Buy Nothing brings Christmas cheer without the waste

The many happy items, kids, parents and caretakers owe their gratitude to the Facebook group Buy Nothing (SF Families).

This holiday, one lucky San Francisco kid is getting a red, rideable race car covered with happy-face stickers. A wooden dollhouse with furniture and dolls hand painted by a girl, now belongs to a little boy. Sparkly dresses and shiny shoes are getting another chance to feel special at holiday dinners and parties.

The many happy items, kids, parents and caretakers owe their gratitude to the Facebook group Buy Nothing (SF Families).

“I just want to thank the BN community once again!” Aisha Marie Hart, one of the group’s members, posted last week. “The two mommies who help me get through this holiday season with my babies are just amazing! I’m truly so excited for the kids now…this community is just amazing and I really appreciate everything!”

Raising a family in San Francisco can feel isolating and financially crushing. But the BN community is a breath of fresh air. Not only does it save San Franciscans money, but it also reduces waste, helps the environment and cuts clutter by creating a forum where giving and receiving is always celebrated.

Although it only started in September 2016, Buy Nothing (SF Families) has blossomed to over 11,000 members.

“I don’t think anyone had an idea of the massive size it would grow to be,” Inna Buschell, one of the group’s administrators, told me.

Buschell was inspired to create the BN community after she saw an old friend use Facebook to collect party favors for her kid’s birthday. Her friend also used the social media platform to share leftover pizza with her neighbors. Buschell loved these waste-reducing measures and wanted to make it easier for more parents to do the same. After meeting Gretchen Sisson, the two decided to launch Buy Nothing (SF Families).

The group is modeled on the larger Buy Nothing Project, which creates hyper-local gift economies around the world. But the BN community is different than the international movement because of its focus on families with children throughout San Francisco. By creating a City-wide community of parents and caretakers, Buschell and Sisson hope to better meet people’s needs and accomplish their goals to reduce consumption and increase reuse.

“As parents we all buy the same 100 pieces of goods for our kids,” Buschell told me. “It’s an area where we see so much waste.”

Sisson still remembers giving away her breast pump supplies to another San Francisco mom. The lactation devices aren’t easy to pass along — most charitable organizations, such as Goodwill or the Salvation Army, won’t accept them. And while some manufacturers have recycling programs, it’s not always easy for busy parents to research options, pack up the pumps and put them in the mail.

Using Buy Nothing (SF Families) to pass on her pump was easy for Sisson and meaningful. The new mother who took her supplies was facing challenges nursing and pumping. While handing over the breast pump that had helped her feed her sons, Sisson was also able to share experiences and stories with another woman in her community.

“I felt like I was able to create a connection and not dump a bunch of bottles on her front step,” Sisson told me. “I’m able to pass it on and know it’s not going to waste.”

Most members of the group share similar experiences. Parents have found treasure chests for treasure hunts, vintage phones and dolls that stores and Amazon rarely carry, birthday cakes and balloons. They’ve watched their kids explore the joy of reuse as they give their once beloved toys to new homes. This waste-obsessed columnist has met moms around The City in my quest for kids’ snow clothes and shoes.

The items we all exchange — the cars, dollhouses and sparkling dresses — certainly bring happiness to our families. But Buy Nothing (SF Families) is another reminder of the joy involved with giving and gathering. While it’s not a charity group, it has filled an important environmental and human need for connection.

In this sense, it offers one of the best gifts people and the planet could receive this holiday season — a community.

Robyn Purchia is an environmental attorney, environmental blogger and environmental activist who hikes, gardens and tree hugs in her spare time. She is a guest opinion columnist and her point of view is not necessarily that of the Examiner. Check her out at

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