Buy Nothing Culture: People over Stuff
Lesson 4.1 – Ways We Communicate
You’re almost halfway through!
To get you even more pumped up about how awesome your Buy Nothing experience can be, here’s a video of some real people living the Buy Nothing life. Buy Nothing, Give Freely video.
Ways We Communicate
Gift economies have been building relationships between people for generations. We can improve the depth and power of these relationships when we communicate with each other while we’re sharing. A Buy Nothing gift economy is meant to be a place of stories, jokes, heartfelt comments, and discussions sparked by the gifts being offered and received. These stories and discussions build a Buy Nothing community identity and are a gift to each person.
We encourage people to communicate in ways that are easy for them. Explain what you’re offering or requesting in the words of your choosing. There are no rules about how your communication with your neighbors must be worded or formatted. It’s fine to use a lot of whole words to tell a story about your offer or request, and it’s fine to use abbreviations or acronyms, or to use any combination of words and images that you’d like. You’ll build more connections when you share stories, and connections are one of the best Buy Nothing gifts.
We ask everyone to extend patience and understanding to each other, as each Buy Nothing community includes people with a variety of languages, literacy levels, neuro-differences, and communication styles. Participants are welcome to communicate in whatever language they are most comfortable in. The more your personality comes through in your offers, requests, and comments, the more you’ll build connections with others.
We encourage you to ask questions if a post is unclear to you and in doing so model for the rest of your neighbors the way they can communicate with compassion. If you have ideas about how to make Buy Nothing more accessible to your community, in terms of language or any other aspect of accessibility, the volunteers of the Buy Nothing Language & Accessibility Team would love to hear from you via email, firstname.lastname@example.org.
We also encourage you to think about how you use personal pronouns in your communications, to respect your trans and nonbinary neighbors. The National Center for Transgender Equality has a helpful document, Supporting the Transgender People in Your Life: A Guide to Being a Good Ally. “You don’t have to understand someone’s identity to respect it. Some people haven’t heard a lot about transgender identity, or have trouble understanding what it means to be trans, and that’s okay. But all people, even those whose identities you don’t fully understand, deserve respect.” Respect in this case means being aware of how your actions impact others.
Causing Harm – “Civility” Weaponized, Posting Suggestions, & Abbreviations
How can language cause harm? We have an example from our own history, as an object lesson for you to learn from our own experience: We used to have a rule “Keep it Civil” with the intention to try and create welcoming communities. This rule was at times used to silence individuals who spoke up about problems in their communities. “We learned, less quickly than we should have, how the words “civility” and “kindness” were tools of white supremacy in the United States, used over and over again to silence people who spoke up about racism and other forms of bigotry as they manifested in Buy Nothing groups, most especially against Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC).” Liesl Clark and Rebecca Rockefeller, Buy Nothing co-founders from A Brief History of the Buy Nothing Project, Complete with Controversies.
When the suggestions or guidelines on the Buy Nothing Project website are used to regulate how people interact in Buy Nothing communities, that causes harm. Not all of us interact the same way, in person or online. Some of us use lots of words, some of us are communicating in a language that may be our 2nd or 3rd, some of us have neuro differences that affect our communication styles and some of us choose to communicate briefly. None of these ways of communicating are “right” or “wrong”. Language is flexible and changes frequently to meet changes in societies. We are all learning more about how to build meaningful connections, and as we know better, we can do better. Be open to shifting your communication style and vocabulary as you learn what works best for you and your community.
To help you in promoting awareness in your gift economy about all of these ideas, we’ve created some accessibility and awareness posts you can use and adapt.
The BuyNothing app’s Community Commitment is the foundation for all of our interactions. It is a contract we each hold with every member of the community. The points in the contract are applied to everyone equally and are designed to allow each of us to communicate in the ways that work best for us, while still banning hate speech and discriminatory practices. Thanks to the Buy Nothing Project Equity Team, the Community Agreement is in place for all Buy Nothing Facebook groups, if that is your chosen platform.
