Buy Nothing is a group that allows members to give and receive free services and recycled goods. Its members have given some extraordinary gifts

Buy Nothing Potluck Feast
Buy Nothing

Though it’s a freecycling group where members give and receive goods and services, the Buy Nothing Project will no doubt go down in the annals of cultural history as a hyper-local social experiment—an impressive one that has created strong community bonds between neighbors.

Founders Liesl Clark and Rebecca Rockefeller started this gift-economy movement in July 2013 on Bainbridge Island, Washington. When it first began, Buy Nothing was an in-person group. Meeting before they attended the weekly farmers’ market, members of the group brought items to share that cost nothing: simple, homespun, delicious things like dandelion greens, oysters from the beach, and homemade kombucha.

“We all felt like we were walking away with more than what we brought—it was a feast full of treasures,” Rockefeller says. Members would take shares of each item home, resharing with their families and friends.

More Videos From Sunset

This gift economy movement soon shifted to Facebook, where neighbors who didn’t already know each other could easily find a community of givers and takers within nearby geographic boundaries. One person’s weed was another’s flower, and the effect was simultaneously house-cleaning, cost-saving and environmental. You can find your hyper-local Buy Nothing community here; if there isn’t one in your neighborhood, create one.

What sprung out of this regifting movement was surprising: in a society where civic participation and community bonds have weakened, the Buy Nothing economy created trust and familiarity. The exchanging of items and services was a sneaky way of getting neighbors to lean over their fences and talk to one another again.

But don’t just take our word for it. Here are our favorite stories of Buy Nothing members exemplifying kindness, generosity, and the good old-fashioned Golden Rule.

Put a Ring on It

Emerald and gold ring


An inexpensive cubic zirconia ring was offered up in Mesa, Arizona Buy Nothing group, and a man in the group decided to pick it up so he could propose to his girlfriend. “I had been trying to save up for a while, but life kept happening,” he said. When the giver discovered the interested party planned to use the ring to propose to his girlfriend, the giver offered an unusually generous bait-and-switch. “The minute we met, I knew the cheap ring would not do,” the giver said. “Instead, I gifted him a gold and emerald ring so he could propose to her, and he did.”

Keep It Clean

A mother in the Mesa, Arizona Buy Nothing was juggling her full-time job, part-time school, three kids, and caring for a disabled husband. She was struggling to keep her house clean and orderly when she and her kids caught seasonal colds during the holidays. “‘Twas the season, and my house fell even more apart,” she said. She posted asking for cleaning help in the Buy Nothing Mesa group.

“Shortly after posting, my prayers were answered. A member named S.S.O. [offered] to clean my house! She and her 3 children came and did a phenomenal job. Walking in from work to a beautifully clean house made me want to cry. The mission of this group is unique and I love how caring everyone is!”

A Cut Above

Kids haircut for the holidays
Photo by willsantt 

Photo by willsantt

Parents in the Chandler, Arizona Buy Nothing group were delighted to see a hairstylist’s post offering free kids’ cuts before the holidays. Many of the families in the group were cash-strapped, with kids who definitely needed haircuts before big holiday events, but “they did not have the extra funds to go and pay for them or couldn’t afford them otherwise,” a group administrator says. What resulted was a bunch of freshly-cut kids ready for family reunions, photos with Santa, and church, all because a hairstylist volunteered her services.

Make a House a Home

“I think the biggest gift I saw was a ton of our group members band together to gather furnishings for a new home for a homeless person and their 4-year-old daughter,” Chandler, Arizona administrator Leila M. Brenner said. The friendly neighbors collected enough items to fill a six-by-twelve-foot trailer with home furnishings, toys, kitchen goods, and everyday items. The extras and remainders were donated to Sanctuary House’s donation center to help other women in need.

A New Set of Wheels

Buy Nothing Vintage Schwinn Bike

Amie Kim

Amie Kim, the administrator for the Denver and Boulder group, was looking for wheels. Not four car wheels, but two bike wheels. When she saw a woman named Courtney post about a vintage Schwinn, she jumped at the chance, even though the bike was in Aurora, two hours away. Courtney loved the bike, but was giving it away because she had replaced it with one that could tow a kid bike carrier.

“As of this Saturday, I’ll no longer have a car at my disposal,” Kim said. “I’m low-income, so this bike will be essential for me getting around until I can save enough for a car.” Kim needs to tune the vintage Schwinn and outfit it with a new set of hybrid tires so it’s safer on the Colorado ice and snow, but is thrilled with her new mode of transportation.

A Traveling Carnival

Bouncy House

Buck Forester

One family in Arlington, Washington has become known as the supplier of all things tasty and fun for the town. The family throws monthly gatherings for the town featuring homemade donut machines, cotton candy machines, a bubble slide on a hill, a bounce house, and zip lines. They also loan out all the items to anyone in Buy Nothing Arlington who is throwing a party.

“I was blessed by their generosity and when in Arlington, I see them at one of the meet-and-greets,” Kellie Marie Hines Goodrum said. “They do this all for free for the community, and they also donate a lot to the community.”

Time Well Spent

Scrabble Board

John Gichigi

Kate Goldston, a member of the Bainbridge, WA group who had struggled with an eating disorder for 21 years, asked for the gift of time from her Buy Nothing neighbors and found that the hyper-local group became a lifeline, literally. She became terminally ill and was placed in hospice care; when she returned to her apartment alone, she had few connections in her community and struggled to recover.

“Buy Nothing Bainbridge allowed me to build a community I did not have, at a time when without a community I would have died alone,” the gift recipient said. “I had three months of scheduled Scrabble games. [Fellow members] also put me to work. I volunteered to tutor and help in the garden.”

Keep Reading: