After giving up her career to work part-time with her husband, Amanda Hanson lost many of the social contacts she craved in life. Mom of a 14 year old son and four year old daughter, Hanson wasn’t feeling particularly fulfilled and felt disconnected from both neighbours and community in Quispamsis, NB. Facing similar circumstances, a cousin in Manitoba started a Buy Nothing group in her own community — a Facebook-based group where people give away gifts (of things and of time and talent ) and told Hanson she’d love it if she started one of her own. In November 2016 Hanson did just that, and it became so popular it turned into three groups, then 14, and still grows today. We wanted to know more about the Buy Nothing concept, and how it helps build community.
Can you explain what a Buy Nothing group is?
We’re part of an international project started by two women in the US who wanted to throw out and consume less. They were inspired after visiting a village in the Himalayas that works as a gift economy, providing everything the community needs to survive. The Buy Nothing project is about gift-giving to make face-to-face connections with your neighbours — giving where you live. Each group has a physical boundary determined by the regional admin, and they try and keep a set amount of people in a geographical area.
There are only three types of posts you can make in our group. You post a gift, which could be a physical thing like food or clothes, or you share a talent — I’ve had a group of strangers over to teach them to make tortillas (for example). You post an ask, which could be something like, “I’m doing a project and I need to borrow a hammer this weekend,” so it’s going back to the days of going to your neighbour for a cup of sugar. The last post you can make is a post of gratitude.
So the group isn’t just about buying nothing?
No, it’s about connecting to your neighbours and building relationships. Another thing we do is Junk in Your Trunk. We take over the parking lot of a local school and hold a free community yard sale. Buy nothing members put gifts in their trunks, bring food and drinks, drive to the location, open up that trunk full of gifts and everybody just walks around taking and giving. Plus you get to meet your neighbours and chat with them.
One of the first service-gifts we gave was to a member of our community who has ALS and is bedridden. He can’t move, and needs a breathing machine every now and again. Together the group went into his bedroom and redecorated it. We painted the walls, put pictures of his family up, and reconfigured his room so he was able to see out of the window from bed. People that weren’t able to come physically help donated paint, and food to feed the people working. We gave the big reveal and it was the most amazing thing that we could give.
I noticed that there are only 17,000 people in Quispasmis, and 1000 of them are in your group.
I first made the size of our community quite large so that I could reach a lot of people and we very quickly got to 1400 members. When you get that big you lose personal connection, so the Buy Nothing founders suggest that when you get 800–1000 members you sprout into other groups. The point is to become hyper local. My group that was 1400 members split into three — making the boundaries of each smaller. This way you get to know your direct neighbours better and better.
The original three groups sprouted into 14, and I became the regional admin for the province (of New Brunswick). My role is to help new groups get started and train the admins. It’s a lot of work, especially with larger groups. Admins enforce the rules about what can and can’t be posted — you can’t use the group to promote your business — and we have strict boundaries about where you can live, and you can’t be in more than one group. Being an admin also means doing posts of the day to inspire gift-giving, like wish list Wednesday — where you can post one thing you really want. It can be totally crazy because you never know if a neighbour might be able to help. Last week somebody asked for a piano and got one.
That sounds like a lot of work. What makes it worthwhile for you?
It’s completely changed my life — I can’t even tell you. I met my best friends. I started my own business based off a gift I gave. I love it. When I first started I was on my phone a lot because people didn’t really get the concept, but it gave me purpose at a time that was lacking in my life. This was something for me, outside my family, and I needed it. Thankfully my husband supported me, though he must have been frustrated plenty with the amount of time the Buy Nothing group took.
What business did the group inspire?
I started a business as a personal wardrobe stylist for women, called Simply Stylish. I’m about body positivity and helping women find confidence and embrace the body they have. We run a theme on the Buy Nothing page called Time and Talent Tuesday. One of the members posted on that she needed closet help She didn’t feel she knew how to dress — or look good — anymore. I’ve always helped with that stuff so I offered to help her purge, create outfits using what she had on hand, and a shopping list to fill in the gaps. She told me she got so much value from it I needed to do it for a living, so I thought, “Yes.”
Would you recommend starting a group to other moms?
Absolutely! This changed my life and connected me to my community. I know a lot of our members feel the same way. I’m in my office right now — I basically furnished it with gifts from the group. I feel supported in a way I didn’t before. It’s has been such a positive experience.