GratiTuesday: Buy Nothing Project

It’s a simple concept really, one that has been around forever: neighbors helping neighbors. Borrowing a cup of sugar, lending a tool, or handing down clothes your child has outgrown. Because of social media, this transfer of items – no longer needed by one person but wanted by others – can extend beyond a few houses on a single block.

I discovered the Buy Nothing Project through another local Facebook site and was immediately intrigued. As anyone who has read this blog for a while knows, my husband and I have been focusing on getting rid of stuff. Most of our unwanted items are donated to our local charity shops or, sometimes, listed on eBay, but what about those items that don’t fit neatly in the Donate or Sell boxes? Things like half-used but perfectly good pads of paper, or partially used colored pencils, or three-ring binders that are no longer needed? Do we have to just throw them away? Despite our desire to get rid of clutter, we didn’t want to add to the landfill… especially if someone else could use them.

The Buy Nothing Project (buynothingproject.org) Mission Statement says it all:

We offer a way to give and receive, share, lend, and express gratitude through a worldwide network of hyper-local gift economies in which the true wealth is the web of connections formed between people who are real-life neighbors.

How great is that?

Here are just some of the listings found recently on our local Buy Nothing Facebook page: gently used shoes, a bag of yarn, board games, succulent cuttings, wine corks, a need for a ride to the doctor, an offer of lemons from a backyard tree, some used-once but no longer wanted skin lotion, a baby seat. (By the way, that baby seat gift was followed up by a delightful gratitude post showing the new owner’s baby enjoying his gifted seat. After he is done with it, my guess is that the seat will be regifted to someone else.)

On the Buy Nothing Project About page, you can learn more about their vision and principles, and find a group near you to join. What if there isn’t already a group in your area? They also provide information about how you can set one up.

The Buy Nothing Project started in 2013, when two friends, Rebecca Rockefeller and Liesl Clark, created an experimental hyper-local gift economy on Bainbridge Island, WA. I am grateful to them for having the vision and a shared belief in the kindness of others. Their little experiment in community giving has become a worldwide social movement, with groups in 20 nations.

Giving more by buying less

This Black Friday I was nowhere near a mall. I didn’t want to spend my time circling the parking lot looking for a spot to shoe-horn my car into. I had no interest in door-buster sales, Black Friday deals, or even the lowest prices of the year. I especially didn’t want to stand in long lines for dressing rooms or queue up to wait for the next available cash register.

I also won’t be sitting in front of my computer on Cyber Monday looking for online deals. There is nothing that could entice me to give up hours in my day searching the interwebs, entering my credit card information, and clicking on the PURCHASE NOW button.

Although the newspapers are stuffed with holiday shopping ads, my email inbox is full of the come hither siren calls of money-saving deals, and the shows on television have become mostly holiday consumption delivery vehicles, I choose not to participate.

Like many people in our stage of life, my husband and I are less focused in the in-come and more in the out-go. We are culling our closets, emptying drawers and cabinets, and donating, selling, and discarding our excess, unused stuff. Many of the items I at one time thought I must have are now just uncomfortable reminders of how easy it is to get wrapped up in our consumer-driven society.

With the rise of digital shopping and because brick-and-mortar retailers are offering deep discounts for an extended period of time, some say that Black Friday is slowly morphing into “Black November.” And, since retailers have trained shoppers to wait until the last minute for even deeper discounts, in reality, Black Friday may now be becoming “Black Mid-November through Christmas Eve.” Yay! More time to shop!

This year, I’ve been heartened to read stories about an increase in spending on gifts of experiences rather than things. I don’t know if this is a real trend or not, but I hope it is. Of course it wouldn’t bode well for most retailers, but I think it would be a plus if our focus as a society was less on acquiring stuff and more on enjoying our time here on Earth.

This holiday season, when you think about a buying a present for a friend or a family member, consider gifting them an experience. Perhaps they’d appreciate going out for a wonderful meal, taking a hike with you in the back country, seeing a play or attending a concert, going to a lecture, or taking a class on a subject of interest.

Sailing or kayak lessons may be the perfect gift for a friend who enjoys the water.
Sailing or kayak lessons may be the perfect gift for a friend who enjoys the water.

If not an experience, maybe a gift of kindness would be more appropriate. If someone is house-bound, you could offer to run errands or have their house cleaned. If they are care-taking, tell them that you’ll sit with their loved-one while they enjoy a much-needed afternoon off.

Although gifts like this may require a little more thought and planning by the giver, they will be much appreciated. Thoughtful, well-chosen gifts of experiences or special acts of kindness will never be forgotten back in the recipient’s closet, taking up room in a crowded drawer, or folded in a pile of stuff waiting to be donated to a resale store.

Having a Cool Yule

Wow, here it is December 1, and I haven’t purchased a single Christmas gift. I didn’t leave the Thanksgiving dinner table and head to the mall. I didn’t set my alarm for o-dark-thirty the next morning so I could join the Black Friday throngs standing in line to save a few bucks. And now my Cyber Monday virtual shopping carts are empty.

Many years ago my brothers and I, along with our spouses, decided to stop buying gifts for each other. Every Thanksgiving, we’d each write our name on a slip of paper and put it in a bowl. Then we’d draw a name and that would be the only one of the six of us we bought a gift for. $50 limit. In addition to that gift, my husband and I bought presents for each other, our parents, a niece, a grandniece, and a couple of friends. Pretty simple.

This plan worked well for several years but, after awhile, even the one gift seemed silly. The $50 gift price limit soon became a gift card exchange which didn’t feel very personal… or needed. So, a few years ago, the six of us decided to stop exchanging gifts with each altogether. Now, with my parents’ passing my husband’s and my gift list has dwindled down to just a few people. For the most part, we don’t even exchange gifts with each other. Sometimes we’ll buy each other little things for fun, and we can usually identify an upcoming trip or a household need that becomes our joint “gift” to each other, but usually there’s not much under the Christmas tree… if we even have a Christmas tree.

I'm pretty sure some of these gifts under my family's 1964 Christmas tree are now on eBay.
I’m pretty sure some of these gifts under my family’s 1964 Christmas tree are now on eBay.

These decisions have helped to change the holiday season for the better. I don’t experience the stress I used to because now I no longer am focused on buying PERFECT GIFTS. My husband and I can stroll the mall and enjoy the hustle and bustle and the lovely displays, but not get wrapped up in the craziness.

Do I sound like a bah humbug? I’m really not. I love the holiday lights, decorations, music (as long as it doesn’t start before Thanksgiving) and the parties. I don’t love the crass commercialism and the media-driven expectations. I’m also not against Christmas presents; if I happen to think of the perfect gift for someone, I’ll get it. If not, I don’t spend time running around desperately trying to find something. I’ve never been particularly religious but the whole idea of Christmas gifts seems odd to me anyway. Why is the focus on buying things for each other when the “reason for the season” is supposed to be about peace and joy?

In addition to the stress relief, our move away from buying and receiving presents has been beneficial in other ways. At this stage of our lives we are actively working on getting rid of “stuff.” Thanks to thrift stores, eBay, consignment shops, and the landfill, I finally feel like we’re making progress. No gifts means no more stuff. Besides, instead of a friend or loved one spending their time searching for THE PERFECT GIFT for me, I’d much prefer they give me the gift of time spent together, enjoying each other’s company.