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


Day 5

I am amazed at how beautiful this gifting community is and this journey is such a learning experience.  I am going to give a brief summary of what we gave or received each day and since our family is always a curious subject for some, I decided to also include how much we spent each day.  As we go through the month, I hope to show how our family saves money and how much we would have spent on items or food we receive from our gifting community.


August 1:  I gave away some stuffed animals and some crafts.  I received a beautiful bundle of collard greens from someone’s garden which we cooked up into a nice southern side dish.  The cost for our family was $24 for groceries and $13 for trash compactor bags.

July 29, 2013 339

August 2:  Taylor made S’mores cookies and we gave a dozen away to 3 people and I gave away a 50th Anniversary Mickey hat.  We didn’t receive anything but I also didn’t ask for anything.  We spent $108 on food and necessities.

August 4, 2013 005

August 3:  We gave away a darling Ice-cream carousel that I will never use, a couple of Food Network magazines and a DVD set called Jibberboosh.  I received some detergents, probably enough to last our family a few months and Savannah received a very creepy gorilla mask.  This was the first day that we asked for something specifically with our experiment in mind. I have to admit that it takes some effort to switch into the mode of asking before buying.  Savannah was getting her things ready to head for camp this week and since we have shared bottles of shampoo and soap for the girls, we realized we would have to get her some for camp.  I started to make a shopping list and Savannah reminded me that we should check our Buy Nothing community first.  So I did!  Within seconds I had a reply and we were able to get her a lovely assortment of travel sized items.

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Someone else saw my request and rather than post anything, gave Savannah another bag of products.

August 4, 2013 004

I also requested 18 eggs for breakfast and had two offers right away.

August 4, 2013 007

Here is where this gifting community starts to really become amazing:  I asked if anyone had pants for Savannah for camp.  Her jeans have all met with mishaps lately.  One friend said to stop by her place and have coffee and let Savannah look through her stash, which I planned to do but the wonderful person who brought us our 18 eggs, left a pair of pants that fit perfectly!  It not only saved us money but it saved us time!

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So the cost for the day was $98 for food, which was partly for teen snacking but we saved approximately $50 by using our Buy Nothing community.


August 4:  We gave away a wine chiller and a pair of tap shoes.  We received two lovely loaves of sourdough bread.  They weren’t offered up and we didn’t ask.  It was just a beautiful gift for our family because of Buy Nothing.  Since I was gone most of the day, delivering one child to camp and picking up another, I didn’t have much interaction with the community.  It cost us $5 for a toll, $13 for the child and I to eat fast food on the way back from camp, $40 for gas and $10 for Brandon and Taylor to go on a church outing for a total of $63.

August 5:  We gave away a children’s book, a cake dish and some smoked paprika.  We received an ice-cream maker, a couple of backpacks for a project my kids are doing for the local food bank and again, we received a completely unexpected offer of clothing.  I received a message asking me if I would like to go through some clothes and when I arrived at the meeting place there were buckets full of clothes!  I came home with pj’s for the boys, an entire winter wardrobe for Savannah a few items for Kaitlyn, a storage unit to put under my folding table in the laundry room, some material and yarn for some craft items and I met a wonderful person!  We spent $34 on food today but we saved $$$ on clothing that we most likely would have spent in the fall!

There was one more exchange that took place that really showed me how thoughtful and giving people can be.  Someone was giving something away that I wanted and they brought it by but they left this…

August 4, 2013 001

Love, love, love the thoughtfulness and the note!

Until next time…



The Walker Family Experiment

April 16, 2013 055

We are the Walker family.  A modern day, large, homeschooling family.  Our oldest son, Jordan, is not pictured because he’s out on his own and pictured from left to right back row are identical twins, Brandon and Taylor, Savannah and Cameron.  Front row left to right has Austin, Leilani, identical twin girls Hailey and Madison with Preston in-between and Kaitlyn on the end.  Sean has been a previous school bus driver and is now looking for work in the computer industry and I am a happy, stay-at-home Mom.  We have really been inspired by the Buy Nothing Project and even though we are used to preserving and using hand-me-downs, donating our used items to non-profit places and make many things from scratch, we aren’t the garden growing, tree hugging family.  It has been easier to hit up sales at stores or grab what we want when we want it, instead of trying to find used items to love.

