Pittsburgh Buy Nothing

Pittsburgh’s ‘Buy Nothing’ groups allow families to share toys, clothes and laughs

Photo above by Elaine Casap via Unsplash.

Need a cup of sugar or an egg for brownies? Ask your neighbor. Need one LEGO wheel or a lab coat for a Halloween costume? Also ask your neighbor. In most Pittsburgh communities, Buy Nothing groups — or their rogue offshoots — are one of the main methods through which families give and receive items for free.

Kids grow fast, and interests change. To manage that reality and the many expenses that come with it, many families are now as likely to make a post searching for a pair of soccer cleats as they are to go to the store and buy a new pair. In a city increasingly looking to become more sustainable, it just makes sense to local residents to, “give where they live.” 

The Buy Nothing Project, an organization founded in Washington state in 2013, quickly grew to include millions of members across the world. At the outset, volunteers from the parent organization set up local Facebook groups for communities, defined the rules, and helped to enforce those (often rigid) rules. The original organization has since built its own platform and app, though many groups still exist in their original Facebook form.

Some keep the original name while others are creatively called, “Buy Not a Thing,” “Give and Receive,” or even, “Take My Sh*t.”

Like any public group, there is always a bit of drama: someone taking the wrong bag when picking up items off someone’s porch, or battling over who was chosen to receive a popular item, or even expressing outrage when a (free, used) item isn’t in new-and-working-order. The rules exist to maintain a sense of order, though things occasionally get bumpy.

Give and receive freely

Despite this occasional drama, most residents really do love their local group. It allows them to meet their neighbors, give and receive, and cut down on spending. The ethos of the project is to give and receive freely and without expectation. Gifting is not based on need or even necessarily on who comments first, but is rooted more deeply in a sense of community.

Carly, a mom of two in Butler, says she’s been able to give away so many things and brighten others’ days in the process.

“One lady came over to get my pantry items I wasn’t going to use soon enough with a story about how her husband had just lost his job,” Carly tells Kidsburgh. “I happened to be baking cupcakes that day, and sent six of those with her, too.” She says she has a desire to help, and this is just one way to give back in her community.

It’s also a way to reduce food waste. One Bellevue mom had too much cake left over after a party, and found another home that was happy to have a random half cake to make their evening more exciting. 

In the North Hills, Judy says she enjoys sharing her love of plants with others, and her Buy Nothing group lets her do that.

“I love sharing rooted plant cuttings from trimming my plants,” Judy says. “I never used to know what to do with them all, and people get really excited to take them!” 

It’s amazing what local parents sometimes find in Buy Nothing groups: When moving from Dormont to Florida, a parent named Cristie was looking to find another family to complete their homeschool science project. “I was happy to find a home for our decomposing pumpkin in a repurposed cheese ball tub. Thank goodness for neighbors that appreciate science as much as we do.” 

Comedy and community 

Sometimes, parents tell Kidsburgh, the drama is actually part of the fun. Every Buy Nothing group has at least one funny story to share — though most have many. In the South Hills, a few moms told Kidsburgh they have made up a verb to describe one local member who shows interest in nearly every item. “It’s good-hearted, but if I am the first to comment on something, my friends will absolutely tease me for Jessica*-ing them.” 

In the North Side group, tired mom Adrienne wasn’t paying close attention when she grabbed what she thought was a bag containing a t-shirt from a neighbor’s porch. Running the rest of her errands that day, she could not figure out why her car smelled so terrible. Suddenly she realized the bag she’d grabbed did not contain a shirt, but instead a large wad of dog poop the homeowner had yet to throw away. 

“I was crying and laughing. I got my groceries and found the first trash can to pitch the poop,” she says. “I headed back to the lady’s house to grab the other bag. The dog, whose poop I’m guessing I took for a ride, barked at me. The lady was laughing and apologizing. I delivered the t-shirt to my pal complete with a ridiculous story.” 

Meeting a need

In the end, whether your community has an “official” Buy Nothing group or a rebranded offshoot, the fact is most parents love having a place to give and receive kid items. Bags of baby clothes, outgrown shoes and toys that have lost their luster are often the most popular posts.

Sherry, a North Hills mom, says knowing who will receive her item helps her part with things she feels nostalgic about.

“One of the many reasons I love it is because I have a hard time getting rid of things and it makes it so much easier to give things away when you know they are wanted or needed. And I especially love when people request something and I can meet that need… it’s exciting!” 

Ultimately, people say the groups are popular as much for the sense of community they build as well as the items being gifted. Heather, a mom of two in Ross Township, says she’s received homemade green beans as a thank you and got to lend a baking pan to a mom hoping to surprise her kids with a sweet treat, among other fun experiences.

“I think the sense of being neighborly is magnified by these groups,” Heather says. “You can borrow things you’ll only need once. You can respond to a need in the community. It makes a dark world feel a little bit lighter.” 

To find a group in your area, check out the official Buy Nothing Project website, or search Facebook for your area. 

(*name changed out of courtesy)