Buy Nothing to grow up and out of Facebook
May 4, 2021 8:37 AM   Subscribe

Buy Nothing groups are part of the Internet gift economy, currently only on Facebook. The idea is "give where you live" and to "buy nothing". Now they are building a sharing app, currently in beta.
posted by toastyk (72 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
 
What fantastic news. Buy Nothing makes me log into FB far more than I otherwise would (and that's even with my grudging pandemic return to the platform) and I would be glad to be able to skip it.
posted by minervous at 8:49 AM on May 4 [6 favorites]


We use the Buy Nothing group for our town, mostly to give stuff away. It is amazing what people will take. 2/3rds of a bag of confectioner's sugar? Taken! A couple paddles for an unknown mixer? Taken!

Long ago we used Freecycle for this sort of thing but that seemed to have just sort of gone away.
posted by bondcliff at 8:54 AM on May 4 [9 favorites]


We are heavy Buy Nothing users, and my first reaction is that I’m thrilled to see them get away from the cesspit that is Facebook.

On the other hand, I have started to see a dark synergy there, namely that what we see (living in a high income neighborhood) is just embarrassingly better than what’s on offer in other areas. In terms of leveraging feel-good instincts into blithe reinforcement of the stratified status quo, it’s kind of a really good fit for Facebook.
posted by bjrubble at 8:54 AM on May 4 [17 favorites]


Like bondcliff, I primarily give stuff away on Buy Nothing, and it's WILD but people will take nearly anything. I once gave away a huge amount of potatoes I had gotten in my farm box that I was never going to be able to eat. Gone in half an hour.
posted by Medieval Maven at 8:57 AM on May 4


I joined one but the lady running it was bonkers. Or maybe I just don't get the premise. All I wanted was to give away some nice things but the rules were that you had to post your thing, then people who wanted it had to plead their case, then you had to choose someone and tell the group who you chose, and the person had to publicly thank you. I gave away a bolt of linen fabric, marked it given away, and then disappeared again from FB, where I don't often go anyway, and when I next checked in there were about a dozen increasingly angry posts from her demanding that I tell who got it. Half of the group posts were ranting exhortations from her about the rules.

Also, the things people were giving away were mostly actual garbage. One empty toilet paper tube, etc.
posted by HotToddy at 9:04 AM on May 4 [20 favorites]


In line with what bjrubble mentions, I foresee a fairly significant take up problem with a borderless Buy Nothing, because many older suburban white women are unlikely to keep participating if poor or racialized people start showing up at their door to collect things they offered up. The small geographic area, profile pictures, moderated Facebook group model lets people self-enforce their not-our-kind racism and is probably crucial to the current success of Buy Nothing in a lot of areas.
posted by jacquilynne at 9:04 AM on May 4 [13 favorites]


many older suburban white women are unlikely to keep participating if poor or racialized people start showing up at their door to collect things they offered up. The small geographic area, profile pictures, moderated Facebook group model lets people self-enforce their not-our-kind racism and is probably crucial to the current success of Buy Nothing in a lot of areas.

I’m in a couple of central Brooklyn swap and share groups and all I can say is, this concept does not require those women in order to exist.

But also there is something in your comment that deeply bothers me, an implication that any attempt at solidarity across class and racial lines is inherently doomed. I simply don’t believe that.
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:12 AM on May 4 [53 favorites]


My Buy Nothing group is a "sprout" from a larger group (we split into two groups) and there was definitely concern that our group was going to be too homogenous and that it was exclusionary -- and I think it definitely *can be* -- but as far as people "showing up on your doorstep" -- in the panini, we've been doing contactless pickup and I can count the number of people I've had pick up things that I've actually seen on one hand. They let me know when they are coming by, I put it outside, they grab it and let me know on Messenger that they have done so. I can see it being harder in the suburbs, but in the city, I don't think that many of us care as long as whatever we are trying to move on, gets moved on.
posted by Medieval Maven at 9:15 AM on May 4 [3 favorites]


Maybe I'm wrong. I certainly hope I am.

I used to be involved in the local Freecycle group and it had a companion discussion group, and there was a lot of barely disguised racism in the discussion of 'those people, who never offer stuff, just ask for everything'. Maybe Buy Nothing has escaped that cycle.
posted by jacquilynne at 9:16 AM on May 4


But also there is something in your comment that deeply bothers me, an implication that attempting solidarity across class and racial lines is inherently doomed. I simply don’t believe that.

FWIW, I live in between two DC neighborhoods w/very active FB Buy Nothing groups and, in a very segregated city, I've seen some evidence that it's happening, if only because people are so interested in getting rid of stuff w/out throwing it in the trash that they don't care who takes it. One of them is so high volume, I doubt anyone could keep close track of who is taking what.

One of them dovetails w/the mutual aid group that my wife is involved in, and they have in a few cases helped furnish apartments for women leaving abusive relationships, families displaced by a fire, etc., by collectively cherry picking the Buy Nothing posts based on their requests, then taking the stuff over to them.
posted by ryanshepard at 9:23 AM on May 4 [12 favorites]


I've never heard of this, and it looks neat. I'll try it. (I definitely don't know enough about mushrooms to eat foraged ones gathered by strangers without a long conversation first. But, cheers to those who are able to take that leap.)

