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Milwaukee Buy Nothing groups connect neighbors, reduce waste

Buy Nothing group on Facebook
Jen Norris
The Buy Nothing Upper East Side Milwaukee group on Facebook.

You may have seen on your Facebook suggestions to join a Buy Nothing group in your neighborhood. The name says it all, you join the group to exchange stuff you may not be using or ask your neighbors for something you may need.

It can be anything from needing a cup of sugar to offering clothes and furniture. The mission of these groups is to connect neighbors to each other and reduce the amount of waste we put out.

These groups stemmed from the Buy Nothing Project that started in 2013 outside of Seattle. And now you can find groups throughout the country and the world — including here in Milwaukee.

Some of the Buy Nothing groups in Milwaukee:

Co-founder Lisel Clark says the project grew out of a month long exploration and investigation into the plastics littering her neighborhood beach. She presented a challenge to herself and her community to recycle lost things or things being thrown away, and started Buy Nothing Bainbridge.

Clark says she asked people to post items into the Facebook group before tossing it or taking it to Goodwill as well as turning to the group for things before heading to the store.

"Lo and behold, we found, I mean, within minutes people were incredibly surprised and joyful and finding that, 'Oh, I'm looking for clothing for my teen who's going to college and just looking for kind of more an upgrade' and and then all of a sudden there's a box of clothes. So that was just an incredible delight for people," she says.

Since the beginning of the pandemic in 2020, Buy Nothing has grown to over 7,000 groups in over 44 countries.

Buy nothing event
Jen Norris
A giveaway event shared in the Buy Nothing: Upper East Side Facebook group.

Clark's found that people really enjoy the process of sharing and connecting with each other. "Community members love to hear storiesm so the narratives that come along with the stories or the gives or the asks and the gratitude is really the glue that's been sort of holding us together. We've become much more resilient and as a result, we've really come to know each other," she says.

Here in Milwaukee, Jen Norris is the Buy Nothing Upper East Side community builder and helped to start the Buy Nothing: Upper East Side, Milwaukee group. After people helped her family through a time of financial challenge and food insecurity, she was inspired by the kindness of people in her community to create the group.

Norris says her biggest takeaways from Buy Nothing is being able find joy in all of the little things and how it has brought her community closer together.

"It's like balm for the soul. ... We don't hear about the kindness as much as we read about or see a lot of the tragedy, so it's really refreshing and it gives you faith in humanity," she says.

Mallory Cheng was a Lake Effect producer from 2021 to 2023.
Kobe Brown was WUWM's fifth Eric Von fellow.
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