Unstuff Your Holidays And Share

Our kids know to not get us “things” as gifts over the holidays. We’ve worked hard to demonstrate that consuming less at holiday-time means less hassle of managing a household of stuff for the year to come. But, how can we take this one step further and try to bring-about a community-wide movement of buying less “stuff” and consuming what is already around us? I’ve found one way to do this: Get proactive, find the perfectly-shareable things that are out there, and help jumpstart collaborative consumption, i.e. sharing what’s already in our midst.

When I was a little girl, I had dreams of owning a shop and offering everything for free. I wanted to take money out of the bargain and let those who truly needed a loaf of bread simply have it, no strings attached. I imagined the happy faces when my clientele would realize they could take it home, along with the freshly ground peanut butter and handmade jellies. I didn’t have a business plan for this sort of shop, of course, but I knew it would thrive somehow. What I didn’t know then was that I was dreaming of a gift economy. Experience now tells me it works, and it can be a huge success.

IMG_5545, Photo © Kim Scott-Olson

Six years ago, my friend Rebecca and I started a local free food gathering that happened every Saturday morning before the farmer’s market. Gardeners would bring extra produce they’ve grown and home cooks would offer fresh baked and canned goodies. We’d see grass fed beef being shared, vegetable seedlings, and locally-caught crab at our gatherings. Everyone would bring a basket and take home their fill of produce, fruit, flowers, and other consumables. Participants departed enriched by the offerings and the knowledge that their food bills would be much less that week. A sharing economy is joyful. It brings neighbors together to share their bounty and eat locally-grown, caught, and foraged foods.

Bainbridge Bounty-Share, Photo © Liesl Clark

Taking this successful model of collaborative consumption further, Rebecca and I wanted to help take the burden of buying out of the holidays. What if we opened a “Buy Nothing, Give Freely Gift Boutique?” The idea is truly simple: Every family has, for example, toys their child outgrows and most are made of plastic. Or perhaps families have clothing, jewelry, kitchen items that they never use. Why not offer them up to others in exchange for free goodies that you might be able to give to family members or friends?  I tend to have excellent toy karma. So, we have plenty to keep 10 families happy for years. So every autumn, I start boxing up our unwanted toy bounty in preparation for the free gift boutique.

A Free Gift Boutique Makes Christmas Shopping Easy and Fun

We also have an arrangement with a local school that conducts a gift boutique for their students. When their shop (of donated gifts) closes, they want to get rid of the nice housewares and toys quickly so we pick up those boxes of goods and add them to our mix so kids and adults can browse for gifts for family members of all ages. Some families come with toys and items to share in the shop and others come simply to gather much-appreciated gifts. All are welcome.

The holiday boutique idea is a one day, once-a-year event and pure joy to see the happy faces and thoughtful children as they think of everyone in their family they’d like to find a special something for.

Free Frames! Photo © Kim Scott-Olson

Free Housewares, Photo © Kim Scott-Olson

Free Housewares, Photo © Kim Scott-Olson

We took this idea about a thousand steps further and created The Buy Nothing Project, which has grown into a worldwide social movement of hyper-local gift economies set up in communities all over the globe. At last count, we have well over 1500 groups and we’re approaching 200,000 members. We’re like Freecycle, but our emphasis in on community-building.

Free Toys For All Ages, Photo © Kim Scott-Olson

Yet, this year I didn’t have the time to host a holiday boutique here in our home, so I collected the items from the school, had my kids go through their toys, and I purged things from our housewares, and we’ve simply been offering them up to the community through our local Buy Nothing group. A truck-load of items that I got from the school has been given away, with only 1 box left for Goodwill. Families are so happy to receive items to relieve the burden of gift-buying, and perhaps free up some funds to spend locally.

My reasoning is this: If we all just take our perfectly-usable unwanted things to Goodwill, we’re removing those items from our community wealth. If we continue to share them with our neighbors, offering up what we no longer need or use, our community  benefits in small but measurable ways by buying less stuff in general and saving that money to spend nearby: in a local restaurant or shop, for travel and exploration, for concerts and exhibits, for education. Over the holidays, there’s so much right here in our neighborhoods that’s shareable. The key is to seek those items out, and divert them away from the landfill or anonymous charity, and circulate them throughout the community again and again. I’m warmed by seeing my children’s dollhouse gifted 5 years later to yet another family. These things last many lifetimes, and sharing them sends a message to manufacturers that we don’t need to make so many, especially of they’re well-made.

img_6948

So, I look at our “stuff” as a community asset. Things we should keep circulating around our neighborhoods, for reuse, so we don’t go out and buy the same things over and over, producing the mountains of waste we see heading each week to the landfill. If we change the way we handle our stuff, add sharing into the picture, we can make a huge impact on our planet. In fact, each gift, in our original Buy Nothing Holiday Boutique, had a printed reminder of where the gift came from, the benefits of a gift economy, and the responsibility we each have as stewards of each item, ensuring that it stays in our materials economy, and not in our landfills or oceans, for a long time hence.

The Virtues of a Circular Economy, Photo © Kim Scott-Olson

9 thoughts on “Unstuff Your Holidays And Share

  1. This is brilliant. I’ve been wondering how to make some of your positive ideas a reality in a community in which we’re still pretty new, and where the easier entry point of having children is no longer available to us. Our LETS scheme in nearby Harrogate, which shares many of these values seems to have passed its sell-by date in many ways. Your community sounds a very positive one in which there are a critical mass of people who share your values. Fantastic stuff.

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    • Thanks, Margaret! I sympathize about being new to a community. People love stuff, so if there’s any way to break the ice by simply sharing, it’s such a great way to meet. We have some neighbors here who regularly bake and then share on our local Buy Nothing group, which seems a great way to connect immediately. We feel lucky to have found a spot where sharing is becoming more of the accepted norm, rather than buying.

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      • I’ve just found there is a Buy Nothing group – with 7 members – in an adjacent town. You may or may not know via my blog that I have little energy to spare beyond my family maybe for the next year or so, so I won’t start something I can’t commit to. But it really is something to think about.

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  2. I love this! I actually recently was wondering how i could do something similar with clothes! Where people could bring their old usable children’s clothes and take the next size up for free. I love that you are making this work, it’s inspiring x

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    • Thanks so much, Emmy! If you have a Buy Nothing group in your area, you can start a round robin of children’s clothes for a particular size group and that’s a great way to have the clothes do the rounds to other households. If you make it for 2-3 sizes, then when the round robin comes back around to you, you can swap out for new clothes. And if you don’t have a Buy Nothing group, you can do it with a group of friends. Everyone has fun doing it and it’s a great way to share!

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  3. Truly an awesome project idea. In bangkok a friend started the clothing swap group, which started in 2014 and has now grown… people actually look forward to an afternoon of swapping clothes and finding new items… We have taken it now to a different level and also include tailor and design services, while at the same time looking for options for the tons of leftover clothing… some of them have become new carrier bags… As I use reusable cutlery sets, I was thinking of having people start making them also from the left over material… Lots of creative options and plans for 2017… really excited!

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