Having been involved in, and very frustrated by, a couple of Time Banking groups, I suspect the composition of local, vocal membership is really important. I spent a lot of time repairing household electronics - which I'm always happy to do for free - while trying to subtly convince people that I wasn't interested in trading for a Reiki session. And I spent a lot of time carrying heavy things to the dumpster after events. Maybe a no-trade model is actually better. But, I met some great people through them.
posted by eotvos at 9:26 AM on May 4 [3 favorites]


For those interested, Buy Nothing apparently has an Equity team, and seems to be working through their issues. (I have no idea if they're successful or not.)

On a personal note, in my own neck of the woods, when we "sprouted" into different groups, a lot of people that wanted to keep sharing with the whole town just started a "give and receive" group that's unaffiliated with Buy Nothing, and just continued doing the same thing. I'm a part of both, and there is at least one person who regularly collects food from people cleaning out their pantries for the food pantry they are connected with. Recently a member mentioned that someone had messaged her, saying that she was trying to claim too many things, and she said that she didn't have a lot of nice things to offer so she didn't feel she could reciprocate in the same manner. Many in the group jumped in to reassure her, and at least one person offered to make her a care package. Our group also managed to help furnish an apartment for someone moving out on their own, clothe children who had just been adopted out of foster care, etc.
posted by toastyk at 9:27 AM on May 4 [9 favorites]


I joined one but the lady running it was bonkers. Or maybe I just don't get the premise. All I wanted was to give away some nice things but the rules were that you had to post your thing, then people who wanted it had to plead their case, then you had to choose someone and tell the group who you chose, and the person had to publicly thank you.

I reluctantly use BN, and like others have mentioned, it is fantastic for giving away things that thrift stores won't take, and there is a lot that thrift stores won't take, for good reason. Off the top of my head, things I have given to Buy Nothing like that: opened cosmetics and other toiletries, opened pantry and other food items, cooked foods, tools and other diy and house materials, leftover craft materials, torn bed sheets and worn blankets, plants and seedlings, furniture that needed repair.....

My reluctance in using Buy Nothing is a) it is on FB, and b) the weird rules that BN has.

Of the rules you have mentioned above, the person needing to publicly thank you is not a rule my BN group follows. I have been given to understand that the founders of BN create the rules, and local groups need to follow them. But anyhow, yes, the pleading your case thing about why you deserve the item is also not a rule, but people do it anyhow, and I HATE it. I think it is super gross to have people competing for an item, and having the giver decide who amongst has the best reason.

BN's founding philosophy is said to explicitly be about making neighbor connections, and NOT about the stuff. But then they have this competitive model. And what I have noticed is that items typically go to those that have the 'cutest' stories, and also have the 'cutest' profiles. (By contrast, my local queer FB giveaway group has a policy that givers must choose randomly). BN also rewards those that are on social media all the time who can post first to items. Lots of inherent privilege in both of those practices.
posted by nanook at 9:28 AM on May 4 [18 favorites]


Having been involved in, and very frustrated by, a couple of Time Banking groups, I suspect the composition of local, vocal membership is really important.

The good ones, like all successful FB groups, are also carefully moderated. It has been interesting to see a lesson MeFi learned 20 years ago slowly start to get a real footing on Facebook, even if it's still uncommon.
posted by ryanshepard at 9:28 AM on May 4 [7 favorites]


Yay! I joined Facebook at the start of the pandemic so that I could participate in the local mutual aid group. I think our But Nothing group was originally an outgrowth of that. I also use it mainly to get rid of stuff, but every now and then I throw my hat in for something interesting. The vast majority of people in my group are good natured and seem to sincerely enjoy it. I'm glad Buy Nothing is looking to move off Facebook. It's the main reason I go there.

I think it'd be awesome if there was a Buy Nothing sister group called Do Something. For stuff like running errands, helping if you're got a needed skill (like fixing a faucet or baking a loaf of bread, whatever). Our Buy Nothing group already has a bit of that but I think it could branch off and grow on its own.
posted by Gray Duck at 9:51 AM on May 4 [10 favorites]


Gray Duck, you can ask on BN groups for the "gift of time" if you need someone to help you - there are gift of time asks on my BN all the time.
posted by Medieval Maven at 9:59 AM on May 4 [3 favorites]


In contrast to some of the above posters, my local BN group is a hugely positive experience. At about 3000 members, I think it's hard for any one person to dominate. Most things are given away randomly. Sometimes people will ask for pictures of the dog that will use the bed, or something similar to help them decide. I'm actually surprised when I get something instead of the senior living nurse or the preschool teacher. Recently, a single mom of 3 posted asking for loans of yard equipment because an anonymous neighbor left her an angry note about the state of her yard, and a dozen people jumped in and offered to help with the cleanup effort. We've had people offering help finding and getting to vaccination appointments.

