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.


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


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


Buy Nothing Groups = Random Acts of Kindness All Day Long

What Does A Buy Nothing Group Look Like?

IMG_5781 Given© Liesl Clark

© Liesl Clark

When people ask us what a Buy Nothing group really looks like, we 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 globe, enabling people and communities to commit episodic acts of daily good together. We provide the freeware for you to set up local gift economies, using social media to bring to the fore myriad random acts of kindness for neighbors to partake in day-in and day-out. The gift economies are sharing-groups, where members of a community get to know each other by giving, asking, and expressing their gratitude.

Gratitude apples.jpg

Interested in a sampling of what you might see offered or asked-for in a Buy Nothing group? We’re happy to help provide a look inside, so you can decide if you’d like to establish one in your community, too.

People give clothes, dinners, crock pots, plants, garden tools. We’ve seen used and clean Ziploc bags offered, laundry detergent, antiques, 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 offbeat requests that are perhaps the most touching, enabling people to give in the most precious ways. Members use their words, rather than abbreviated “ISO,” for example, which can feel alienating to those who don’t typically join buy/sell/trade groups. No trades or swaps are allowed, as all gifts are freely given. 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.

Examples of Buy Nothing Gives and Asks:

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

– A father asks for doll clothes for his child.

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

IMG_7843 © 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 man asks for blackberries for wine he’s making and then shares the wine with the whole community.

IMG_8472 © Liesl Clark

Community Blackberry Wine © Liesl Clark

– An experienced guitarist 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.

— A Buy Nothing admin doubles her recipe for dinner, which means she has enough to give a meal to a family nearby.

gift of self

– Several college students moving into apartments are given 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 new first grade teacher’s room is outfitted with books, rug, and stuffed animals.

— Neighbors get together at a community spot to split plants and share the bounties of their gardens.

— A woman breaks her leg and the community comes together to take turns walking her dog.

Mill Creek Students.jpg

– A ‘clothing boutique’ takes place, free clothing offered to all who attend. And the extra clothes make a round through the Buy Nothing group over the next few weeks in a “Round Robin” where members who couldn’t attend the clothing boutique event can try clothes on for themselves, take what they want, and add to the box any clothing they want to get rid of, and pass it on to the next person.

IMG_8007 © Liesl Clark

© Liesl Clark

— A chef teaches a cooking class for interested members.

— A couple who own a food truck requests ripped or stained towels to clean their deep fryers.

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 single mother requests (and receives) a place for her small family to stay when her lease is set to run out before her offer is accepted on her new house.

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

The best way to jump into a Buy Nothing group is to just start giving! It’s a great way to introduce yourself and generate some good will.

Posting in a Buy Nothing Group:

We are local gift economies, so everything is free and people don’t need to ask where to buy things. There’s no need to make referrals or links to businesses, because we try to meet every request in our groups, without having to go outside of the group to meet a want or need. Trades and cash are not allowed.

You can give your gifts to whomever you choose, for whatever reason. You may choose someone randomly, or in some more creative way, like based on the silliest pet photos posted, funniest joke, best limerick, solving a riddle, someone you have never met before, someone who has not been offered a gift before, etc.

Creative Way To Choose

It is nice to leave your offers open for a period of time, to let them simmer, so that everyone gets a chance to see them and express interest.

Simply saying “next” or “interested” as a response to the offer of a gift can feel anonymous to the giver, so the more information you provide about why you’re interested in the gift, the better. These are not ‘first come first serve’ groups, unless the giver chooses to do it that way.





Please don’t privately message people asking for them to give you a certain item. Buy Nothing groups operate on transparent communication. Private messages should only be used to exchange pick-up information.

Don’t be discouraged if you are not picked to receive an item you really want. You are always free to post your own requests at any time. You’ll get best results if you introduce yourself and explain how the item you are seeking will enhance your life. Please try to avoid impersonal abbreviations (like ISO, IDNO etc.)

Gratitude 4There’s no need to delete your posts because the community history is always nice to keep on record.

We love posts of gratitude! It makes everyone feel good to see that people appreciate the gifts they receive.


Gratitude Post in a Buy Nothing group in the Philippines.

