The Buy Nothing Project: Inside Northampton's "Gifting-Economy"

Stuff. Junk. Clutter. We all have it. A blender that works perfectly well but just lives in the back of the cabinet. A toaster in great shape except that you just bought a new toaster. A bag full of clothespins. It’s hard to throw away useful things.

Especially for a New Englander. Tag sales are a spring tradition but what do you do with all those perfectly good things that don’t get bought by weekend deal seekers?

A few years ago, in Bainbridge Island, WA, creating a community driven enterprise which could connect people with stuff to give to the people who wanted it was exactly the aim of The Buy Nothing Project’s founders Liesl Clark and Rebecca Rockefeller. Begun as an attempt to build a “hyper-local gift economy,” the project has grown to more than 607 separate groups with over 110,000 members. The focus remains the same despite scale - hyperlocal gifting economies.

What is a gifting economy? Good question. To begin with, the gifting idea behind the Buy Nothing Project is just that, gifting. No bartering or trading is allowed. No cash or exchanges of any kind. The Buy Nothing Project is strictly giving based and giving for Buy Nothing means giving freely. A gifting economy aims to, as The Buy Nothing Project explains on their website: run “complementary and parallel to local cash economies; whether people join because they’d like to quickly get rid of things that are cluttering their lives, or simply to save money by getting things for free…”

In addition, on a more philosophical level the website continues, “The Buy Nothing Project is about setting the scarcity model of our cash economy aside in favor of creatively and collaboratively sharing the abundance around us.”

In order to achieve this the group helps members set up locally focused community groups on Facebook under the blanket banner of the national organization. Members of the community groups post items they are looking to get rid of or things they are in search of.

I spoke with Alyssa Pratt, one of the co-founders and organizers of the Northampton/Easthampton branch of the Buy Nothing Project about her experiences with the group, it’s goals and some of it’s hopes for the future.

We started by talking about how she got involved with running the Northampton/Easthampton Buy Nothing Project Chapter.

Alyssa told me she began as a member of a larger area branch. “I was part of the group that was originally set up that was part of Amherst and Northampton, and I knew that when the group split into smaller hyper local groups they were looking for somebody to admin the new Northampton/Easthampton group so I volunteered to do it because I enjoy that sort of thing and I already admin a group for parents and a couple of other groups so I was familiar with how Facebook groups work.”

The Buy Nothing Project offers an already established set of principles and guidelines that present a clear roadmap to how each local broach of the group should work which makes starting a chapter easy. In addition to this formula, Alyssa was heavily drawn towards the innovative community building. “It kind of met my natural interests which are building community and finding ways to connect people.”

“The whole point of the Buy Nothing Project is not so much about getting or giving free stuff but about building connection - new connections  - with neighbors you might not know.

Limited currently to it’s incarnation as a Facebook group - the Buy Nothing Project leverages existing social media to inspire grass roots community sharing.

But social media can be a dicey world. I asked her how her experiences with the group have been.

“It’s been really positive. One thing that I really like is that the spirit of the group really fosters etiquette and good manners and people just being really cordial and friendly to each other which I like a lot. In a lot of other Facebook groups, or in a lot of other “free stuff” groups that doesn’t happen nearly as much. There can be a lot of conversations that spiral out of control and that doesn’t really tend to happen in our group.”

“I think a lot of it is that a few people set a good example and everybody else kind of follows suit. I find it a really pleasant page to spend time on for that reason.”

While a quick scroll through the group reveals many people looking to gift everything from hardly used cuisinarts to car key finders Alyssa mentioned that people can give more than just physical objects. “You can gift your time as well which is something I’ld like to foster more. Somebody just posted the other day saying that she wants to walk dogs […] I thought that was a great offer and I think that’s something that I’ld like to see more of.”

She further expounded on things she would like to see grow out of the project, “I’ld love to set up some sort of a lending library of things like tools, or something that you'd be willing to lend out as needed so that people don't have to go out and buy something really expensive to just use once or twice. I can see the same thing being useful for baby stuff.”

In the end Alyssa made it clear that for her, the group was about more than just resourcefulness, “The whole point of the Buy Nothing Project is not so much about getting or giving free stuff but about building connection - new connections  - with neighbors you might not know. It's just been really rewarding to be part of that and I get a lot of positive feedback from people who are really grateful for the group.”

Those interested in joining the Easthampton/Northampton chapter of the group can find guidelines here. All applicants must be Northampton or Easthampton residents.

For more information and to view the groups guidelines and principles visit

Photo: "Free stuff" by jchapiewsky licensed under CC BY 2.0