habit shift: buy nothing.

June 3, 2019
stoop finds | buy nothing project | reading my tea leaves

In Brooklyn, a stoop is not just a noun, but also a verb. To “stoop” something is colloquially understood to mean the act of setting something out on a stoop, or sidewalk, with the intention of giving it away for free. These items sometimes have signs on them. (Faye’s scooter came to us via a stoop and a child-penned sign urging us to make it ours.) Other times, it’s the context that makes it clear something is up for grabs. (Just yesterday we spotted another scooter, one size up from the one Silas has been using, stooped by a generous neighbor among a small pile of other castoffs. Also scooped: two tennis rackets.)

And as some of you probably remember, it’s not just well-loved children’s sporting gear that I like to take home given the chance. Since moving into my first apartment, I’ve made curbside rescues of everything from a dining table to a chifferobe to flower pots and paperback books. Even more often, I’ve said goodbye to things. Cycling out my own books, or crates, or tables, for someone else to enjoy.

To give and receive via stoops is facet of city life that I cherish, but it doesn’t always work perfectly. And in a spot without a ton of foot traffic, sometimes it’s just plain impossible.

Joining a Buy Nothing Group is a solution worth a try. Are you familiar with the Buy Nothing Project? One of my favorite neighbors told me about a local group a few years ago, but I’d resisted joining, feeling like an old-fashioned stooping habit was good enough for me. But last week, after seeing a neighbor leave a particularly abundant cache of stoop treasures behind, I decided to join my local group.

In Buy Nothing Groups, which are hosted through Facebook, neighbors alert each other to items (or skills!) they have to give away, or that they are in need of! The biggest rule is that everything is given freely—members aren’t allowed to buy or trade or sell. (See the full mission and principles.) For my part, I’ve found it especially useful for rehoming items that I’ve been hesitant to pass along via the stoop. A little human interaction goes a long way. Soft goods like rugs or pillows, for instance, might be met with skepticism on a stoop, but when handed off person to person they’re readily welcomed. Recently, James accidentally bought a truly unholy quantity of birdseed. We were afraid that leaving what we couldn’t use on the stoop would mean it getting spilled or trashed, but a quick post to the neighborhood Buy Nothing group, and it was claimed within minutes.

More than just a way to get rid of things, the Buy Nothing Project is the digital answer to putting a silent call out to the universe. Except, even better, the call goes directly to your neighbors. Instead of taking a stroll on a Sunday and wistfully hoping you might come across a wooden fruit crate, you can make your ask directly of your local community instead.

In the past week I’ve seen a neighbor seeking newborn diapers enough to last through one more week of needing them. I saw someone else looking for (and receiving!) a few scoops of potting soil. Someone else borrowed a tablecloth and another person borrowed a cooler. IT’S ALL SO ENCOURAGING, ISN’T IT?

Who’s in?

For the curious:

+ Everything you need to know about the Buy Nothing Project

+ The full list of existing Buy Nothing groups, worldwide.

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  • Reply Jules June 3, 2019 at 2:17 pm

    This sounds like such a great idea but alas, one needs a Facebook acct

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE June 3, 2019 at 2:23 pm

      Yes! It’s kind of fascinating how it’s run entirely through Facebook groups. No doubt there are lots of ways in which that keeps it free and accessible—I can imagine that building the kind of digital infrastructure and platform that a community of this magnitude would require would be exceedingly expensive and difficult to fund—but it would be so appealing if it could be hosted independently!

    • Reply alison June 3, 2019 at 3:15 pm

      Yes, am so bummed by this as someone who doesn’t participate in fb or want an account. I would love to find a local buy nothing group elsewhere 🙁

      • Reply ERIN BOYLE June 3, 2019 at 3:21 pm

        Check out the comments for other folks who have had luck with Free Cycle and Next Door!

      • Reply Amanda Krieger June 3, 2019 at 11:31 pm

        These groups are great. With stooping furniture, are you ever wary of bedbugs!?

        • Reply ERIN BOYLE June 4, 2019 at 9:56 am

          I’m really not worried about bedbugs in things like wooden tables, but I don’t think I’d take anything upholstered.