Gratitude Pigs


Gratitude Cake Icing

We encourage BN selfies when members meet up to give to each other. The selfies are fun, sharing them in our groups boosts everyone’s feel-good hormones, and friendships are made. Person-to-person giving is where it’s at.



Keeping It Civil

Our groups are places for civil discourse and admins work hard to keep the groups focused on giving, asking, and gratitude, rather than on discussions about community issues, politics or community bulletin board-type announcements.

The Buy Nothing Project is not an echo chamber. Researchers are finding that online activities are generally allowing each of us to find our own like-minded communities and to stay within those, where we’re unlikely to share online space with people whose ideas and philosophies differ much from our own. The Buy Nothing Project bucks this trend. We don’t require any of our members to subscribe to any particular philosophy, politics, or world view. We welcome everyone and we also require everyone to respect our Keep It Civil rule in order to facilitate human connections within each group’s diverse mix. So long as we are civil in our communication, all offers and requests allowed by Buy Nothing Project rules and Facebook’s Terms of Service are welcome in our groups. This means we guarantee that eventually you’ll see things here that offend and anger you, as well as things that gladden your heart and give you hope. This is true for each of us, co-founders, admins, and members alike, no matter our personal politics, philosophies, and values.

Participating in our diverse groups brings many challenges and incredible opportunities for learning about ourselves and others. Being part of this project means you’ll be connecting with the people who live in your neighborhood, even the ones who differ from you in ways that may push your buttons (and you theirs) in powerful ways. The lessons that come along with this are not always easy, but we offer them as one more freely-given gift you’ll receive from your participation in your local Buy Nothing Project group.

Small Hyper-Local Groups

We try to initially create Buy Nothing groups in small areas, and as they grow bigger, they sprout into even smaller areas or neighborhoods, hence the “hyper-local” focus in the mission. When the founders of the Buy Nothing Project created this global movement in their hometown, the idea was to focus on smaller, hyper local neighborhoods.

We know that when a Facebook group reaches about 1000 members, the intimacy of the group changes in character, members feel more anonymous and the groups move quickly, with a lot of the focus being on “stuff” rather than people. We encourage our large groups to “sprout.”

There are many benefits to SPROUTING:

— Neighborliness – the vision for the Buy Nothing Project is for neighbors to get to know one another through the group, and to form bonds and connections, weaving a web among all of the neighbors. As the group gets bigger, it becomes harder to know one another and to interact with all people. In encouraging personal and face to face communication, rather than anonymous giving, it becomes increasingly harder to get to know everyone in the group the larger we become.

— Warmth – in a smaller group where we can all get to know one another, the atmosphere is warmer, and more intimate. We know the people posting. We will know that a family is having their first trip to Disney World, or that someone is caring for their elderly parents, that someone is getting married, or that someone was diagnosed with cancer. We can shed tears of joy that Talia is expecting after years of trying, and gather baby clothes. We can more easily reach out when we know each other and interact to help one another, rather than say, “Her name started with an T …. trying to remember …”

— Less Competition – in a smaller group, there will be less competition for gifts, and we will get to know each other better. Instead of a line of 10+ people all clamoring for the same gift, you may see 2-3 people chatting and interacting on a post. Rather than just picking a random person out of a line, with a smaller sampling you can pause and think about what they might do with the gift, why they would need it, and your interactions with this person in the past. When it is your time to ask for that dresser that you really, really, really want, your chances of receiving will increase exponentially!

— Calmness- The page may be less active, and that may be a good thing. Calmer, slower browsing is something that we could all use in our often hectic, chaotic, go-go-go lives these days. Taking a moment to really pause on a post and appreciate the kindness that is here could be a welcome change.

— More personal – With a smaller membership, it is more manageable for the admin team, and makes it easier for them to focus on YOU as a *person* rather than data. We have many responsibilities as volunteer admins. We are all volunteers, hoping to bring the best, safest and most enjoyable experience to all members. With a smaller group, we are better able to tend to conflicts, listen to concerns, educate members and work with them in achieving our mission.

