Back in August, I started a Buy Nothing Project group here in my smallish city. It’s been slow-growing; I think a lot of people shy away from a gift economy because they don’t entirely understand it. Our culture tells us there are only two ways to get things. Either you buy them, in which case: yay capitalism. Or you are given things, in which case: sad poor. The haves give to the have-nots, and the haves just keep buying more new stuff, and everyone is left wanting and grasping and seeking all the time.
That’s why I love the Buy Nothing Project. It asks you step outside that thinking and understand that everyone has things they need and things to give and that if we learned to trust our neighbors (and, you know, bothered to notice each other and learn one another’s names and show up in our communities), so many of our needs could be met without anyone have to walk into a store. And most of the time, I’d rather do anything else than walk into a store.
What has been interesting for me as I nurture my group’s growth is that, some days, I’m the only one giving things away. To keep things lively there, I gift things pretty often, sometimes multiple times a day. But the thing that is crazy is, no matter how much I give away? I always have more stuff I could gift. When you start to look around yourself, at the things you own but never touch, the things that you used once and never picked up again, the things you bought and then forgot about – my heavens, there is so much of it. I could give away something every day for the next 1000 days and I doubt I’d even get close to the things I truly care about. And I think that’s probably true for most people.
And here’s the second crazy thing: every time I give something away, every time I send something off to live a life of use and service in another household, I’m rewarded two-fold. First, I get the frisson of joy from sharing what I have. And second, I get more space in my home, space to breathe and rest and remember that things never bring meaning.