Since the Buy Nothing Project started in our neighborhood, we have been on board completely and we got to thinking, what if we could get by for a month through a gifting community?  What if we could give our children their Birthday parties by borrowing decorations that don’t hurt the environment, by borrowing from a community lending library of table settings?  What if I could gather up the homeschool supplies I might need from a community that might have things laying around that we could use?  I am always up for a challenge and my family is on board for this so we are going to give it a try!

The challenge will be that we have three birthdays and one anniversary in August.  Won’t you join us as we experiment to see if our large family can succeed in a gifting community by spending less and reusing more?



365 Days of Giving

By Liesl Clark

I started giving at an early age when signs of hoarding and entitlement amongst my siblings and me made my stomach hurt. I was the youngest in a 4-sibling family, and everything that was mine had previously been theirs. I rarely had a thing of my own that hadn’t already been played with or worn. For me, the sense of ownership of things was lost, a foreign concept even. What was mine was really theirs by default and the things that were theirs I was often forbidden to touch.

Sharing your things at an early age can have an impact on how others feel about themselves and their own stuff. © Liesl Clark

Sharing your things at an early age can have an impact on how others feel about themselves and their own stuff. © Liesl Clark

You might say I now have a thing about stuff. Stuff and me we aren’t, well, friends, as I’ve come to recognize the power stuff can have over people.

One of the biggest things I ever wanted when I was a teenager was a chance to wear a dress my sister had. I LOVED that dress. It was made for my body type, not hers, and she never, if ever, wore it. But it sat in her closet because it was hers. I couldn’t so much as look at it, or go near her closet. One summer day, when she was out of town for a month, I just plain wore it and loved every bit about being in the forbidden dress that would never fit my big sister. I wasn’t reveling in the naughtiness of my act. In fact, I was terrified. But that dress, in my estimation, needed to be worn and I was the right person to wear it. In so doing, as all bold deeds might prove, I got a miniscule stain on the dress that I never thought could be detected.

A month later, just after she returned, I heard the screams from her room and knew immediately what she had discovered. If a sky could fall, this was the day it hit the floor with a thud, cratering around her closet because of the rotten thing I had done. I don’t think I had ever done anything so rotten to her, other than existing. And this was, at the time of course, the last straw.

To heal my own wounds from the dress incident, and explore my feelings about it, my behavior about stuff radically changed: I took a 180-degree opposite course without understanding why, but it felt freeing. I gave and loaned things to others wholeheartedly, to the horror of my sister, and established strong bonds with friends who liked to trade and share what we had. I went so far as to loan out my most precious things, too, and understood implicitly that they might never come back. My sister was shocked by my giving nature, calling it “irresponsible”, accusing me of not taking care of my things.

Were they “my” things or things to communally enjoy, even if we might lose them in the end? As the youngest sibling, all my things felt communally consumed and I was okay with it. A set of precious earrings I had purchased during a summer on Corsica ended up permanently in the jewelry box of a friend. It felt wrong at first, until I let go of the thing itself and appreciated how happy my friend felt wearing them. That ache in my stomach disappeared altogether and my giving went on.

I learned that the more I gave away, the more I wanted to give away, just to see how far I could go with the feelings of discomfort, redefining giving as an act of free will with no attachments. I wanted to take all the power out of owning and coveting things. Coveting and hoarding made my stomach hurt and made me give all the more. Sure, I felt pangs of sickness when I gave away dresses I designed for my own body with fabrics I worked hard to earn enough money to buy. But if a friend asked for it, I’d give it freely, having seen the ugliness that comes with ownership of things. I could always make another dress. Or, as I soon learned, a friend would offer a new dress or shoes to me for no reason but love and kindness.

