Miranda Swanson, co-administrator of the Hartford/Sumner/Buckfield Buy Nothing group, stands outside her Lewiston home recently holding some of the magazines gifted to her. She will use them to create graphic pieces of art like the one she’s holding in front of the magazines. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Tools, toys, tech equipment, sofas, appliances, boots, shoes and lots and lots of toddler and baby clothes.

These were among the items recently offered on my local Buy Nothing group. All free, and often delivered to the doorstep of the recipient.

Items posted recently on the Hartford/Sumner/Buckfield Buy Nothing Facebook page.

Buy Nothing groups are defined as hyperlocal gift economies that allow you to “give where you live.” And to receive. Members can offer items or ask for things.

Miranda Swanson, co-administrator of the Hartford/Sumner/Buckfield group, said she received “years’ worth of hand-me-downs, toys and necessities” for her son, then an infant, when she lived in South Portland.

About a year ago, she moved back to her hometown of Hartford and started a group there. While she has since moved to Lewiston, she continues to help run the group.

“It provided me with not only stability and free, gifted items, but a sense of purpose and something to do during isolation. It felt good to give back to my community in return, with items I no longer had use for.”

The Buy Nothing Project originated in 2013 in Washington state. Since then, groups have sprung up in more than 44 countries.

The mission: to build community and reduce the waste stream.

Maine has about 40 groups, including Auburn (which recently opened membership to residents of Lewiston), Hartford/Sumner/Buckfield, Lisbon/Topsham/Bowdoin, Mt. Blue area (towns in the Farmington-based school district), Oxford Hills, Turner/Greene/Monmouth and Winthrop/Manchester/Readfield/Mount Vernon/Wayne.

Whether you are looking to give or receive, Buy Nothing groups offer a way to get to know your neighbors and bond with them, a way to “creatively share abundance with others,” according to The Simplicity Habit.

Child-sized toy guitars donated by a member of the Auburn Buy Nothing group.

While the groups are community based, they are virtual. Actual communication among members — the givers and the takers — is online, though the process often leads to fellow group members meeting up in person and more community interaction. People interested in joining a group have, for the past eight years, done so through Facebook, but project creators recently developed an app that can be downloaded and available on multiple devices without using Facebook.

You can also join more than one group and groups can now expand beyond their geographical borders.

This allowed Ilse Thompson, co-administrator of the Auburn group, to just last week open membership to residents of Lewiston.

Thompson, a personal coach specializing in grief and loss, and co-administrator Laura Decato, created the Buy Nothing group about two years ago.

Thompson heard about the project from her sister who lives in Seattle.

“I was delighted by the idea,” Thompson said. She looked into the project and “fell in love with the philosophy behind it. Its founders very intentionally have created a movement of generosity and gratitude among neighbors.”

When she learned that Auburn didn’t have a group, she signed up to train as an administrator. Decato had the same idea, so they signed up together.

Administrators monitor the site to make sure members are playing by the rules. To join in the past, you had to answer a few questions and live in the town or towns in the group. With the new app, anyone can join any group.

Parsley plants were donated by a member of the Auburn Buy Nothing group.

The Auburn group has grown steadily since autumn 2019 and now has 340 members, Thompson said.

She said the site sees daily offerings and requests.

“I am always heartened when people feel comfortable asking for what they need from the group, because asking for help can take courage,” she said. “I think it’s a testament to the kindness of the community that people are not afraid to make requests.”

Among recent offerings, a member is giving away all of her houseplants because her new puppy is getting into them, Thompson said.

She said one thing she enjoyed donating to the group was an “embarrassingly huge collection of vintage costume jewelry that I had been hanging on to for years, thinking that I’d be able to do something with it.”

Several people were interested, she said, so she broke the collection down into bundles and tailored them to what people planned to do with them: costume design, crafting with grandkids, a brooch collection, repurposing.

Ilse Thompson hands an envelope with some CLYNK bottle redemption funds to Amanda Eastman at Eastman’s home in Auburn. Thompson is a co-administrator of the Buy Nothing Auburn group. Eastman has been in several Buy Nothing groups, starting when she was living in California. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

“Then I dropped them off to their new homes all over town, and got to connect with some of our members,” she said.

Connecting is a common occurrence in the Hartford/Sumner/Buckfield group. Members deliver items or meet new people when someone comes to pick up an offering. New posts appear daily.

Vintage jewelry was donated by a member of the Auburn Buy Nothing group.

The group has grown rapidly in the first year, now boasting 745 members, Swanson said. She created the group with co-administrator Jamie Merrill, who helps moderate the site.

“We have created an online tool that provides our community with the benefit of cost-free items,” Swanson said. “Not only that, we contribute to the recycling of items that otherwise might have ended up in a landfill.”

She has seen people donate working appliances such as refrigerators and washers and dryers, furniture in good condition, clothes and toys, and dry goods, among many other things.

Swanson heard about the project when she posted in a “mommy” group in search of sunglasses with a head strap for her baby son. Someone in that group suggested she look into whether her area (South Portland at the time) had a Buy Nothing group.

It did. She joined. Now she’s an administrator of her own group.

“Our group is essential to many local needs being met,” she said. “I myself have benefited greatly from this group as an independent artist. I have had several members donate their old magazines to me, which provide me with the necessary materials to create collages and build my business as a single parent.”

The groups have rules, the first of which is that no money can be exchanged. The project’s ethos is simple: Give. Ask. Borrow. Lend. Share gratitude.

It’s the administrators’ job to make sure the rules are met, and Swanson has seen few problems.

Little beginner watercolor set was donated by a member of the Auburn Buy Nothing group.

“The only issue we seem to face is people offering money when they post that they are ‘in search of’ (ISO) an item, but it is a BUY NOTHING group — no trades or money are allowed,” she said.

Another rule (recently relaxed) is that members must be residents of a specific town to join that group.

The Mt. Blue Area group, created by Denisa Cundick and Marjorie Cormier, embraced an entire school district as “local.”

The group welcomes residents of Chesterville, Farmington, Industry, New Vineyard, New Sharon, Starks, Temple, Vienna, Weld and Wilton.

It was created in January 2021 and already has 900 members.

Cundick, an English professor at the University of Maine at Farmington, heard about the project a few years ago, she said.

“I knew it could be a great community builder, especially during COVID,” she said. “I had some things to give away, so with Marjorie’s help, we started the group.”

Cundick said they get requests to join all the time.

“I think the members of the group really like it and want to share it with family and friends,” she said. “It is also a pretty safe place and people have been very kind to each other.”

Large appliances are among the items given away in the Buy Nothing groups.

In fact, people from outside the area, including residents of Skowhegan, Waterville and Mexico, have asked to join, she said.

“But Buy Nothing is supposed to be hyperlocal, so as we give and receive freely, we’re creating connections with our literal neighbors,” Cundick said. “We would love it if someone started groups in the Strong/Phillips/Rangeley area, Jay/Livermore Falls/Livermore area and Dixfield/Rumford area.” (To learn more about the rules and about starting a group, see related story.)

Cormier, a retired graphic designer and farmers market pie baker, said people offer items or ask for them every day.

One of the recent, more generous donations was a stand mixer, Cundick said. “I thought that was wonderful and showed that you can really ask for anything and you might find it within the group.”

She said she recently donated a metal sink, an old dishwasher, a shelf and two large glass panels from a sliding door.

“These would have needed to be disposed of at the dump before we had Buy Nothing in our area, but I was able to find them a new home within a couple of days,” she said.

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