Donations only, no cash exchange. The Buy Nothing movement, born in the United States 10 years ago, is gaining popularity in Quebec, with Facebook groups in nearly 70 cities and neighborhoods. What no longer has value in the eyes of some may be treasures for others!

On Chantal Skaiem’s ​​counter, two boxes of baby cereal she won’t use are waiting to be given away. A member of the Buy Nothing Ahuntsic/Cartierville group for two years and a recent co-administrator, the mother of two often has items ready to be passed on to the next one.

His first donation was a children’s bicycle. They are regularly found on this group, as well as on the others of the movement, as well as clothing, articles for children, decorative objects and food donations. You’d be surprised how quickly a half-full box of granola bars sells. Or even an opened bag of chips. “There are some for whom it is not serious, notes Chantal Skaiem. There are no taboos. Only a few prohibitions: tobacco products, alcohol, and prescription drugs. The gift of time is allowed.

The first Buy Nothing group was started in 2013 in Washington State by Rebecca Rockefeller and Liesl Clark, two Americans driven by the idea of ​​creating a cashless economy. The goal is not to completely turn your back on purchases, but to reduce them by promoting reuse. The original idea was that people should not be ashamed of what they have to offer. “We want them to come and offer their onion skin and their concrete bits,” Rebecca Rockefeller told a Wired magazine reporter recently.

Other donation-oriented groups, such as Do You Have This? Do you want it?, exist on Facebook, but what sets Buy Nothing apart is its focus on connecting members of a community. A resident of the Limoilou neighborhood in Quebec City, Gaëlle Ferlay joined the Buy Nothing group in her area after settling there a few years ago. “I needed to connect with people. I felt that something was happening and I wanted to be part of it, says the one who has since joined the team of volunteer administrators. I have built lasting friendships. »

In addition to clothes, she received a floor lamp and donated embroidery wool and floss, books and some objects that she had upcycled.

These values ​​are similar to those of Sabrina Dion, also a resident of Limoilou.

Over the years, she received balls, a bowl, flutes, an exercise ball, weights and objects…purple. Because she loves purple. She gave a lot too, including a sleep apnea machine worth $1,500. To prevent the person receiving it from selling it, she asked people to tell her their story. “A dozen people responded and I chose the one that resonated with me the most,” says Sabrina Dion.

Unlike other virtual bazaars, in Buy Nothing groups there is a fundamental rule: unless otherwise specified, donors must wait 24 hours before assigning their donation to the person of their choice.

While many members join the movement for environmental considerations, others are in real need. Some express it, some don’t. “We don’t encourage people to say, ‘I want to give my gift to the person who is most in need,'” says Gaëlle Ferlay. It is not a competition. Rather, we want people to showcase their personality and areas of interest through their response. »

According to sociologist Laurence Godin, professor at the Faculty of Agriculture and Food Sciences at Laval University, Buy Nothing groups, through their structure and their values ​​of community and solidarity, can help overcome embarrassment. and to iron out the importance of social class.

By being divided by neighborhood, they also make it more accessible to consume used goods, she notes.

But the territorial approach has a downside, highlighted in 2018. When it reaches a thousand members, a group should subdivide to maintain its conviviality. Then forced by regional and international administrators to subdivide their group which had grown to 5,000 members, local Jamaica Plain members and administrators in Boston expressed concerns, including that it would divide the neighborhood based on race and gender. class.

The following year, Rebecca Rockefeller and Liesl Clark established an equity team and recognized that this practice can reinforce segregation and create a sense of loss and exclusion. The rules have been relaxed to allow groups to determine their own geographic boundaries and decide when to subdivide.

In Quebec, some groups could soon come to grips with this reflection. In Limoilou, Ahuntsic-Cartierville and elsewhere, admission requests have not weakened, particularly since the pandemic and inflation. The Limoilou group, which has 1,500 members, was once subdivided, not without dissatisfaction. Residents of Maizerets, a neighborhood adjacent to Vieux-Limoilou, have been forced to regroup in a new group, which so far has only 300 members.

This subdivision, logical from a territorial point of view, had the effect of splitting neighborhoods with different socio-economic realities, Maizerets having a larger immigrant population in proportion, a higher unemployment rate and a higher average income per inhabitant. weak. “By drawing this line, we clearly reduce the diversity of the group”, underlines Laurence Godin.

After the Jamaica Plain episode, the founders of Buy Nothing wanted to distance themselves from Facebook. Not only because of this turmoil, but also to make exchanges possible for those who do not use this social network. They launched an application (in English) where the user can establish his geographical area, but this did not obtain the expected success. In Quebec, use remains low. The members and administrators we spoke to had only vaguely heard about it. Now a social impact business, The Buy Nothing Project hopes to turn things around with an upgraded version, both free and paid, unveiled in mid-July.