What are ‘Buy Nothing’ groups? Experts say trend can help Canadians handle inflation

Click to play video: 'The Buy Nothing community “sprouts” in Kingston’s West end'
The Buy Nothing community “sprouts” in Kingston’s West end
A global community dedicated to creating neighbourhood connections and building friendships through the act of gifting unwanted stuff, is expanding in Kingston's West End. – Aug 19, 2022

For Edith Wu, Facebook is not just a social platform to connect with friends and families, but also the perfect place to look for free items for her baby.

“I usually go on Facebook groups that give away free stuff in my local area. There are also mommy groups that sell secondhand items,” said Wu, who is a stay-at-home mom. “A lot of secondhand items are in great condition, getting them can stop these items from going to the landfill.”

There are over 700 buy nothing gift communities or private Facebook groups across Canada, according to the Find Your Community List maintained by the Buy Nothing Project.

The idea of Buy Nothing was founded in the U.S. in 2013 by Rebecca Rockefeller and Liesl Clark, encouraging a gift economy where community members give away items for free so someone in their neighbourhood can make use of them.

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There is usually no buying, selling, trading, bartering, or money exchange involved, as the founders believe “a gift economy’s real wealth is the people involved and the web of connections that form to support them.”

While some treat buying nothing as their lifestyle, others participate in the social movement causally. The “Buy Nothing” lifestyle can reduce waste with the additional benefit of saving money amid the high cost of living, Canadians who participate in Buy Nothing Groups and experts tell Global News.

In Wu’s case, she is just trying to be more environmentally friendly.

“My son grew out of all his clothes within three months… a lot of things (became) unusable… the same for his toys, so I think (being in Buy Nothing groups) is a great way to reduce the number of items and packaging that goes to landfill,” said Wu. “You’d be amazed (by) what you find.”

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There has been a shift in attitude towards buying or getting secondhand items over the last past years, says Kate White, a professor at the University of British Columbia Sauder School of Business.

Historically, buying secondhand might have had “a little bit of stigma associated with it,” where people could be viewed as being “cheap or overly frugal,” or not financially well off, said White.

“I think there’s been a bit of a shift… for many, this is seen as a positive thing now,” said White. “It’s now kind of fun. It’s kind of trendy. It’s a way to get unique finds or one of the kinds of deals.”

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Obtaining or buying secondhand products has “obvious benefits,” according to White. It not only helps in saving some extra money but also helps the environment — the items too, find new purpose.

“Rather than creating new products and putting all the energy, materials and resources into creating new products all the time, if we could kind of keep those things in the economy longer and reuse them, repurpose them, that’s better for the planet for the environment,” said White.

Additionally, “somebody who wants it, is going to have it and is going to use it rather than it just kind of going into the landfill,” explained White.

Benjamin Lau, the admin of a Buy Nothing Group in Toronto, says he feels good when sharing his “stuff with my neighbors, especially stuff that has been sitting in the basement for a long time.”

“Like baby stuff and used baby clothing, Christmas decoration and Halloween decorations are (things) that you don’t need, and then when you post it online, your neighbours would come and pick it up,” Lau said.

Lau says he also believes that Buy Nothing groups could help Canadians at a time when the country is grappling with soaring inflation and high costs of living.

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Click to play video: 'More people giving secondhand Christmas gifts: ‘You have to be prudent’'
More people giving secondhand Christmas gifts: ‘You have to be prudent’

“(People) could use that (extra) money to buy food or essential items,” said Lau.

Rishad Habib, an assistant professor who specializes in consumer behaviour at the Toronto Metropolitan University, says getting secondhand items for free or at a cheaper price is a “positive motivation” for people to make sustainable choices.

“It’s hard to do things just for sustainability, but when there’s something (that) is helping your personal finance, it’s really good,” said Habib. “With the current inflation situation, a lot of Canadians are looking for cheaper options or more budget-friendly options.”

Habib added that such a community would be helpful to families with young children because children outgrow their items really fast.

“If you buy winter boots this year, they’re not going to fit next year, so it’s important to have an opportunity to re-sell or to re-gift those items,” said Habib.


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