Americans have too much stuff—unused possessions stored in closets, garages, attics and cabinets.
Take my garage, for instance. It overflows with old toys, clothes, computers, tools, cookware, college textbooks, furniture, bikes and an array of other treasures that have been buried so deep and for so long that I no longer remember what awaits me when I decide to purge.
I have a new incentive to tackle the dreaded garage (and probably many closets). A social network called the Buy Nothing Project, which operates through Facebook, encourages folks in specific neighborhoods to “buy nothing, share and build community.”
For many of us who have trouble getting rid of stuff, nostalgia plays a role. The beauty of the Buy Nothing groups, said Jenni Campbell, a 14-year Agoura Hills resident who launched her town’s Buy Nothing group about a year ago, is that when stories of your stuff are shared with neighbors who need a certain item, letting go is a bit easier.
Campbell explained how the network operates.
“It’s about a gifting economy,” she said.
Residents in towns that are established with the Buy Nothing Project can post what they need through an “ask” or “wish.” People like me are encouraged to share what they have to offer through gifting. Once a match is made, the people meet, get to know each other and perhaps forge a new friendship.
Campbell says there is nothing too little or too big to share. On the well-established Alta Dena Buy Nothing site, one resident gave another her leftover pico de gallo. An Agoura Hills member offered an unopened canister of baby formula.
One woman on the Agoura Hills site wished for cloth diapers, a request that was tough to fulfill since many parents who had used them didn’t save them. Yet the simple act of asking for the diapers created a space to talk about children, share tips and stories of motherhood, and generate conversation about landfills, which is where disposable diapers end up.
Once a quarter, Campbell and other Buy Nothing members host a neighborhood event like Junk in the Trunk, which attracts big crowds into small neighborhoods. The quarterly events are like community garage sales with no money exchanged.
For Campbell, the rules of wishing and gifting are pretty flexible. For instance, she enjoys offering free services, like walking dogs or offering her knowledge of healthcare advocacy.
“We’re here to help each other,” said Campbell, who reminisced about growing up in a tight-knit neighborhood. “They were my family,” she said of her neighbors. “I thought of them like aunts and uncles.”
She has high hopes that the Agoura Hills Buy Nothing site will bring people together to “take care of each other.”
“If we are not here for each other we’re really on our own,” she said. “We have a connection, it’s about holding ourselves accountable every day. We know each other—this creates community.”
Campbell hopes the “give where you live” trend focuses on connecting with neighbors.
“I want people to know the heirloom stories, somebody who will love it like I did,” she said. “I want to connect with the person.”
Buy Nothing members Dotty Grant and Jill Miller Dressel met each other through the group over a keychain collection.
Grant, whose son was OK with giving away his collection, met with Dressel, and the women got to talking about their children.
Grant’s son had been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome in middle school and benefited from tap dancing classes. The rhythm in the dancing provided him with the kind of stimulation that he needed to help him cope with stress.
“I swear the patterns clicked his brain back into sync,” Grant said. “He became normal again. It’s an incredible solution to calming and balancing Asperger’s syndrome. It feeds the brain in a healthy way.”
Grant’s story of her son, who is now grown and an executive at Pixel Studios, clicked with Dressel. She enrolled her son in Irish dancing classes and says the experience has helped him gain confidence.
“He blossomed,” Dressel said of her son’s passion for dance. “I wouldn’t have even thought about dance without meeting Dotty.”
Visions of expansion
Campbell hopes that the Buy Nothing trend will spread throughout the Conejo Valley. The local groups must be hosted by residents who live in the individual towns. Crossovers from town to town are not encouraged, Campbell said, because it defeats the purpose of connecting with neighbors.
“I receive so many requests and am met with some angry, some confused and some just downright saddened community members who fall outside of Agoura,” she said in an email to The Acorn. She said she asks the disappointed people to consider launching Buy Nothing groups in their own neighborhoods.
The Buy Nothing website lists its principles as: “Buy Nothing: Give Freely. Share Creatively. Post anything you’d like to give away, lend, or share among neighbors. Ask for anything you’d like to receive for free or borrow. Keep it legal. Keep it civil. No buying or selling, no trades or bartering, no soliciting for cash. We’re an adult-only, hyper-local gift economy. We are not a charity or community bulletin board.”
The group says it measures wealth by the “personal connections made and trust between people” and that “every community has the same wealth of generosity and abundance.”
For more information, visit buynothingproject.org.