Sunday, February 15, 2015

Be like a cracked pot

This article is shared with permission, written by Judith Liberman

Ten years ago, when I moved to Turkey after spending most of my life in France and the US, I was moved to see how alive gift culture was in this country. For me to explain what I saw then, I like to use the following story:

"There once was a water bearer who every day to earn a living carried water from the distant river into the town where he lived. To do so, he owned two ceramic pots, which he hung at both ends of a pole he balanced over his shoulders . While one of the pots was bright red, smooth and perfectly waterproof, the other was old, discolored and a bit cracked, in fact it dripped water on the way. Each day the pot became a little more porous, and dripped a little more, till came a time it was only able to retain half of its content by the time they'd reach the town. This caused the pot great shame, and so finally, unable to contain its embarrassment, the pot addressed the water bearer: "Master, please break me! throw me! dispose of me! I can't stand this misery any longer, I'm unable to hold water, and every day my imperfections cause you to work twice as hard, you can replace me and get a more efficient pot, this way you'll earn more working less...please put of out of this misery".

"Oh replied the water bearer, is that what you think of yourself? Then please, let me show you something on the way back from the river tomorrow."

And the next day, after filling both pots, and hanging one on the right and the cracked one on the left side of his pole as he always did, the water bearer pointed to the right side of the path and asked: "tell me, what you see", the pot replied "I see dirt, I see stones, and dust" hearing this the water bearer pointed to the left side of the road and asked: "what do you see on that side?" "Oh there I see grass, weeds and wild flowers" "Yes, replied the water bearer, this is the beauty you have created by dripping a bit of your water by the side of the path everyday, you quenched the thirst of the soil, you gave birth to the sleeping seeds, and nourished the blooms, and every week, from this side of the path, I pick a few flowers, bring them to my wife to let her know this beauty reminds me of the beauty she brings to my life...and that's why there is so much laughter in my house. Yes cracked pot, you may not be efficient, but by randomly sharing your water with the soil you feed this land we all live on".

Of course, when I moved to Turkey there were not water bearers, but to my European eyes, there were many "cracked pots", people were dripping time and money all the time, not trying to retain it, freely dripping away and feeding their environment and society. When one would get on the bus without a bus card there was always someone willing to punch their own cards refusing to take money in exchange for the service, time was spent for emergencies and illnesses, but also to celebrate, chat, know each other, weave connections, be there for each other, together. Street corners had plastic chairs where neighbors would come eat sunflower seeds and drink tea, and when someone needed blood donations for an operation I would witness within neighborhoods the workings of a well oiled support system which could organically orchestrate what hierarchal systems can only dream to achieve efficiently.

Coming from a culture that measured and split the hours, minutes and seconds always trying to squeeze in as much as possible, seeing if an extra yoga class could not be squeezed after work and before a meeting, the utter generosity with which people offered their time and resources was a pleasant if at times challenging cultural shock.

This culture of "cracked pots" where accounting was loose enough to allow random acts of generosity and scheduling was made to be dropped as soon as a need was expressed, was a school of behavior, which at times made me stretch my limits by presenting me with a mirror where I saw how conservative I'd been trained to be with the time and money I leaked out to society. I understood that the gift required flexibility, being willing to devote time to the activity of neighboring, which ran contrary to any time efficiency and reliability of commitment that I was used to.

Connections were key, but any connection worked, no matter how distant, one just needed to know about the connection, a man who owned a shop in the building where worked the son of another man who served tea at the university where my friend's mother taught once helped me, because we were "connected", I then understood that while in the west the idea that we are all connected by 6 degree of separation is just a quaint little concept, in the east, it was the principle on which the society functioned and exchanged gifts. Not a this-for-that exchange, but a constant offering knowing that each gift made the wide network stronger and more abundant.

Some roles were key, the tea man (├žayc─▒) or the green grocer (bakal), for example, were catalysts of connections and neighboring, they'd know of everyone's needs, roles and gifts and could always put us in touch with just the neighbor we needed from the wider community, which in a crowded city meant knowing and orchestrating an insane amount of information and details about the life of everyone. When my cat needed an operation and after visiting a few clinics to realize that I could not afford what they asked for, it was my green grocer who got me in touch with a elderly man who lived a few streets away and worked part time as a janitor in a veterinarian clinic, and seeing how we were neighbors, his boss agreed to conduct the operation for the amount I could offer.