I would love to get off Facebook, but there are a few groups I really enjoy (BN being one of them), and every time the topic of migration comes up, it dies because the number of people who would leave the group rather than install another app or follow another communication channel is larger than the number of people want to leave Facebook. I'll probably get on the app when it goes live, but I would be shocked if it ever ended up having the volume my local FB group does.
posted by natabat at 10:01 AM on May 4 [3 favorites]


BN also rewards those that are on social media all the time who can post first to items.

The group I’m in doesn’t have set rules for who you offer the item to, and lots of people will use a random number generator to decide. I had a desk chair to give away early in the pandemic, and there was so much interest that after 45 minutes I cut it off and used an RNG. Time between posting the chair and having it physically removed from my apartment was less than four hours.

Just recently someone young posted that they needed office appropriate clothing for their first job. I plan to go through my swap pile and see if I can find anything for them.

And the plants! In my neighborhood there were so many plants being swapped that a spin-off group was created just for that. I got a full-grown potted tomato last year and gave away half a dozen herbs and oxalis plants. This year I started my own tomatoes and deliberately started way more seeds than I needed, just so I’d have some to give away myself this time around. I love these groups so much.
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:09 AM on May 4 [9 favorites]


They let me know when they are coming by, I put it outside, they grab it and let me know on Messenger that they have done so. I can see it being harder in the suburbs

I'm in the suburbs and it works basically the same. I just DM someone with my address and ask them approximately when they'll pick the thing up. I put it on my doorstep and in most cases it's gone in a couple hours. Occasionally someone flakes for whatever reason and I'll either arrange another time with them or re-list it.

In contrast to some of the above posters, my local BN group is a hugely positive experience.

Mine as well.

I find most things either have very little demand, in which case I'll usually give it to the first person who asks, or very high demand.

I recently have away a couple small Lego sets that I got free with an order. There were at least 40 replies saying 'interested", some saying things like "Oh my son would LOVE this" or even an occasional story like "My daughter was getting bullied yesterday and this would make her feel so much better!". What I do in these cases is count up the comments, go to Google and put in "Random number from 1 to X" and then count down that many comments and that's the person who gets it. I'm not going to decide based on some story in a facebook comment.

The main rules in my group are that you're supposed to list is as a GIFT and then change it to GIFTED once it's taken. Occasionally a mod will remind people of the group rules but they've never been too bad.

I recently tried to give away some fish, my platies have been having a lot of babies, and I specifically said in my listing "you have to somehow assure me that you have an established freshwater tank and you know how to keep fish alive" and all I got was a couple responses that said "I'll take them, let me know where to pick them up!" and I just ignored them. If people can't be bothered to read I'm just going to ignore them. (side note: anyone want some free fish?)

It really has been a positive, community-building experience.
posted by bondcliff at 10:17 AM on May 4 [18 favorites]


When COVID started heating up, I became more active both on our local BN and on NextDoor, to try and help out and offer what I could. In my experience, Buy Nothing has been as positive as NextDoor is absolutely toxic. I sometimes have a hard time believing they're populated by people in the same community.
posted by Inkslinger at 10:29 AM on May 4 [9 favorites]


My local BN group is also pretty shockingly great as far as not going in too hard on some of the weirder rules, and a couple of members have gone the extra mile to offer their sideyards as drop-off/pick-up points to make it easier for people who don't have effortless transportation or live somewhere complicated (like an apartment complex with security gates and/or very little guest parking) to participate. It looks like they're getting ready to resume a monthly swap meet at a local park as well.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:32 AM on May 4 [1 favorite]


I joined my “sprouted” group back in August when I was in a “clean out the house” mood and I love it. I’ve given away so many more items than I’ve received which was why I joined, but I’ve also gotten some wonderful things. A 5foot artificial plant that looks incredibly real, some great high end used cookware, a side table, a clock...

We are encouraged to post “grateful” messages, but it isn’t required. The only downside is a lot of people tend to pick whoever responds first, and if you’re not constantly on FB it can feel like you never have a chance, but that’s the way it goes.

My favorite experience was when someone posted a long-shot ASK looking for a specific nonfiction book—and I had it on my shelf! So much fun to be able to fulfill that wish!
posted by bookmammal at 10:33 AM on May 4 [2 favorites]


From what I've seen, the devil-in-the-details (per above) frequently comes in at the combination of "Hey, this group is busy, let's subdivide into smaller geographical regions" + existing systemic legacies-of-redlining/social segregation which end up reinforced.

To take Seattle as an example, going from a Seattle-wide group, to north Seattle, to northwest Seattle, to just Magnolia, etc. Meanwhile Central District gets cut out. It might have all been done with benign intent (or it might not, given NextDoor), but the outcome is still one of enforcing segregation either way.
posted by CrystalDave at 10:38 AM on May 4 [5 favorites]


I’m in a group that’s working really well - it recently merged with an adjacent neighborhood and got a bit squickier for my taste (they like to say “gifting” instead of “giving away”, for example), but for the most part it works well. There are guidelines more than rules, but reject them at your own peril - people get snarky when someone (for example) posts something high-value and then gives it to the first person who says they’re interested instead of letting it “simmer” for a few hours and then picking a recipient. But the goal is to make it more fair, since not everyone can sit on FB watching the posts. I haven’t seen anyone begging for why they need something (though some people volunteer reasons), but some givers ask for a story or a joke or an animal picture to help them choose instead of a random number generator, and that’s usually taken as fun.

