Before you buy something, try your neighborhood ‘Buy Nothing’ group

Pittsburgh neighbors are gifting their extra things to one another in hyper-local gift economies. Here’s how to find your own ‘Buy Nothing’ Facebook group.

by Jessa Gibboney
November 23, 2020

With time at home increasing due to the ongoing pandemic, it comes as no surprise that many Pittsburghers are organizing and downsizing their belongings as well as making their homes more efficient for work, play and relaxation. Local Buy Nothing Facebook Groups, sparked by The Buy Nothing Project, have gained popularity as a tool to not only help us declutter, but rethink consumption and connect with neighbors.

‘Buy Nothing’ Facebook Groups in Pittsburgh

Neighborhood Buy Nothing Facebook groups are a resource to donate unwanted items directly to neighbors or receive items for free directly from neighbors. It is a hyper-local gift economy where the value of the group lies in collaboration and gifting among the community, not in money or the monetary value of an item. Sounds perfect for Pittsburgh, right?

“It is the idea that no gift is worth more than another gift no matter what it is,” said Cosette “Cosy” Cornelius-Bates, local volunteer administrator of Buy Nothing Squirrel Hill South Facebook Group. “It is the idea that all communities have an abundance of their own that people are able to draw upon and give.”

Items gifted between neighbors have a wide range, from furniture to household items (such as toothbrushes, cleaning products, decorations) to office supplies to clothes to food. There is no gift too big or too small. There is no request too big or too small.

Cornelius-Bates first learned about Buy Nothing through a friend in Hazelwood. They chatted about starting a local Buy Nothing group, but it wasn’t until Cosette’s youngest child entered kindergarten in November 2019 that she moved forward with creating the group that encompassed Squirrel Hill, Greenfield and Shadyside. The group grew rapidly, especially when the pandemic came into full effect and folks were home and on social media more. Eventually the group sprouted into Bakery Square / Shadyside / Squirrel Hill North and Squirrel Hill South.

What is the ‘Buy Nothing’ Project?

The Buy Nothing Project was sparked by Rebecca Rockefeller and Liesl Clark, two friends who, in 2013, created an experimental local gift economy on Bainbridge Island, Washington. The social movement only grew from there spanning the country and eventually the world.

In April 2020, Rockefeller and Clark published The Buy Nothing, Get Everything Plan: Discover the Joy of Spending Less, Sharing More, and Living Generously. This guidebook, available at Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, lays out the full Buy Nothing mindset and how to create a Buy Nothing community through Facebook Groups or by an open source document.

All of Pittsburgh’s Buy Nothing groups are on Facebook currently.

There are 15 Pittsburgh area Buy Nothing Facebook Groups boasting over 7,500 members. There are larger community groups like Buy Nothing Highland Park / Lawrenceville / Bloomfield / Garfield / Morningside / East Liberty / Stanton Heights Group with over 1,500 members and smaller communities such as Buy Nothing Blawnox / Aspinwall / Sharpsburg / O’Hara Township with 137 members.

Find Your Local ‘Buy Nothing’ Facebook group

To find your local Buy Nothing Facebook Group, use this interactive Buy Nothing Pennsylvania Map

When you join a Buy Nothing Facebook group, the local volunteer administrator will ask the following through Facebook Messenger:

  • An intersection near your house
  • Whether you have been in another Buy Nothing Group before and if you are still a member of that group (you are only allowed to be a Group member of one Buy Nothing Group)
  • If you are 21 years or older

Every Pittsburgh Buy Nothing Facebook Group has the same instructions posted on their page: “Post anything you’d like to give away, lend or share in this Buy Nothing community group. Ask for anything you’d like to receive for free or borrow. Keep it legal. Keep it civil.”

There is no buying or selling of items or services or directing to a person in the group where they can buy an item. There is no trading or bartering. It is gifting in its truest form.

To post an item, simply post a picture, description and an intersection or landmark near your house. It is also customary to describe the pickup location (ex. Porch pickup with stairs, curb pickup, etc.) so members can plan accordingly.

Here is an example of a gift post I recently published in my local Buy Nothing Group:

Give: Ikea ANTILOP High Chair (white / silver) and sippy cup strap. Used with our first child, but still in great condition. Porch pick-up, no stairs – up the hill from Minadeo Elementary School.

The Buy Nothing Project recognizes members are not on their phones all day, nor does this social movement want them to be. Therefore, administrators ask members that when they post an item as a gift, they let it “simmer.” This means allowing the post to breathe for three to five days so community members have a chance to see it.

After a few days of simmering, the gifter randomly selects a giftee. Details for pickup such as time and exact location are ironed out in Facebook Messenger.

To be considered for a gift, simply comment on the gift saying you’re interested. Many members take it a step further making it more personal and type why they are interested in an item (for example: “I would love to be considered! These hiking poles would be put to good use as my husband and I hike often.”).

Just as importantly, The Buy Nothing Project pushes members to rethink consumption. When a need is presented, for example a leaf blower is needed for your fenced-in outdoor space now that fall has landed or you recently moved into an apartment and are looking for a rug, the Buy Nothing mindset wants you to ask your neighbors opposed to buying new. By not purchasing an item, you have a small, but important impact. You are not contributing to the overproduction of goods, which often leads to many items in landfills. You are helping to extend the life and use of items already in the hands of your neighbors.

“The environmental factor can’t be beat,” said Cornelius-Bates. “The ability to get stuff that you have in your house directly in the hands of another person who is going to actually use it is unbelievable.”

Pittsburgh ‘Buy Nothing’ Groups

To find your local Buy Nothing Group, click on your neighborhood below or use this interactive Buy Nothing Pennsylvania Map:

Bakery Square / Shadyside / Squirrel Hill North

Beechview / Dormont

Blawnox /Aspinwall / Sharpsburg / O’Hara Township

Duquesne Heights / Mt. Washington / Allentown

Elliott / Westwood / Ingram / Crafton Heights / Crafton

Greenfield / Hazelwood

Highland Park / Lawrenceville / Garfield / Morningside / East Liberty / Stanton Heights

Monroeville / Pitcairn


Penn Hills / Verona / Oakmont 

Plum Borough

Ross Township

South Side / Arlington / Mt. Oliver

Squirrel Hill South

Wilkinsburg / Swissvale / Braddock

Want to know more about The Buy Nothing Project or learn how to start a hyper-local gift economy in your neighborhood? Check out The Buy Nothing, Get Everything Plan: Discover the Joy of Spending Less, Sharing More, and Living Generously available at Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh

The Buy Nothing Project Facebook Page / Twitter / Website / Instagram

Jessa is a writer and poet, but above all, a storyteller. Her blog houses poetry and essays on sustainable style, freelance and motherhood. Through her writing endeavors, she has worked with local and global brands such as Carnegie Museum of Art, TRYP Pittsburgh | Lawrenceville, Pittsburgh Opera, Cartier, Earth Brands and George Dickel Tennessee Whisky. Jessa lives in Pittsburgh with her husband, Ben, daughter, Louise and their pup, Opal. She wears the same rings every day, believes anything secondhand has a good story to tell and likes her whiskey straight up.

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