The last time Buy Nothing was in the news, two things happened: our group (along with some others) got flooded with requests to join because everyone wanted to be the Frugalwoods (who are very inspiring by the way) and on the other hand, my beloved “Opinionated Cambridge” quickly polarized with one self-righteous group started an uproar of discussion criticizing the Frugalwoods… among other things, for graduating debt-free and owning real estate in Cambridge. Go figure.
I will just say that I have met the Frugalwoods and especially Mrs. F seems like a delightful person and their journey could be very inspirational to some people. But the biggest takeaway from her blog and lifestyle is “to each, her own”. So why copy and/or judge? Now to jump on to my own Buy Nothing story.
The local Buy Nothing group is my village. You know, sometimes, living in a country where you were not born in, is not easy. No matter how long you’ve lived there or what your legal status is or how connected you feel to the pulse of the socio-eco-political culture. If you don’t look like them, dress like them or go to their church, it is easy to feel a little ostracized from time to time- don’t let anyone tell you that doesn’t happen. You see a somewhat muted version of that in places where most people are transplants or where the natives are so used to seeing transplants, it bothers them that much less. That is only one of the reasons we embraced Cambridge and it, us. The mildly eccentric, thoroughly opinionated, deeply activist nature of super diverse Cambridge amused us, the dog-loving, Nature-enjoying, somewhat down-to-earth fraction of it attracted us and eventually the Buy Nothing group is what made it whole-. it turned my neighborhood into my community.
I was intrigued and inspired by Buy Nothing right from the name; and then some more because Liesl Clark and Rebecca Rockefeller (the women behind Trash Backwards) have time and again produced and implemented phenomenal, globally applicable, community-transforming ideas. Trash Backwards was so close to my heart, lifestyle and for a brief period, livelihood too.
Finally my grownup world was recognizing my familial culture, embracing the principles I had grown up with. The Buy Nothing Project might be a newer initiative, but minimalist, less greedy, frugal living is age old; and I grew up with parents (and grandparents) who taught me to value what I have, ask less and never waste. Living a life of gratitude is my everyday motto. Please don’t get me wrong, I did not grow up in deprivation, in fact, I had everything I needed and then some. I grew up in a family that could afford wishes and wants. I know people who’ve had delicious treats like career connections, real estate and generous child care support handed to them on a golden platter, my gifts might have been modest in comparison to theirs, but what I got, more than sufficed.
Buy Nothing did more for me than reinforce my frugal mindset. Yes, both my son and husband got not-bought gifts this year. (My son got a “Where is baby’s birthday gift?” book that he still loves and reads, 10 months after his 1st birthday and my husband got a semi-functional telescope, which kept him excited for a while, which was totally worth it)
Buy Nothing gave me friends and a safety net. When we were being harassed by someone enough to have to report to the cops and consider moving, a couple Buy Nothing members I felt comfortable sharing these incidents with, offered me solace and acceptance. They offered prayers and hugs and the option to temporarily move in with them (we didn’t), so we were safe from the harassment.
When we were staging our home for photos, we needed a place to store some of the clutter (home – clutter = museum). Storage pods were not a possibility because the narrow city street we lived on was undergoing a long construction project. Our Buy Nothing neighbors opened up their basements to host the odd things and kid’s toys.
As we needed to upgrade appliances, our new fridge was scheduled to arrive the day of our first open house, DURING the open house….and we were unable to reschedule it. So where were we to put the meals that we cooked in advance so the house wouldn’t steam up during the weekend-long open house? Buy Nothing to the rescue again. A neighbor who was up late saw my frantic post, lent me her ice boxes at midnight and saved the deliciousness that nourished us and baby for the next few days.
One neighbor helped me make cuttings from the tree I couldn’t take with me. Someone else offered to watch my bunnies, when our temporary apartment threw a surprise at us last minute and said they wouldn’t allow them.
Several offered to watch my son while I packed. A couple offered to cook us meals. (We didn’t ask for any of that and didn’t take them either but the gesture, the thought itself warmed us!)
A few dropped off items for me that I had no time or means to go and pick up, some picked up items on their way from me to donation drives- errands I was stretched too thin for. Two neighbors hosted my plants.
One dropped off flour and cocoa on my porch because it was my birthday and I had already packed up all my baking goods. (If you’re reading this, you already know you’re more than just a Buy Nothing member.)
Yes we have friends and neighbors outside of Buy Nothing, who’ve helped us a tremendous amount and I definitely would not be able to survive this time without my mother’s support. But this group needs to be called out with special accolades, because they owed me nothing, they were not not friends, coworkers, classmates, they were “just” neighbors, distant ones too, some I had met only a couple times, most only virtually (online). They knew nothing about me but my scanty, curt public Facebook view. And I truly have no words big enough to capture the generosity they showered on us.
Besides the harassment and the subsequent angst of readying our home just to let it go, the emotional tear of selling our first home, the exhaustion of moving with a toddler + 3 pets while starting a new job and the desperation of leaving the nest I had my baby in, we were dealing with logistical roadblocks in every direction, which included the sudden loss of a close family member. Among other things that meant, single parenting + fire fighting while my husband attended to his family half the globe away. Wherever it could go wrong, it had. Push-backs and stressors were ample from every conceivable direction.
However, now that a lot of it is simmering down, it feels like it turned out ok. Maybe not all of it, but some of it. Bottom line- we got through it. Almost. A lot of sleepless nights and dead-on-the-feet afternoons, but a lot of trust restored in humanity in the process.
Even before the crazy months started, the generosity had been diverse, sometimes surprising and always heartwarming…from hand-knit hats, to bread-making classes. They were banding together for donation drives and helping each other move mountains, survive crises and change the world for each other, on a daily basis. These neighbors gave more than their things, they offered rides, shared home brews, swapped recipes, lent tools, went on mom dates (sometimes without kids), shared interests, connected on commonalities and became friends. (Trust me, when someone offers to bring you chocolate after hearing you’re on your couch struggling through PMS, she is your friend, not just a Buy Nothing member. Yes, you- thank you!)
Buy Nothing enriched us as a community. Not only did we get the opportunity to connect with like-minded people but this little project about a gift economy had a much wider impact- It made generosity a habit.
By making it easy to give, it also made it easier to ask…. especially, by taking away need-based choosing of recipients. Asking, for so many of us, can be a huge cultural and/or psychological burden; sometimes being tainted with the notion of “need”, it gets even harder.
Buy Nothing made it easier to give up things too. It made us less clingy about our stuff and not just what we want to offload, but stuff we often hold on to for that future what-if-we-need-it-again scenario. Sound ludicrous? Imagine this: I’m temporarily quitting coffee (hypothetically speaking, of course) and I have no use for my espresso machine anymore, so I can gift it to someone who can use it now, rather than holding on to it for that uncertain future, when I might want coffee again. I know if and when I do, the community will have a machine that will brew me the perfect cup. Buy Nothing offered a sense of security in the form of a community, something we tend to want from our belongings. And with that sense of trust, a tiny population slowly but surely, is moving towards less holding on to stuff and more on to people around them. Buy Nothing made trusting cool again. Of course, this will help lower the burden on landfills somewhat, of course it will save money if you didn’t have to buy it, of course it will lengthen the life of goods. But more importantly, it makes “giving” a second nature, an action that doesn’t need deliberate thoughts. Giving begets giving, generosity breeds itself.
And that is how Buy Nothing saved us.