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Buy Nothing, Find Everything Imaginable: Facebook Group Authentically, Naturally Builds Community, Nurtures Connections

Buy Nothing, Find Everything Imaginable: Facebook Group Authentically, Naturally Builds Community, Nurtures Connections

Need something? Anything!? Buy Nothing Cambridge and the people who make it thrive are here for you!


Imagine. Imagine needing a thing. It can be any thing: a toaster oven, a cup of sugar (“I don’t need a whole bag to make flan.”), an apple for a new, mostly-tofu recipe, a replacement part for that super old thing that they don’t make replacement parts for anymore.

Now, imagine putting out a message on a social media page saying you need that thing, probably why you need it, and having anywhere from one to thirty people replying: “I’ve got an apple!” “I’ve got that replacement part hanging out in my basement.” “Sure! I’ve got an old toaster oven. It’s yours!”

Now.... imagine you have something. Could be anything: a sofa that doesn't fit in your new digs, a sentimental piece of jewelry from your grandma, a pair of pants you no longer wear, leftover food from a party. Kids stuff. Anything. And you post that item on this same social media page, asking if anyone wants it. And you get anywhere from one to twenty-five replies, most people telling you why your item would be important to them: “We have guests coming into town and need a sofa for them.” “I think that pin from your grandma is LOVELY. It reminds me of my own grandmother, and I’d love to give it a new home.”

NOW.... imagine you go over to the giver’s house to get that cuppa sugar so you can make flan. “Hey, thank you so much!” Or someone comes to your house to pick up that piece of jewelry you are parting with. You say “hello!” You chat a bit. Find out things in common with that person. That person might be someone you’ve given to or gotten from dozens of times over, or it could be a new person, no longer a stranger. No longer a stranger.

Now you know something about that person - what they like, what they need, what they offer, how they offer it.

Now. Imagine you have lost your job. Out of the blue. Total surprise. And you are struggling. Now you need some other things – food, clothing for a job interview, a winter coat. (Well, you need a job, too, that’s true.) You post the things you need, and suddenly people are posting to offer you gift cards to grocery stores, clothing you need. Or, remember that horrible fire over the East Cambridge line on Berkshire Street? Someone posts about it and tells people how to donate needed items for it. Now people are really working together. No longer strangers. No longer strangers.

Imagine. Imagine all of this.

Now imagine all this happens within the miles, neighborhoods, streets, blocks, houses, apartments of Cambridge - your city.

You’re imagining the vibrancy of Buy Nothing Cambridge, a Facebook group from the national Buy Nothing Project. Buy Nothing is a growing, interactive part of Cambridge’s gift economy – people giving just to give. Receiving what we seek. Taking the risk of asking, and being deeply touched by the wealth of outpouring generosity.

Lisë has been a member of Buy Nothing Cambridge for over three years. She has given and received many items. At one point, she needed an iron. She posted that need, and a BNC member found one, tested it, and gave it to her. “It has a very communal feeling. Things can make us happy. Relationships make us happy. In this group there are personal connections that are more than getting a box of stuff. The giving and receiving connects us with people who live in different part of the city, as well as with people in our immediate neighborhood.” Lisë notes, too, that you can review what you’ve given over time, and kind of have a life review in that process. “My first gift I gave was some spice jars. I remember that time in my life when I had those jars,” Lisë recalls. “I no longer needed them, and it made me happy that someone else could use them.”

A newer member - Linda - appreciates BNC for its resourcefulness, knowing that, if you need something, someone very likely has it and will give it or lend it to you. “Buy Nothing is not just the giving. There’s lots of lending and borrowing that happens.” Other members, she notes, are there for you, and you are there for others. “And it’s not just the physical things. It’s the relationships. The physical things are secondary to the relationships. You get to know people by what they post and by meeting them during [home-based] pick ups."

Sophie, another relatively new member, also values many different facets of BNC. "I've always been frugal, and BNC certainly fits in with that." But, beyond that, she appreciates the human connections of BNC. "It makes sense to provide for each other." She has met many new people, and loves the community. "It's widening my community one ice cube tray at a time," humorously referring to an item someone might ask for or offer on BNC. "And you make many little connections over shared items."

I, myself, have been a BNC member for just about five years. I've offered many dozens of items, and received about the same in number, and I remember them all warmly. There are items I've really needed (like a Kindle to read on), items I've just wanted (like a covered ice cube tray). There are items I've given to people who really needed them (like an eye testing card to track the recovery of vision), and items someone has just truly wanted (like a pretty, little bowl). Need, want, whatever, these offerings and receivings all matter. There's a clear generosity of spirit within BNC that you can benefit from and be grandly a part of. You. You can make a difference in others' lives, and you can be touched by others' generosity.

Buy Nothing Cambridge has existed on Facebook since 2014, and has grown in popular use, capping at this point at roughly 3700 members. No more members will be added to the original Buy Nothing Cambridge Facebook group. HOWEVER, there is a new branch-off group – Buy Nothing Cambridge #2 – sprouting and growing to welcome others in Cambridge who want to be part of this community process. Who want to share what they have, to receive what they need. Who want to create friendships, and feel and be important in such a group. As of this writing, Buy Nothing Cambridge #2 has nearly 400 members, and its members are eager to see it grow.

Growing this group is key to its success, so look to join. You can join if you have a Facebook profile) and live in Cambridge. The boundaries of Cambridge (and every Buy Nothing-based city or town) are carefully respected to prevent spread, so just be sure you have a Cambridge address. Go to that group site and request to join. One of the BNC #2 admins will take it up and get back to you.

And, once you’re in the group, poke around your place to see what you can offer! No need to be shy! Almost everything you have to offer will be wanted or needed by someone! I’ve seen single blank spiral notebooks offered that have been scooped up. Hats, pieces of furniture, televisions. The range of size and monetary value is huge. It’s all part of the generosity/need cycle. And ponder what you need. Again, could be anything – a pen, a pad of paper, AA batteries. A toaster, an apple, a cane to borrow for your sprained ankle. A warm “Hello!”

Buy Nothing, find everything imaginable!