UT-area Buy Nothing Facebook group helps provide sustainable resources, foster community

Michelle Facio, Life & Arts General Reporter

Editor’s Note: This article first appeared as part of the August 31 flipbook. 

When UT alumna Camille Jackson cleaned out her apartment in late January, she thought about tossing her old items into the garbage or selling them online. Instead, inspired by posts on the Buy Nothing facebook page, she chose to give those items a new life by giving them to people in her community through UT’s local Buy Nothing group.

“You see something you don’t have use for (that) has use for somebody else, whereas if you take something to Goodwill… you don’t know if it’s ending up in a warehouse forever or in a landfill,” Jackson said.

With the Buy Nothing Project, an international network of localized “Buy Nothing” groups, people donate, find items and connect with neighbors. The UT/Hyde Park Buy Nothing group, currently stacked with over 1,500 members, helps UT students, alumni and other community members clean out homes, furnish new apartments and even make friends. 

Kym Whitehead, one of the UT/Hyde Park area Buy Nothing group administrators, said the group provides members with everything from furniture and calculators to clothing. She said she values Buy Nothing’s most important rule: Nothing can be given or received in exchange for money. 

“It gives people a chance to act on the impetus to be their better selves,” Whitehead said. “These are not useless items that you’re going to throw in the garbage or put out for bulk collection or take to the dump. Something you don’t want is magically transformed into something that will improve a stranger’s life.”

Buy Nothing member Nichole Wagner said she doesn’t live near her family, so the online community provides her a sense of belonging.

“I’ve gotten to know a lot more of my neighbors and kind people in the neighborhood by being part of the group and having a place to ask questions that are hyperlocal,” Wagner said.

Wagner said during Winter Storm Uri in February 2021, Buy Nothing group members came together to provide one another with resources such as water, power and food. Wagner, who had power throughout the storm, offered neighbors a place to charge their phones.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Sharon Shelton, a UT alumna, spent time walking around her neighborhood, taking pictures of items people left out in the street and posting them to Buy Nothing’s Facebook page.

“When the pandemic started, because I’m elderly, I had to stay indoors and didn’t go out and make my postings,” Shelton said. “I got several emails from people asking if I was okay, checking in, was I still healthy, could they buy me food, did I need anything — and this is from a Facebook group. This is something really special.”

Shelton said Buy Nothing’s overwhelming positivity impressed her.

“Buy Nothing challenges the whole idea that everybody’s competing and everyone’s in it for themselves, and the fundamental basis of our economy is making money however that can be done,” Shelton said. “This goes in the face of that. This is people sharing what they have with each other.”