If I wrote all this in the past tense, it's because over the last decade I've seen the cracked pots whetherproof themselves. Reacting to modern calls for productivity, pushed by the capitalist economic boom and the busy-ness opportunities it offers, the cracked pots are being sealed in Turkey. Slowly and in subtle ways. Time and money, stopped dripping as freely as they used to, creating a parched land, not watered the way it used to be, wild flowers of hope have dried. The change was so slow that we did not notice it. Maybe one of the first thing I noticed was that people started accepting the money offered when they punched their bus cards for a stranger, and then it became more difficult to even find someone willing to punch their cards for you, creating a long embarrassed silence when someone asks.

Overall the changes created by the increased productivity on the traditional gift system were so subtle that if I listed the many small shifts that I noticed, they would all seem petty, isolated incidents.
But it added up to a change that could be felt by all, at least in the air of the big cities.
The more time was measured, split, managed and organized, they more it disappeared, the entire city of Istanbul started looking between the cushions of the couch to find some loose time that might have slipped there by accident. The more carefully it was allotted the more scarce time became. People could no longer find a minute to help their neighbors fix their sink, or to talk to the bakal or even to go to the bakal, they went to time efficient supermarkets where no one wasted their time telling them about some stranger's cat.

And then...Gezi happened!

We all went to parks, walked in the streets, drank tea breathed in some tear gas and debated together, everything else was put on hold.
When people ask me what Gezi was, I say that to me it was the neighbors of a big city who all gathered in a park, and broke their pots and poured the water contents on the trees.
For a few weeks, time came back to the city! 

All the scheduled events were put on hold to create time, space and financial resources to feed, protect even recreate neighborhoods in the city.

Yoga classes were taken to the parks, meetings were made to discuss what was happening in the moment not what had been set on the agenda. The world kept turning, we found that when our neighborhood were being watered (here read showered!) with extra time, resources and love, we all had enough, in fact we had so much that we could jump off the hamster wheel and sit in a chair on the corner of the street with our neighbors. 

We had enough to give, we emptied our closets of unused objects and shared them in parks, when we shopped for food we bought twice as much so as to feed the neighborhood and in the end of the month we found we'd received so much that we had spent less.

Beyond what it did to the allocation of time and resources, it created a shift in the air, once again we were walking in a sacred garden, and in each person we met on the street we saw a sacred gardener. Getting in and out of the subway people were more considerate, bumping into each other on the street would lead to smiles and heartfelt apologies, smiles spread from one face to another, we recognized each other in the faceless crowds we saw millions of neighbors, cracked pots watering the sacred community and making it greener with each "wasted" unaccounted drop.

Visit the Buy Nothing Project. We would love to meet you!

Sunday, February 8, 2015

A gifting economy in real life

"Economy"...just say the word and a great number of people cringe. It's all about money, right? Buying and selling, investing to make more money, how to wisely spend or save money, strategies for earning more money, just money, money, money.

Yup. That about wraps it up. Our well-known "market economy" is just that: A way of doing business, a method of transaction wherein cash is exchanged for goods or services. Everything has a price, and an item or service is obtained by paying that price in cash to the entity offering the product or service. The result is that we spend our entire lives working to earn the cash necessary to purchase the things we need or want. Not a bad deal, really, because after all, isn't that the way it is supposed to be?

Is it? Let's look at that scenario for a moment. Some things really do have to be paid for with the almighty dollar. One's mortgage company will probably not accept three sides of beef as this month's payment, and utility companies are likely to frown upon an offer of freshly grown carrots. However, what about the things that CAN be obtained through simply giving to our neighbors as they/we have need? What if our neighbor was happy to receive a gently worn child's winter coat for their own child, free of charge? That frees up many almighty dollars that they can now use for something that requires cash. Or what if the single parent next door received as a gift a gallon of milk and a bag of fresh apples, again free of charge? Now her children will have a healthy snack and we all know how beneficial it is to a budget when one's children stay healthy!

