The Easiest Sustainable Way to Get Rid of Unwanted Things at Home

I wrote a blog post last year with a list of unique ways to donate a bunch of things when you’re decluttering. Things like dingy towels, toiletries, cleaning products, paint samples, light bulbs, eyeglasses, houseplants, and so so much more. Check it out even if you read it last year because I added a few more tips, and we can always use a refresher.

I mentioned the Buy Nothing Project in that post but I want to give it a big shout out and profess my love for this group. I mean LOVE. I’m in this group’s page literally every day and I’ve decluttered a bunch of hard-to-get rid of items (read my trash - I’ll explain later), plus I’ve saved oodles of money in the group, too. What is it, you ask? Well, I’ll tell ya.

Photo by Sara Tramp for Emily Henderson

Photo by Sara Tramp for Emily Henderson

The Buy Nothing Project is a a community-based group for your neighbors to give, borrow, and request items from one another. It’s a simple as that, but it’s so so valuable. There are Buy Nothing Project groups around the world and throughout different types of communities, so chances are, you can join one. I’ll tell you more about joining after I tell you why I love it.

How it works:

When someone has something they want to get rid of, they take a picture of it, upload it to their neighborhood’s private Buy Nothing Facebook group, and add a simple description. Neighbors will comment on the post that they are interested in the item and the giver gets to select who they’ll pass their item onto. Sometimes the requestors explain why they want the item, so the giver can decide who they would rather their item go to. For example, I gave away cleaning supplies and got lots of interest, but I ultimately gave them to the gal that runs a local LGBTQ community organization and needed it at her center.

Buy Nothing Project Facebook.jpg

Once the recipient is selected, they contact the gifter to make arrangements for pickup. I personally prefer to plop items on the porch and tell people to pick it up anytime. Some people prefer to meet their neighbors so they arrange a time to hand it off in person and exchange pleasantries (this is definitely not my thing). Some people don’t have porches, so they will meet the recipient at the curb or even drop it off at their house.

When someone has a request for an item, they write a post in the Facebook group asking for whatever they’re seeking - they can ask to keep something or just borrow an item. Then, neighbors can ponder the request to see if they have something that would work. This is one of my favorite ways to get rid of things that aren’t top of mind. When someone needs a super specific thing that I forgot I owned in the garage and don’t want, it feels SO good to get rid of it and gift it to them.

I like to write posts requesting items that I turn around and donate. Something like, “my local animal shelter is looking for canned pumpkin and incandescent light bulbs. Does anyone have any to spare, I’ll pick up!” Then, I grab those items that were probably in the back of someone’s pantry and deliver them to a favorite organization. By the way, my local animal shelter is looking for those items for feeding creatures and for warm light bulbs to incubate baby critters - check with your local organizations to see what their wishlist is when you’re cleaning house!

I basically don’t throw anything away because I put all of my trash on my porch to give to neighbors. Literally my trash. Take a look below at what I’ve gifted and received to get an idea of it all.

What I’ve gifted (and what some folks told me they used it for):

  • Packing material, boxes, and used padded envelopes (for someone that reuses it for her eBay sales)

  • Gigantic boxes (that were repurposed into a kid’s play castle)

  • Plastic baggies and old tuperware

  • Stickers, calendars, postcards, product samples and other unnecessary promo that came in online orders

  • An open container of milk leftover from a recipe

  • A cleaned out candle jar (to be repurposed as a vase)

  • A collection of buttons I was saving for no reason

  • Broken pottery (for an artist to make mosaics with)

  • Nearly dead plants (for someone to revive that has a greener thumb than me)

  • Scrap lumber (a gal made an oversized scrabble board from my left over board and batten project)

  • Spare cables for electronics

  • Chopsticks and soy sauce packets

  • Open tube of toothpaste I tried then didn’t like

  • Coupons

  • Help for someone needing tech support

  • Magazines and catalogues (for craft projects)

  • Newspaper (for my neighbor’s pet guinea pig’s cage)