One thing our group does really well, though, is channel things as much as possible toward people who really need it. There’s a community fridge and pantry in the neighborhood, so when people are doing pantry cleanouts, people will often claim the food and use it to cook meals for the fridge. Restaurant takeout containers are offered up a couple of times a week (washed), and people take them for the same reason. They coordinate with shelters and local homeless people with lists of specific things that are needed. People also post photos of furniture and household items that are out at the curb before trash pickup - there’s really a push to keep as many things out of landfills as possible. And to keep perfectly good food from being thrown away because of capitalism (she’s in our group).

And I’ll second Medieval Maven that a lot of the pickups are contactless, so I rarely even see who’s getting what I’m sending away - when a group moves a couple of dozen posts a day, I don’t think you can really keep track or gatekeep about who’s giving or who’s taking. (Btw, was “during the panini” an autocorrect for pandemic, or intentional? Because I am totally saying it from now on).
posted by Mchelly at 10:49 AM on May 4 [7 favorites]


Where I live I can just put anything I want to give away on the curb and it’s gone in half an hour, tops.
posted by The Card Cheat at 10:54 AM on May 4 [5 favorites]


Mchelly, "during the panini" was totally purposeful, and you are very welcome to it!
posted by Medieval Maven at 11:00 AM on May 4 [7 favorites]


I've been meaning to join something like this and now I have joined! Perhaps I'll report back when something happens.
posted by Glinn at 11:12 AM on May 4 [1 favorite]


Dammit! It was a group for the north side of my city and I live on the south side, where there is no group. There is a "Free Stuff" group and a couple others tho.
posted by Glinn at 11:20 AM on May 4


As someone who likes the "buy nothing" concept and hates Facebook, this is great news! I added my name to the waitlist and am looking forward to it being available.
posted by Tsuga at 11:24 AM on May 4 [1 favorite]


On further reflection I think what I hate most about it is the "pick me" aspect. I'm supposed to determine who is most deserving of my dry shampoo? It just feels bad.
posted by HotToddy at 11:25 AM on May 4 [11 favorites]


Long ago we used Freecycle for this sort of thing but that seemed to have just sort of gone away.

In the UK Freecycle has been almost entirely replaced by Freegle.
posted by Lanark at 11:30 AM on May 4


As a non-FB user who used to use freecycle and craigslist for this when I was in the US, I'm just glad they're finally making these communities available to people who don't want to link their lives to a business as fucked up as FB. Seeing previously-open services replaced by closed gardens is depressing - I'm just hoping my favorite site for buying/selling secondhand survives FB Marketplace.

there was a lot of barely disguised racism in the discussion of 'those people, who never offer stuff, just ask for everything'. Maybe Buy Nothing has escaped that cycle.

The site I use now doesn't have a discussion forum, which in this case I guess is akin to disabling comments on a youtube video. It does have a rule where if you want to be able to request an item that was offered, you need either to have offered something yourself within the last X months, or to wait X hours from the time the item was posted. Basically, first dibs to people who give as well as take. It's a nice nudge that sometimes results in people offering, say, a single paperclip, but for the most part it seems to work really well. (Also postings are moderated for approval, and it's country-wide. I took a 2-hr train ride once to pick something up.)

And best of all, it doesn't require you to be on any other social network.
posted by trig at 11:35 AM on May 4 [3 favorites]


On further reflection I think what I hate most about it is the "pick me" aspect

Yeah, count me as totally repelled by that.

I'm going to give Buy Nothing a pass and keep giving stuff away via "Free Stuff" on Craigslist until the end of time, I guess. It seems to avoid a lot of the issues that people are describing with Buy Nothing, and that I used to see on Freecycle when I gave that a try.

Craigslist is open to anyone, and no membership is required, and it's very loosely geography-specific. So if someone really wants my free old grill located in Metro DC, and they're willing to drive from Baltimore to come get it, more power to them. I don't need some sort of enforced community-building thing with my immediate neighbors. (Plus, I already know my neighbors. If they wanted my crap, I'd have given it to them already.)

Craigslist works mostly over anonymized email, so I don't have to give out more information about me than I want to. And I sure as hell don't have to connect it to my entire Facebook profile.

And there's nobody looking over my shoulder and judging me about whose sob story I'm picking to actually get the item. Generally I'm all about "first come, first served", but if someone makes a really compelling and/or interesting case for why they want some item, and it's not already spoken for, it's nobody's business except mine if I decide to give it to them.

The closed, membership-required, rules-dominated swap groups really squick me out. It all seems to be about being exclusionary and nitpicky, rather than just getting rid of stuff and keeping it out of the trash.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:43 AM on May 4 [11 favorites]


My FB neighbourhood free stuff group isn't a BN one, and it's pretty first-comment-first-get, which I 1000%% prefer, I don't want to judge worthiness, I don't want to pick from a crowded field, I just want my thing gone by the end of the day.

