I know that title sounds like clickbait, but hear me out!
Have you ever heard of Freecycle or Buy Nothing Project? Each are worldwide organizations created in order to waste reduction within your local community. Some people call these types of communities a “gift economy.” It’s all about sharing your unwanted used items (or, you know, the ones you planned on using, but didn’t) with your neighbors. Instead of donating the items you no longer need or want to Goodwill, you’re giving directly to a neighbor or someone in your town, with the possibility that you’ll receive something else you want or need for free as well.
For the record, I’m all about local thrift shops, but there’s none of those left in our town. They’ve been replaced with TWO Goodwills, a national organization with some pretty sketch business practices.
A few years ago, I was invited to join a gift economy Facebook group for the next town over. I was disappointed to find that our town didn’t have the same resource available. It did have a Buy Nothing group for my small area within the town, but people didn’t post as frequently and when they did, I was likely to see the post after someone else had already claimed the item.
If You See a Need, Make it Yourself
A friend of mine was moving from this neighboring town to mine, and decided she wanted to start a similar group. She reached out and met with one of the admins to uncover what made their group work so well while the Buy Nothing groups in our town didn’t have the same post rate.
What she found out is that the neighboring town used to have a Buy Nothing group, but the organization limits how many members can be in a single community. Once the cap is met, a town is broken down into smaller regions for separate groups. Members reached out to leaders of the org to ask if they could make an exception, they would not, so they decided to make their own group. The locally grown group became so popular that it replaced the smaller regional groups.
Gift Economy Fun
One of the things that differentiates the nearby town’s local group from bigger orgs is that they don’t give on a first come, first serve basis. As we were planning ours, I pointed out that that was a huge factor in the success of the local group. Because many people are expressing interest in items over 24 hours, there is an increase in comments and a push on Facebook’s algorithm. More visibility encouraged more posts and more comfort with a foreign thing–people generally aren’t comfortable asking strangers for free stuff, after all!
We ask members to wait 24 hours to select a recipient of what they’re giving away, and leave it up to the person giving to decide who they will give it to. It can be a friend of theirs, they can use a random number generator, or if someone says something that stands out “I was just looking for this in a store!”…really any reason at all. After all, it’s their stuff!
Wait, What Kinds of Things are Free on a Gift Economy?!
Anything you’re willing to part with! From large background playgrounds down to bananas that your Instacart shopper got by mistake. Sometimes people are doing crafts and they ask for things like jars or paper towel rolls. Ping-pong tables, excess construction supplies, tons of children’s items, kitchen appliances–in fact, just today I saw a literal kitchen sink!!
The biggest hit I remember seeing in the neighboring group’s Gift Economy was a legit Louis Vuitton purse with some pen mark on the outside. Came with the paperwork and dust bag and all! There were hundreds interested in it as a give.
How to Start Your Own Gift Economy
It’s really as simple as starting a private Facebook group.
Have a couple of friends help you out with admin and moderating duties. The group is straightforward but we have had to remove a few people for being outside of the boundaries and also one real looney toon who couldn’t follow the rules no matter what we said.
Think of a name and logo. I created ours with some input from my cofounder. It’s called Fairfield Shares.
Make sure you have rules in place. See ours below.
As the group starts up, you may have to reiterate the rules many times. We post weekly-ish announcements to remind people of rules. When someone breaks a rule, we comment publicly to tell them which rule they’ve broken so that others will have more awareness of the expectations. Every rule has good reasoning behind it.
Invite anyone who might be interested in free stuff!
A New Fav
Over the weekend, I got my favorite share yet (and, let’s be honest, likely ever: this very fancy vintage fountain from Robert Compton in Bristol, Vermont.
I added it to my sunroom-turned-painting-studio/mudroom (I call it the shoe-dio, because it’s for painting but also where the shoes go) and it’s so peaceful that I want to spend all afternoon in there.
Mine was created in the eighties. It was owned by a lovely couple and before them, her mother. But I was surprised to learn that the artist still makes and sells these super unique fountains!
If you have a duel passion for community and sustainability, ME TOO! If you’d like more information about setting up a similar local group in your area or amongst your friends & friends of friends, ask me any questions you may have in the comments below.