The Buy Nothing Movement Grew to 4M by 2021, Then Went Haywire

'Wired' takes a long look at the history of the community, where it's at now
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 2, 2023 3:15 PM CDT
How the Buy Nothing Movement Went Haywire
Stock image.   (Getty Images / Highwaystarz-Photography)

In 2009, Liesl Clark and Rebecca Rockefeller met through Freecycle, an online gifting forum. Fed up by the strict rules members had to adhere to (the two met when Rockefeller offered some twigs she'd pruned from a shrub and Clark asked for them; the moderator of the group, meanwhile, had chided Rockefeller for listing such a thing), they dreamed up the idea of a new community, one where anyone could ask for anything they needed, and anyone could offer anything they had to give. "Literally, we want people to come in and offer their onion skins and their chunks of concrete," Rockefeller tells Vauhini Vara of Wired in a long look at the history of what they ended up building, the Buy Nothing Project. The first Buy Nothing group was created, on Facebook, for the women's community on Washington state's Bainbridge Island in July 2013.

By the end of that year, there were 78 local Buy Nothing groups, all created with assistance from Rockefeller and Clark, and more than 12,000 members in total. The group continued to grow in size and scope, with people giving away everything from the seemingly insignificant (dryer lint, the fluff from inside a couch) to baby items collected for a baby who was never born (the childless couple ended up giving the items to someone who was collecting them for a pregnant friend who wasn't sure she wanted to keep her baby—then ultimately adopting that woman's baby when the person who took the items connected her pregnant friend with the couple). But as it grew, so did its issues, and the founders ultimately decided to try to take it off Facebook—which they'd never felt was a good fit. What ensued was chaotic, with rival groups cropping up and many critics accusing the founders of trying to profit off a community they'd centered around freely giving. See the full, fascinating story at Wired. (More Longform stories.)

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