Don’t Buy Anything to Build Community Bonds

As I hung the new dress in my closet, I wondered if it had a story. Did the previous owner wear it on a night out or a night out with friends? It reminded me of a Robert Palmer video, kinda cool, kinda short, kinda 80s. I quickly decided it would probably be more of a tunic than a dress, but I loved it.

I’ve always been a thrift shop shopper, but felt like I was doing more than being environmentally conscious or financially savvy. I felt like I had a connection with someone in my community. We are strangers but we share a common interest or taste. This means a lot considering the state of neighborly relations.

According to a 2018 study by the Pew Research Center, only 26% of American adults say they know all or most of their neighbors. Rural residents (40%) were more likely than suburban (28%) or urban (24%) residents to say they knew all or most of their neighbours.

But getting to know each other is only the beginning. A 2021 survey commissioned by Houses.com found that 36% of respondents had problems with their neighbors that turned into arguments in their own right. A quarter of respondents said they had a long-standing feud with someone living next door to them.

I won’t go so far as to suggest that Buy Nothing can solve neighborhood disputes, but it’s much harder to dislike someone if they’ve freely provided you with the goods or services you need.

Buy Nothing was started in 2013 by two friends, Liesl Clark and Rebecca Rockefeller, who live in the Pacific Northwest and wanted to reduce plastic waste by creating a gift economy.

There are over 7,500 Buy Nothing communities worldwide, including over 100 in Georgia. Most of the groups reside on Facebook, but the founders have introduced a new platform to reach a wider audience, expand the movement, and allow users to customize neighborhood boundaries.

In Buy Nothing groups, material wealth is measured by the trust and personal relationships established between people. Valuing people and their stories over things is the rule, according to the list of principles.

The people and stories behind it appeal to me: new neighbors moving in, old neighbors moving out. Babies and children grow up and have no more clothes and toys. The anticipation of watching people search for the most obscure objects and the satisfaction when someone can answer their request.

Candice Crawford said her first request on Buy Nothing was weird. She had just moved to southeast Atlanta and the fireplace in her apartment stopped working. She posted on Buy Nothing to see if anyone had the part needed to fix it. “I thought someone might have one sitting in the basement,” she said. A neighbor didn’t have the part, but gave Crawford an electric fireplace that had never been used. Crawford claimed it and she was hooked.

“It’s crazy how many things people need,” she said during our phone conversation. “I had stuff that was double or brand new. I didn’t know what to do with it and moved it around the house.

Although Crawford knows how to get by in a thrift store, Buy Nothing looks different. “It feels more intentional…and friendlier than selling someone something and never hearing from them again,” she said.

People have sent her pictures of plants she has donated, just to let her know they are thriving.

Once, she offered a formal dining table that was too big for her new place. A neighbor claimed it for her grandmother. “She said, ‘My grandma is going to love this table,'” Crawford said. “I felt like part of the family.”

Giving feels good, and Buy Nothing groups help us tap into the longing many of us have to return to a time of community support and helping each other.

It was Crawford who posted the little black dress that now hangs in my closet.

A purchase she had made during her own weight loss journey, it had been hanging in her closet for about seven years. “I could never fit it because I could never lose weight,” Crawford said after congratulating me on reaching my goal.

It was a small exchange, but that little black dress gave us a base of connection, and it felt like we were part of something bigger.

Read more on the Real Life blog (www.ajc.com/opinion/real-life-blog/) and find Nedra on Facebook (www.facebook.com/AJCRealLifeColumn) and Twitter (@nrhoneajc) or email him at [email protected].

About Bradley J. Bridges

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