My group probably works because it's very geographically confined for membership, which I really do think was imposed to keep the frequency down, but that may result in inequities so that's an interesting conundrum and one I'm glad to be thinking about. I might see if people would be up for redrawing the line slightly to the north.
posted by warriorqueen at 11:53 AM on May 4


On further reflection I think what I hate most about it is the "pick me" aspect

Yeah, count me as totally repelled by that.


We mostly just use a name or number generator like this one. It’s pretty low-stakes.
posted by Mchelly at 12:06 PM on May 4 [6 favorites]


The closed, membership-required, rules-dominated swap groups really squick me out. It all seems to be about being exclusionary and nitpicky, rather than just getting rid of stuff and keeping it out of the trash.

I mean, all I can say is that my experience has been fundamentally the opposite of what you’re saying here, and it sounds like what you’re describing is based on your impression of what it might be like rather than an actual bad experience.
posted by showbiz_liz at 12:11 PM on May 4 [2 favorites]


I am fairly active in our local Buy Nothing group on FB. It is strongly encouraged to not offer things to the first responder, but rather to let a post "simmer" for a few hours or a day, so that people who are less active on FB can have a chance to see it and reply. I usually use a random name picker to choose when giving things away. We're trying to simplify and de-clutter, and it's been great for re-homing a rocking chair, some art, planters, etc.

It's also been neat to see the real sense of community; one poster said, "Help! We're out of baby wipes and the shelves are bare, anyone have some to share?" and there was a bunch of offers. The pandemic has been very difficult, but moments like those really help me to stay positive.
posted by xedrik at 12:19 PM on May 4 [3 favorites]


I have a couple friends (both are parents of wee tots, which may be connected) who are really into this. To me it all seems like far more interaction than I'm willing to deal with. If it's too big to take to the thrift store, I just take shit out to the curb on farmer's market day, post a craigslist ad, and if it's still there a week later I set it on fire.*

*I have yet to actually have to burn anything.
posted by aspersioncast at 12:28 PM on May 4 [9 favorites]


Then again I'm allergic to buying things, so probably half the things I've ever curb-checked were originally found on another curb somewhere else.
posted by aspersioncast at 12:30 PM on May 4 [1 favorite]


I've been part of two neighborhood FB free stuff groups, and yeah, white ladies are occasionally gonna whitelady, but the case-pleading and compulsory gratitude have not been part of either - both have had a "first to claim takes it" rule except if the poster explicitly states that they're going to raffle the item, in which case everyone who comments by a certain time is put in a random number generator. Moderators are definitely key to making sure rules are being enforced for group harmony instead of NIMBYism. These groups are part of the reason I haven't left FB yet, so... yay for a non-FB option? I'm guardedly optimistic.
posted by All hands bury the dead at 12:38 PM on May 4


I think the most rules-anal that the people who run my neighborhood's group have gotten is to remind people that it's nice to let your post sit for at least 24 hours before announcing "okay, [person] will get [thing]", only because it gives people who aren't on Facebook 24/7 a chance to see and claim stuff. Which is a good point.

The leaders' biggest headache, in turn, is probably killing the posts made by the weird guy who keeps trying to post links to his vegan yoga class or whatever the hell it is. He's some dude who's a member but never posts about things he's trying to give away, he's posting links to some service or class he's providing and the leaders keep having to delete them because "dude, unless you're offering these for free, that's not what this group is about." But he doesn't get it and keeps doing it and they're too nice to boot him out of the group.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:02 PM on May 4


Freecycle still exists - I got some garden fencing from my local and then volunteered to moderate it, but it’s very quiet. There’s no chit-chat, no competition for items, just wants and offers. They’re just rolling out a new site so it looks less 1990s and includes a way to set up small friends groups for loaning things as well as the larger moderated “towns” for giving things away. The small self-moderating groups was hugely controversial among some mods who thought it would be used for plotting sedition and selling drugs, which seemed unlikely to me. I won’t use Facebook, but I think it has replaced the internet for so many people that trying to operate outside it is a bit of a challenge for efforts like this. I gather some Freecycle groups are active still. I see much more traffic on the lists for moderators though than in my town’s group.
posted by zenzenobia at 1:33 PM on May 4 [2 favorites]


On further reflection I think what I hate most about it is the "pick me" aspect

Agreed that it can be a problem, but not always. People in our group have adopted a kinder, less-pressure way of asking for things. It's usually "Please consider me for this, thanks!" or "Putting my name in for this one." Strangely enough, there's a world of difference between our Buy Nothing group and another one called 'Everything Free Just take it away.' In that one, people plead their cases and it gets weird quick.

I've only been in the group for three months but already I notice another good feature; the willingness to split up or share large gifts. It's happened half a dozen times already that I've seen. I just did this with a bunch of baking tools. Now there's someone posting a treasure trove of over 100 CDs and 10 of us asked; chances are high that it gets passed around until everyone has taken what they want.

