Sara White of Sara White Ceramics finds items she can use to display her ceramics from her local Buy Nothing Group.
If you’re interested in living greener, you’re probably already familiar with the Buy Nothing Project. Buy Nothing groups are hyperlocal groups, mostly on Facebook, centered around a gifting economy. (The Buy Nothing Project also recently launched an app that hosts Buy Nothing groups.)
The Buy Nothing Project was started in July 2013 by two friends in the Pacific Northwest who noticed an abundance of plastic on their local beach, and were inspired to find a way to make it easier for people to reduce waste by giving away their unwanted items. Since then, the project has expanded to include over 7,000 Buy Nothing groups in 44 countries.
Once members find and join their local Buy Nothing group, they can post items they no longer want or ask other members for items they need. The only rule is what is posted must be gifted: no bartering, trading, or paying for items is allowed. Because the groups are confined to your specific neighborhood, they also serve as a unique way for neighbors to meet and connect.
Many people use their local Buy Nothing group to clean out their closets or furnish a new apartment, but Buy Nothing groups can also be a great resource for crafters and artists. Let’s look at a few of the ways crafters can make the most of their local groups.
Find unique supplies
In addition to the green benefits of saving your neighbors’ unwanted items from ending up in a landfill, finding supplies among the gifts offered on a Buy Nothing group is a great option for the thrifty crafter looking to save money. While you obviously can’t control what your neighbors decide to give away, looking for materials among the random items available on a Buy Nothing group could inspire a unique new project.
Artist Sydney Leimbach sells hand-painted glassware in her Etsy shop Pours for the Planet. Leimbach sources all of her glasses from her Rosewood neighborhood Buy Nothing group in Columbia, South Carolina, meaning each glass she creates is unexpected and one-of-a-kind.
“I go to the Buy Nothing group because, a lot of the time, what is being given away is going to be thrown out otherwise,” said Leimbach, who first discovered the Buy Nothing Project through an article about sustainable living. “People in the group are always happy to hear what their glasses are going to be reused for.”
Her Buy Nothing group glassware finds have even inspired Leimbach to branch out into some new crafts.
“I saw someone giving away glass “Oui” yogurt jars one day,” Leimbach recalled. “I ended up making my first candle holders with those glasses!”
Get rid of old or extra supplies sustainably
For environmentally conscious crafters, Buy Nothing groups are an easy way to prevent old or unwanted materials from ending up in the trash. Before you throw away that ziploc bag of random scraps of embroidery thread or toss the beads you ordered online that turned out to be a completely different color than they looked on your screen, you can check to see if your neighbors have any use for them.
It’s often easier to gift on a Buy Nothing group than it is to lug your items to a donation center. Most Buy Nothing groups only require a photo and brief description of the items, and often the recipient you choose will come to you to pick them up. (If you’re concerned about having strangers come to your door, don’t worry: you can arrange to drop off your items or meet in a neutral location.) Plus, there’s the satisfaction of knowing your unwanted supplies will go to good use.
Source display pieces and craft show materials
Sourcing raw materials for your crafts from a Buy Nothing group may not be feasible for everyone, especially crafters who are looking for extremely specific materials. But if you can’t find craft supplies in your group, you may be able to find interesting or practical pieces to display your work. A special find in a Buy Nothing group can make a great display piece for your website, social media, or pop-up sale.
Sara White of Sara White Ceramics is always checking the Buy Nothing Group in her Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles, California for items she can potentially use to display her ceramics.
“I recently did my first pop-up sale and was looking for crates I could use for display purposes. While I didn’t have luck because it was a last minute request, I will absolutely be doing this again when I do my next sale,” said White.
“Rather than buy something new, I’d rather try to use something someone wants to get rid of and partake in a mutually beneficial exchange.”
As White learned, the further out you can plan an ask of your Buy Nothing group, the better. Because you’re relying on what your neighbors happen to have lying around–and relying on those neighbors to check Facebook–Buy Nothing groups aren’t well suited to last minute needs, although it can be worth a shot.
Connect with artists right in your neighborhood
Buy Nothing groups are a “great spot for artists to help one another out,” said Leimbach. “A lot of the supplies that we use are the same, and we often have extra.”
One artist’s scraps may be just what another artist needs. In her Buy Nothing group, Leimbach connected with a home kombucha brewer who was giving away shipping boxes for glass bottles. “I was able to use those to transport my glasses to various artist markets,” said Leimbach. Now, the kombucha brewer reaches out to Leimbach first whenever she has a new box to give away.
How to find or start a Buy Nothing group
The easiest way to join a Buy Nothing group is to download their new app for iOS or Google Play. However, since the app is relatively new, you may find a more active group on Facebook. You can find a list of current Buy Nothing Groups here, or try searching “Buy Nothing” and the name of your neighborhood on Facebook.
If there isn’t a Buy Nothing group in your neighborhood, you can start one! The Buy Nothing Project has put together a guide and resources for getting started here.
Tips for Using a Buy Nothing Group as a Crafter
- If you have a specific need, ask as far in advance as possible to give your neighbors time to respond–and yourself time to regroup if no one has what you are looking for.
- Before you throw out your old or unwanted supplies, share and see if any of your neighbors can use them.
- Keep your eyes posted for more than just craft supplies. Groups can also be a great source for display pieces or shipping and packaging materials.
Sarah James is a freelance writer who has covered creativity, culture, and tech for Creative Bloq, Submittable Content for Creatives, TechRadar, and more. Her debut historical fiction novel, The Woman With Two Shadows, will be released in 2022 from Sourcebooks. Find her online at thesarahjames.com