How the Buy Nothing Project taught me to rethink how I shop

The Buy Nothing Project is a social movement that helps neighbors give and receive free items, ranging from food to furniture.

The Buy Nothing Project currently boasts 4.25 million participants in 44 countries, according to its website.TODAY Illustration / Getty Images

On Facebook, you'll find a little corner of the world that will remind you just how wonderful humankind can be — and you might just score a free accent chair for your living room while you’re there.

The Buy Nothing Project is a social movement that has over 6,500 groups worldwide. It's a network of hyper-local gift economies where neighbors can come together and share pretty much everything with each other, from a cup of sugar to corner sofas, without exchanging money.

Founded in 2013 by two friends Rebecca Rockefeller and Liesl Clark in Bainbridge Island, Washington, the Buy Nothing Project currently boasts 4.25 million participants in 44 countries, according to its website.

The purpose of the group is to be able to give and receive things for free among neighbors ("Give Where You Live” is the founding principle). And while it’s beneficial for decluttering and/or acquiring some neat items, there are so many other reasons why it pays to be a member.

One of the things I personally love about the concept is how it allows us to be more eco-friendly. Yes, things like cardboard moving boxes can be thrown in the recycling, but passing them onto someone else gives them even more life. And of course there are tons of other things to use, from hangers to mirrors and ceramics that can’t be recycled, so it’s nice to save them from going into a landfill.

The EPA reported that landfills received 11.3 million tons of textiles in 2018. Giving a piece of clothing you no longer wear to someone who will use it is so much better.Getty Images

Another amazing benefit of the group is the sense of community. It’s all about neighbors coming together and sharing with each other, which can feel so pure and beautiful — especially in these often isolated times.

A mom friend of mine lost most of her things in an unfortunate event, and she was able to refurnish her entire home — everything from the sofa her family sits on each night to the bowls and cups her kids use at mealtime — with offerings from her neighbors in Buy Nothing.

Samantha Benson, a member in my group, asked for candles for a vigil for a neighboring family going through a tragedy. “So many neighbors donated — it was incredible,” she told me.

There’s so much gratitude with each give. People will post pictures of the items they've received and show how they used it — for example, a slow cooker and the meal they made with it, a bookcase and the books they displayed in it, a tree skirt and the family Christmas tree they placed on top of it, etc.

I think it’s simply perfect that the first thing I received from the group was a clipping from a neighbor’s Pilea peperomioides, also known as the “sharing plant” since you can easily pass on cuttings to friends and neighbors to grow their own.

TODAY contributor Julie Pennell (left) poses with her neighbor who shared a plant clipping via their local Buy Nothing group. Courtesy Julie Pennell

And it turns out the mama plant it came from has produced about 18 plant babies so far, which are all scattered around our neighborhood in different homes now. My little plant is growing well and every time I look at it sitting on my kitchen windowsill, I think about the neighbor who shared it with me and the generosity of our group. You just don’t get that same experience buying something from a store.

Not a member, but want to be one? Find out more information about the project below:

How do I join a Buy Nothing group?

First, check to see if your neighborhood already has a Buy Nothing group. You can click here to see a list of all existing local groups. If there isn’t one in your area yet, you can start your own.

What kinds of items are given away on Buy Nothing?

You can give away pretty much anything (that’s legal) on Buy Nothing, but it has to be offered at no cost. Items don’t have to be brand new, and they can even be broken as long as you mention that in the post. For example, you could write: “This desk has a huge dent in it, but maybe you don’t care or would know how to fix it.”

You can even offer services, like cooking lessons or free babysitting, or things like tickets to an event you may not be able to attend anymore.

How can I ask for things on Buy Nothing?

If there’s something you want or need, before you buy new, you can ask the group and they may deliver. It could be anything from packing material to a specific type of clothing for a Halloween costume or even a big item a TV. It's amazing the types of things people have collecting dust in their homes that they're willing (and excited!) to pass on to someone else. Just ask — and you may actually receive.

For more information on the Buy Nothing Project, join your local group or visit