Sharing with neighbors in a gift economy

rain boots

by Cheryl P. Rose

dog harness
“Harness to replace worn out one for this lowrider of ours”

In an effort to declutter, you’ve collected some things you no longer need. What should you do with them? You could throw them in the trash, of course, but that seems wrong when the items are still usable. What you’d like is to give these things to someone who needs and wants them. That’s where the Buy Nothing Project comes in; linking neighbors who want to freely share from their abundance.

The Buy Nothing Project is an international collective of about 5,000 hyper-local groups who connect neighbors via Facebook. The guiding principle is to provide a gift economy for lending, borrowing, giving and sharing freely of items, knowledge and skills. There is strictly no selling, trading, or soliciting. Groups are managed locally by more than 10,000 volunteers around the world. 

The Northwest Heights/Bonny Slope Buy Nothing group has accumulated about 600 members since 2016. Several members of the group say their first reason for joining was to find a better way to recycle belongings: clothing, toys, books, food, décor, furniture, plants, cookware, craft supplies and much more.

“I started with Buy Nothing as a convenient way to get rid of stuff,” says Michelle Murff of Portland. “But I love that my items go to someone who really wants them and aren’t just sitting in a bin somewhere.”

Sharing items to happy new owners provides members satisfaction. 


“The feeling of regifting something useful to someone else who will use it better than me is very fulfilling,” says Ava Setzer of Portland.

“And here is my daughter playing with a water table that someone gifted to us, as well as a toddler slide that was gifted and also now regifted to our community this last summer”

Trudy Wilson of Cedar Mill agrees. “Some of the items I have gifted we’ve had since our children were little,” she says. “It brings me great joy to know these things go to other young families. I especially love when I get a picture or message later saying how much they enjoy what they have received.”

rain boots
“My twins enjoying the rain boots from this group”

Connecting with neighbors is an added benefit that members appreciate. 

“I have met so many wonderful neighbors through Buy Nothing who share common interests,” says Jenny Mackie of Portland. “By removing the transactional part of selling, the Buy Nothing mission also taps into the benefits of gifting. We don’t just extend the life of our items; we ensure they go where they are needed.”

Members can also ask for items they need or would like to borrow. Got a broken tool? Maybe someone in the group can fix it. Need to borrow a dehumidifier for the weekend? Maybe someone in your group has one to lend. It’s amazing to see the items neighbors offer to one another.

candles
“I made new candles with jars and old candles from this group.”

Buy Nothing groups are organized by geographic boundaries. When members post items for gifting, they are encouraged to let items “simmer” for a couple of days, allowing time for other members to see the posts and show interest. If there are several members interested, the donor pulls a name at random. This strategy allows more people to have a chance at a desirable shared gift instead of a first-come, first-served race. With current COVID-19 concerns, members coordinate contactless porch pickup times. 

aprons
“My kids loved their aprons that we were gifted! Perfect for Christmas cookie baking.”

“It feels better to pass something along to a neighbor who will value it and use it,” says Sami Cregger of Portland. “Each thing we pass along was at one time important to us, but for whatever reason it no longer fits into our lives. To know that someone else will value it and put it to good use is food for the soul.”

lion costume
“our daughter loved the lion costume she received from the group, and we had fun with the makeup!”

To keep the groups local, you can only join the one for your neighborhood. To find out if your neighborhood is part of one of the dozens of area Buy Nothing groups, visit buynothingproject.org/find-a-group/#OR.