May marked my fourth month and third place living in a coronavirus-affected world: Portland. The long-awaited return to the locked-down city I love has been both exciting and depressing. However, in a week’s time, May changed from being just another month of this shit to the month Joey and I got our own apartment, and the combined distraction and small return to some sort of normalcy has been huge for my sanity.
In addition to my improved mental health, I have finally been able to start implementing some simple living lifestyle practices I have been jotting down and wanting to try for months: I planted tomatoes on our balcony; made cleaner; I have been furnishing our apartment secondhand; I joined a Buy Nothing group.
If you ears perked up at “Buy Nothing,” read on.
I can’t remember where I initially heard about the Buy Nothing Project, but after mentally noting the organization that first time, I regularly heard reference to it in sustainability books and podcasts. The premise is this: give generously to your neighbors. Buy Nothing Groups are hyper local “gift economies.” You join your local group on Facebook, and neighbors share and offer excess; everything from furniture, to food, to clothes, to time.
Unwritten, but running through the bloodlines of the group are tenants of simple living: don’t take more than you need; re-home used items you are finished with; waste less; borrow; share.
I have received planter pots, tomato starts, and overflow produce. I have given books and kitchen utensils, electronics and clothing—all perfectly usable things I simply do not need anymore. And all things that I would have ordinarily donated to Goodwill, that may or may not have ever found a new home again. In addition to being generous, the group is sustainable: it is giving new, immediate life to your things, and preventing someone else from having to buy it new.
But really, more than any specific free item, or even the sustainability aspect, what I truly love about the group is seeing how generous people can be, and the positivity that this generosity fosters. In the two weeks I have been a member of the group, I have seen my neighbors offer to bake and decorate cakes for others’ quarantine birthdays and anniversaries; I have seen others offer to make masks and pick up groceries. It is more than just free stuff. It is a network of perpetually paying it forward.
In today’s climate of Twitter wars, internet trolls, violence, and aggression, there is something so incredibly refreshing about being part of a community group centered on being kind to one another. People talk to each other courteously; what a concept! During this pandemic, when people cross the street when they see someone coming and glare at anyone who sneezes in the grocery store, there is something affirming about a place where individuals maintain their humanity. There is a comfort in knowing good neighbors are just down the street.
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Some additional resources:
- Find a Buy Nothing group in your area here;
- Read The Buy Nothing, Get Everything Plan written by the creators of the Buy Nothing Project;
- Listen to Donating’s Dark Side: Where do Goodwill Donations Go? on the Sustainable Minimalist podcast to understand why this might not always be the best option for your old stuff.