  • Reply Millie June 3, 2019 at 2:51 pm

    If you don’t want a FB account, Freecycle is another good option I’ve used for years. Excited to try a Buy Nothing group though as it seems even more localized.

    • Reply maryann June 3, 2019 at 3:20 pm

      Another shout out for Freecycle. Also Next Door groups.

      It’s not “stoop” here, its “curb” but same idea. And I have to admit that finding a curbside gem is better than the most exciting purchase any day.

      • Reply Liz June 3, 2019 at 3:50 pm

        Yes! Specifically for NYCers- I’ve been a member of both Queens and Brooklyn Freecycle for years and had lots of great interactions. Great for those of us that aren’t interested in participating in Facebook.

  • Reply Kellyn June 3, 2019 at 2:56 pm

    My chapter (NE Roslindale) has a yearly Halloween costume swap…set up at our local farmer’s market. We’ve also had several neighbors come together for a free tag sale.

    I especially love it for reducing waste – I’ve given away a half bottle of body wash that a house guest left behind that we wouldn’t use. People have gotten leaves for their compost….and I’ve put big asks out there (once for a learning tower) – and someone replied within an hour that they had to gift…and were only a few streets over too!

  • Reply Ariana June 3, 2019 at 3:05 pm

    This is great. This post and your recent writings on sustainable textile recycling, etc. came just a wee bit late for me as it turns out. My husband and I gathered several bags of clothing to donate and had to leave them on our landing (indoors) marked for pick-up by Salvation Army since we couldn’t be home. Salvation Army arrived a few hours later but nothing was there anymore. Apparently someone in or with access to our building decided to take them–to which I at first tried to put my frustration aside recognizing that anyone who took our cast-offs surely needed or at least really appreciated them, which was, after all, the goal in giving them away. Turns out–nope! Most of them (all? it was unclear) were found soiled and ruined and in the trash outside a few days later having been covered in garbage and bad weather. Grr!

    Anyway–I’ll definitely be diving more thoroughly into resources like these moving forward! Thanks for sharing.

  • Reply Kristin June 3, 2019 at 3:08 pm

    Oh, the stoop- it’s been such a great giver over the years. My nightstand, my daughter’s dresser and our kitchen chairs are all street finds that needed minimal amounts of repair. The wonders of moving days in NYC!

    I’ve recently encountered an analog I was previously unaware of- the laundry room table. I recently moved into a larger prewar building with a laundry room (my first in the decade and a half I’ve lived in New York) that has a table set up where people can leave unwanted things for the taking. I noticed that there were quite a few items for a child one size up from mine, that are very up her style alley so I began to grab them, One day, she was helping me do laundry and found a rainbow dress on the table that she loved and was excitedly showing it to me when another little girl and her dad came in to do their laundry. It turns out it was her dress and she was super happy that someone else was going to get to use it because she was sad to outgrow it. The kids then decided that they are now best friends- which has been wonderful to see.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE June 3, 2019 at 3:14 pm

      So great!!

  • Reply Katie June 3, 2019 at 3:24 pm

    Our local Buy Nothing Group (Salem, MA) has been great! The local Mama group that I’m part of does a similar thing on Tuesdays, and mamas post things they need or no longer need (usually related to the too-quickly grown out of children things) and I’ve gotten and given so much there! I’ve also gotten a few friends from gifting and giving (and baring my PPA weary soul), so all around, these types of groups are a win!

  • Reply Tamara June 3, 2019 at 3:49 pm

    I use my buy nothing only infrequently, mostly to ‘stoop’ things, but I love the spirit of it and the creativity and community is inspiring. When I’ve had excess veggies in the garden, I’ve let neighbors come pick when they have a chance. Someone in our group put together a ‘party box’ which is a container of reusable plastic dishes, cups ,utensils, cloth napkins, tablecloth, everything you need for a party, and it travels around the neighborhood as needed. My sisters, who are actual geniuses at buy nothing, have found everything from a sewing machine to canning supplies, to a bike and helmet to plants for the garden and they’ve given away a bunch too. It has the effect of renewing one’s faith in humanity which can be tried these days by even a quick glance at the news.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE June 3, 2019 at 3:59 pm

      I love the idea of the community party box! Fantastic!

