In 2013, an experiment was quietly launched in Washington, USA. Conceived and driven by two friends, the experiment quickly became a social movement - a community based gift economy where people gave things away with no expectation of anything in return.
In less than three years the Buy Nothing Project has quickly spread across the globe, with more than a quarter of a million members in eighteen different countries.
And while we are all familiar with the idea of reduce, reuse, recycle: the idea of gifting our unwanted goods to neighbours not only prevents useful things winding up in the rubbish bin, but it also means making a connection with someone in our community.
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At its heart, the Project is simple: a neighbourhood is chosen, a Facebook page is created, and people within that area can then list their unwanted items on the page, for someone else in the area to claim.
No money changes hands – it is a pay-it-forward concept with the motto: ‘"Buy Nothing, Give Freely, Share Creatively."
When Buy Nothing Wembley organiser David Klein got involved in the Project in August 2015, there were no WA groups, today there are eight, predominantly north of the river.
David’s decision to start the first of the Buy Nothing groups in WA was partly driven by a desire to cut down on his own family’s consumption, but also as a way to connect with neighbours and meet people in his local community.
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It is the local nature of the Project that makes each Buy Nothing group both approachable and manageable. As David says ‘the logic for the group boundaries - which is a very important premise of the Buy Nothing project - was determined on number of residents. They have a formula for how many residents it takes to build a healthy group (I think the number is around 10,000 for Australia), so we played around with adding and taking away surrounding suburbs until we found the right number, and set the boundaries accordingly.’
As such, the Wembley group actually incorporates Wembley, Churchlands, Floreat and West Leederville. While it was initially a slow start, with only ten members for the first few weeks, it began to snowball, with the group quickly doubling and doubling again until, barely six months later, there are now more than 400 members in the Wembley group, the second largest in the state.
There are only a few rules for the Buy Nothing Project, but they are important. The first two are practical and obvious: you must live in the area, and you are not allowed to mention money or advertise on the site.
It is the third rule which makes the group special: no posts can be deleted after the item has been gifted, meaning that there is a long and colourful record of giving in the community – a permanent reminder of strangers generosity and connections being forged.
While children’s toys and clothes are by far the most common items given away, the site is not just restricted to goods. In the six months that the Wembley site has been active, David says more than 1,400 items have been posted but points out ‘that it is not just about giving away stuff you do not want anymore. It’s also about borrowing things when you need them, for example we had a member borrow a sander and a heat gun for a patio project. And it’s also about services - just this week we had a member lose her diamond earring down a drain - she posted for help from anyone with plumbing skills or tools. And later that day, another member came over and helped her disassemble the drain pipe, recover her earring, and put it all back together.’
One other important feature of the Buy Nothing Project is that it is not about being the first one to respond, and while some members clearly just want their unwanted toddler bed gone as soon as possible, members who are offering goods can take a day or two to read the comments and choose the person they wish to gift the item to.
What is junk to one person is treasure for another
The fact that people can only join a group in their local area means that right now, there are a lot of Perth people who can’t join a Buy Nothing group.
But starting a new group is as simple as contacting the Project organisers and requires as little as half an hour a week. To those considering starting their own group, David says ‘Do it! It’s a very cool thing to see it grow, and it’s really not very much work at all.’
While The Buy Nothing Project offers an easy way of moving unwanted goods, it is so much more than a simple recycling platform. As David says ‘In the last couple decades in modern Western countries, we have drifted away from our communities and into gross over consumption as goods are produced and sold ever more cheaply. The Buy Nothing Project pulls us back together at the community level, keeps things out of the landfill, and keeps money in our bank accounts…a win for everyone!’