“Buy Nothing” Online — Neighborhood Groups Promote Gift-Economy  

For anyone who has either thrown away something that had a longer shelf life or needed an item but couldn’t afford it, there is an alternative—the gift economy.  

Detroit hosts several “Buy Nothing” neighborhood groups on Facebook with hundreds of residents connecting to give, ask for and receive items and services with no ulterior motive other than to share their resources and skills with one another. 

“I’m sure we’ve all put stuff on the curb before and we were like ‘man, I’d hate to just throw it away’ or find time to donate to Goodwill,” said Josie Whelan, administrator of the Facebook group Buy Nothing Group-Boston Edison Area, Detroit.  

“One, you could instead give it to someone for free and also, you find a more pointed way to find stuff you need or things other people need.” 

Whelan said as a teacher she has made personal requests for items to use in her classroom such as baskets, tins and other useful items for student activities.  

The Buy Nothing group is a private forum, and an individual must request to join as a resident of that area or an adjacent neighborhood. The group currently has 339 community members.  

An estimated 6.5 million Americans are part of 7,500 Buy Nothing communities in over 40 countries. As a community-building social movement, residents are encouraged to build a Facebook group and encourage local residents in each neighborhood to join and exchange items they no longer need and donate those items to someone who has use for them.  

Whelan said the community group has also strengthened her relationship with her community.  

“If I’m doing a drop off or a pick up, I can just talk to the person in a 10 to 20 minute conversation and a lot of what we talk about is about the neighborhood. I’ve only lived here for a couple of years and I’m really interested in the long-term history so I always appreciate it when I find out I am talking to someone that has been here for 40-50 years. 

“I get a chance to understand their perspective on the community and just connect with one another. Now when I am driving around here, I know who lives in that house or this house. I know who my neighbors are and I still keep contact with them and we keep each other in mind if we know the other person needs particular things.” 

A gift economy is a practice based on gift giving, in which services or goods get exchanged with no expectation of payment or transaction for the value of the services or goods. This differs from our traditional market economy in which people exchange or purchase an item for money.  

The obvious advantage of a gift economy is that’s inexpensive and allows an individual to acquire something they need without navigating a price tag.  

Beyond just the excitement of getting free stuff is the environmental-friendly aspect of saving items from the trash heap by extending its lifespan with someone else. 

According to a 2016 study by the European Environment Agency, “In a wider context of sustainable economy, sharing economy is conceptualized as one form of the circular economy, a closed-loop economic system employing reuse, refurbishment, remanufacturing, repair, sharing, etc., and minimizing the use of resource and the creation of waste, pollution and carbon emission.” 

Michele Grier is a lifelong Detroit resident and for the past year has been part of the Facebook group Buy Nothing-East English Village/Morningside/Cornerstone Detroit.  The group currently has 606 residents as members.  

She was initially attracted to the group because of the responsibility to the environment by the recycling practice. 

“It just falls in line with being environmentally conscious,” said Grier. “It helps to not have to keep buying something over and over again when it’s available close by and it can be recycled. I’m attracted to the whole concept because there is such an overabundance of material things in the world….so why not share?” 

She has found the platform useful to post requests for items she needs and is always on the lookout for gardening type items like seedlings and a chance to get to know more residents living around her. 

“I think it’s very important for folks to meet their neighbors; engagement is always good and lets you know we are all are coming from the same place of giving to one another.” 

The Buy Nothing Project offers links to Facebook groups in various states, cities and occasionally even neighborhoods. The majority of Buy Nothing groups are on Facebook, and the project has also developed an app which is free to download.  


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