American cheese slices, cross-country skis and a dog kennel are just some items people are giving to their neighbors through a new Facebook-based gift economy project spreading through Missoula.
The Buy Nothing Project works neighborhood by neighborhood for residents to give, receive, share and lend items without bartering or exchanging money. In December, Stacy Varkuza started a chapter in Missoula for the Northside, Hip Strip, University District and downtown known as "Buy Nothing Heart of Missoula." Since then, demand has increased, with new Buy Nothing pages for east, south and west Missoula. Overall, about 400 members have joined the project.
"I was getting all of these requests and having to turn all these people away, and eventually there were some people here and there who were interested in starting groups like I did," Varkuza says.
Through the Heart of Missoula page, Varkuza says she has received a new twin mattress for her daughter from someone in her neighborhood.
"I have a young child and she's constantly growing out of clothes and going through baby items," she says. "It's just nice to get something I need and be able to get it from my neighbor and not have to go to the store. I'm using less gas and I'm getting to socialize, which isn't something I get to do as a young mom a lot."
Gina Cors, a member of Buy Nothing Heart of Missoula, says she's given clothes, potting soil and Brita filters. She's also received garage shelves, a necklace, corks and acrylic paints for a project. "I checked out the page and read a little about it and it seemed like an awesome idea," she says.
Liesl Clark co-founded the Buy Nothing Project in 2013 on Bainbridge Island, Wash. By the project's second day, she says over 500 members had joined the group, and in a little over a week she had to start a second one to meet demand. Now Buy Nothing extends to 13 countries with about 650 Facebook groups, 800 volunteer administrators and upwards of 150,000 members. Clark attributes the success to the sense of individualism promoted in a market economy.
"You have your money, you earn your money, and then you use your money," Clark tells the Indy. "But we're isolated. That money is serving to isolate us from each other because with that money, we're buying goods but we don't know who grew them, and we're buying from a middle person."
Clark says she constantly maintains the project, and approves around 10 admins to start new groups each day. She adds that she's seen exchanges ranging from a single cup of sugar to a yacht.
"There are plenty of people who are getting rid of things, and plenty of people who would be happy to receive them," she says. "Rather than taking it to the landfill or giving anonymously to Goodwill, for example, where you don't meet the person who receives it, you're connecting with people who are right here, and right outside your door."