In the winter of 2021, I found out I was expecting my first child. I was fraught with panic over how to furnish a nursery, the seemingly insurmountable to-do lists of newborn prep, and my isolation.
To the rescue? My local Buy Nothing page on Facebook.
What began as a small community-building group website in Bainbridge Island, Washington, has now expanded into over 7,000 Facebook groups. The Buy Nothing Project is free to join. Local community members give away goods and acts of service to fellow neighbors with no strings or monetary expectations attached.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Buy Nothing project gained momentum, especially here in Cleveland, specifically the Near West Side Detroit Shoreway/Ohio City Buy Nothing group. It became one of Cleveland’s unsung heroes.
How it works
In September 2020, founder Stella Janecek, a transplant from Washington D.C., felt inspired by the Buy Nothing pages of D.C. and used this as a catalyst to start her own local Buy Nothing Page. Soon, hundreds of members joined, and as the pandemic trekked on, the page continued to grow as Cleveland neighbors started to lean more heavily on the generosity of others.
The Near West Side Buy Nothing Page serves residents of the Detroit Shoreway and Ohio City neighborhoods on Cleveland’s near west side. The page’s mission is to provide a platform where members can ask for and give away items or acts of service with no expectations of receiving anything in return. Offerings range from the large, including couches and other furniture, to the small, such as used magazines that would otherwise be trashed.
Janecek observes other Buy Nothing pages and notes that the Near West Side Buy Nothing page is particularly active, even boasting that “the Near West Side Buy Nothing page diverts more trash from the landfill than any other page” that she’s been part of. The residents have a knack for turning others’ trash into their treasures. It is part of what appeals to members; there’s no judgment, only support and compassion.
The offerings range daily: some days, more big-ticket items such as queen-size beds, dressers, side tables, or kitchen tables will be offered. On other days, smaller, more perishable items such as raw foods, cooked meals, or compostable items will be provided. Nothing is too mundane or too grand to offer. Often there is at least one ask (also known as ISO or in search of), where a member can share with others an item or items they are seeking. For example, there was recently an active, communal thread of ISO’s for Halloween costumes, accessories, and decor.
A supportive embrace
I have a special bond with the Near West Side page and its members. One post last winter about how I was pregnant and needed many items led to me being enveloped in support, baby necessities, and enough furniture to finish my daughter’s nursery. Soon the page that supported me during one of the most daunting times of my life became the very thing that helped restore my faith in other people’s kindness.
A fellow mom and BNP member, Erin Nicole Webb, echoed my sentiments. “I have noticed so many people getting help from this group, not just parents, which is one of the reasons I love this group,” she said. “There is emotional support and help with baby items, food, formula, and toys. Household appliances such as kitchen items, baskets, clothing for all ages.”
Parents of the Buy Nothing page continuously sing its praises for helping, especially when they are in a bind. In an era of social distance and disconnection, the BNP is bridging the gaps to help community members come together in ways they otherwise wouldn’t.
Sharing goods to do good
The group is especially important at a time when the city has launched a new Circular Cleveland initiative. The circular economy is the notion that it’s important to try to keep stuff in circulation as long as possible, through reuse, sharing, remaking goods into other products, and other means. That way, we can help protect the environment, save money, and create jobs, all at the same time.
My local Buy Nothing page may be a drop in the bucket when it comes to our current wasteful society, but this free, grassroots, citizen-led initiative has the power to grow if more people know about it. Sharing items among neighbors is as old as humanity. Now, with the power of social media, we can do it more easily.
Buy Nothing has a lot of strengths that nurture members’ belief in the mission. A fellow mom and member, Nina Lester, expanded on the beauty of the generosity by saying, “The greatest strength of the Buy Nothing page is there are no strings attached. Simply just neighbors being kind neighbors. In the beginning, it felt weird getting free items, because I thought, ‘You don’t want anything from me?’ And they don’t. Especially in a capitalist society, it’s hard to believe we can have this ability to give to one another for the sake of giving to one another. It’s a wonderful thing.”
My daughter is no longer a newborn, but I still use a lot of things I received from the page. I use the changing table, my daughter is kept warm by the cold weather outfits bestowed upon us, and the play mats entertained my daughter.
We still receive items regularly from neighbors as my daughter grows as quickly as a bean sprout. The page has continued outfitting her in like-new clothes that we then pass on to other members once she’s outgrown them. Buy Nothing is more than a way to offload unwanted goods. The page has become a way to pay it forward, and it’s wonderful to see how generosity begets more generosity.
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