What Is a Buy Nothing Group?


Simply Living is a new column by Christine Platt, aka the Afrominimalist. Each month, Christine shares her refreshing approach to living with less, with clever tips for decluttering, making eco-friendly swaps, and creating a more mindful living space that’s all you.

Early in my journey to living with less, I did what most people do when they are ready to part with items that no longer serve them: I gathered up my donations and drove them to my local Goodwill. I recall feeling so accomplished while waiting in line to drop off my items, a feeling that only grew stronger as my car approached the free-standing donations’ trailer. Until one day, I found myself pulling up right when items were being transported inside the local facility. Given the angle of my vehicle, I could see directly into the Goodwill storage area. I was horrified. I had never seen so many industrial-sized rolling bins overflowing with things.

As I drove away, I asked myself: Do my donations really help? Or was I just adding to the load?

I have since learned a more appropriate term for my behavior. It was a form of wish-cycling, which is when people put questionable items in their recycling bins… hoping, wishing, and praying they can be recycled. I was doing the same with my donations. Conveniently dropping them off at the nearest thrift store in the hope that someone would come along and want to buy them. But when I got a peek inside that storage area, I knew the truth: my belongings were more likely to end up in a landfill.

Determined not to wish-cycle at a thrift store again, I sought out better ways to pay it forward with my donations. And I discovered there were more eco-friendly and impactful alternatives. Whenever I went through my wardrobe, I invited girlfriends over to shop my closet. I offered up furniture to family and friends. And then I discovered an eco-friendly, community-focused solution: the Buy Nothing Project.

Founded in July, 2013, the Buy Nothing Project’s co-founders Rebecca Rockefeller and Liesel Clark envisioned a different way to pay it forward with items that no longer serve us—by encouraging people to donate and recycle items within their local communities. These actions (which Rockefeller and Clark call ‘gifts of self’) are not only an opportunity to improve one’s own community but also to build community. Buy Nothing Project groups are small and localized to ensure travel to minimal drop-off and pick-up time. Currently, Buy Nothing Project’s twenty-five thousand members are active in the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, and Australia. There are more than 150 groups worldwide!

I’ve got so much more that I ever imagined out of joining my local Buy Nothing Group (BNG)—and here are three reasons why you should consider joining one, too:

Your Donations Go Directly to Those In Need.

Trust me, there is always a family ready to part with new and gently worn children’s clothing or someone looking to offload household wares before a big move. One of the foremost reasons is because you know your donations will be used by someone who actually needs them—instead of going to an organization that doesn’t—and is therefore less likely to dispose of them. Most donations posted with your local BNG will be claimed immediately, and many groups have established guidelines and protocols to follow for items that don’t. Members will even suggest helpful alternatives for donations like leftover tiles from your kitchen renovations; it’s how I learned about Habitat for Humanity ReStore, which accepts new and gently used appliances, furniture, building materials, and other household goods.

Gifting items to neighbors in need has been so rewarding. The dining table that was too large for my home but perfect for another family. The introductory music books and resources that my daughter had outgrown finding the perfect home with another budding violinist. And so much more! Of course, there’s the joy of receiving photos from fellow BNG members enjoying the items you gifted them.

You Join a Community.

In addition to knowing your donations will actually be used, you’ll get to know more about the people who will use them: your neighbors! When I joined my local BNG, I was surprised to discover that one of my colleagues was also a member. Their family has since become a point of contact for my donations, posting pictures of my items online as well as arranging for drop-offs and pick-ups. And because they are a young family of five, I make sure to pay it forward by gifting dinner from one of their favorite restaurants in exchange for their assistance. And when another member decided to open a Little Free Library, I gladly donated free copies of my children’s literature at the opening party.

At a time when people rarely know their neighbors, a BNG is a great way to meet people that live on your street. When you join one, you become a part of a community—especially beneficial during the pandemic. From furniture to baking products, people turned to their local groups for items that were in short supply or not in stock. And of course, there was the added benefit of talking to and being in the company of others with shared values during such an unprecedented time of isolation.

You Help the Planet.

BNGs serve an essential purpose by ensuring your donations don’t end up in landfills, especially bulkier items like f-waste, one of the biggest burdens on landfills: approximately 8.5 million tons of furniture end up in landfills every year. These pieces take up too much real estate in thrift stores, and some chains have even halted these types of donations. But, more than likely, there’s a member of your BNG who will be more than willing to take gently used and once-loved pieces off your hands. From newlyweds to new college grads, your furniture will be accepted and appreciated by someone in your community instead of ending up in an already-overflowing landfill.

Bonus: Becoming a member of your local BNG, also means that you have a resource the next time you find yourself in need of something. You have a trusted community to turn to… instead of spending money on something that someone is likely to donate, or even just share for the day, anyway!

What’s the best thing you’ve received from your Buy Nothing group? Tell us about it in the comments below.

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