But let's get away from things children need. Perhaps one has a gorgeous vegetable garden and a
bumper crop of cherry tomatoes. What a wonderful feeling it brings to gift out of the abundance of those tomatoes so that a neighbor can enjoy them! Perhaps that neighbor then offers to hold onto their compostable scraps to add to your garden next season...and the gifting circle goes around and around.

"But isn't that just bartering?" No, it really isn't because bartering still entails trading something of value for something else of comparable value. A gifting economy does neither. Rather, when someone in the community has a need, someone else in that community who is able to meet that need does so with a gift. That's the point: it is a gift, freely given with no expectation of a return of any kind from the recipient. 

At this point, many people reading this will smile and nod, then say something like, "If it could only be that simple", followed by a heavy sigh of resignation.

The thing is, it CAN be that simple. It IS that simple. It has always BEEN that simple. Human beings really can shake off the economic shackles that bind us to a system where we are enslaved to cash. Sure, cash is necessary for certain things...but not EVERYthing. Cash is helpful in some situations...but not ALL situations. Meeting a need or fulfilling a desire of someone in our community does not have to entail the overt spending of a single dime. We CAN rise above our market economy and begin to learn how to share our belongings, our provisions, and our very selves with those around us.

Some will say, "But everything is purchased at one time or another, so even a gift to someone was bought at some previous time".  This is indeed true. However, say my neighbor has want of a coffee table, and I happen to have one I am not using. At some point in time I had purchased that coffee table. But if my neighbor likes the table, doesn't it make more sense to just give him the table so that they need not go and spend money on one? Now he can use his cash for something else that can only be handled with actual money, he has a new coffee table, and I have one less item taking up space in my garage.

Maybe it is something smaller and less dramatic. Let's say a neighbor is out of milk and her two children are already in bed sleeping for the night. They will have cereal, but no milk for breakfast. Now, someone nearby happens to have stocked up on milk and they have an extra bottle in their fridge, so they take that bottle of milk over to their neighbor...voila! The youngsters have cereal and milk for breakfast, their Mom can be free of worry about her children being hungry, and the neighbor who brought the milk has the joy of having helped out. Who knew that a simple bottle of milk could do so much good for so many people?

This is a gift economy in action.
It is about seeing a need or a want and fulfilling it just because we can, not because we gain something from it. It is about being willing to be vulnerable enough for our neighbors to get to know us, and putting in the effort to get to know them, too. It is about recognizing that we are all a part of one enormous human family, and as such we can reach out and connect with each other in more meaningful ways than we ever thought possible.

The technological age has made the world a smaller place, with light-speed communication and jet travel linking us with far away places like never before. But technology has also isolated us from each other by making it possible for us to communicate without ever making actual contact. We might converse with a colleague or friend for months or even years without ever actually meeting face to face. We have forgotten the warm feeling of answering the door and welcoming in a neighbor who just stopped by to borrow a cup of sugar. Our forebears knew this close-knit sense of community, they embraced the connections between fellow pioneers because their survival depended upon knowing and supporting each other. Through winter storms and lean years, they helped each other raise barns, raise food, and raise children...always leaning on one another when things were rough. In our more modern era, we lean on other things instead of our neighbors. We all have jobs and we assume we can support ourselves with no help from anyone else. We are so busy we might not even realize that our neighbor is ill, or that our co-worker is struggling to make ends meet. If we do realize someone next to us is in need, we usually shrug it off and assume that either they will pull themselves up by their bootstraps, or some government agency will offer to help them. Never mind that we might have exactly what they need, and might not even miss it if we were to offer it to them.

We live in a bubble. 

But human beings were never meant to be isolated this way. We are built for interaction, for caring about those around us. If we listen, we all have a voice inside of us that screams to be connected with other people...we yearn on a deep level for community.

Gift economies build that kind of community. When we begin to give, whether large items or small, we soon realize that our view of possessions and of money shifts...we realize that we really can hold loosely to certain things and share with those around us so that our own abundance blesses more people than just ourselves. The beauty is that others will realize this too, and the giving takes on a whole new energy of its own! We suddenly see our own abundance in a new light and we want to give and give and give. 

