The concept is pretty simple: If you have an item you want to share, to give away, you just make a post on Facebook. Or maybe you need something particular, like baby clothing; all you need to do is ask. With dozens, sometimes hundreds, of people involved in a hyper-local Buy Nothing group, chances are you'll have some luck.
Buy Nothing groups, which operate through individual Facebook pages for specific neighborhoods and small areas, work through the gift economy. You join a group on Facebook, and then you can post a message that you're giving away an item or service, or if you're in need of something, ask. Everything is free.
The only rules are that you have to be over 21, live in the area encompassed by the Facebook group, not belong to another Buy Nothing community, and are approved by a group administrator. And, of course, you should be civil and friendly. There are currently 12 Buy Nothing groups in the Greater Rochester Area.
"There's a three-fold purpose in the Buy Nothing group," says Kristine Fredrick, the administrator for the Facebook group encompassing the South Wedge, Swillburg, and Highland Park. "The aim is to build a stronger community, keep things out of the landfill, and decrease consumerism."
On Saturday, June 2, the local Buy Nothing groups will co-host the first Rochester Free-for-All, an event with around 20 tables where people can give away items or take away anything that's of use. The Free-for-All is open to everyone, and will take place from 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Thomas P. Ryan Recreation Center, 530 Webster Avenue. For most of the day, there will be a per-household limit of two grocery bags worth of smaller items and one large item (something requiring more than one person to carry).
The Buy Nothing Project started in July 2013 with two people, Rebecca Rockefeller and Liesl Clark, in Bainbridge Island, Washington. Giveaways through the Internet aren't anything new — Craigslist has been a long-time go-to for free items — and the gift economy has been growing through the 2000's, thanks to organizations like The Freecycle Network, which started in 2003. But Rockefeller and Clark wanted to emphasize the participants' immediate community. One of the Buy Nothing Project's goals is to break down consumerism, but it also aims to make sure neighbors know one another.
People don't always know who lives on their block, or around the corner, Frederick says, but when you're giving things away or accepting gifts, it's a face-to-face interaction. "This is an opportunity for people looking for a way to build community that they might not have thought about before," Fredrick says.
The Buy Nothing Project now has groups in 20 countries, with hundreds of thousands of users. Amy Cavalier, a marketing and communications professional, started Rochester's first Buy Nothing group in November 2016 for the Beechwood, Homestead Heights, and Culver-Winton area. That group now has 383 members; there are 295 people in the South Wedge group, 368 in Pittsford, and 280 in East Irondequoit. The smallest Facebook group, in Corn Hill, has 40 members.
Cavalier, who is also an organizer for the Rochester Free-for-All, leads a Rochester minimalists group and, she says, she was starting to look for a way to create a sharing community. She had a wheelbarrow, an ice cream maker, and a bread maker gathering dust, but she couldn't rationalize just outright getting rid of them. The minimalists group wasn't the right forum, so she started looking for other ideas and asking friends. A friend in Portland turned her on to the Buy Nothing Project.
The groups have taken off over the last year and a half, Cavalier says. Baby items have become popular things to give, as have dishes, clothing, gardening tools, and used electronics. Food is a big one, too, especially spices and home-grown items.
Cavalier says she has seen a 6-foot by 6-foot map of Monroe County in the 1960's given away, and Fredrick tells a story about giving an aquarium setup to a science teacher. And there is some junk. "You'd be surprised who takes it," Cavalier says. "I've given away Pabst Blue Ribbon beer. I've given away chocolate Easter bunnies."
Requests have also gone beyond physical items, like asking for rides or help with child care. You can't promote your business, but you can offer skills like painting and yard work, Fredrick says. Or you can ask for or give a "gift of time" when difficult personal situations arise.
Local Buy Nothing group administrators also occasionally work together, Cavalier says. An administrator volunteers with No One Left Behind, an organization that resettles Afghan and Iraqi interpreters who have helped US military, and when a need for a household item comes up, people put out the call in the Buy Nothing groups.
The Rochester Free-for-All, Cavalier says, is an opportunity to get the various local groups together, and it's a way to raise awareness about the Buy Nothing concept. If a neighborhood doesn't have a group, anyone can start one: There's an application form through the Buy Nothing Project at buynothingproject.org, and the organization will help.
"I think people are waking up and recognizing that the only way to take back your power is to step outside of consumerism, and then kind of be a community again," Cavalier says.