  • Fresh rosemary when my plants got out of control

  • Food scraps for chickens

  • Weatherproofing sealer (for a guy to make a DIY chameleon cage)

  • Kitchenwares

  • Clothes hangers

  • Decor and tchotchkes

  • Lunchboxes, tote bags, and wine carrier bags

  • Cleaning products

  • Paint (for a parent to make outdoor wooden insects for his kids to play with)

  • Scarves (for a neighbor that was doing a collection drive for a homeless shelter)

  • Old yoga clothes

  • Moving blankets to lend

  • Gardening and home improvement tools to lend

  • Random gifts I received and didn’t want

  • All of the things that didn’t sell at my garage sale

What I’ve received:

  • The energy meter I used to do an electricity use audit

  • Reusable containers for storing my kombucha and pantry items

  • A clothesline and clothespins

  • A jumprope

  • Spare limes from someone’s backyard tree

  • A litter box and scoop for my foster kittens

  • Borrowed water shoes so I could kayak on a vacation to Salt Lake City (to hang out with Sarah!)

  • Aloe vera for my sunburn I got while kayaking on my vacation in Salt Lake City

  • Scoby to start my kombucha brewing at home

  • A helper to assist me with moving super heavy things that I couldn’t do myself

  • Dingy towels that neighbors didn’t want so I could donate them to Project Wildlife for animal rehabilitation

  • Dog toys for my foster pup

  • A garden hose reel

  • A cordless drill for my mom to replace her broken one

  • Binders to donate to a local nonprofit needing office supplies

  • Toilet paper tubes to take to our children’s museum for art projects

  • A handmade kayak that I gifted to my sister

  • Xantham gum for a recipe I was trying but didn’t want to invest in buying a whole container

  • Paper bags so I can keep gifting bags of stuff I don’t want

These are just the things that I personally have received or given, but there’s a whole world of other opportunities out there that I don’t take as much advantage of.

Other things I see commonly posted:

  • Kids clothes

  • Kids toys

  • Baby and maternity gear

  • Moving boxes

  • Last-minute tickets to local events

  • Furniture

  • Requests for help moving or doing a chore

  • Kitchen gadgets

  • Small appliances

  • Books/DVDs/CDs and other media

  • Costumes or normal clothes to make costumes

  • Makeup/toiletries/nail polish

  • Crutches and medical gear that people need temporarily

  • Wood scraps, rocks, gravel, or excess building supplies

Basically, you can give away anything (even trash). And, if you ask for something reasonable, chances are someone nearby can give it to you. It’s incredible.

What I love about it:

The simplest benefit is it gives people exactly what they want, for free. It’s a gift economy at the core and it provides to folks of different incomes, abilities, and stages of life. (This group really helps me understand my community and even though the restaurants nearby are posh and housing is expensive, there are many people struggling to make ends meet and can use any help you can give). It reduces waste and avoids buying new products in new packaging. It’s local which means gifting leaves a low carbon footprint and connects people to their neighbors. It ensures donated items go exactly to the people that want it instead of it sitting on a shelf for ages at a Goodwill. It’s all around great. Learn more about the program’s mission and principles. Unlike Craigslist and the anonymity, you can look at the person’s Facebook page to feel comfortable giving them your information.

How to join your own group:

To join your local group, head to the Buy Nothing Project website and navigate to find your local group. This program is international and in big and small cities. Unless you live in a super duper rural area and you’re very far from your neighbors, chances are you have a local group. But, if there isn’t one in your area, you can start one and share it with your neighbors! Each group is private and you need to verify your location before you can join.

Other similar organizations are FreeCycle and Freefong. I don’t use FreeCycle because San Diego is so vast that I might have to drive 45 minutes to get something on the other side of town, and when my neighborhood seems to have everything I need, I don’t use this service - but it’s a good option! Freefong doesn’t looks to be active in my area, but maybe it is in yours? Also, I got rid of landscaping material and even trees/plants by giving them away on Craigslist which saved thousands of dollars in landscape demo and dump fees - learn about that here.

Are you already a part of your Buy Nothing Group? If not, are you going to join now? I really think you should.