The mutual respect and sharing are two of the things I like best about the group - that and the lack of pressure. All it takes to change a small culture like this is a bit of consensus, some positive feedback and a good admin or two.
posted by Hardcore Poser at 1:38 PM on May 4 [3 favorites]


I've only been in the group for three months but already I notice another good feature; the willingness to split up or share large gifts. It's happened half a dozen times already that I've seen. I just did this with a bunch of baking tools. Now there's someone posting a treasure trove of over 100 CDs and 10 of us asked; chances are high that it gets passed around until everyone has taken what they want.

This is a feature of our local BN group as well, doubled by people who are often willing to take what's being given away in bulk and then redistribute it to others also wiling to split it. This saves the person who's giving the items away (read: me, a couple times) the 'one more thing' of splitting it up and helps them get it moving
posted by Inkslinger at 1:57 PM on May 4 [4 favorites]


This is great news for me. I'd love to join a BN group, but I can't get over the hump of using Facebook again.

I started doing a Freecycle-type thing in my office (when people actually went into the office), it was very low stakes because no one was going out of their way anyway. However we never did figure out what to do with things that didn't get grabbed after the first day or so, and a manager told us to "clean up our pile of junk".
posted by meowzilla at 2:03 PM on May 4 [2 favorites]


So where is our mefi version of this? I'd live to be able to offer fellow mefites some of my curated trash in exchange for a modest donation to the site (if there needs to be a price at all).
posted by maxwelton at 3:02 PM on May 4


what I hate most about it is the "pick me" aspect

Good lord, that would be just horrible; I'd probably have a panic attack every time I want to give something away.

I find it's all just so much easier to put things in a box, make a post saying "there are these objects in a box at the following location, anyone that wants them, have at it" and then just be done.

...next day, delete the post and toss anything still unclaimed. Never have to deal with a living soul.
posted by aramaic at 3:08 PM on May 4 [2 favorites]


I usually put up a whole bunch of gifts at a time, and make it clear that I am using a random wheel-spin to pick winners. That cuts back on the "pick me" responses. And I stick to the spinner for the most part. If one person wins two big things, I'll respin the second one so that the second big thing goes to another person.
posted by Gray Duck at 3:22 PM on May 4


Okay, I was briefly interested in BN, but the idea of making people plead their case to be given my old stuff fills me with horror. It's a pity, because my formerly exceedingly reliable give-away curb has become much slower and sometimes entirely ineffective due to COVID and the fact that students and staff are no longer using our road to get to SJSU. I ended up having to toss a perfectly good microwave, for example.
posted by tavella at 4:13 PM on May 4 [1 favorite]


Also, I have 3 or 4 one-pound bags of yeast that turned up from delayed orders, after I had already made my yeast run, and I need a way to find a home for those. Might try Craigslist instead, per the suggestion above.
posted by tavella at 4:20 PM on May 4


Freecycle still exists - I got some garden fencing from my local and then volunteered to moderate it, but it’s very quiet. There’s no chit-chat, no competition for items, just wants and offers.

Yeah that's what I don't get about BN that Freecyle solved decades ago: it's a community of no-questions exchange, not of talking about stuff. People comment on other peoples' needs? I want to say that was explicitly banned in the Freecycle manifesto--it's been a long time since I traveled to my local Yahoo Group to see what was going on--and that it was a bannable offense.

I'd assume it's a failure of moderation/leadership that is possibly traceable to cultural differences on FB: it's about connecting people. /zuck

It just sounds like yet another solved problem that rears its head in the Facebook free-for-all (pun not intended).
posted by rhizome at 5:33 PM on May 4


I had never heard of BuyNothing but I do have a handmade "FREE" sign that I have successfully used to get rid of.... a broken cast-iron radiator, a massive antique air conditioner, a hideous cherry red overstuffed sofa, twenty wooden pane window sashes with glass in them, two old very battered wooden panel doors, an empty heating oil tank, a left handed steel bath tub with some chips out of the enamel... Every time I figure people won't take stuff, they take the stuff.

I stack the large junk-like unwanted stuff by the (fairly busy) road, with the FREE sign in front of it. There is a convenient and safe pull-off right beside the stuff so that people can see it and immediately get it. It's magic. I don't leave stuff out for more than two days or UNTIL IT RAINS but people are FAST and they take the stuff. It's also stress-free and no-contact. I don't have to meet anyone or judge who is the "right" person to get stuff.
posted by which_chick at 5:34 PM on May 4 [2 favorites]


My neighborhood’s Buy Nothing Group is great. We’re in a diverse working class neighborhood in a city, and it’s a small enough group that we’ve established hand-me-down pipelines for kids’ clothes and toys and a volunteer network fully stocking the neighborhood’s community pantries and fridges several times a week. I’ve given and/or received furniture, seeds, outgrown kid clothes and toys, blinds, light fixtures, produce, meals, garden hoses, etc., etc. Last year a neighbor was giving away some apples that had gone a little soft for someone to feed to their chickens - I turned them into flavored dried apples and gave them back, and now we’re friends and my kid and her puppy are BFFs. Another neighbor is a single parent in a super stressful sandwich-generation situation, and I’ve been bringing her family school lunch from the local elementary school every day to lighten her load.