Imagine a whole community thinking this way. Imagine a community of people who looked out for each other, who were willing to meet a need when it arose, who simply gave small things out of their ability to do so. Imagine a community like that...

...and imagine that it is YOUR community. 

"Bah! That will never happen!", some might say. Oh, but it IS happening...right now...all over the world.

The Buy Nothing Project began just eighteen months ago when two women wondered what would happen if this idea was put out there for others to see. Started simply as a Facebook group, the BNP movement now has over 100,000 members in over 550 groups in 12 countries...and continues to grow. Every day, everything from automobiles to pencil erasers, from gardening tools to paper clips are freely offered, asked for, and given through BNP groups. There is no bartering, trading, or purchasing allowed...simply giving. And it works.
You have heard the phrase, "Put your money where your mouth is", meaning that if you really mean something you will be willing to back it up with cold hard cash. BNP takes it a step further by suggesting it is not just money that is valuable, but our possessions, our expertise, our very selves. Every one of us has something to offer, from the richest to the most meagerly supplied. There is no differentiating between the haves and the have nots, as typical charity does. This is not a system of the materially wealthy handing out to the less well-to-do, but rather a system wherein everyone has something to offer, and all are respected the same as part of the community.

A gift economy thrives because of this balance where no one is above anyone else. Everyone has something to offer, whether a material item, a skill or craft, or simply their own energy to lend a hand toward a task that needs done. In this way, the Buy Nothing Project envelops members from every walk of life, every race and creed, every economic station. It is a beautiful and very blessed family, to be sure.

Still not sure about all this generosity, giving, and kindness? Just come and meet us, and have a look for yourself. We would love to have you show up at our door to ask for a cup of sugar.

Monday, January 26, 2015

High and Lofty goals...

The Buy Nothing Project lifts off into 2015! Activities this month have included thousands of gifts of free items between community members, assisting a local family whose entire home and contents were destroyed by fire, rides given to folks with medical appointments, and exercise partners located!

The Wright Brothers' dream...
But the Project is not "all about stuff" is not about amassing as many free goods as possible. it is a social experiment that embraces the concept of community involvement and true caring between neighbors. It began with a Facebook group that developed into two...then grew into currently over 500 groups with over 100,000 members in 9 nations in 19 months time!

Picture this: Folks read posts by members in a local Buy Nothing group Facebook message board...perhaps one member is giving away an item and another member is confirmed as the recipient. While picking up the item from the Gifter at a pre-arranged time and place, the two members begin to chat and eventually become real life friends who care for each other, even if Facebook crashes and this online forum is completely unavailable...pretty amazing, isn't it?

That happens all the time in the Buy Nothing Project. It is beautiful when people come together and realize, "Hey! You live just eight blocks from me!" Facebook is a great tool...but those neighbors don't have to rely on it solely as their contact if they choose to become friends and simply connect in real life. Imagine your Buy Nothing group splitting when it becomes unmanageable due to huge size. Then imagine those halves splitting when that same thing occurs and those two groups are gigantic. Then those four groups all eventually split...and so on. Imagine your group a while in the future having divided repeatedly like a healthy living cell...becoming always smaller geographically, while still populated by enough members to thrive. Imagine that eventually each local group in your area averages in size by perhaps ten square blocks (or maybe five square miles if you live more rural). Could you imagine a project based on and committed to community camaraderie, neighborly support and honest interaction so saturating an area that size that most of your neighbors already knew the concepts and embraced the mission? Could you imagine how that community would look? Would the members of that community live with a greater sense of security, more friendliness?

During a recent winter storm, one such group in western Washington state experienced just this kind of concern. As late evening darkness fell and winds rose to severe storm levels, people hunkered down to ride it out with flashlights at the ready for the expected power outages. Tree branches crashed down and lights went out...and throughout the night, group members kept in touch via email and cell phones to make sure their community remained safe. One gentleman was blockaded in his driveway because a tree limb fell behind his car, and he could not get out to drive to work...several members showed up to remove the limb and saw him safely on his way. Other members delivered candles, flashlights and batteries to those who had none, and still others provided hot meals for those who were without power for prolonged periods of time. Winter storms happen in lots of places, and people weather them as best they are able. But it sure is easier and far less stressful when you have a community who truly cares for its members and looks out for them.