      • Reply Kirsten June 4, 2019 at 6:34 am

        Love the Buy Nothing Group! I’ve gotten all kinds of stuff (like kefir granules and kid puzzles and yard stuff!) and passed on everything from the too many spray bottles I have to extra seedlings I started. My fave has been that people are willing to lend. I’ve borrowed someone’s food processor and knitting needles and I just love the trust in strangers that people seem to have.

        • Reply ERIN BOYLE June 4, 2019 at 9:55 am

          Yes!!! The sharing part is my favorite!

      • Reply Katie June 4, 2019 at 8:27 am

        Our Buy Nothing group does a traveling clothes bin and traveling beauty bin (shampoos, body washes, lotions, etc.). We also have one particularly crafty member who has taken peoples old shirts/blankets and made them into shopping and produce totes and given them back out to the group. We have a “traveling bag” that she made for gifting (when you are gifted something in the bag, you then gift out something in the bag, repeat repeat repeat). You sign your name on the bag and what “neighborhood of Salem” that you live in to see how far the bag can get. Cute idea!

  • Reply Dee June 3, 2019 at 4:12 pm

    What a great initiative! I remember in Los Angeles picking up quite a few items of furniture that were cast off on the curb, but a Facebook group for the exchange of goods/services is such a step up from that 😀

  • Reply Jessica June 3, 2019 at 4:41 pm

    We loved our Buy Nothing group in Seattle — it was so well loved and well maintained! In the groups out there, it seemed like the rule was that you had to post something for 24 hours and then randomly choose a winner from the group who posted that they were interested. We acquired and gave away some really lovely things, including spider plant babies, which I’m incapable of allowing to die. I was able to pass along spider babies to 10 or 15 living homes (who now, I’m sure, are producing their own babies). In NYC, I’ve found that the items most often end up going to the first person to respond, though if I was to give something away, I think I’d say up front that I’d be randomly choosing from among those who were interested after 24. It’s a great resource!

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE June 3, 2019 at 5:57 pm

      ah, interesting! it’s only been a week, but i noticed that does tend to be how it goes! going to change up my style and draw randomly from now on!

      • Reply Rachel June 3, 2019 at 6:12 pm

        Yes, this 12-24 hour waiting period is really key in my Portland, OR Buy Nothing group. We like to give lots of people a chance to express interest on an item, not simply the person who happens to be on Facebook all the time and is quick to respond. Sometimes when I offer an item I’ll select randomly, and sometimes my decision will be based on a person’s stated need or planned use. But, if I need to get rid of an item quickly, I’ll say so in the post, and then it will usually go to the first responder. I love my BN group so much! So much kindness and generosity, and it really makes me feel proud of my community.

        • Reply Laurie August 4, 2019 at 9:35 am

          Yes! I love my St. Louis, MO group! We have a strongly encouraged “simmer” policy to let people express interest for at least a day and then the gifter chooses based on cute pet pictures, easy recipe, best knock knock joke or plain old random number generator.

  • Reply steph June 3, 2019 at 4:49 pm

    craigslists free section is also a great resource. it’s my favorite thing about brooklyn and i literally look for reasons to go there just to check out curb finds. i found just what i needed last time – pink tennis balls for my weekly tennis habit. wrote about it here: https://tps-steph.blogspot.com/2019/05/0036-april-favorites.html

  • Reply Jay June 3, 2019 at 5:22 pm

    “James accidentally bought a truly unholy quantity of birdseed.” How did this happen? Please elaborate, Erin! I think there must be a story here 🙂

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE June 3, 2019 at 5:58 pm

      i mean, the story is just not paying attention to the quantity while buying online…

  • Reply kim June 3, 2019 at 6:26 pm

    I’ve also had good luck giving and finding with the craigslist “curb alert” – especially for larger items. The suburban stooping!