My neighborhood is better than average on mutual aid, I think, but Buy Nothing is really improving quality of life here. I’m a little concerned that making it an app would knock out people who aren’t paying for updated smart phones, which would have a big impact here.
posted by centrifugal at 6:01 PM on May 4 [1 favorite]


Our local BN group has a rule that unless there are special circumstances, like you have to get rid of a piece of furniture quickly because you're having something else delivered, you're not allowed to give it to the first person who posts; you're supposed to leave the post for a day or so and let a bunch of people state their interest. The rationale behind the rule is that giving to the first person who posts favors those people who can be online during the day (generally white collar workers) and discriminates against people who can't be online during working hours (blue collar workers, retail workers, etc.). I think that rule makes good sense, especially in a working-class neighborhood. And there's also one lady who is almost always the first one to post. I think she must just sit in front of the computer all day, refreshing.
posted by holborne at 6:34 PM on May 4 [1 favorite]


I imagine there is a BN group in my city but I'm not a part of it. I am a member of the free cycle group which is so dead I'm pleasantly surprised every three months when something gets posted.

I am part of a 24hr bid war group that ends up operating very similar to BN. Most things are listed with FREE starting bids, most items rarely get above ten bucks, and people have been known to refuse payment when you pick things up. And I've got quite a few items for free. Bid priority is by time but the minimum increment is only a quarter so people who see it hours later still have a chance at a pretty minor penalty. The low hurdle of having to pay a pittance pretty much eliminates any of the drama mentioned above.
posted by Mitheral at 6:43 PM on May 4


In the local buy nothing group, you just reply 'interested', no pleading. They do ask that you give it 12 - 24 hours, and try to pick different people to because some people camp out a bit. I use freecycle, as well, it's fairly busy. The major annoyance is the posts asking for very specific stuff. Occasionally someone doesn't get that it's a way to pass along excess goods and not a charity. When I moved, I got rid of some good stuff and some stuff like tons of old New Yorkers, neatly boxed. Post it, someone claims it, leave it on the porch, it goes away. Recently, I got some cool old blueprints that I plan to use as wallpaper.
posted by theora55 at 6:54 PM on May 4 [2 favorites]


As part of my minimalist journey, I've committed to giving away one thing a day on my local Buy Nothing Group. So far I've only had a few items not taken.
posted by Toddles at 9:29 PM on May 4 [1 favorite]


I belong both to a city-wide BN group and a neighborhood one, living in a west-coast city with major income inequality. I’m a bit taken aback that other groups include case-pleading or demands for gratitude - I do see people adding personal notes to their expressions of interest, but everyone does lotteries for offers with multiple interested parties, gratitude is welcome but not compulsory, and both offers and asks come from a wide variety of folks.

I’ve seen wealthy friends ask for dirt and a wetsuit (both were given!); young families and formerly homeless folks asking for whole apartments’ worth of furniture, appliances, linens (people come out with SO much love for these posts!); a Filipino mom asking if someone had a barong that her son could wear to graduation; a sister asking for (and finding) a smoke machine so she could throw her little brother a dance party for his 18th birthday; a mod post encouraging folks to post in non-English languages, followed by an ESL request for a red dress... a neighbor loaned me a hand mixer so I could make my partner a fancy birthday cake. It’s definitely been one of the brighter aspects of panini life for me.
posted by rrrrrrrrrt at 9:35 PM on May 4 [1 favorite]


The only thing that people have not picked up from me are my still! very cute stilettos. I guess no one's wearing them anymore. Or the demographics are not there for it.
posted by toastyk at 9:42 PM on May 4 [1 favorite]


I'm very active in my Buy Nothing group, and gave away a portable air conditioner to a couple with a young baby whose landlord would not allow them to install a window air conditioner. It gets to be 105 degrees here, and she was sweating outside while keeping her baby cool by running the A/C in her car, and was desperate for relief and wasn't even sure if she'd get a response (she asked an admin to post for her).

It was an incredible match, but also I saw the other members come together to offer to set up a fund to buy her an air conditioner, which I thought was very sweet. I bought the portable air conditioner, a few years prior for a housemate that had a cat that worked extremely hard to be an escape artist, but they ended up not using it. Best, most targeted gift ever.
posted by yueliang at 10:34 PM on May 4


My FB neighbourhood free stuff group isn't a BN one, and it's pretty first-comment-first-get, which I 1000%% prefer

The suburb in Stockholm where I used to live has this kind of group and it was great. I missed a lot of things because I don’t live online but I was OK with that. I am planning to start a similar group for the neighborhood I live in now. It is what Swedes call a “mixed” neighborhood, if they don’t call it a ghetto. The neighborhood has a lot of immigrants, a lot of college students, and the worst middle school in town.

