No-Buy Groups: The 7 Secrets to Furnishing Your Home with Free, Secondhand Finds

published Apr 22, 2022
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Post Image
Credit: Photo: Shutterstock; Design: Apartment Therapy

It’s Green Week at Apartment Therapy and Earth Day, which means it’s time for a reminder that online no-buy groups are a great, sustainable, and community-oriented way to furnish your home.

The Buy Nothing Project, a “gift economy” organization, started in 2013 and relies on the Buy Nothing app as well as affiliated neighborhood Facebook groups for community members to donate and swap goods.

Did you get the wrong groceries delivered and have some extra ingredients to spare? Post in the group. Have some toys or clothes that your kiddo has outgrown? An expecting parent might want them. Your old Pokemon cards might mean something to a nostalgic former collector, or someone may have a nephew currently trying to catch ’em all. Your crutches or wheelchair from when you sprained your ankle will be incredibly helpful to both someone who’s rounding up donations for wounded victims in Ukraine and to the wounded victims themselves. (These are all real, wonderful things that happened in my neighborhood’s group just last week.)

I was skeptical at first, but after a few months of acting as a fly on the wall in my neighborhood’s Buy Nothing Facebook group, I can say I’m confident that, with a little patience, one could furnish an entire room — if not an entire apartment — using one of these pages. Here’s how:

Find Your No-Buy Group

Finding the right group for you depends on where you’re located. Start with a search of “Buy Nothing” + your neighborhood name. Since some Buy Nothing Project groups have a limited block coverage area, you might have to get even more specific depending on the size of your neighborhood (think: North, South, Central, etcetera). If there’s not an official Buy Nothing group near you, you might have luck finding a similar group with the terms “no-buy,” “swap,” or “freecycle.” If you’re looking for a specific item or category, try searching by category. For example, there are swap and giveaway groups in my neighborhood specific for parenting or baby items and books.

If there’s not a group specific to your neighborhood, try expanding your search to your section of town or the name of your town itself. If there’s not a group in your area yet, you could be a trailblazer and start one. “There’s a training course prospective admins go through to ensure everyone knows the rules and is up for the job,” Amy Burke, an administrator for a Park Slope Buy Nothing Group says.

Learn the Lingo

Once you’re in the group, you’ll want to get familiar with its lingo. When someone lists something, they’ll often start with “To give,” then a description and photo of the item. “ISO” is another good acronym to know, and it means, “in search of.” If you’re looking for something that hasn’t been listed recently, you can post to say that you’re “ISO,” and maybe a neighbor will swoop in with exactly what you need — or they’ll know of another group or page where you can score what you’re looking for for free.

Search Smartly

Apartment Therapy has covered how to find great furniture on Facebook Marketplace in the past, and the same general searching rules apply here: First, be broad with your search terms. “Try searching synonyms or layman’s terms for the item,” Yulie Kwon Kim, vice president of product at Meta leading commerce efforts across the Facebook app, told Apartment Therapy in March. “For example, when looking for a table with a pink marble top, search ‘stone top’ or ‘granite top.’ …Many vintage items are passed down, and the seller may not know a lot about the item or how to describe it.”

Second, you can save posts you’re interested in as well as sign up for notifications to follow posts/items you want to keep tabs on. “Every Facebook surface considers engagement with what is recommended,” Leonard Lam, communications manager at Facebook says. “Generally, if someone engages more with certain types of content/products, that kind of content could be more likely to show higher in their feed.”

Act Quickly

Even though you can save posts to help guide Facebook’s algorithms to show you items you like, you won’t actually want to save things for later. Good items go quickly — doubly so in a group where things are given for free.

That said, the rules of the Buy Nothing project encourage givers-away to let things “simmer.” Even if you’re not the first commenter, be sure to comment “interested” on anything you might want or need. Sometimes people will hold a drawing when a large number of comments amass.

Slide in the DMs

On Facebook Marketplace, you can follow sellers if you like their style, and their listings will appear higher in your feed. You can also save posts you like, and more of the same (or similar) will appear in your feed. Although you can’t follow members of a Facebook group, you can still save posts, and you can also DM them to see if they might have anything else you might be interested in.

One thing to note: Many Facebook groups, including Buy Nothing Groups, have rules about DMing people unannounced. Make sure to check if it’s ok to DM a non-admin before doing so.

In general, personalization can help you stand out. If you can specify why you’d like a certain item or how you’re going to use it, that might help you stand out — and it makes for a fun way to get to know your neighbors. “My favorite aspects are really the human connections,” Burke says. “I took up painting again during isolation because someone was giving away a paint set. I gave away some of my grandmother’s stuff to someone who had their first solo apartment. Anyone can curb an item, but I love knowing that you’re giving your stuff to good homes!”

Know the Popular Dropoff and Pickup Spots

You also might have better luck with finding (and getting people to take) items if you know the popular drop-off and pickup points in your neighborhood. Is there a landmark that’s a good halfway point for everyone, like a playground, a sign, or a roundabout? If you’re willing to meet there — and if you’ve got a way to haul the item back to your place — you’ve got a better chance of landing the item.

Keep an Open Mind

Much like with any secondhand shopping, you’ll have a much better chance of finding unique items for your home if you keep an open mind or are willing to bend on your vision a bit. For inspiration on turning secondhand finds into one-of-a-kind gems, check out these four DIYS.