Perhaps less dramatic was the little girl's birthday made far more wonderful by members who rallied behind her family to stretch a tight budget with a fun party. Or the nursing home resident who received clothes, a special blanket, and a handmade Seattle Seahawks keepsake for his room. Then there is the woman who does not drive, so she doesn't get our from her home very often, having guests for coffee and making new friends through her local Buy Nothing group. These kinds of stories are endless, and will only continue to repeat themselves as the Project grows!

...the dream flew.
Is this a high and lofty goal? Perhaps. Will ordinary people come out of their modern bubbles to greet their fellows and allow their paths to cross into new friendships? Only time will tell. This whole social experiment may seem silly to some, too time-draining. Following an idea that turns into a dream and begins to grow into something amazing can be rough sometimes. But high and lofty dreams do sometimes actually soar.

Just ask the Wright Brothers.

Please read about the Buy Nothing Project.

Visit the Buy Nothing Community Facebook page.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Paradigm of Giving in Buy Nothing Land...

Welcome to Buy Nothing Land...where commerce is not about cash and neediness is not the
deciding factor in gifting to one another. You see, in a gifting economy, people choose to share their tangile belongings, their talents, and their time simply because we can...not as a way of giving to "someone who has less" or as a form of charity that separates the financially wealthy from the monetarily less well off. We recognize that everyone has an abundance of something to give, and in that recognition we value every contribution. There is no "great gift" or small gift"...there are only "real gifts", and they all matter. So please join us for a wonderful story that explains this concept, and open your heart to a whole new way of viewing the very acts of giving and receiving...
It was a damp and cold December day in BNland and all the BNers were gathered in the Great Hall because there was word that something really special was about to happen. The air was abuzz with good feelings as everyone milled around chatting, laughing and enjoying each others company.
Then, someone walked in and asked for silence. With a full heart she announced that she had the most wonderful gift that she would like to give to someone in BNland. Everyone applauded and smiles were everywhere! Then, she explained that she wanted to give this fantastic gift only to the neediest person in the room. She explained that she wouldn’t consider anyone unless they were the neediest. She told everyone to line up so that the least needy people would be in the back and the neediest person would be in the very front of the line right next to her. As she explained all this, the tone in the room changed. Anxiety mounted immediately. People started glancing at each other and some lowered their eyes to the floor. More than half the room wondered, “Am I as needy as they are or am I needier? Who is the neediest of BNland?”
All of a sudden, some people rushed to the front of the line. Some were pushing others aside to claim that coveted "neediest of all" spot. It felt like one of those Black Friday Stampedes where people trample each other to get the GOODIES first! Then some started shouting, “My neediness is worse than your neediness; you need to get behind me”. All of a sudden, being the neediest was the best thing to be! Others continued to look down at the ground as they got pushed farther and farther to end of the line. Everyone had their own version of anxiety around this competition and comparison of people’s personal circumstances. One person in the middle of the line started shouting, “Hey! I know her, the one up front there, and I know that she just bought some new furniture! She isn’t needy at all. She’s just trying to look needy!” Some people held their heads high and let themselves be pushed farther and farther back in the line. No one knew that their family member was recently diagnosed with a terrible disease and that they had no insurance for all those bills. But, they were embarrassed to tell people this deeply personal information. So, rather than be humiliated, they let anyone and everyone go in front of them. There were many others who also were quiet. They were quiet because they were so, so tired of having to be seen in this light. They felt like they were always seen as failures and it was humiliating. Their whole lives they’ve experienced being treated as lower-than and lesser-than just because they’ve always been struggling financially. They were so tired of feeling that way. They’ve learned that they need to keep their struggles quiet or face the same old shame. All these humiliating feelings overcome them even though they haven’t said a word.
So, the people are now all lined up; supposedly by neediness. In theory, the neediest person is the one in front of the line and everyone behind them is progressively less needy. But, is the person in the front the neediest? No. Today, the neediest is towards the back holding her head high but hurting inside. Hurting a lot.
You get the point of this story. There are two models of giving. The above story demonstrates how the straight line model works which divides people into haves and have nots. In the next few days, I’ll be posting a more uplifting story using the circular model for gifting. This story will make it clear why Buy Nothing was created. It was created to counter the old ways of straight line giving and to provide people an experience that was different; an experience of dignity, caring and real community. The Buy Nothing story will arrive in BNland soon.
Before we close this chapter of this story, I want to share some actual comments and concerns that come from our Buy Nothing group members in response to posts that offer to gift only to the “neediest”. I have paraphrased them to maintain privacy.
- It is hurtful for one person to think they can decide which person is more needy than another.
- I was really hurt by the thinking that someone wants to compare my life with someone else’s life.
- I’m worried that other people will leave the group because these comparisons are uncomfortable.
- Don’t we all need help sometimes?
- Isn’t Buy Nothing supposed to be uplifting?
- That post made me feel ashamed to ask because what if I’m not the neediest or needy enough.
- I thought it was insensitive asking people to identify themselves as needy.
- It’s useless to ask people to say they are needy because if someone wants it they can say whatever they want to get it.
- Having to be the neediest sets up a competition.
- Neediness should not be used as a form of currency.
- Making people “out” their personal struggles is an invasion of privacy.
Before I leave I’d like to request that each and every BNinger consider doing something to help change this thinking. Don’t try and be the neediest. Yes, I know that it’s hard to pass up on some offers but you have the power to send a message. Or you can remind the gifter about our mission because that would help people better understand. All gifters have good intentions but not all gifters understand what Buy Nothing was created to do. Let’s all own the responsibility to teach each other.

