Getting something for nothing

FOSTERING KINDNESS Admin Bethany Lira of Buy Nothing Gilroy generously gives an unused fondue pot to Carrie Silva. Photo: Robert Eliason

Need a new phone? Looking to borrow a boogie board for a day at the beach? Tired of buying party supplies you’ll use just once? Stop. Buy Nothing instead.

Sharing abundance and building community, that’s the theme behind the Buy Nothing Project, a hyper-local gift economy. No money is spent—it’s not allowed. Neither is trading or bartering. This economy is strictly for gifting.

“If you’re brave enough to ask for something, somebody has got something to give you,” says Terri Griswold, 54, of theBuy Nothing Morgan Hill/San Martin.

Griswold, who had been involved with the Buy Nothing Project in San Lorenzo Valley, moved to Morgan Hill when the local group needed an admin.

A year later the group has 700 members and owes its growth to Griswold.

“Word of mouth just got out like crazy,” says Griswold. “People were telling their neighbors and friends about it.”

“The motto of the Buy Nothing project groups are to give where you live,” says Griswold.

If you don’t live in Morgan Hill or San Martin, you don’t have to go far. Gilroy has a Buy Nothing group too.

Both mothers of young children, Bethany Lira, 31, and Michelle Serrano, 37, brought Buy Nothing to Gilroy and the group has grown to 630 members in just over a year.

Serrano is thrilled to be part of such a big global movement.

“It’s pretty amazing because they didn’t start it that long ago and it’s all over the place,” says Serrano.

Two friends seeking to create a hyper-local gift economy began an experiment in their hometown on Bainbridge Island, Washington. The premise: “Buy Nothing, Give Freely. Share the Bounty.”

The idea traveled through Facebook like wildfire and since the Buy Nothing Projectwas launched in July 2013, it has grown to over 280,000 members in 1,300 groups across 18 nations.

“We had a really thriving group there in my town and from there I moved to south San Jose and started one in my community because there wasn’t one.I just bought down here and I was instantly looking for the group for Gilroy,” says Gilroy admin Jennifer Verner, 38, who moved to San Jose from Canada before settling in Gilroy earlier this year.

The concept isn’t just about saving money, it’s also about building community where you live.

There is such a variety of the amount of stuff that people can offer to give, says Griswold. “You’re never going to know if you don’t ask. And I do see a variety of people who may not typically be in need,” she says.

The admins work to help monitor the group interactions and also to keep people active by making up daily challenges.

For instance, on Tuesdays, Griswold says she might ask people to give away or ask for anything that begins with a “T.”

“It was pretty slow at first, so I might do a Big Ask—Little Ask,” says Lira.

“Like, I asked for dental floss—something super simple, but then I also asked for a new iPhone, because my husband’s was broken,” she says. Lira didn’t get the iPhone, but she’s seen people get washing machines and Verner says she’s heard of people gifting cars.
Serrano says it’s more about the value than the cost.

“It’s interesting because normally you’d say, ‘well, the best thing I got was the thing that had the most monetary value.’”

But when she asked for and received a vintage suitcase for her six-month-old’s photo shoot, it saved her precious time.

“That to me was the coolest thing because I got exactly what I wanted,” says Serrano.

In the Buy Nothing gift economy, members are also preventing everyday items from going to the landfill.

“I hate knowing that my stuff, if I don’t want to use it anymore, is going to go to junk. So I think this is a nice way for people to share the things that they don’t need any longer. It’s basically a recycling program for your neighbors,” says Verner, who adds that her family of four has moved to a smaller trash bin.

The Buy Nothing project also promotes other activities, like meet-ups or group garage sales.

“Everyone just brings stuff and puts it out and it’s free,” says Verner.

The group might also pass around a traveling basket of clothing based on size, she says.

“Someone takes it and takes what they want and puts what they don’t want anymore in it. And the bag travels,” says Verner. “It’s a good way to share clothing as well that maybe you’re tired of but would be great for somebody else.”

Serrano says, “People just need to come and check it out, I think there’s something for everyone. Everybody has things they can give away. It’s not just for moms. It’s for everybody.”
To find out more about the Buy Nothing Project visit buynothingproject.org or look on Facebook for a Buy Nothing group in your area.

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