I know it’s dramatic to say Buy Nothing changed my life, but if I could name one of the things that unbelievably made me feel closer to my community, reduce my waste, lower my household spending and get cool stuff: it’s Buy Nothing.

In this review of the Buy Nothing Project, I’ll give a glimpse into all the things in my life that I can attribute to Buy Nothing, using the groups in three different cities and how I got my mom hooked as well! Of course, no review of Buy Nothing would be complete without a “Buy Nothing Horror Story,” so I’ll get to that as well.

What is Buy Nothing?

One time I was walking with my friend Melissa in Brooklyn Heights, and she said she was excited to pick up a snack box of Japanese snacks that she had “won.”

That sounded cool. “How did you win this box of snacks?” I asked.

“From my Buy Nothing,” she said, as-a-matter-of-factly.

“What’s… that?” I asked.

“You don’t KNOW?” she answered. And that was the beginning of the day that changed my life.

A few days later, I was accepted into my neighborhood’s Buy Nothing Group (BNG), for Fort Greene, Brooklyn. You see, in Brooklyn, there are so many people for square mile that each neighborhood has its own BNG; otherwise, you’d have 3 million people in a Facebook group and that would be chaos! Buy Nothing Groups tend to be between a few hundred to a few thousand members.

So, what’s Buy Nothing? It’s a movement that started once upon a time, to bring people in communities together and lessen their waste, give away free stuff and receive free stuff as well. Buy Nothing Groups allow you to “ask” for things with an “ISO” (in search of) format, and when you have something to give away, you post a photo and give a general disclaimer about how and when pickup needs to be.

Everything is free. The aim is to “buy nothing.”

My very first experience with Buy Nothing

I hadn’t used Buy Nothing much since being “accepted” into the group, but one day, Dan told me he wanted to go for a run and he needed a super-light rain jacket. He didn’t have one. He wanted to go to REI, and was wondering if it would be even faster to run there than to take the subway there.

“What if I posted on Buy Nothing?” I thought. I opened up Buy Nothing, and like the universe was listening, someone had just posted a photo for a New Balance Men’s size M hyper-light rain jacket. There weren’t too many comments yet, but I posted on the photo, “My husband is looking for one at this very moment, and he can run over and pick it up ASAP!”

I waited a few tense moments, and then received a reply that we had been chosen. In a few Facebook Messenger “DMs” with this person, I gave Dan the address, and he dashed over to this woman’s apartment building where she threw the jacket from the second floor into his arms, on the street.

And that, my friends, is a great Buy Nothing story. The jacket is still in our closet, and it’s the lesson of one (wo)man’s trash being another man’s treasure.

My experience through the years with Buy Nothing

Having had Buy Nothing in my life for four years now, the effects have been absolutely immense.

Buy Nothing didn’t really start becoming a way of life for me until I got pregnant and realized I should start collecting some things for my future baby. I also realized that babies cost a lot of money, as did my pregnancy bills, so I started “throwing my name in the hat” for pregnancy-related items, as well as newborn products in my Buy Nothing Group in Brooklyn.

Sometimes, I’d “win.” So, I’d get on my bicycle and I’d bike over to strangers’ apartment buildings and pick up baby carriers, or pregnancy support bands. I made the tradition of scoring baby clothes on Buy Nothing into one of the interesting things I did during maternity leave as well.

Dan and I moved from apartment to apartment while living in Brooklyn, and our famous move to an apartment 0.7 miles away from our first one was when we first utilized Buy Nothing to purge our kitchen and our closets. We posted a LARGE number of things to my Buy Nothing Group the week before we moved, putting this into one of our best tips for moving apartments.

We gave away everything from vintage kitchen items, to clothing that no longer suited us, and some bathroom or fridge products.

There have been some days when I’ve picked up so many baby products from Buy Nothing that I drive my car to five different houses, picking up anything as small as a bathing suit for my toddler’s pool bag to a gigantic Jupiduu indoor toddler slide. And I’ve given away window blinds, curtain rods, extra baby clothing, blouses, coupons, lightbulbs and so much more.

What do people give and get on Buy Nothing?

Literally everything. Maybe you’ve heard the tall tale of someone giving away a slice of pizza on Buy Nothing. It’s probably true.

I’ve seen “ripe bananas” being given away on my Buy Nothing group (usually someone wants them for banana bread), and I’ve seen luxury-level purses being up for grabs. A lot of the time, people might post something new-with-tags or new-in-bag that was shipped to them by mistake, or something that arrived in the wrong size or wrong color.

Some people give away bed frames, and tables, and sofas and lawn gear. People give away books, and clothes, and diapers, baby formula, dog food and more.

I’ve received clothes, packaged food, baby plates and baby spoons, a toy kitchen, a rocking horse, baby jackets, two baby carriers, candles, body lotion, shampoo, conditioner, bath toys, bath books and a baby toothbrush (silicone). Every time we move, we give away our boxes and packing material on Buy Nothing as well (I can’t bear to see it go right into the trash or recycling).

How much I have I gotten and given on Buy Nothing?

I can’t even put into words how much I have given away, and also, received, on Buy Nothing. I’ve now been a part of Buy Nothing in two different neighborhoods in Brooklyn, and in two different towns in the state I moved to afterward.