There is a citywide giveaway group on Facebook but I don’t want to have to go all across town or anyone else to have to go all across town to donate something or to pick up something. And I don’t want to have to decide randomly or otherwise who gets my stuff. So I am extremely comfortable with just giving it to whomever expresses interest first. It worked in the group I used to belong to just fine. That said, I really appreciate all the stories of how well NB is working for so many of you. Thanks for the post, OP!
posted by Bella Donna at 2:28 AM on May 5


the things people were giving away were mostly actual garbage. One empty toilet paper tube, etc.

Never had a last minute art project for a first grader due tomorrow, I suspect.
posted by BWA at 5:21 AM on May 5 [3 favorites]


I'm increasingly grateful for my area's BN group - they encourage gratitude posts but there's no expectation of it, and strongly encourage simmering but no one is going to grump if you always choose the first person to respond. I usually only get one response anyway so it's not a big deal, but otherwise it's a random number generator for me. My little area is relatively diverse but people still discussed equity concerns when we sprouted. We're moving to a big HOA subdivision in a few months and I'm slightly concerned that I won't like the group as much. I also do a county-wide Freecycle group for things that aren't moving on the smaller group.
posted by brilliantine at 6:34 AM on May 5 [1 favorite]


Long ago we used Freecycle for this sort of thing but that seemed to have just sort of gone away.

I think this is more of a testament as to how Facebook has become "the internet" for so many people, rather than Freecycle's fading away. I'd be far more apt to look into whatever local BN group there might be for me if it weren't for having to visit Facebook to do so.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:37 AM on May 5 [1 favorite]


Local culture matters-- one of my friends tried using freecycle, but got so many no-shows she dropped it.

A fast check suggests that there isn't a Buy Nothing for south Philly.
posted by Nancy Lebovitz at 6:44 AM on May 5


Buy Nothing is the only thing that has tempted me to get back on facebook after a decade away. My local craigslist is super slow compared to what I hear is going on with BN! I kept an eye out for a glider chair for a couple of months - told a friend I never saw any and within a day she found a nice one and kept it on her porch until I could get it.
posted by Emmy Rae at 6:45 AM on May 5 [1 favorite]


I’ve been in two BN groups. One in South Philly where it was surprisingly hard to give stuff away, one here where I don’t even bother commenting on anything interesting or useful because it already has twenty requests five hours after posting, and the poster probably promised it to the first person, the remaining just being “I’d love to be considered if any of the requests above mine fall through.”

I actually love the no-contact thing a lot.

The mods encourage simmering for a day but some folks are in a real hurry I guess? My own algorithm is (a) pick semi randomly, i.e. not from folks whose recent group history is copy-and-pasted “I’ll take it!” with no further explanation, (b) say when I’ll pick, usually 24 hours, (c) say when I’ll move on after not hearing from them, usually 8 hours, which often happens, (d) block anyone who no-shows— I can’t keep up with all that.

Sometimes I like to ask for a pet picture or a hiking trail recommendation or something like that since I’m new to the area, anything to cut down on the swarm of drive-by “I’ll take it!”
posted by supercres at 8:27 AM on May 5 [1 favorite]


A fast check suggests that there isn't a Buy Nothing for south Philly.

Trust me, there are several. Search by neighborhood in the list, but the divisions tend to be a little odd. It’s usually clear in the FB group descriptions.
posted by supercres at 8:32 AM on May 5 [1 favorite]


"So where is our mefi version of this? I'd live to be able to offer fellow mefites some of my curated trash in exchange for a modest donation to the site (if there needs to be a price at all)."
-maxwelton

GimMe
getMe?
posted by Rev. Irreverent Revenant at 6:47 PM on May 5 [5 favorites]


Because of this thread, I just joined Buy Nothing Nashville, which apparently is not a BN group (they say they predate them) but looks very low-stakes/low-pressure. We might be moving sometime in the next six months, so having a place to get rid of things that could still be useful to people seems like a great idea - and unless it turns out they have rules against it not mentioned in their rules post, I'm going to use the random number generator idea.
posted by joannemerriam at 9:43 AM on May 6 [1 favorite]


I've come to rely on our local BN group for a semi-weekly dose of positivity and good vibes. Plenty of kindness in action pretty much all around, people acting like adults, and it makes my day to see an "ask" and be able to say, hey! I've got one of those I'm not using -- and then know it made someone else's day, too. It's honestly one of the few good parts of Facebook for me.
posted by vers at 3:55 PM on May 6 [3 favorites]


My local group like this was good for getting rid of stuff (e.g. a big box of energy-inefficient lightbulbs, half-used cans of paint, boxes of books). But I can't stand to read it, because there's so much anxiety there: people aren't willing to just admit some stuff is garbage and needs to be thrown away. The breaking point for me was when someone listed an open pack of gum, of a brand that hadn't been made for several years.

During the pandemic the group shut down at first, because they didn't want to encourage people doing anything face-to-face. I thought that was odd, because I'd never actually met anyone getting stuff from me: I just put it on my porch, told the person I'd randomly picked what my address was, and then it would disappear.
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:56 AM on May 12 [2 favorites]


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