How Buy Nothing Groups Help Individuals and Communities

One person handing a bowl of tomatoes to another
Elaine Casap | Unsplash

Four years ago, Melanie Musson was invited by a friend to join a “Buy Nothing” Facebook group, a collective of people who swap and donate items to reduce waste and help everyone save money.

Since members of Buy Nothing groups exchange items, the most effective groups are of physical communities. Musson said that the community aspect alone has made the group worthwhile, and the exchanges are like a cherry on top.

“The best free item I got was two eggs. It’s not that it was valuable, but it demonstrated the community that the group created,” she said. “I was baking. My kids were napping. I couldn’t leave them to go to the store, but I didn’t want to wake them up. I asked if anyone within a block of my house had eggs I could use, and within five minutes, someone dropped off my missing ingredient. That interaction demonstrated how the group looked out for each other. ”

Now, whenever she’s cleaning out her house or getting rid of things, Musson goes to her Buy Nothing group first. As opposed to selling or discarding things, she said she’d always much rather give them away to people who could use them.

Melanie Musson wearing a baby carrier she got through her Buy Nothing group

“The group helps build a stronger sense of community and belonging. It’s a great way to meet neighbors and start depending on your village,” she said.

Millions of Americans participate in Buy Nothing groups like Musson’s, and many have had positive community-building, money-saving experiences. Buy Nothings tie people together, protect the environment, reduce consumption, and help further the greater good.

Even if you’ve never heard of the concept, there’s probably a group in your community. And there are plenty of reasons to join, as anyone who has ever participated will tell you.

Community and Family

Deborah Hanamura has been a part of Buy Nothing groups for about six years. As someone with a background in green living, the eco-friendly aspect of the group is a major appeal.

“I have a career in sustainability, and there are environmental benefits that come from reduced consumption and waste, which I love,” Hanamura said.

After having a daughter, Hanamura realized that it was not safe to have her dog around a small child. Trying to keep her dog from a shelter, she looked around for a new home for her best friend. Ultimately, her Buy Nothing group provided the solution.

“The admin of our Buy Nothing group came through for us, and she gave our dog a loving and perfectly suited home – knowing that our dog ended up with a wonderful neighbor was the best gift we ever got on Buy Nothing,” she said.

A few years later, Hanamura’s daughter took up cooking and baking. Hanamura asked her Buy Nothing group if anyone had spare fabric, as she planned to make an apron for her daughter. Someone from her community decided to go the extra mile.

“As a total surprise, one of our Buy Nothing members took it upon herself to sew a charming kid-sized apron, especially for my daughter,” Hanumara said. “The extra effort was so kind and unexpected that it still makes me smile.”

A member of Hanamura’s Buy Nothing group created a custom apron for her daughter

Giving and Getting

Since joining a Buy Nothing group on Facebook a few years ago, Jodi RR Smith has come to love her community of sharers, borrowers, and neighbors. Smith said she has given away a little bit of everything over the years.

“From clothing that no longer fits, to rugs we are replacing, to a wooden pallet no longer needed, it allows us to clear out things from our home while keeping them out of the garbage/landfill,” Smith said.

The group allowed Smith to share virtually anything with her community, not only limiting waste but bringing people closer together. After giving much to her group since joining, Smith has had no trouble finding members of her community to help her.

Teacups Jodi Smith received from her group
Teacups Jodi Smith received from her group

“I am hosting a fundraising tea in the spring and people have been incredibly generous, I have collected over 137 teacups for the event,” she said.

While Smith mentioned that not every member of the group understands how it works, the overall experience has been extremely positive.

“Overwhelmingly I adore this group. In fact, there are people who I am now friends with because we met through the group,” Smith said. “Our Buy Nothing group has been a wonderful way to connect with my neighbors and make our community stronger.”

Paying It Forward

Bo Zhao joined a Buy Nothing in Philadelphia two years ago, around the same time her daughter was born. While she used the group for a variety of items, it proved invaluable in helping her keep down the costs of raising a newborn.

“I’ve used it for a lot of baby items, which are pretty expensive, and you only use for a few months before babies outgrow them,” Zhao said. “The most expensive item I’ve been gifted was an UPPAbaby Vista stroller, which normally retails for over $1,000. We later passed that on to another family.”

Zhao’s daughter playing with toys Zhao got from her Buy Nothing group

Inspired by her experiences with the Buy Nothing group, Zhao launched Baby Gear Group, a membership service that provides parents with high-quality baby supplies at major discounts.

In addition to the community sharing and money-saving, Zhao said she loves the sustainability of the group.

“We’ve given away everything from food to furniture,” she said.  “I get the warm fuzzies knowing these items are being used and not in landfills.”

The Bottom Line

As each story shows, Buy Nothing groups have some unique quirks that make them beneficial for individuals and communities at large. These groups encourage collaboration, cooperation, and compassion while discouraging consumerism and waste. And that’s not even mentioning the money you can save!

If you’re interested in joining a group, the Buy Nothing Project can help you find one in your area!