The Buy Nothing Group

A spirit of giving unites and divides the Northland

If someone told you that there was a place where you could simply ask for something and it might be given to you, what would you say? Maybe they still believe in Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy, too. But barring mythical figures, there are ways to find what you need for free, and the Buy Nothing Project is helping to shape that mission. 

The Buy Nothing Project started seven years ago with the simple basis of 'Give where you live". According to their website, founders Liesl Clark and Rebecca Rockefeller sought to create a way for people to give, share, lend, and express gratitude through hyper-local gift economies. 

Their goal encompasses more than just getting rid of 'stuff.' The pair envisioned a way to get to know your neighbors and create community, something that Buy Nothing admins in the Northland are embracing as well. The organization's local chapters, which have their home on Facebook, recently grew so much in the Northland that they decided to divide or 'sprout' to create smaller areas for each group, making it easier for people to trade items, time, and create local friendships. 

The way the group works is simple--if you have an item that you don't need, post a picture of it and offer it--for free--to someone who needs it. Members can choose who to give their items to based on any number of criteria, from random names out of a hat to the person with the most need. As the groups become more active, they 'sprout' or divide into smaller areas to focus on building community not only in their cities but in their neighborhoods. The most developed groups are trading things as small as a cup of sugar or an action like walking the dog. 

The Northland has had a Buy Nothing group for several years, but it wasn't active until recently when Katie Smith Donais moved to the area from Dallas, where her Buy Nothing Group was thriving. 

"I had heard about the Buy Nothing Group when I lived in Dallas but lived a half a mile outside of the boundary of the closest one, so I started my own. It really took off and was thriving by the time I moved here last spring. When I moved here, I wanted to start a group here but found that there was one in my neighborhood, but it was getting ready to archive it because there was no activity," says Donais. 

Coming in at the last hour, Donais offered to be an admin and started actively moderating the group, posting Wish Wednesdays where members could post requests for anything they need or Gratitude Thursdays where recipients can post photos of how the items they received were used. 

Since Donais' involvement, the group has grown exponentially and precipitated a 'sprout.' Now, the Northland has four different groups: Staley/Gladstone, Riverside/North Kansas City, Parkville/Weatherby, and Platte Purchase/Lake Waukomis. There's a separate group for Liberty residents. Now the groups meet the goal of 20 minutes drive from border to border. 

Donais says that not only had the group grown in membership, but enthusiasm. 

"When it came time to sprout, I had more volunteers to become area admins than I needed!" she laughs. All admins go through the Buy Nothing Project training so that they can easily moderate and guide the groups toward the goals. 

Although Buy Nothing groups may seem like they are focused on getting rid of things, a la Marie Kondo, admin of the Platte Purchase group, Jessica Martin says that she's found more things that she's loved than gotten rid of things she hated. 

"I came in after Katie had revitalized the group, and honestly, it was the best part of 2020 for me. It was amazing to come into a group that was so positive and uplifting. I just thought it was a really cool idea," says Martin. 

"I came in fully thinking that I was going to clear out my house and gift all these things that I need to get rid of. But I've been gifted some things that I absolutely love, like my new favorite body soap. I love the scent of pear, and someone was listing Neutrogena pear body wash. I figured I would try it, and now it's my new favorite thing," she says. 

It's not just physical items that make an impact. Gifts of service have also been exchanged. 

Colleen Stuhlman, the Parkville area group's admin, says that being able to help others has been a blessing.

"My husband and I have always been very handy and do everything on the house and cars. There was another member in the larger group that needed her mailbox put on a post. She had a new mailbox, and she had a new post, and we had a bag of cement. And we spent an entire afternoon at her house, and it led to other projects so we just stayed and hung out with them," says Stuhlman

"Just making that connection with other humans that we hadn't had other than our immediate neighbors on our block in many months was just absolutely incredible. That's what I really hope to see more of as we become more hyperlocal--those times where you can say, 'Hey, you're just a few blocks away. I absolutely don't mind walking over and doing this for you,' you know?"

As the groups become more hyperlocal, Donais and her fellow admins are excited to get to know their friends and neighbors better, all while keeping things out of the trash. Find your local Buy Nothing Group on Facebook.

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