— Care for our environment – the Buy Nothing Project has opportunity to bring about a positive environmental impact by reducing our consumption levels, saving items from landfills, and driving less. The vision that we have in the project is one in which we can walk or bike to give and receive gifts more often. We hope to reduce our distances in driving, and lessen our carbon footprint in the only planet that we have.

— Accountability – in a smaller group, behaviors are more noticeable. If someone is promoting their business in a sneaky way, when the neighbors know each other it is more noticeable. If there are people who are rude, inconsiderate, or a No Show, it is a much easier to hide these behaviors in a bigger, active group.

— Safety – In smaller, less anonymous spaces, regarding issues of risk and safety, it is much easier to spot suspicious behavior.

— Ease of pick ups – it can be much less of a hassle to pick up when the gift is right around the corner, rather than a 12 minute drive. More than that, participating with people who are so close to you can give you opportunity to meet the people right in your area. In one town that sprouted, in the first week, a neighbor connected with a member of the group who, as it turned out, lived five houses down! They became fast friends, and had never interacted before despite being in the bigger group for years together.

— Outreach – Sprouting can help make new members and quiet members feel more comfortable in a smaller, safer environment.

Still looking for more info on just what makes a Buy Nothing group unique? Check out our Fine Print (our rules and guidelines.) And, if that just feels like too much reading, Jamie Carbaugh has created a nifty video version of it that’s easy and fun to watch. Thanks Jamie!

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!

And if you feel that our description of a Buy Nothing group doesn’t look and feel anything like the Buy Nothing group in your community, let us know! Check our our Member Resources page that gives you tools for helping your community bring your group into alignment with the Buy Nothing vision. There’s a form at the end of the page that you can fill out and we’ll get back to you!


A Buy Nothing Birthday

By Liesl Clark

Buy Nothing Birthday Love © Liesl Clark

Buy Nothing Birthday Love © Liesl Clark

Did you know that according to many sources, parents spend — on average — between $200 – $400 on a child’s birthday? For $200, reportedly, you can have a “no-frills” birthday. And for a mere $400 you can wow the neighbor’s kids.

Well, I tried an experiment this year for our 8-year-old’s birthday that might send shockwaves across the parenting universe. Right up to the day of her birthday, I… um… bought NOTHING. Zippo.

And said 8-year-old is still talking to me. She even gave me a big hug and a smooch this morning, they day after the big day.

Now, this Buy Nothing Birthday took some planning to pull off perfectly, but I’d love to walk you through the simple steps I took so you can try one of your own. It all started two months ago, when I initiated my prep for the Big Day.


7 going on 17. © Liesl Clark

7 going on 17. © Liesl Clark

8-year-old girls are pretty good at telling you exactly what they’d like to do for their birthday. They also tend to have excellent gift ideas that they drop as not-so-subtle hints whenever possible. My 8-ish girl wanted Littlest Pet Shop toys, those plastic bauble-headed creatures with big soupy eyes that girls tend to go ga-ga over.

Littlest Pet Shop Kitty. Found in our Buy Nothing Group. © Liesl Clark

Littlest Pet Shop Kitty. Found in our Buy Nothing Group. © Liesl Clark

The thought of buying more mini plastic toys to litter our living room floor kept me up at night, (I mean, we’re the family that’s trying to go plastic-free) until a brilliant idea popped into my head: Why not ask friends and neighbors if they have any annoying plastic bauble-headed pets that their daughters are done with that they’d like to pass on to a petite yet passionate plastic pet shop owner? Through our local Buy Nothing group, I was able to send out one request for the little buggers, and within a few days, I had over 70 Littlest Pet Shop critters and their accoutrements in my big paws!

IMG_7511 © Liesl Clark

Here’s a screen shot of my ask:

Ask, and you shall receive. The Buy Nothing Project.

Ask, and you shall receive. The Buy Nothing Project.

The response was overwhelming. One newly-made friend through the group even posted a picture of her daughter posing with her own Littlest Pet Shop critters that she wanted to gift to my daugher. The two girls had never even met. But I sense they’re going to be friends one day, much like their mothers are, all due to the binding effects of the Buy Nothing phenomenon.

A little angel gives her toys to a girl she's never met.