This week I started a project I’m calling “365 Days of Giving.” I want to relive those days of giving freely and removing the strings I have attached to the things in my life.  I also want to explore the relationships I’ll redefine and uncover in the process. Some of the giving won’t be of stuff. It might be an answer to a neighbor’s need for a ride, or lending out an item we use daily to someone who could use it. I want to push the boundaries of giving, to the point where my family and I might go without to help another person, giving to connect with the people around us, not through our stuff but through kindness, sharing, and caring. This, in my mind, is true giving, giving until that hurt in your stomach goes away.

Too  much stuff? Start giving. © Liesl Clark

Too much stuff? Start giving. © Liesl Clark

How Does 365 Days of Giving Work?

This is both an experiment and a challenge inviting others to join in the giving: Try, in your own ways, to give freely of your stuff or yourself, pushing the boundaries of ownership and giving collaborative consumption, sharing, and the gift economy a try. At times the balance may feel out of your favor, are you giving too much? I believe that when you work to create a balance in the common good, helping others, then you reach your own sense of peace and well-being. If resources are scarce for you, give of yourself in other ways: Offer a hand to a friend or help a stranger with a difficult task they can’t do on their own.

This project is made easy for me through our local Buy Nothing group. I post items I want to give, and people respond immediately. When someone posts something they want, I can see if I have it and then give easily. It’s our own local gift economy experiment, and I believe it can work beautifully, if everyone gets into the spirit of giving. So far, in just 3 weeks we’re approaching 1000 members and the giving is infectious!

If you want to try this experiment for a day, a month, or a year. Join me here and post your own stories of giving freely.

My format, for now, is to list what I’m giving each day and what I’ve received. Two simple categories, with an occasional blog post to deconstruct the lessons learned.


Date: July 23, 2013


2 Sets of Driftwood blocks for kids to play with.


Frozen bananas

2 bags full of health food including:


Almond flour

Shredded coconut

A loaf of bread


Cider Spices


Date: July 24, 2013


Set of nesting omelet dishes

Pretty piggy bank

© Liesl Clark

© Liesl Clark


Paint thinner.

Hamster cage for my daughter’s birthday

Several toys for my children including a pretty piggy bank.


Date: July 25


1 Dozen fresh organic (soy free) eggs

© Liesl Clark

© Liesl Clark

12 Whittled marshmallow roasting sticks


Date: July 26:



Mint Plants

A dozen eggs


Large T-bones for our dog

Pint of raspberries

A thank you note of appreciation

A cake from a friend.

© Liesl Clark

© Liesl Clark


Date: July 27



Helped a stranger by driving her massage equipment back to her home from a music festival.

Customized upcycled chicken feeders to be used to collect food waste at the music festival.

Giant Rhubarb © Liesl Clark

Giant Rhubarb © Liesl Clark


Because we went to the festival (and we brought bikes) my daughter took her first ride on a bicycle without training wheels. A priceless gift.

 Leftover food from the festival for my chickens.

More paint thinner and windshield fluid for my car.

Little Pet shop toys for my daughter’s upcoming birthday.

© Liesl Clark

© Liesl Clark


Date: July 28


Collard Greens

Basket of stuffed animals

Yogurt starter

© Liesl Clark

© Liesl Clark


Lily of the Valley Plants

Shelves for daughter’s room

Boston Baked Bean candies for my kids

More Little Pet Shop toys for my daughter’s upcoming birthday.

Bag of bread for our chickens


Date: July 29



Toothbrush Holder


Collards, Arugula, Oregano

Jar of honey from our bees

© Liesl Clark

© Liesl Clark


Little Pet Shop Toys

Boston Baked Beans





Shoes for us to give to Nepali Villagers

© Liesl Clark

© Liesl Clark


Date: July 30


Bag of small toys


Iphone charger


Coleus Plant with a thank you note. 


Date: July 31


1 Dozen eggs



Crab pot  (Future loan)

Revolution Flea Stuff for cat

Stuffed Bears for daughter


Glasses Case for us to give to Nepali Villagers

Mexican Wedding Cookies © Liesl Clark

Mexican Wedding Cookies © Liesl Clark


Are you interested in joining me in this giving project? Let me know below or provide your own advice on ways we can give more freely to add more good will to the communal karma.


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