The Season to “Buy Nothing”


   New Orleans     A news item in the Washington Post caught my eye in this holiday season when buying seems mainly what it is all about sometimes.  They were reporting on an interesting organizational phenomenon:  Buy Nothing groups.

            The thumbnail sketch they provided was intriguing:

What started in 2013 as a hyperlocal network of “circular gift economies” in Bainbridge Island, Wash., has ballooned into a constellation of Buy Nothing groups with 4.3 million members in 44 countries. Members can request or offer any item or service as long as it’s legal; however buying, selling and bartering are prohibited. The groups are well-represented on social media, particularly Facebook, Reddit and Nextdoor. The Buy Nothing app, launched on Black Friday, has been downloaded more than 125,000 times.

            Going to the website with a quick look I felt like I was seeing something growing in my yard that I hadn’t noticed until it sprung up in front of my face.  The Buy Nothing website offers some fast facts which are a bit surprising.  They claim 4.7 million members, 13,000 community “builders”, who I assume are local organizers or convenors of some sort, and 68,000 community groups in 44 countries.  Free stuff seems to be popular!

            Perhaps “well-represented” was an understatement.  When you are moseying around trying to get a grip on the groups, it seems the default organizing tool has been Facebook.  In fact, many of the questions posed on the web were whether that was the only way to join a Buy Nothing group.  I’m not knocking it, just saying that these “members” are by and large Facebook members, which we all know these days almost defines a transient community an inch deep, even if a mile wide.  Having a mobile app where people can join a group directly was undoubtedly of interest to many of their fans as Facebook skepticism grows daily.

            People seem able to not only post things they need or want to give away to block rampant consumption and its financial and environmental costs, but also to offer to do things for each other or obtain services as well.  This seems similar to the Time Bank system that also operates in the United Kingdom, North America, and other countries.  My understanding and experience with the Time Bank system is that it involves actual groups often meeting and membership is defined by time banked, both as investment and for withdrawal.  Buy Nothing may have an advantage of not requiring as much, including using any proprietary software as Time Bank has done in the past, which would make the threshold to “join” or “participate” much lower.

            How bad could any of this be?  It seems another form of mutual aid without the politics, so in this crazed season of retail wonders, let’s salute a couple of neighbors in fancy Seattle suburbs in Washington State for throwing something up against the wall and making it stick.  I’m not saying join, but don’t knock it, if you haven’t tried it.