Decluttering, clearing out, minimalizing, sorting – these words sound so good and spark interest in many of us. Especially during the last year and a half, with spending more time at home and turning our homes into work offices and school rooms, we need to reclaim spaces in our homes for different uses. We want the calmness of less stuff. And all those unwanted things in the way have to GO.

But what do you do with all the stuff? Consignment stores and donation centers are so full of unwanted items right now, many of them are not accepting more donations. You can haul a load to a landfill, but that seems such a waste for usable items that still have lots of life in them – just not in your house.

One solution that is taking hold and becoming more and more popular is to post your discards on a Buy Nothing Facebook Group, and give them to someone who wants them.

The Buy Nothing Project was started by two friends, Rebecca Rockefeller and Liesl Clark in 2013 in Bainbridge, WA. Their mission is to help neighbors form hyper-local groups where members can offer others free items or ask for something they need. Posting an item allows the giver to get rid of something easily and quickly, knowing that it is getting a home with someone who is saving the cost of buying something they need. And maybe two neighbors will meet each other and form a connection.

Their rules are simple: “Post anything you’d like to give away, lend or share with neighbors. Ask for anything you’d like to receive for free, or borrow. Keep it legal. No hate speech. No buying or selling, no trades or bartering. We’re strictly a gift economy.”

Right now, access to Buy Nothing groups is only on Facebook. You have to be a resident in the neighborhood covered by a group to be eligible to join it. Go to the Buy Nothing Project website and check the map to see if there is a Facebook group in your area. Baltimore and the surrounding counties have been a bit late to the game and sparse, but new groups are forming all the time. If you don’t have a group close to you, you can check their procedure and rules for forming a group for your area. They offer plenty of help and support to set up a group – their Buy Nothing Academy guides you step by step how to do it.

The Buy Nothing Project is developing an app for members to use outside Facebook. It is currently in the beta phase of testing in several cities and they hope to launch it soon to the 45,000 people who are on a Wait List for it.

I joined my local Hereford Buy Nothing Group about a year ago and have had a mostly good experience with it. I’ve posted furniture, mirrors, holiday decorations, fabric remnants, wood pallets, plumbing tools (have no idea where we ever got those), kid’s toys, etc. Most got a bunch of eager “Interested” comments right away. There is no rule that the item has to go to the first person who responds – you can pick a recipient. I’ve skipped over people who I recognize as “Interested” often on items, but then later say they’ll pass, and I’ve chosen people to get something if they added a comment about why they really wanted it.

If you want re-homing to be as easy and smooth as possible, here are a few tips:
Write the most comprehensive description you can, giving measurements, estimated weight if it’s heavy, what kind of material, model #, age, condition, maybe a website link to a manual if applicable, anything you can think of that you might ask if you saw this item and you were interested. It will save you from answering questions one at a time.

In the description, I always add that preference will be given to someone who can pick up in the next few days. Otherwise, you’ll get requests to hold it for a week or two while they try to get a friend to help pick it up.

If your Buy Nothing Group area is large, which can happen in the suburbs, give an approximate location so people have an idea how far they will have to drive to get it. I always say that they have to bring help with them to load.

After you pick a recipient, change your post to say “Pending Pick Up,” so more people won’t be asking questions and if it’s still available. And once it’s picked up, delete the post.

You have the option for the recipient to pick up at your home or another location. Give your address and contact info through a later private communication (don’t post it in the group!). Or if you don’t want someone coming to your home, you set up a time and local place to meet and hand off. I prefer to give my address for driveway or porch pick up, put the item out there in a waterproof bag, and not have to set up a time for a meeting (see “no shows” below).

When I said I’ve had a “mostly” good experience with Buy Nothing, there have only been two drawbacks – a minor one and a really annoying one.

The minor one is the questions – it’s amazing how many questions someone can ask about a free full-length mirror, or votive candle holders.

The really annoying one is the no-shows. Probably half the items that I’ve listed have not gone to the first recipient who said they wanted it, on the day they said they’d pick it up. So when you list an item and someone says they are in the car and picking it up in 20 minutes, don’t delete the post or the photos until they actually show up and get it. You may be reposting.

I’ve met a few neighbors and had some good conversations through giving away things we no longer want. Particularly last year during COVID, some of those encounters outside in the driveway were very welcome.

We have spaces opened up in the garage and other rooms that were taken up by things too good to throw away, but not what we needed. And I hope someone tackled that old oak dresser I never got around to painting and it’s perfect, and made the doll from the doll kit, and knows what all those cables in a box were good for, and has plans for new decorations at their house for the holidays!

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