- Buy Nothing, Give Freely video
- Rules & Suggestions Translations
- Supporting the Transgender People in Your Life: A Guide to Being a Good Ally
- A Brief History of the Buy Nothing Project, Complete with Controversies
- Accessibility & Awareness Posts
Lesson 4.2 – Pick-Ups & Condition of Items
See our document called Pickup Communication for helpful examples related to the words in bold throughout this lesson.
Prompt pick-ups can help keep a gift economy healthy and vibrant. Encourage people to communicate if something happens to delay pick-up. Life happens to all of us and being understanding about missed pick-ups is helpful, but do reach out to recipients if they’re delayed in picking your gift up.
You’re welcome to voice your concerns about “no shows” in a way that can be helpful for the whole community, by either posting about it to spark the conversation as a whole or you can comment on your original post to ask a recipient if they’re going to pick up. The community can then make their own informed choices on whom to give to. “I haven’t heard back from you about rescheduling the pick up for the shoes so I’m going to give them to someone else now,” is a way to help the community see what is going on. If you have the ability to drop something off when someone’s week/day isn’t going their way, consider that another way to be the change you wish to see. (no car, no problem)
Some people arrange to meet person-to-person when exchanging gifts. We hear about so many long lasting friendships that have formed between neighbors, both on-line and off-line as a result of this social movement! But we can’t always arrange to meet in person, so most of us do contactless pickups .Encourage people to share only as much personal information as they are comfortable with. We suggest privately messaging about addresses, pick up locations and times. (personal information)
For many members of Buy Nothing communities, picking up items can be unsafe for them. It can be dangerous to take something off another person’s porch even if that person wants you to have it. There could be neighbors who don’t understand why you are there and they may call the police on you. Things might not be labeled clearly and you might have to dig around in bags to find the item you were supposed to pick up. These optics may not look great to a neighbor. We list these concerns and ideas for addressing them in Lesson 6.3.
As we progress through a deadly pandemic, follow local and national health and safety guidelines to determine how to safely pick up your gift. Please be considerate of other people’s personal safety and boundaries when picking up an item. For more information about sharing in your gift economy during a pandemic, please read our Covid-19 statement.
Communication about Items
Being up front and honest about the condition of items you are giving is also important. If an item isn’t working or if, for example,there is a stain on the pillow you’re offering, please say that. Picking up an item that is not as it was described can be frustrating. We encourage participants to communicate and ask questions about items if they have a sensitivity or worry about something. It’s also helpful for everyone to know if an item has a fragrance (to inform the many participants who have chemical sensitivities) or if your home is a pet-friendly or smoker’s home. Someone who is very allergic to cats can mention it when they ask for an item. It’s perfectly okay if a recipient decides to leave their gift behind when it doesn’t meet their expectations. It’s also okay for the recipient to simply repost the item as a gift, too.
Pick an item that’s not in perfect shape and offer it up to your Buy Nothing community. Describe its condition in detail and see if you find a recipient for it.
Lesson 4.3 – No Limits to Abundance
Abundance and Scarcity
Trusting that there is enough for everyone can be a hard thing to embrace when you see people around you suffering. When we talk about Abundance Mindset and Scarcity Mindset, we are not denying that there is abject poverty in the world, or that generational poverty and systemic injustice in many nations constricts people’s lives, accumulation of wealth, or access to living wage employment, safe housing, and clean water, etc.
What we want to discuss is the point from which we can each view the world. Consumer culture wants us to believe that there isn’t enough, that we must constantly buy new things and keep these things only for our own use. We are taught to view ourselves as “wealthy” if we have a home filled with brand new items that we do not share. We are also taught by consumer culture that there isn’t enough, that only through the purchase and personal use of items will we be able to meet our needs and wants. All of this is what we call a Scarcity Mindset.