Special THANK YOU to Vicki L. Perry, Buy Nothing Project Administrator, for her time and work in writing this beautiful piece! We look forward to Part Two!

The Buy Nothing Project can always be contacted here:

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

What "Community" looks like...a glimpse of the Buy Nothing Project

The Buy Nothing Project...
              Neighbors helping neighbors...
                     What do all of these things have in common?

In times past, pioneers understood very well what it meant to know your neighbors and take care of one another. On a wintry midwest plain, "community" could mean the difference between survival and defeat. But the world is changing. It is not quite such a safe place anymore. We seem to have forgotten in many ways just what it means to truly live in a supportive relationship with those in our community. 
But this is the 21st days are over, right? Everyone works for themselves, pays their own bills, buys their own stuff...right? People don't have to lean on neighbors, trust in their community when tough times come, connect with others just to include people in the area social circle...right? These are modern times...surely we have reached a point of personal independence wherein we don't need to rely on our fellow man nor feel obligated to lend a hand to someone else. Surely we can just move in solitude through life and allow others to do the same..."ships passing in the night", so to speak.

Surely we can do that...
Or not.
Consider the difference...

Consider a community of individuals whom no one really knows, recognized by address but not by name, known by the car they drive down the street at various intervals...lots of people in a geographic area, but not connected in any personal way.

Now consider a community of individuals who know their neighbors on the same block, whose faces and names are known and who are called friends, whose children are looked out for by observant neighbors who care about their safety. Consider that neighborhood when a winter storm knocks out the power and people rally to make sure everyone on the block is warm and has a meal ready. 

Consider the difference.

The Buy Nothing Project is not a free recycling site. This is not an organization promoting thrift stores and yard sales (though neither are "bad" in any way). This is an entirely different experiment in social interaction wherein people willingly pay heed to the needs and requests of fellow members and meet those needs out of their own abundance.

Oh yeah, abundance. About that. In our society, "abundance" can mean many things but for my purpose here I will focus on the definition that states "having enough of a necessary item to meet a need or desire". In other words, if I have even just one egg in my refrigerator and my neighbor needs just one egg, then I have an abundance of eggs...I can bless my neighbor with the egg they need, and I too am blessed by the energy of generosity. When we realize that "abundance" does not consist in having a ton of excessive possessions or finances but simply means that we have what is needed for ourselves and/or for someone else, we rise above the separation of the haves and the have-nots. It is no longer a situation of someone who has a lot giving to someone who does not have is a matter of one person sharing what they have and allowing someone else the opportunity to do the same. 

