Nothing spent, everything gained: Building community through gifting unneeded goods

Not a single loonie changed hands, yet everyone ended up feeling a little bit richer. That’s the kind of magic happening thanks to a Buy Nothing group that connects central Edmonton residents — and their stuff.

Sharing and caring go hand in hand thanks to community Buy Nothing group

Lara Catalan, her husband and children Oscar, 8, and four-year-old Ruby show off Halloween costumes obtained from the Buy Nothing group in west-central Edmonton. (Lara Catalan/Facebook )

As part of our Make the Season Kind campaign, CBC Edmonton is highlighting the work our community has done to help others in 2021.

Three-year-old Amelia got a big-girl bed, while 10-year-old Priscilla got a tree fort. Doralynne enjoyed waves of blooming petunias all summer, and Alisa's refrigerator was stocked with homegrown veggies to make nutritious smoothies as she nursed her husband back to health.

Not a single loonie changed hands. Yet everyone ended up feeling a little bit richer.

That's the kind of magic happening thanks to a Buy Nothing group that's connecting central Edmonton residents — and their stuff.

"It's all about your local community supporting each other, and being able to fulfil the needs in your life," said Brandy Yanchyk, a documentary filmmaker and founder of the Buy Nothing Project for the west-central neighbourhoods of Woodcroft, Dovercourt, Sherbrooke, Blatchford and Prince Charles. 

The Buy Nothing Project is a worldwide social movement that started in 2013 when two friends created a hyperlocal gift economy, in which unneeded goods were gifted to others in the community who wanted them.

The project is partly driven by the three Rs of waste management: reducing the amount of garbage going to landfills by recycling or reusing things that still have life left in them.

But Yanchyk, who started the chapter after moving to Woodcroft in January, said another R has emerged: relationships.

"It's a way for the community to meet each other, to connect with each other," she said. 

"Members of the group have said they've lived in the community of Woodcroft for 10 years, they didn't know any of their neighbours. And now they have all these friends and they don't feel so isolated."

The concept is simple. 

Members post items to be gifted, and other members reply if they are interested. The recipient is chosen lottery-style rather than first-come, first-serve, because it adds to the fun and addresses the fact that not everyone is online all the time, Yanchyk said. 

The rules are simple, too. People can only belong to a chapter encompassing the community where they live, and selling — or reselling — items is verboten, she said.

The Woodcroft chapter holds Wish Wednesdays and Wish Weekends where members can ask for things they want or need. Yanchyk said it's surprising how many of those requests end up being filled.

Less than a year after the Woodcroft chapter was launched, the Facebook group has grown to about 350 people. There are more than a dozen Buy Nothing chapters in Edmonton; the one Yanchyk manages is among the smallest.

That hasn't stopped it from making a big impact.

One woman told Yanchyk she'd been able to furnish her home after a job loss upended her family's living situation. Baby items ranging from toys to clothing to equipment make the rounds from one household to the next. Old veggies are used to feed pet rabbits, while chunks of wood have patched up fences to keep pups from getting out, she said.

"It is literally changing people's lives and stopping these items from going into the landfill," she said.

For Yanchyk, the project has filled some tangible holes in her home — a lawnmower, some tools, and an eclectic set of bar glasses. 

It also filled some of the emptiness created by the pandemic and the ensuing isolation.

The act of gifting an item to its new owner often involves a porch conversation and an opportunity to meet a neighbour, she said.

"We're isolated right now — and we will be isolated even after this pandemic disappears — unless we connect with our neighbours and we make a point of meeting each other and talking to each other."

Members of the Buy Nothing group for the Woodcroft, Dovercourt, Sherbrooke, Prince Charles and Blatchford neighbourhoods held a small outdoor get-together on Dec. 11 in Coronation Park. From left: Naomi Littlewood, Derek Baars, Francis Baars, Julia Vos holding Kai, Alisa Desilets, Taya Bargmeyer, Tonya Malo, Norm Malo, Brandy Yanchyk, Priscilla Shine and Jason Shine. (Submitted by Brandy Yanchyk)