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OPINION | KAREN MARTIN: Give stuff, get stuff for free

by Karen Martin | May 16, 2021 at 9:00 a.m.
Karen Martin

A friend recently told me about a community-based Facebook group that welcomes members to give and receive goods and services without exchanging money.

"I think this would be something you'd be interested in," she texted.

After being momentarily distressed that she's aware of my excessive propensity toward thriftiness, I became curious about what's called the Buy Nothing Project. According to its website, it's an international network of communities, supported by an app and administered by volunteers, that empowers giving, receiving, and sharing.

Here's how it works:

• People in a Buy Nothing group can give any legal gift (as defined by national and local laws) of an item, service, or skill.

The key word here is gift. No money can be exchanged.

• People can request or offer gifts on behalf of themselves, a friend, family, organization, or business; all gifts are posted without any marketing or advertising.

• People can lend and borrow from each other.

• Everything must be given without any expectation of a gift in return (no bartering or trading allowed).

• Everyone participates at their own risk.

• Those who are having difficulties with the process have access to member resources administered by a local leadership team. Postings of gratitude, better ways of doing things, and concerns are welcome. Private messaging of leaders is available.

According to a recent story in The Washington Post, Liesl Clark and Rebecca Rockefeller started the first Buy Nothing group on Facebook in 2013 because they were disturbed with the appearance of plastics washing up on the shore near their homes on Bainbridge Island just outside Seattle. The trash was coming from their community, and they wanted to lessen the effect.

"We realized that people were buying the same things over and over, and only using them occasionally," Clark says. "So we asked the question: 'Could you try to buy less and ask your neighbors for the thing you need?' If you've got something, rather than throwing it away or taking it to Goodwill, offer it up to your community. And let's see what happens."

"I remember thinking: What if we did this not as a trade, but as a thing where literally anyone who comes to the local park can just grab what they need from a big table?" Rockefeller says.

They presented the idea to friends, explaining how there were no trades or costs involved, just gifting. They made a Facebook group, and in a matter of hours, 300 people joined. That number grew to nearly 1,000 within the next few days.

Since then, the project has grown to include 5,500 groups in 44 countries.

"Let's be perfectly honest: Who doesn't like free stuff?" Rockefeller says in Upworthy.com. "They join because of the stuff. But then they stay because of the gratitude."

Participants can join only one group (visit buynothingproject.org/find-a-group). There are more than 20 in Arkansas, including four in Little Rock, one in North Little Rock, one in Maumelle, three in Fayetteville, one in Bentonville, and one in Garland County.

Once you've joined, your Facebook feed will start to show some of the products and services nearby. Recent offerings by the North Little Rock group include tomato seedlings, baby clothes, a couch and twin bed, and a rug (in need of shampooing). Other posts detail needs for home stereo speakers, anything concerning trolls, a kayak, "Toy Story" birthday decorations, and a patio umbrella and chair cushions.

It's reminiscent of an area of placid tree-lined streets in Brooklyn, N.Y., that we visited a few years ago where on Sunday afternoons residents neatly arrange all sorts of new and used offerings--books, cookware, clothing, yard equipment--in front of their houses for the taking. We asked a guy about it, and he said it was a neighborhood custom that had been going on for as long as he could remember.

Buy Nothing isn't the only site that connects residents with their needs (and with each other). Sharing also takes place on neighborhood-specific apps of nextdoor.com, which along with sharing allows buying and selling as well. It's a good place to seek babysitters, dog sitters, yard equipment, and furniture, and a source of area alerts from officials, trash pickup schedule changes, street closings, and construction projects, as well as a lively source of what-was-that-noise? posts.

The only drawback of Buy Nothing is its name. Although descriptive, it sure isn't sexy, and is too easily confused with Know-Nothing (a group that none of us want to identify with). Too bad the network doesn't deal in money; it could hire a clever PR agency to come up with something better.

Karen Martin is senior editor of Perspective.

kmartin@arkansasonline.com

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