An Abundance Mindset is quite different. It’s a starting point that trusts in human generosity and compassion, a view that assumes we are wired to care for each other because we know that we will only survive as individuals if we have strong communities and share resources. Even when we may not have each and every item that each person wants or needs, we always have an abundance of compassion and the milk of human kindness. We also have human ingenuity, and when these things unite, we create ways to assure our mutual survival and joy. This blog post, by Ariel Yasmine, titled How to Practice Abundance (even with a scarcity mindset) may be helpful in framing your understanding as well as this helpful video.
The Buy Nothing Project trusts in this abundance. We trust in our innate human desire to care for each other and our creativity that makes this possible.
Share Without Limit
There is no limit to how many gifts each person can ask for in a Buy Nothing gift economy, or how often they can ask. There is no limit on the number of gifts each person can offer, or how often they give. A vibrant gift economy needs people to Ask and people to Give.
Giving and asking doesn’t have to be equal and that’s okay. Some people may never ask for items but only give. Other people may always ask and never give. Most people will do some of both and the amount of each will change throughout the months and years. We encourage each of us to try both, because each action has its own lessons on how we become integral to the strength of a gift economy. There is an ebb and flow to many things in life and nature. Giving is no different.
Lesson 4.4 – Events & Empowering Members
Events & Gifts
Hosting an event can be a great way to help community members meet up together in a safe place. Parking lots of schools, libraries, churches and parks are possible places to connect. Be sure to check out our Buy Nothing Sharing Events resource for some great ideas. Suggestions for events are Junk in the Trunk, Booty in the Boot, Clothing Give, Back to School Supplies Give or a Buy Nothing Boutique/Buy Nothing Bazaar. Making up a name that doesn’t use the words “sale” or “swap” is half the fun. Here’s a post with other inventive gifting event titles. Remembering that not everyone celebrates the same holidays as you is another thing we ask you to consider when making events titles. Instead of naming an event after an upcoming holiday that people traditionally give presents for, consider making the event title based on season or just more general.
Make sure to have a plan for what to do with leftover items if you do an inside event. Maybe someone would offer to drop the remaining items off at a local charity or school afterwards. It is never a requirement to bring items to a Buy Nothing event. Everything is freely given. Encourage people to come even if they are just picking up items. This makes them feel welcome and it also serves to re-home more items. We operate from a mindset of abundance, and you’ll likely find that there will be plenty leftover after the event, so having more recipients than givers is always welcome.
Society tends to separate us into ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots.’ In Buy Nothing gift economies every participant has something to give. All gifts are of equal value and “priceless” in a gift economy. At first, people may feel strange posting the spaghetti jar they emptied and washed out last night, but we see them used often! Gifts are a means of connecting us with each other.
Because Buy Nothing communities are open to all adult community members, there will be many different types of people and experiences in every community. Someone is going to rub you the wrong way and do things differently than you do. That’s okay, expected, and allowed. Let people be themselves and be messy, within the context of the Community Commitment and Community Agreement. Let go of your expectations that someone will come in and “fix” things to your taste. Our role as participants is not to save the community from people that are different or off-putting, but rather to ensure that all participants following the rules can still use the sharing community as they choose. If participants don’t like a certain post, they can scroll on by. If they don’t like a certain community member, they are welcome to block them.
Empowering Community Members
The more we each help to empower people, the less work anyone will have to do monitoring your community. As you model comments redirecting people back to the mission, others will see that and take notice. At some point they may feel empowered as well to comment and redirect someone back to the mission. (We’re all in this together #1 and #2)
Have you been to any sharing events or hosted sharing events or activities of your own? Think of an event you could organize, with help, in your community. If you’re feeling like hosting is too much, just make a post in your community seeing if anyone else might be interested in organizing an event.
Please go to Lesson 5.
© 2021 Liesl Clark, Rebecca Rockefeller, and Jennifer Lansdowne on behalf of the Buy Nothing Project. All Rights Reserved