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Buy Nothing for the Holidays

How joining a Buy Nothing Group inspired generosity in my children and community

Rachel McClary

Published on: December 04, 2014

“I don’t really need anything for Christmas; I have my family and friends” my 6-year-old daughter recently remarked. Of course I’m not going to take her up on it but what an appreciative attitude from someone so young. Gratitude isn’t easy to promote in an age of constant marketing but my children’s attitudes have changed dramatically since I joined a Buy Nothing Group.

When moving house, a friend suggested I join my local Buy Nothing Group. I hadn’t heard of it but as the name suggests, the group encourages members to buy nothing. I initially saw it as a way to offload unwanted items and get a few things we needed for the new house. I soon realised that this was far more than a place to get free things. As a social network, hearing people’s stories fosters a true sense of community. I drove around, collecting items I had been gifted, finding new places in my community and meeting lovely people. As I ticked off items from my wish list for the new house, without spending a penny, I began to think about items that I could give. Here was the beginning of a new way of thinking.

What is Buy Nothing?

Buy Nothing is the brainchild of Liesl Clark and Rebecca Rockefeller. Using Facebook as a social media platform, it grew in 16 months, from a grassroots voluntary experiment on Bainbridge Island, to a current membership of 80,000 in nine different nations. “At its core, The Buy Nothing Project is an experiment in gifting what we have, to prevent the overproduction of unnecessary goods,” explains Liesl Clark. “When people ask me what a Buy Nothing group really looks like, I tell them it’s a Facebook group that’ll give you a hands-on chance to take part in a social movement spreading across the country, enabling people and communities to commit episodic acts of daily good together.” Clark continues, “It’s rather an improvement on Freecycle, using social media to bring to the fore myriad random acts of kindness for neighbors to partake in day-in and day-out.”

Unlike other forms of gifting communities, you may only join one Buy Nothing Group in the area in which you live. This increases the community spirit and the compulsion to give back. At first I felt a little awkward about requesting items from the group that I could readily afford but, as Clark explains, “Giving isn’t only for the less fortunate but for everyone as an alternative to buying”. It’s a lovely new way of thinking; “I’m just about to go out and buy this and I thought I would check with the group first” is a regular plea on our group.

My greatest pleasure is seeing the lady looking beautiful in the wedding dress I loaned her, or the child having fun at his pirate party in my accessories. Seeing my things make others happy is so satisfying.

How Buy Nothing encourages my children to be generous and appreciative

Like many children, my girls have an abundance of toys that they rarely play with. Sometimes we read stories from the group about children who are sick or in need and the girls are always eager to find something that could help. They engage with these stories, learning that there are those less fortunate on our doorstep, not just in Africa. What is most special to me however, is their new attitude toward material possessions. When I told my eldest daughter that I had been gifted the perfect Christmas present for her from the group, she quickly ran to find something that she could give back. “I know how to knit now,” she said, picking up a knitting dvd her best friend had given her, “I think somebody else could use this”. My youngest daughter found her tiger flashlight as she was tidying and said “I don’t really want this now; I think we should give it to someone else”. Once the gift is posted, we read through the comments together and they choose who should have the gift or, if they can’t decide, we pick names from a hat.

It’s not only about giving though; their faces light up when I tell them I have a gift for them. That a stranger cared enough to give it to them somehow makes it extra special. Buy Nothing helps them think about giving things a new life. As an early education specialist, I can always find a use for bizarre objects and now the girls are thinking in the same way. We were gifted materials for a fairy garden and a flower shop, sharing our projects with the group and inspiring others to reuse creatively.

They are also learning that there different ways of giving.  A member taught my eldest daughter to knit; the youngest children remember with fondness how a group of us helped a member clear her lawn when her mower broke down.

Buy Nothing brings a little touch of magic to its thousands of members. The power of this is perfectly summed up by Echo Chernick: “I never appreciated or understood community and the joy (and benefit) of helping one another until I joined this group! It's the little things that we can offer back and forth that really touch me.” Our children live in a commercial and consumerist world; perhaps these little things will inspire a generation of generosity and kindness. With almost 100 Buy Nothing groups in Washington State, you should be able to find one in your area, but if not you could always start one of your own.

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