When I was a kid, my mom often would dispatch me to a neighbor’s house to borrow an egg or a cup of sugar. My dad regularly loaned out his tools or lawnmower. That’s just how it was.
But as an adult, I can’t remember asking to borrow anything from a neighbor. If we’re out of eggs or need a new rake, we go to the store.
The Buy Nothing Project — an initiative started by two friends that has gone global (the social movement now has more than 4 million participants in 44 countries) — is working to make the world a little more like it used to be. Last week, I wrote about the Buy Nothing phenomenon, where neighbors post items they are either giving away or would like to get on Facebook. In the process, they thin out their homes, save money, lighten the load on our planet and help us return to the days when we knew our neighbors.
After learning that my town had a Buy Nothing Facebook group, I asked to join. Once admitted, I noticed one of my friends was an active member. So I called her.
Lisa Everett of Winter Park, Fla., joined the group a few years ago as one of its original members. She’s watched it grow from 10 members to more than 800.
“It’s really come in handy,” she said. “Now that I’m an empty nester, I have been trying to declutter, and this gives me an easy, feel-good way to get things to new homes.”
Everett estimates she’s gifted at least 20 items, including a gigantic stuffed lion, a large crystal punch bowl that was not earning its keep in her pantry, and a pair of porcelain china teacups and saucers.
She also rehomed 50 ceramic tiles left over from a home improvement project.
“I would have probably put them in the trash, but noticed that someone in the group was looking for materials to use to make mosaics,” she said.
To test the waters, I posted a set of three colorful makeup cases for girls and a triple-wick “Tiki Beach” candle. I had interest in less than 5 minutes, and by that afternoon they had gone home with a mom and her 9-year-old daughter.
Simple as that.
Since starting the all-volunteer project in 2013, Buy Nothing founders Liesl Clark and Rebecca Rockefeller have put their share-more-buy-less philosophy into a book, “The Buy Nothing, Get Everything Plan: Discover the Joy of Spending Less, Sharing More, and Living Generously.”
Next, they plan to move group members off Facebook and onto an app, which Clark says will be ready for a global launch this summer. Eventually, they hope to be paid for their efforts.
Though they have done fundraising to support their public benefit corporation, neither Rockefeller nor Clark nor any of their administrators has been paid.
“We are coming to a crossroads,” Clark said. “It’s not sustainable as it is. Maybe the answer is a tip jar. We don’t know.”
To get a better feel for how this system of giving and getting works, I asked Clark to share some examples, and also looked at the posts in my community’s group. I found these superlative exchanges:
• Most cherished: A woman lost her wedding ring while gardening. After searching her yard, she asked her Buy Nothing Facebook group if anyone had a metal detector she could borrow. With the help of a neighbor, they recovered her ring.
• Most minor: Someone lost the inner spring in their toilet paper dispenser, which could constitute a national emergency in some households. Sure enough, someone nearby had a spare spring.
• Most generous: An older couple was downsizing and wanted to see that all the furniture they couldn’t take with them would go to a good home. Turned out, it was just what a young couple starting out needed.
• Most resourceful: After displaying a 20-foot “Happy Birthday” sign across their front yard for one day of glory, the owner offered it up to the group. To date, nearly 30 members have used it and passed it along.
• Most friendly: A professional pet photographer offered to take free portraits to help anyone trying to find homes for foster dogs.
• Most interactive: A woman cleaned out her closet, filled a box with spare clothing and announced that she had a box of medium-size clothes out front. A neighbor picked up the box, tried on and took what she wanted, added her castoffs to the box and posted for the next woman to do the same. Called Round Robbins, these exchanges can work for many categories, including toys, kitchenware or bath goods, Clark said.
• Most historical: In our group, someone posted a vintage stand-up scale that had once belonged to a beloved physician in the community. One group member put the giver in touch with the city’s historical society, which happily took in the small-town memento, along with the good doctor’s microscope.
• Most unusual: And then there was the person training a dog for vermin control, who asked whether anyone had dead mice they didn’t need.
Now that’s downright neighborly.
Marni Jameson is the author of six home and lifestyle books, including “Downsizing the Family Home — What to Save, What to Let Go.” Reach her at marnijameson.com.