As I look around my house, I see things that I’ve gotten from Buy Nothing. These are anything from baby shoes to baby towels, to baby toys, diaper Genie replacement bags, diapers, swim diapers, baby bathing suits, our baby wipes warmer and baby ponytail rubber bands. That’s just the beginning.

If someone asks where I got my child’s clothing, the answer is Buy Nothing: everything from her socks to her onesies. I don’t buy any of it. I buy nothing. It’s not that I’m bragging I haven’t paid for any of it; rather, I’m proud that I’m being a part of eliminating what goes into landfills, as of course, after my daughter is done wearing this stuff, I will pass it on to another family through Buy Nothing.

Photo here: I gave someone on Buy Nothing 8 shoe boxes and left them in the lobby of our apartment building for pickup

Can you borrow stuff on Buy Nothing?

Yes, absolutely. Sometimes I’ll post that I am “seeking to borrow” and that I’m glad to give back the item I’m searching to borrow. For our move, I sought to borrow furniture pads, moving blankets, a furniture dolly and sliders for our dresser. I gave all those things back. It helped me have a one-time-use relationship with them, and not have to hoard them! It was great.

I also think it’s smart to borrow things on Buy Nothing because, for example, babies outgrow things SO fast, and much of the stuff babies use is very temporary. It’s smart to borrow things from your Buy Nothing community for your child, as long as you won’t be wearing and tearing it up. I also have lent out things on Buy Nothing, and have let the person know when I expect them to be given back.

I borrowed a 9-month-old “Cinderella” Halloween costume from someone in our Buy Nothing for my baby’s first Halloween. She wore it for an hour at maximum. We gave it back the next week.

Should you join a Buy Nothing group?

You should join a Buy Nothing group for a few reasons:

  • If you like to get free stuff that you can actually use.
  • If you are willing to walk, drive or bike to pick it up, usually on someone else’s time frame (”I need this to be picked up before Sunday”)
  • If you would like to be giving away things from your home that you don’t want to trash and don’t feel like selling your stuff online, and you’d rather those things go to someone in town or in the neighborhood

You should NOT join a Buy Nothing group if you:

  • Don’t have the time to pick up things you might “win”
  • Only want to receive, and not give (It’s my opinion that everyone who joins should be giving back consistently instead of having a one-way relationship with the group)
  • Aren’t interested in getting free stuff and giving away your free stuff.

I scoured the internet for stories of people who left Buy Nothing, and it seems like everyone has a pretty different experience. For example, my sister says that in her city, there’s nothing really great being posted on her Buy Nothing, and so she never really gets or gives anything at all.

I told her my experience is the opposite: people give awesome stuff away, and I give away great stuff, too. I think it depends on the sheer number of people in the group and what they want the place to be like, for all the members.

There are also stories of people being removed from Buy Nothing groups and the Buy Nothing drama.

I try to steer very clearly away from this type of stuff and I’m just here for the baby onesies and to give away things in great shape that I’m no longer using.

One Buy Nothing horror story

While this story truly isn’t too awful, I’ll tell it like it was: I was giving away something from my Buy Nothing in Brooklyn, and a woman who had picked up from me before was the chosen person I chose for the item.

Because she knew my address, she knew where to show up. But she wasn’t the best at communicating.

I told her she had won the item, and made it clear that I was not home. I’d have to touch base with her about when she could go to my building lobby for the bag that I’d put out.

Much to my shock, I was biking my bike home from work one of the days I went into the office, and got a call from our doorman: the woman was on her motorbike, asking my doorman where I was.

“I can’t believe it,” I told my doorman. “She didn’t even tell me she was coming, and I told her clearly I was at work. I had no idea she’d show up — that was not the plan in the least.”

It was a little freaky that someone showed up at my home asking for me, and, exasperatedly, I told her that I didn’t appreciate her showing up unannounced at my home, whereas I was going to put her bag out later that evening and let her know when it was available.

Regardless, everyone stayed safe and fine and she eventually got what I was going to give her, but the situation gave me quite a surprise. Luckily, she did not mean any harm, and my building was on her way home from work (… or something).

Ground rules and etiquette for Buy Nothing

In my experience, people in Buy Nothing are very polite and understanding if you don’t understand the group rules at first, but there are some things to know.

  • It is not suggested to “DM” the person posting. It is good etiquette to comment on the photo or post, and to be “chosen” for the item.
  • It is suggested to wait a few hours before giving something away to a person you choose from several, as most people do not spend the day on Facebook (they have jobs) and it is more fair to let things “simmer” for a few hours rather than choose the first person who comments.
  • It is recommended to be able to pick up a Buy Nothing “gift” as soon as you can, or as soon as the poster makes it available.
  • It is polite to post a general location when you are giving a “gift” of something free, like a landmark close to your location, so that someone who lives far away can determine that they may not have a chance to make it over to your home to pick it up.

How to join Buy Nothing

Buy Nothing has a website and a Find a Group page. First, find your country on this web page, and then your state. Then, look for your city, or if you’re in a big city like NYC, look for your “neighborhood.”

Buy Nothing Groups are currently all on Facebook, unless there is a green phrase preceding the city name that says an “app group has been established.”

To date, I have not joined the Buy Nothing app; I don’t really have interest in that and I don’t see a need to. My Buy Nothing membership has existed exclusively on Facebook.