Gift economies help save money, reduce waste, form friendships

  • Written by Briana Gerdeman, Staff Writer

The night before Liesl Clark’s husband left on a trip, he realized his suit needed to be altered.

Luckily, they found a stranger who tailored it for free — thanks to the Buy Nothing Project, an experiment Clark started on her home of Bainbridge Island with her friend Rebecca Rockefeller.

"There was no money that exchanged hands, but there was a human connection made," Clark said.

Buy Nothing is a gift economy is which people offer items and services they have, and ask for things they need, via local Facebook groups. There’s no exchange of money and no bartering.

After watching plastics wash up on the shoreline at every high tide, Clark and Rockefeller created an app called Trash Backwards that helps people reduce, reuse and recycle, with suggestions for what to do with 2,000 household items.

When their blog post "100 Things You Never Need to Buy" become popular, they started Buy Nothing to help people achieve that goal.

In the past five months, Buy Nothing has spread across the country, with about 40 local groups from Florida to California. Two of the newest groups are in Woodinville and Carnation/Duvall.

Buy Nothing has allowed people to give and receive oddly specific items, Clark said — for example, a computer charger, 60 spoons, birthday party decorations, batteries and an 8-year-old girls’ bike.

Tiphanie Eichholz, who serves as an administrator for the Carnation/Duvall and Woodinville Facebook groups, also said that even obscure requests have been answered. One woman posted a request for odd wool socks to make sweaters for goat kids. "She was very successful, to the point where she had to tell people she didn’t need them anymore," Eichholz recalled.

But, "it’s more about meeting people than about the stuff," Eichholz said. "It’s a great way to meet your neighbors," she added.

Clark also focuses on the relationships and connections formed between people through Buy Nothing. Within 10 days of starting the Bainbridge Island group, she met two women older than she, who she wouldn’t have met otherwise. She now counts them among her best friends.

Buy Nothing lends itself to forming connections because it can make people feel vulnerable to explain why they want something, or to offer something they’re afraid people won’t want.

But the benefit of that is that people realize how much they have in common.

"Our self worth is actually wrapped up in our stuff," Clark explained. She added, "We’ve kind of lost our ability to accept just a gift, or to receive … You don’t always have to have an equal thing to give back in return."

As a filmmaker who’s traveled to Nepal for an archeological project, Clark also wonders how a gift economy could affect our society.

"Traditional societies have lived with gift economies for 90 percent of our existence, if you look at the anthropology," she said. "In the developed world, can a gift economy exist in parallel with the market economy?"

She’s not sure it will work, but she wants to try.

To join a Buy Nothing group, see or (for the Carnation/Duvall group.)

Buy Nothing Woodinville is looking for an administrator..

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