Featured photo: My favorite thing I’ve received from the BuyNothing group is this stockpot. (photo by Sam LeBlanc)
My pot used to runneth over.
Until a few years ago, I used to try to make baked spaghetti in a small, 2-quart-sized pot. I would cram the noodles, the sauce, the meat all in there, hoping that there would be enough space for me to stir everything together. There wasn’t. Thus, I never made my favorite winter dish until a kind stranger gifted me their shiny, Emeril Lagasse, 6-quart, stainless-steel saucepot for free. And all I had to do was ask.
For the last three years I’ve been a part of a group called the BuyNothing Project, an international organization that aims to reduce waste and consumerism by connecting people with their neighbors. It’s a bit like Craigslist but without money. People ask and give things completely for free, no strings attached.
“It aligns perfectly with my values of sustainability,” says Drea Douglass, who has been part of the Greensboro South BuyNothing group for the last two years. “Not throwing things away and also trying to reduce my consumerism. I feel like we live in an exploding volcano of resources in this country and they’re not being distributed efficiently. I feel like we could share our stuff instead of throwing things away.”
The way it works is simple, really. People log onto Facebook or the app, find their group based on where they live — Greensboro currently has three groups: South, Northwest and Northeast — and they can start posting. There’s only really three main rules: Give freely, show your humanity, keep it legal.
“I think of the group in two parts,” says Brittney Hryczaniuk, an admin for the Greensboro South group. “There’s a building-community part and then there’s the anti-capitalist, radical experiment part that says, We can do this.”
Since I’ve joined, I’ve given countless items that I would have either thrown away or taken to Goodwill, things like an old cat tree, hair conditioner, unopened snacks, balloons and even small furniture. In return, I’ve been gifted watercolor paints, flowerpots, clothes and sleeping bags. And it’s not like I’ve been keeping track of how much I’ve gifted versus received. That’s not really the point.
“There’s no quid pro quo,” Hryczaniuk says. “It’s not like if you give five items, you get five items. You can literally join and never gift anything.”
In a hyperconsumerist culture in which things can arrive at people’s doorstep in a matter of hours or days, the BuyNothing group aims to get people to re-evaluate their consumption and connect back with their community. That’s why posts about where people can find items in stores or notifications about sales are prohibited.
“We’re not taking our resources and giving it to Amazon,” Hryczaniuk says. “In this sphere, we’re trying to keep it simple. We’re keeping it focused on if someone else can provide it for you.”
Oftentimes when someone posts an item, many people comment. And then the original poster will decide who receives the item either based on their responses or through a random number generator. The feeling of not being picked can be frustrating at times, but Hryczaniuk says that’s just another product of capitalism.
“That’s the scarcity mindset that’s ingrained in capitalism,” she says. “It’s about taking a step back and thinking, That was just a gift, and telling yourself, I wouldn’t have had that opportunity to receive it if I hadn’t been a part of the group. I didn’t lose anything, another gift will come up.”
And they often do.
One of Douglass’ favorite things she’s received through the group is a citrus juicer.
“I always wanted one and I was looking in the group when someone posted one,” she says. “That’s the real joy of it. Sometimes you need something and someone posts it and it’s like it’s meant to be.”
When someone gifts an item, they usually put it outside of their home and send the receiver a direct message with their address. It’s something I’ve personally done dozens of times. And while that may seem icky to some, Hryczaniuk says they’ve never had an issue with safety since the group started.
“It’s built on trust,” she says. “That can be hard sometimes. It does take a second. You have to put your guard down.”
For Douglass, it’s been a great way to get to know people in her community.
“I like that it emphasizes your close neighbors,” she says. “It’s creating a network of people who you know are close by.”
In an age when fewer people know their direct neighbors, Douglass says the connection is refreshing.
“I think it’s a huge miss,” she says. “It contributes to your mental health, that you know [your neighbors] and can trust them. It’s crucial to the fabric of society.”
Hryczaniuk, who joined the Greensboro BuyNothing group in 2015 and has been an admin since 2017, says she’s seen the group grow exponentially in the last five years. When she first came, there were only a few hundred people, but soon the one group got so big that they had to sprout into the three groups that exist today. Now, the Northwest group that she manages is quickly approaching 900 members.
“Things just felt like they got harder, whether that’s the pandemic or losing connections with people, losing jobs, but also with inflation and everything that’s happened in the country and outside the country,” Hryczaniuk says. “So this seems like a very easy thing to be a part of and get a lot more in return.”
It is easy; there are only three kinds of posts in the BuyNothing groups: give, ask and gratitude.
“Here it’s just calm, quiet, simple,” she says.
Learn more about the BuyNothing Project at buynothingproject.org. To join a local group, search for BuyNothing in Facebook or on the app and join one of the three Greensboro groups. There is also a large just Greensboro group but Hryczaniuk says that one is not officially associated with the organization.
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