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How Buying Nothing Gave Me Everything

Updated: Oct 26, 2018

When I moved into my own apartment after a year of sharing an apartment and two years prior of living in a rent-controlled apartment, I needed to save money. Never had it been more expensive to live solo in Seattle, and yet never had it been easier to get a bunch of free stuff from a Facebook group called Buy Nothing. Buy Nothing is basically a numbers game of how fast and how many people respond to a post of a free item. I quickly figured out the popular posts (plants and alcohol) and the items that weren’t in high demand (bags of clothing). I remember my first pick up: an outdoor chair from a woman I learned was a teacher at a barre studio I’d gone to. That pick-up speaks to all that is good about Buy Nothing: acquiring a gently used item that was no longer of use to the giver but would be useful to the receiver, and a connection within the community.

From that first pick-up, I became Buy Nothing’s biggest fan. My second pick-up was a box of cleaning products including Dr. Bronner’s soap, bleach, and several cleaning sprays and magic erasers. It occurred to me then that Buy Nothing isn’t just a place to acquire desirable things, it’s money in the bank. Without having to buy cleaning products for the foreseeable future, I was saving money. And I was off. A bag of groceries from someone moving out of the neighborhood became two bags when she learned I worked for the company her friend was the CEO of. She even threw in a box or orzo, a bag of almond flour, and smoked salt. When I picked up a pink Lululemon water bottle, I was touched to see it wrapped in heart tissue paper and tucked in a brown paper bag that had my name on it. I took it straight to yoga in the park and texted the giver yogi and Namaste emojis with a picture of the bottle on my yoga mat. When I picked up a huge bag of fresh, organic basil on a front porch, I saw the giver inside the picture window, illuminated by the TV. It was my first, real time, face-to-face interaction on a pick-up. We smiled. I waved and mouthed a big “thank you” before tucking the basil into my bag and walking over to a friend’s house.

The immediacy of Buy Nothing astounds me. One time I saw a post for an outdoor chair and cat tree and not fifteen minutes later a woman in a motorized wheelchair zipped past my window with the cat tree on her lap. Done and done. Another night I was lying on my floor drinking a gin & tonic, watching Sex and the City when someone posted a pic of the jumbo, fair-trade, non-GMO, lavender shampoo and conditioner I’d been coveting. I jumped on it and won. I grabbed my backpack and hopped on my bike for the two-minute ride to his house. Three minutes later I was back in my apartment, hitting play on the DVD player. And there were Carrie and Big, right where they left off, except now I had lavender shampoo and conditioner. I set the bottles on my shag rug, admiring their statuesque shapes and on-trend, pastel packaging. “Fastest Buy Nothing ever!” I texted to the giver, and took a sip of my G&T. The ice had barely melted.

Other than being too slow to jump on the cat tree, I was on a roll. I picked up an unopened bottle of soy sauce. I was even the first to bid (and win!) four beautiful wedges of Whole Foods cheese, two unopened, totaling over $30. One Monday night a woman was offering bouquets of marigolds and loaves of Sea Wolf bread left over from a wedding. The group was invited to pick up one of each, per person. I was amazed—later that night as I looked around my apartment filled with mason jars of orange marigolds while I ate buttered artisan bread—that I could be coming home from another “manic Monday,” and my evening could totally change. Once a woman posted that she’d put out a box of organic sage from her garden, free for the taking. I biked over to grab a few handfuls. That night I sat on my porch wrapping the bundles in twine to make smudge sticks. I was becoming one of those community-focused, free-spirited, grateful, witchy women who sat outside watching the world go by. Buy Nothing was actually shifting how I looked at the world.

But I didn’t just get. I gave too. I gave my most favorite VHS tapes, hair dye, a queen mattress, filing systems that once held old car insurance papers, and cat toys and cat-themed gifts I decided were no longer adding to my life. I not only gave, but marketed these items, posting photo captions like “Hello Kitty cat fun pack. Come and get it right meow!” Every item was picked up. Some even got a laughing face emoji that made me feel even more a part of the community.

Buy Nothing has given me more than flowers and food, beauty products and beautiful water bottles, it has given me a sense that no matter what happens to me—no matter what happens to any of us—there will always be people ready to help. And these people and their gifts, whether they’re a bottle of soy sauce or a bike that changes how you move through the world, are available to you from open hearts. You just have to look for them. Or, as an ex-boyfriend of mine used to say, “you’ve got to A-S-K to G-E-T.” I’d tossed my hat in the ring on many posts. Some I’d won, some I’d lost, but most importantly I was a part of the game. I was a member of my community. And as I moved through my community on a walk, run, bike ride, or drive in my friend’s borrowed Prius, I reflected on that gratitude. Finally I live in a neighborhood where I know people… my friend who lives one block up, another three blocks up, another eight blocks up, and yet another twenty blocks up. They’re my friends and now there are more: people with herb gardens, discarded chairs, and uneaten cheese. I am so grateful they’ve given me their things. So grateful they’ve said “you’re welcome” while I gasped with gratitude. That’s all it is, friends: Don’t give too much. Don’t take too much. Except when you really need to—then you can take a little more. There’ll be a time to give back, when you’ll say “you’re welcome.”

Thank you, Southwest Ballard Buy Nothing, for everything.

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