, receiving, and sharing creatively.