Giving out of abundance

The movement to “buy nothing” for holiday gifts and instead give away items taps into an innate, planet-friendly generosity.

People in face masks shop amid holiday decorations in the Hudson Yards shopping mall in New York City on Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021.

Although holiday shopping is near pre-pandemic highs – despite
inflation, shipping delays, and shortages – another type of giving has begun to take off this season.

It’s the Buy Nothing Project. Founded in 2013, the movement has grown
to 4.3 million members in 44 countries. It welcomes participants to
abide by very simple rules: no buying, selling, trading, or bartering
of gifts. Instead, it encourages people to give away items to others,
most often strangers, in a local area.

Two friends near Seattle, Liesl Clark and Rebecca Rockefeller, hatched
the idea to “build community by connecting people through hyperlocal
gifting and reducing our impact on the environment.” They were struck
by how disconnected their own community had become and the plastic
strewn in the waters near their Pacific Northwest homes in Puget

People join Buy Nothing for various reasons. Those in need seek
respectful, nonjudgmental assistance. Others give to spare the planet
from new, resource-depleting consumption. Many have been up to their
eyeballs in pandemic decluttering. Most see how they can save money
and live better.

But whatever an individual’s motive, participants end up weaving new
relationships into an expanding and giving community. “People are
buying nothing in hordes,” Ms. Clark recently told NPR’s Marketplace.

Despite its simple and direct moniker, Buy Nothing remains moderate
and flexible about people’s ethical choices. Participants still both
patronize local stores and shop online. Many also host garage sales or
donate to Goodwill or other charities.

“You could say this is consumption with a conscience, with
sustainability in mind, but it is absolutely consumption. We’re just
sharing resources,” Ms. Clark explains in Fortune magazine. “It’s not
a movement of austerity.”

This approach to “sharing resources” is perhaps what attracts people
who are uneasy with overconsumption and waste. The movement has also
grown as the isolation and tight budgets of the pandemic have forced
many to rethink their habits of consumption.

“There’s a growing dis-ease with consumer culture and the way it
operates,” Boston College economist Juliet Schor tells Fortune. “The
wastefulness, the cycle of acquisition and discard, is increasingly
unappealing to people.”

Co-founder Ms. Rockefeller suggests many people buy new items out of a
belief in scarcity and a Darwinian contest for survival.

“That is not the reality of the world,” she says in an interview with
Yes Magazine. “We believe our innate human nature is one of compassion
and generosity that understands that we survive only together. That’s
the only way we’re ever going to be able to make it and live
sustainably on this planet.”

Talk with a Buy Nothing participant and you’re likely to hear one of
the movement’s mantras: Giving out of abundance. And this holiday
season, that may be the most novel of gifts.

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