When South Minneapolis resident Kathryn Spotts first heard about the Buy Nothing Project in 2017, she learned there were only two groups operating in the Twin Cities: one in St. Paul’s Highland Park and one in the Whittier neighborhood.
Wanting to share these opportunities with her Standish-Ericcson neighbors, Spotts formed a new Buy Nothing Project neighborhood group four years ago.
She said, “The Buy Nothing Project is an experiment in the ‘gift economy.’ Neighbors ask for things they need to have or borrow through a dedicated Facebook page. It’s about neighbors relying on neighbors, and making human connections – it’s also about buying and storing less stuff.”
Membership has more than doubled since the pandemic set in, with 600 plus members participating in the free exchange of goods and services.
Sharing from a sense
Spotts explained, “The Buy Nothing Project isn’t about overthrowing a market economy or never buying anything new. It’s about recognizing a sense of abundance and sharing what we already have.”
The first project started in 2013, when two friends created an experimental hyper-local gift economy on Bainbridge Island, Wash. Since then, it has become a worldwide social movement, with groups in 30 different countries.
Neighborhood groups form gift economies that complement local cash economies. Whether people join because they’d like to get rid of clutter, or to save money by getting stuff for free, they quickly discover that the Buy Nothing Project is more than 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, according to Spotts. "The Buy Nothing Project is about setting aside the scarcity model of our cash economy, in favor of creatively and collaboratively sharing the abundance that is already here.
"Some things that come into our homes are only used once: a post-hole digger, an air mattress, a 1,000 piece puzzle will not be put together twice. Chances are, someone in our neighborhood could find a use for them and pass them along when they are done."
How it works
Spotts explained, “The site doesn’t operate on a first-come, first-served basis. The gifter lists their good or service and can give to whomever they choose: the closest neighbor, the one with the best joke, the person who has never received anything from the site before, the neighbor they haven’t met yet, and so on.
“This is one of the ways we strive for a kind of equity. It also eliminates the capitalist drive to be first, and the impulse to be on Facebook all day looking for great stuff.”
Spotts attributes the rapid growth of the Standish-Ericcson group to people being home more during the pandemic. Some need things to fill up space, and some need to get rid of things to make more space at home. She said, “The importance of home has greatly expanded. I also sense that neighbors want to reach out to neighbors more, even if we can’t see each other in-person very easily.
“All of our exchanges are done by leaving things on porches and doorsteps these days. I can’t wait until we can have a meet-up or a yard sale swap with our members, once the pandemic is under control.”
Find your group
Longfellow and Nokomis East also have Buy Nothing groups that are accepting new members. To find your neighborhood group, go to https://buynothingproject.org/find-a-group/.The embedded link will take you directly to Facebook, where you can click on “Join Group.” Facebook will present you with three questions. Answer all three questions, so the group’s administrator can approve your request. If you are unable to view these questions, or you have any other questions or concerns, send a message to the person named in the “About/Group Description” section.
The Buy Nothing Project asks you to join only one group, so that you can “give where you live,” with the goal of building resilient community connections. Each group has basic Buy Nothing Project rules they ask people to read before joining.
The Buy Nothing Project has a word for what has happened in Standish-Ericcson, and that word is “sprouting”. The group has gotten so big that they may soon become two separate Standish and Ericcson groups.
Spotts said, “That’s what happens with this model. The point is to get to know one another. I used to know all the members in our group, but I don’t anymore. It’s a good problem to have.”
To learn more about the principles of gift economies, visit the Buy Nothing Project website at www.buynothingproject.org.
The Standish Ericcson group has recently created a spread sheet of their lending library, which can be viewed at https://tinyurl.com/yycwe99n. Spotts said, “I hope this list leads to many fewer people in our neighborhood owning tools, gadgets, and gear that they use once every five years.”