There is also the issue of something that is unneeded by one person being a treasure to someone else. Such items are not necessarily garbage...and they just might be a perfectly timed blessing to someone who can use them! This recent episode in a local Buy Nothing group is a classic example:

One member had a tree blow down in a wind storm, and saved the very top. Offering it to their local group in hopes that someone might have a use for it, they were pleasantly surprised when a family with three small children picked it up and turned it into their perfect Christmas tree! Now, this might not seem like a very big deal to some folks, but as most families with young children would agree, budgets are often tight. Now, these little ones didn't mind where that tree came from, they just had an exciting, magical time decorating it! So what could have simply been one more piece of storm-related debris to remove became a holiday blessing to this family's wide-eyed children.

THAT is community. 

In another of BNP's local groups, a family member's fuzzy Seahawks themed blanket was stolen from his nursing home room where he is a disabled resident. The request was made, "My brother's birthday is coming soon, and since the Seahawks won the Superbowl last season their items are quite expensive. Would anyone happen to have any Seahawks gear they wouldn't mind parting with that I could gift to him?" Literally within the hour, another member replied, "My Grandma passed away and among her belongings was a Seahawks blanket! I would love for your brother to have it, and I am certain my Grandma would have been happy as well." The member delivered the blanket, along with a Seahawks scarf all packaged up in a "happy birthday" gift bag. These two members became friends and remain part of each other's lives.

THAT is community.

Across the state in another group, a member underwent knee surgery and was temporarily unable to tend her yard and flower gardens. Several people from her local BNP group showed up to weed and trim, mowed her lawn and returned to give the gift of their time to keep her yard in order until she was able to resume her regular activities.

THAT is community.

During a wind storm in western Washington in October, a group near Seattle started a thread on their message board for members to check in with any needs, as there were power outages and storm damage widespread across the area. A few individuals helped to cut up and remove a fallen tree limb from a member's driveway so they could get their car out to drive to work, while others delivered candles and flashlights to those who had been caught unprepared. Everyone was reminded to check on their neighbors, check on other members, and let others know about any new power outages or dangerous debris. In the end, everyone was all right and the BNP family grew stronger by leaning on one another when the storm literally hit.

THAT is community.

You see, it is not all about the stuff. Yes, we give things away. A LOT of things, actually! Yes, we can ask for stuff that we want or need, and we do receive many of those things! But the amazing thing is not the sheer amount of stuff that we keep out of landfills, or the nifty trinkets we bring home. The truly amazing thing is seeing people who might have lived in the same area for years but never met, connecting....seeing people literally digging through closets and attics for items they are able to gift to someone else, simply for the thrill of meeting a need...seeing people stepping into their neighborhoods on a mission of giving. The funny thing is, receiving is a natural outcome when so many seek to simply give! It happens as surely as a bean plant producing green beans!

As I finish writing up this little blurb about the Project I have come to love, I cannot help but think of the things BNP has done specifically for ME. As a new member several months ago, my very first offering to the group were Iris bulbs I was digging from our yard. I was surprised to meet seventeen fellow members who responded to my post on the message board! I met all of these folks within two days, and several have stayed in touch and become friends. My first gift received was a brand new broom for our kitchen. I had considered a quick trip to the store to buy one, but gave BNP a try...and sure enough, within just a few hours I was picking up our broom just a few minutes from our home! But that was just the beginning...

In the many months since then I have met more people than I can count, made a ton of new friends, and developed relationships within our own neighborhood. As a volunteer administrator, I am blessed by the camaraderie of the team of other administrators and the Projects two Co-Founders, Liesl Clark and Rebecca Rockefeller. When people come together to embrace the task of pursuing a common goal, good things happen. But pursuing a goal based on giving, providing, growing, and the time-honored principle of healthy, generous communities...THAT makes GREAT things happen, and the Buy Nothing Project celebrates those great things every single day.

Please consider becoming a part of this wonderful social project by visiting the Buy Nothing Project website, and check out the Buy Nothing Project Facebook Community.

"Buy nothing. Give freely. Share creatively."

Thursday, December 4, 2014

How does the Buy Nothing Project work?

