COTO DE CAZA, Calif.—For many people, Black Friday means long lines, crowded stores, compulsive buying, and the beginning of Christmas-shopping anxiety.
But this year, a small community in Orange County, California, is taking a different approach.
It's taking part in the international Buy Nothing Black Friday initiative. Alexandra Dreyer is an administrator of the Facebook group Buy Nothing South Orange County, a community where members can give, receive, share and lend new- and like-new items. Recipients often follow-up with gratitude posts showing their appreciation.
While many businesses are struggling and hoping for a rush of sales on Black Friday, many individuals are also struggling amid the pandemic and can’t afford the shopping spree.
Dreyer, a single mother in south Orange County, has been out of work since April due to the pandemic. Since she can’t afford pricey gifts for her daughter this year, she came up with a different plan.
“I thought, 'I bet I can do her whole Christmas from this Buy Nothing group,'” she told The Epoch Times.
Regarding the consumerism of the season, Dreyer asked, “Why do we have to do bigger, better, and more every year?”
“We don’t. We just don’t. It’s not as important as I always thought it was.”
“On a day where the market pushes to ‘buy everything,’ we will instead buying nothing all day,” an announcement on the group’s page reads.
Starting at midnight on Nov. 26, the 1,600 members of the Facebook group posted pictures of new and like-new items they had around their homes. Anyone interested could leave a comment below the item.
On Nov. 27, after everyone has had a chance to voice their interest, random winners will be selected for each item.
Buy Nothing Movement“[It’s] actually a nationwide movement,” Dreyer said. “It’s a movement that has changed my outlook on so many things.”
Buy Nothing Day was started by Canadian artist Ted Dave in 1992 and heavily promoted for years by the Canadian magazine AdBusters. It was originally in September, but Dave shifted it to Black Friday in 1997 to coincide with the consumer rush. It has gained an international following.
In 2013, Rebecca Rockefeller and Liesl Clark launched The Buy Nothing project launched in Bainbridge Island, Washington.
Rockefeller and Clark created an experimental, “hyper-local,” gift economy.
Their website describes the project: “Participating in a local Buy Nothing project group allows individuals and communities to reduce their own dependence on single-use and virgin materials by extending the life of existing items through gifting and sharing.
“Rethinking consumption and refusing to buy new in favor of asking for an item from a neighbor may make an impact on the amount of goods manufactured in the first place.”
According to the site, the project now has 1.2 million participants in 25 countries.
Dreyer’s group has also expanded beyond expectation. It reached its maximum capacity at 1,600 members and would-be members continue to ask for admittance.
Its Facebook page states: “This group has been capped to keep the group from growing too large. If you are interested in starting up a new group in this area for yourself and other neighbors, please check out www.buynothingproject.org/start-a-group.”
It's become more than a place to swap items. It's become a community in a time when many feel isolated, Dreyer said.
“All of a sudden, it became something else to me,” she said. “It's a group of like-minded people who just want to help each other out [and] spend less money—you know, the old ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’ kind of mentality. But it's much more than that.”
‘We Get to Give Back’When April, a mother of two in Mission Viejo, joined the group, she didn’t anticipate the sense of camaraderie she would find.
“I just thought it would be somewhere you could get rid of stuff and get free stuff,” April told The Epoch Times. “But it turned [out to be] this whole community.”
She said this is the first time she’s actually gotten to know her neighbors, three of whom are in the group.
“We take COVID seriously, so we haven't really seen friends or family,” April said. “And it was my only outlet to talk to people and see people.”
Now, when “everything’s so crazy and so isolating,” she said, being a part of the online community has helped keep her and other group members sane.
“You can ask my husband,” April said. “It's something I look forward to … cleaning [my] house, being able to give things away, or getting a new treasure. We get to give back, so it’s cool.”
Lake Forest resident Jane Le spoke to The Epoch Times about her participation in the group: “It's things that people already have, they're not using, but that we can repurpose to bring joy to somebody else.”
Le learned about the Buy Nothing group through Instagram, where she’s involved in a debt-free community made up of “people who are working toward a frugal lifestyle and having financial freedom."
“Nowadays, I feel like, especially in California, you don't really get to know your neighbors a lot," she said. "So it actually builds a community and you feel like you have neighbors to interact with. People reach out when they need things, and other people are there to fulfill those needs.”
Gifts of Time and TalentThe site features a wide variety of gifts. A quick scroll will turn up toys, clothes, an iPhone, TVs, furniture, gift cards, Christmas decorations, artwork, and collectibles—just to name a few.
But Dreyer said not all gifts are physical items.
“We're always looking to fulfill our members’ needs from our own abundance, whether it's something material, whether it's a gift of time, a gift of talent, whatever it is, we want to try and fulfill those needs right there in the group.”
April, for instance, is an artist who recently offered to create paintings for a lucky recipient. (“You get to pick the colors and canvas size for your custom one-of-a-kind painting,” she wrote.)
“I was surprised how many people were interested in it,” April told The Epoch Times.
Other group members have gifted handmade creations from their Etsy stores—blanket ladders, hand-lettered signs, and tailored scarves for cats and dogs, to name a few.
Some group members opt to gift their time. One financial advisor offered free debt counseling to someone in need. Another will give away a free night of babysitting—“In your home. For free, as my gift of time,” she wrote.
Said Dreyer: “I feel like I finally found my tribe. This community is a place where you can reach out and I've made friends, even during COVID. And this was the remarkable thing to me.
“This group really gives you an opportunity to help people … it's a joyful place to be. Yes, it's on Facebook, [so] it’s not a real place. But with COVID, we can't go to many real places right now.”
Dreyer said being a part of Buy Nothing Black Friday has taken “an immense amount of pressure” off of her to buy gifts. Ironically, however, she won't be able to avoid the Black Friday consumer rush altogether.
Recently, she took a seasonal part-time job at Target to make ends meet. She starts work on Black Friday at 5 a.m.
Dreyer told The Epoch Times on Nov. 25, “Yesterday, their Black Friday special was a 65-inch TV, and so many people came through buying [it]. And all I was thinking was ‘I have this fabulous 30-something-inch TV that I got for free on Buy Nothing from somebody who was upgrading [their TV].’”