A little angel gives her toys to a girl she’s never met.

To top things off, a few days before the birthday, a neighbor’s daughter was in a giving mood and she posted 3 big plastic pet shops themselves, those fairyland-like houses that hold pets in various platform-like spaces with windows, compartments, and running wheels for the pets to work out on. Plastic pets never had it so good.

Little Pet Shops gifted in our local Buy Nothing group.

Little Pet Shops gifted in our local Buy Nothing group.

Giving Back:

In our family we have a tradition of giving back for our birthdays. For our son’s birthday last May, he picked up some serious trash we had discovered on a nearby roadway. It was a freak accident of perfectly good plastic bags having been set free through unintentional littering, and our mission was to cage those bags up again to prevent them from getting ingested by our aquatic wildlife in nearby Puget Sound.

Making the world a better place on your birthday. © Liesl Clark

Making the world a better place on your birthday. © Liesl Clark

Our birthday daughter decided to give a treasure hunt gift party to her friends and brother for her birthday. Throughout the summer, we’ve acquired free goodies as gifts for the party. I’m constantly amazed at how easy it is to collect perfectly good items for kids without having to spend a dime. We gathered a few boxes-worth of toys and science projects from our local Rotary Auction. All the items we found were rescued from being tossed into a dumpster. The treasure hunt was a huge success — 23 separate secret locations, each housing a little something for one of the children — and the kids are still playing together with their toys as I write this.

The biggest treasure hunt we've ever had. All free treasures courtesy of Buy Nothing. © Liesl Clark

The biggest treasure hunt we’ve ever had. All free treasures courtesy of Buy Nothing. © Liesl Clark


Our local Buy Nothing group also provided our decorations for the party. A neighbor just a mile down the road offered up some tissue paper flowers to the group that can be hung from the ceiling or tossed around a birthday scene. I’ve added these big clusters of pink, fuscia, and purple to a lending library of party items for future birthdays and holidays, perennially available for our Buy Nothing members to reuse over and over again.

A Party Supply Lending Library was set up by our Buy Nothing Group. © Liesl Clark

A Party Supply Lending Library was set up by our Buy Nothing Group. © Liesl Clark


The first week our Buy Nothing group was up and running, a member posted this post:

“Help – Pinata! We are preparing to celebrate my son’s 5th birthday. He is desperate to have a pinata. I feel very torn about the candy and plastic junk but I gave into his sweet plea. So, now I have a pinata to fill. I am wondering if you have creative ideas for pinata filler (I really want to fill it with baby carrots and broccoli but my husband said that is only funny to moms) or if you have something that you would like to pass along that I might use to fill this pinata. I missed out on Kendra’s candy earlier today. : ( Any other goodies stashed around that might otherwise hit the trash that I could put to use? I will post a photo of the results in about a week – thanks!”

About 2 weeks later, this Buy Nothing member had found hundreds of goodies offered up by the group to fill her son’s pinata. Inside, she had stuffed small plastic toys (I happily off-loaded a box-full), stickers, small stuffed animals, and of course a little bit of candy. It was a feel-good collaborative Buy Nothing pinata, and I think our group will happily rally again for another little birthday person.


My good friend Rebecca baked delicious brownies topped with borage flowers from her garden for the kids (and adults) to enjoy. And adults sipped champagne gifted to us by our Buy Nothing friends.

Gifts provided by the abundance around us. © Liesl Clark

Gifts provided by the abundance around us. © Liesl Clark

What’s not to love about this zero-cost day? Precious memories were forged, new friends were made, delicious goodies were shared, and the birthday girl could give to her heart’s delight.

Try a Buy Nothing Birthday of your own and bring joy to the kids. © Liesl Clark

Try a Buy Nothing Birthday of your own and bring joy to the kids. © Liesl Clark

Are you up for trying a Buy Nothing birthday of your own? Let us know how it goes and what sorts of experiences you and your children had. We’d love to hear from you and collect ideas for further Buy Nothing traditions.

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Introducing the Buy Nothing Project

Our co-founder Liesl Clark put together this short film about our first Buy Nothing Project group on Bainbridge Island, WA.


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, 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

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