As we zoom into another holiday season, it’s worth reminding ourselves that giving gifts is (despite expectations, emotions and traditions) a voluntary activity, one that you can choose to “just say no” to. 
I no longer give holiday gifts, both because I can’t afford it and because it seemed like an exercise in wastefulness, and I haven’t been kicked out of any groups because of it. And frankly, it renders the holiday experience much more enjoyable and relaxing to not have to find the perfect thing for everyone you know in such a short time frame. I still give gifts, but randomly throughout the year, when I find something the person will really appreciate.
However, I know I’m in the minority! So whether you need to save money (or have to!), but you still feel the pressure to give gifts — or you like to give because it makes you feel good (which is the best reason to do it), there's a great alternative way to do it: The Buy Nothing project.
Born on Bainbridge Island, a small community off the coast of Washington state, the Buy Nothing Project has been in operation for about a year and a half. It brings together the online usefulness and organization of Craigslist and Freecycle, but adds a community element with in-person meetings. There are 225 Facebook groups around the globe, representing "... over 25,000 members in 150 groups, in 4 countries," according to the site's About page. (Though it looks like that stat might need updating, because I counted nine countries and several hundred groups in the United States alone — just check this list to find out if there's a group near you; and of course, you can start one of your own too.) 
The site's motto is 
"Buy Nothing, Give Freely, Share Creatively." 
The rules for the local Facebook groups are simple: “Post anything you’d like to give away, lend, or share amongst neighbors. Ask for anything you’d like to receive for free or borrow. Keep it legal. Keep it civil. No buying or selling, no trades or bartering, we’re strictly a gift economy.”
Because the groups are managed on Facebook, group members can find and see mutual friends they may share with others who are strangers, which is a way to build trust (which in turn allows groups to grow quickly and freely). 
How does this go down in real life? The Walker family, which is a large family with home-schooled children, has documented their journey on the Buy Nothing site. Their mother, Jana, used their local Buy Nothing group to set up a challenge:
Since the Buy Nothing Project started in our neighborhood, we have been on board completely and we got to thinking, what if we could get by for a month through a gifting community?  What if we could give our children their birthday parties by borrowing decorations that don’t hurt the environment, by borrowing from a community lending library of table settings? What if I could gather up the homeschool supplies I might need from a community that might have things laying around that we could use? I am always up for a challenge and my family is on board for this so we are going to give it a try!
Over the course of the month, the results are impressive: Jana gave away all sorts of things, including toys, food (freshly made cookies, chocolate syrup and Spanish rice), magazines and DVDs and they got travel-sized toiletries for one child's camp, lots of lightly used clothes, a half-dozen bottles of detergent, an ice-cream maker, fresh eggs and bread, (some of these things were items that Jana requested, while others were just given to her) and lots of garden veggies. 
Yes, she did manage to pull off several kids' birthdays (including a "Brave"-themed one for her daughter who was very into the Disney movie (and ended up getting a free lesson from the local archery range, as well as plenty of other gifts) and her anniversary celebration using stuff — plus creative ideas for when stuff didn't turn up. 
Of her month-long experiment, Jana wrote: "I feel that our Buy Nothing community is thriving not because of a sense of need over stuff but because of a sense of need for … community."
Visit the Buy Nothing Project on Facebook

Sunday, November 23, 2014

From our friends at Sustainable Man...

Today, we are all familiar with the “greed economy.” It is governed by the competitive principle that more for you is less for me. It prioritizes luxuries for the few over necessities of the many. It is exclusive to those who don’t have money, relegating them to search for subsistence from the garbage of others. It is not only degrading, disgusting, and immoral, it is totally and completely unsustainable.
A gift economy actually decays greed. It widens the family circle to include the entire community. It is governed by the cooperative principle that more for you is more for me too. It prioritizes matching gifts with needs. It is inclusive of everyone, including those who have little to give but a warm smile or their gratitude. It is not something that is imposed on people. Rather, it is something that people volunteer to be a part of because they recognize the inherent joy that comes from giving to others.
In a world of limited resources, it becomes imperative that any economic system that plans on allowing the human species to sustainably live on this planet maximize the efficient use of resources. This means we must cease our incessant desire to own the world, realize that owning more things will never be enough to compensate for the wound of separation inside us, and understand that we can only really improve our quality of life by reducing the suffering of others.