They say one person’s trash is another person’s treasure. That’s one of the leading philosophies behind a movement taking off in southwest Minneapolis.
The “Buy Nothing” project started in the U.S. several years ago, and has since gained popularity worldwide. The mission is to connect neighbors through hyper-local groups – typically hosted on Facebook – to give and receive, share and lend items amongst each other to encourage people to buy less and share more.
Many people view these Buy Nothing groups as a way to live a more sustainable lifestyle by looking to their neighbors for any item they want or need – from moving boxes to craft-making supplies to the next book for their book club – before buying new.
The sustainability aspect is what initially prompted Kingfield resident Heather Fisch to join her local Buy Nothing group, which also includes the East Harriet and Tangletown neighborhoods. She said she’s used the group to avoid buying items she may only use once. This past fall, she put together her son’s He-Man Halloween costume with pieces gifted by members of her Buy Nothing group.
Members also say it’s a great way to get rid of things in your home you no longer need or want without throwing them away or donating them to a thrift store, where they may end up in a landfill anyways.
“That’s been a big thing, just feeling like I’m able to let go of stuff I have and knowing that it’s not just being thrown out, but it’s going to someone who is going to repurpose it or reuse it,” Fisch said.
Anna V. Ostenso Moore, a member of the “Buy Nothing” group that encompasses the Linden Hills and Fulton as well as Edina’s Morningside neighborhood, has found the gift economy aspect of the project has changed the way she approaches needs for her family. She joined her local group in 2020 when her son was just a baby, giving away clothing he’s grown out of and asking for the next size up.
She particularly loves looking to the group for items her son only needs for one season. This winter, she’s borrowing winter gear from another family with children above and below her son in age. She’ll return it in the spring so they can use it for their youngest.
“It’s actually been really freeing to think, ‘I don’t own this item.’ I can share it. I can use it. I can love it. I can be really appreciative of it, and then I can give it back,” Ostenso Moore said. “We don’t need to own everything we need to use.”
Some Buy Nothing groups have started bins for specific uses that travel from member to member, from a box of clothing in a specific size that people can try to a box of items to use while traveling with kids. Ostenso Moore used her group’s box of party decorations like candles, streamers, and balloons to celebrate her husband’s birthday – saving her from having to purchase anything new.
“I don’t want to buy all these decorations and then have to store them,” Ostenso Moore said. “That’s the other part of a shared economy that’s great. We’re not in a large home. It’s like, where would this go once we’re done with it?”
From her neighbors, Ostenso Moore said she’s discovered local nonprofits that will take specific items she otherwise wouldn’t have known what to do with besides throw them out.
“I would never have the time to drive to [an animal rescue] with a couple old towels or old baby blankets,” she said. “But, there is a member who volunteers there every week and she will gladly collect them or take them for me, and to drive a few blocks or walk a few blocks is much more accessible than doing all of the little runs.”
Buy Nothing groups can also prevent a lot of waste and overconsumption during the holidays. Both Ostenso Moore and Fisch said they found many of their holiday gifts through their respective groups. Ostenso Moore said she’s trying to avoid buying new plastic, so she attended a stocking stuffer exchange hosted by her group to find items – some pre-loved, some brand new – that members were gifting to fill her family’s stockings.
Often, the items posted in a Buy Nothing group will be something you wouldn’t even imagine someone else would want. One of the more unusual requests Fisch has seen in her group was a neighbor asking specifically for cracked plates. He planned to use them for a class he was taking on Kintsugi – the Japanese technique of repairing broken pottery by filling the cracks with lacquer dusted with gold, silver, or platinum.
Fisch also responded to an ask from a woman collecting fabric scraps. Old pillowcases, ripped clothing – she would take it all. She used them to make tote bags, which she later gave away through the Buy Nothing group. Fisch nabbed two, stopping over to her house to pick them out and getting to know one of her neighbors in the process.
“It’s just this idea that I might be walking around this neighborhood with that bag and someone might see it and say, ‘Hey that’s that sheet that I gave away five months ago or that was my kids’ blanket and now it’s on a bag that you’re carrying around’,” Fisch said.
Ostenso Moore found a neighbor through the group who was looking to compost, but didn’t have access to a curbside bin. That person now stops by every week to drop her food scraps off in Ostenso Moore’s backyard compost bin. It’s a win-win for both parties.
That kind of community connection is another reason why many are drawn to their local Buy Nothing group. Since they’re formed based on where you live, it’s a great way to meet and get to know your neighbors. Ostenso Moore said by exchanging things for her toddler, she learned which parents in her area had kids around the same age as her son.
“I’ve made friends from the group,” said Ostenso Moore. “I didn’t go in assuming I would make friends, but I’ve gotten to know neighbors of different ages and different places. There’s not a lot of spaces where you get to know people who don’t share a common interest or aren’t your age or aren’t your demographic.”
Fisch added she’s seen people connect with others who share the same obscure hobby, and can share their knowledge. “There’s a lot of magic that happens in Buy Nothing groups,” she said.
Interested in joining a Buy Nothing group? Type “Buy Nothing” and the name of your neighborhood into Facebook or try searching on the Buy Nothing Project’s website. Nearly every neighborhood in south Minneapolis and northeast is covered, and helpful administrators like herself will gladly point you in the direction of the right group.
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