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August 23, 2017

The 'Buy Nothing' project – folks are falling for it for a reason

Community-based group aims to turn the economy upside down by offering a new way to save on goods and services

Good News Shop Local
cakes Drew Silverman /for PhillyVoice

The Buy Nothing Project “gives” include everything from Bruce Springsteen tickets and soap-making lessons to neighbors' freshly baked cakes and luxurious stays at a friends' cabin in the Catskills.

Does it seem like you’re at Target every day?

Do you need a new bedroom set, but a trip to IKEA isn’t in your budget? Are your kids outgrowing clothes faster than you can run to Carter’s?

Good news – there is a different way.

The Buy Nothing way.


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Buy Nothing Project is a community-based gift economy that is sprouting groups all around Philadelphia. Buy Nothing, in short, has created a platform for neighbors to give and receive items and services on Facebook – always free of charge – while getting to know each other on a personal level.

There are hundreds of Buy Nothing groups all over the world and more than 20 in the Philadelphia area. Buy Nothing is hyper-local, and the prototype in Philadelphia is the Graduate Hospital/Newbold/Point Breeze neighborhood group.

“The concept has really taken off here,” said Veronica Dawn Byrd, who founded the Graduate Hospital group – now the largest in the city – back in 2015. “We have an amazing community, but I truly feel like Buy Nothing is the thread that's brought so many together here.”

NoneDrew Silverman /for PhillyVoice

This Excel document outlines how Buy Nothing members organize their “gives.”

Byrd’s group features nearly 1,600 members – all of whom live within one square mile – and the neighborhood’s Buy Nothing page often features 50+ posts per day. The “gives” include everything from Springsteen tickets and soap-making lessons to Julie Barber-Rotenberg’s freshly baked cakes and a one-week stay at Sara McMillan’s cabin in the Catskills.

“I love that I've met so many neighbors by giving away the things I bake,” said Barber-Rotenberg. 

“I love walking around the neighborhood, dropping off six slices of cake to six people and having six little conversations – it really has made this feel like a community where I belong.”

“Our community can be seen throughout our cabin,” added McMillan. “The furniture, the plates, the glasses, kitchen supplies, lamps, towel holders, curtain rods, and the telescope – literally all made possible through the kind generosity of this unbelievable community. And as if that weren't enough, every day the community restores my soul – especially these days.”

That’s a big part of it, too. At its core, Buy Nothing is about exchanging gifts. But to those who know it best, like Graduate Hospital resident Victoria Ballard, Buy Nothing’s mantra is so much more.

“It’s the way we come together for those in need,” Ballard said, “be it neighbors who have suffered a house fire, or news that someone is suddenly going to become a foster parent. The way that this community rallies to support our neighbors is awe-inspiring. If only we could bottle that generosity and scatter it around the country.”

This group should be running our country."

Earlier this month, Kate Wurges posted that a family from her hometown required a sudden residence in Philadelphia after their newborn son was diagnosed with a serious heart condition. Wurges offered the family her unfurnished rental apartment, but it was just an empty unit. Within an hour, Wurges had created an Excel doc and within 24 hours, the Buy Nothing group had furnished the apartment with hundreds of items – everything from beds and televisions to DVDs and a refrigerator full of food.

“This group should be running our country,” Megan Livewell quipped on the Facebook page that day.

So, while the rest of us are heading to the store or driving to the mall or browsing Amazon for the third time today, the Buy Nothing group has created an alternative. In a way, Buy Nothing saves everyone time, energy and money – and these days – in particular – a little bit of sanity.

“It feels amazing to live in an area where people want to help each other,” said Byrd. 

“There are so many ways in which we can feel isolated from others, but Buy Nothing really breaks all the barriers and pulls all the community members together for one common goal, and that is to spend every day trying to make their community a better place. Buy Nothing facilitates this in every way.”

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