A Peek Inside the Local 'Nillionaire' Economy 2

Facebook Group Gives, Goes Green and Builds Community

We’re all trying to “manage our stuff.” Between kids, jobs, hobbies and homes, life lends itself to an infinite stream of goods, coming and going—especially during these holiday seasons.

Try to donate or consign Dad’s vachetta leather club chair, c.1974, or Lucy’s plush coat that’s missing one button! “They won’t take my stuff!” is a common cry here in the Roaring Fork Valley. Sourcing things can be a challenge. Needing only a yard-and-a-half of upholstery fabric or quality stackable milk crates becomes a scavenger hunt. So people often turn to resale shops—only to encounter sticker shock. Consignment is a business after all, and even resale can seem pricey to some—considering that it’s, um…used.

Sound familiar? Hit up BuyNothingProject.org. The Buy Nothing Project (BNP) addresses all of the above, almost effortlessly, through “group pages” on Facebook. According to BNP’s website, it offers “people a way to give and receive, share, lend, and express gratitude through a worldwide network of hyper-local gift economies in which the true wealth is the web of connections formed between people who are real-life neighbors.” BNP has a cultish following—over 1,500 groups in 17 countries. More than 300,000 members!

Sarah Rankin Gordon experienced the free ride of abundance and connection while living in Oregon. “In Portland, everyone’s always working on some cool project or other,” she laughs. “Recycling and repurposing are a big part of how they operate—it becomes a part of the story.”

After moving back to Glenwood Springs last year, Gordon now helms the group here. Thankfully so! Buy Nothing Roaring Fork Valley, CO is a gratifying reprieve from the sinking embarrassment of having sentimental favorites declined by consignment shops because of slight wear. When beloved things are good quality, it’s hard to simply throw them away. Besides, environmentally speaking, there is no “away”. Surely someone would want this…?

“Years ago, a close family member found a bleached animal skull on the beach in Baja. They gave it to me, and although I spent two years trying to figure out what to do with it, nothing clicked,” Gordon recalls. It sat in her basement for two years, under-appreciated.

A body wants to pass things on, but how?

“When I decided to offer the skull on the Buy Nothing page of North Portland, Oregon, I was shocked when I received over 20 replies, each describing the diverse ways they would treasure it: skull altar, jewelry display, candle holder, windowsill decoration, planter…the list was like an episode of the TV show Portlandia,” Gordon exclaims. “I have a Bachelors in Biology and a Masters in Environmental Science, so I loved the idea of giving it to one of the five science teachers that requested it. I put their names in a hat and randomly selected one. I explained to the whole group of 20-plus [members] how I made my selection and met the selected teacher a few days later. After the gift exchange, the teacher posted a kind thank you on the page, explaining how excited her students were studying the skull, curious and inspired to determine what kind of animal it could have been.”

BNP culture reminds people: “You’re talking to your neighbors in this group, so take the time to use full sentences, a bit of personality, and even humor. Acronyms and abbreviations are all about making it quick and easy to get stuff. We’re not about the stuff, we’re about the connections formed between people, and that’s where whole words make a huge difference. Saying things like “Winner!” or “ISO” doesn’t help us see each other as real people and neighbors.”

Our stories do matter. It’s our stories that move us from strangers behind garage doors to neighbors asking for a cup of sugar. In this spirit, Buy Nothing asks us to “Leave your posts up. Don’t delete them, just edit them to say something like ‘This item has found a new home,’ or ‘Request fulfilled, thanks!’ Our posts become our shared narrative.”

The conversations on the Roaring Fork group’s page are colored by the talents, curio and esotera of your neighbors from Rifle to Aspen:

  • “Gifting free guitar lessons to a student in need or without direction, desiring structure…”
  • “Free piano! In great condition. We really need to move it and sadly it will go to the dump soon.”
  • “I wanted to get rid of my mosaic stuff since I no longer have time for this art. I posted it to give away. Found a lovely local stranger who was interested. Turns out my Seattle niece was marrying her Glenwood nephew in Redstone the following week. Small world. She is going to mosaic a cement sofa in her garden. Yay! Recycle.”

Stuff needs somewhere to land, too. The Buy Nothing Project hugely encourages “the ask”:

  • “We’re looking for a wooden TV tray or similar side-type table. We are creating a seasonal nature table. Thank you!!”
  • “My daughter would like to ask for some extra large boxes such as refrigerator boxes. She is planning to build a castle.Thanks!”

Scrolling the group’s Facebook wall is a peek into the very real lives of the asking, giving, taking, creating, playing, building, fixing, collecting, reading, cooking going on behind lit windows and closed doors. These stories and endeavors fill back yards, reach over fences, and spill across alleyways.

You might guess that whatever Aspen’s vibing on may be worlds apart from that of New Castle or Carbondale—and it may be a heck of a drive for the hand-off. BNP shoots “to connect real-life neighbors”.

“When a group reaches over 1,000 members, it’s highly likely that we will transform it into smaller groups devoted to more hyper-local neighborhood regions,” says Gordon, who administers the Buy Nothing Roaring Fork Valley group from down valley. She’s happy to ponder a Basalt group or Silt group taking off on its own.

If you would like to start a Buy Nothing group, visit BuyNothingProject.org and click “Start a Group.” In the spirit of spending nil, ask and give whatever the heck you want. Welcome to the underground ‘nillionaire’ economy!