  • Reply Alexa June 3, 2019 at 7:04 pm

    I joined one in my neighborhood a few months back. It feels so much nicer to hand someone a book or baby clothes that they are actually on the hunt for than to give these items to goodwill and hope someone will dig them out of a bin. I do find it also creates a feeling of community!

  • Reply Angela June 3, 2019 at 8:54 pm

    Last night I became overwhelmed with the mess in my entry way and thought I’d have to buy baskets, but then I thought “what would tea leaves do!” So I cleaned out a catch-all container I had in the kitchen and surprise – everything in it had an actual home. And the kitchen container became the entry way key holder, sunglasses station and wallet wrangler.

    So yes – adapt the Erin mantra of “how can I maximize this life with minimal purchases/plastic/things.” It really works.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE June 4, 2019 at 9:56 am

      WWTLD! LOVE this so much!

  • Reply Susan Magnolia June 4, 2019 at 12:11 am

    In Berkeley and Oakland people have left a lot of different kinds of free items on the sidewalk. I find it serendipitous to find something walking about and always stop. Once I came home with many cute clothing items that I still wear daily. Recently we have found library boxes popping up all over. It is great for the budding reader in our house to come home with a new book. When we are done with things we feel we have places to re-distrubute them which is great. I am glad to be teaching my child a sharing economy through passing things along so others can enjoy them too.

  • Reply Marine June 4, 2019 at 10:55 am

    Stooping wasn’t so much a thing when we lived on the east coast, but since moving west we’ve discovered many joyful and useful things via stooping just taking walks around the neighborhood. I also joined our local Buy Nothing group, but I’ve found the posting to be far too often, though it doesn’t work as well when you turn off all notifications our apartment complex actually has its own little Free section in the laundry room and that’s been the best solution for leaving things up for grabs or finding small treasures. I love finding something, using it for a bit, and then putting back into the rotation. I also love the idea that everything has a story- who had this before me and why did it stop putting a smile on their face?

  • Reply Rebecca K Ringquist June 4, 2019 at 9:28 pm

    Buy nothing group makes me feel good about humanity. Our chapter here in Portland, OR is very active- both with people giving and receiving, and with people asking for help of all kinds. Just today someone asked for an got help moving a heavy piece of furniture. Someone else was coming down with a cold and another member volunteered to make her a special batch of elderberry syrup. The news is depressing- community taking care of each other is an antidote.

  • Reply jessie June 6, 2019 at 10:41 am

    I am all about free-stuff networking! I am also all about not buying anything….I do not use social media and feel that not using Facebook is a form of political resistance. I see that some others out there may feel the same. So many layers to peel back to get down to the essentials these days. Non-the-less, love the post as we all have a great deal to share with others and gain from others.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE June 6, 2019 at 11:24 am

      Totally understand that perspective! Social media is a large part of my being able to fund my work and make it accessible to the greatest numbers of readers, but I get the resistance to Facebook (among other large corporate entities!)!

  • Reply Whitney Taylor June 17, 2019 at 3:31 am

    I just started using the Olio app. It seems to be growing in San Francisco over the last couple months. It’s mainly designed to reduce food waste but people also post non-food items. Everything offered if free and like others have mentioned with Buy Nothing groups and other resources, I’ve really enjoyed the sense of community that comes from giving things I won’t use to neighbors who will.

  • Reply Carolyn LM August 7, 2019 at 4:05 pm

    Another option that doesn’t require Facebook or an internet connection at all, are the Stop and Swaps run by GrowNYC: https://www.grownyc.org/swap

  • Reply Liz September 18, 2019 at 11:01 pm

    Thank you for sharing the Buy Nothing Project! I found one near me that I am trying to join. I love being able to share my talents and wealth. I didn’t even know a thing like this existed.

  • Reply Judy Baumann October 20, 2019 at 11:43 am

    Love my BN group. I’ve been keeping track this year as my goal is to give away 365 items this year. I’m getting very close! I’m in my seventies and it’s really nice to see that my “extras” and “just in case”s are actually wanted and usable by a neighbor! (And I”ll admit that I’ve received a number of things too. Some borrowed, some kept. Some passed on to someone else after having been enjoyed for a while.)

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