By Liesl Clark
When I was a little girl, I had dreams of owning a shop and offering everything for free. I wanted to take money out of the bargain and let those who truly needed a loaf of bread to simply have it, no strings attached, just free. I imagined the happy faces when my clientele would realize they could simply take it, along with the freshly ground peanut butter and home made jellies. I didn’t have a business plan for this sort of shop, of course, but I knew it would thrive somehow. What I didn’t know then was that I was dreaming of a gift economy. Experience now tells me it works, and it can be a huge success.
Two years ago my friend Rebecca and I started a local free food gathering that happens every Saturday morning before the farmer’s market. Gardeners bring extra produce they’ve grown and home cooks offer fresh baked and canned goodies. We’ve even seen grass fed beef, vegetable seedlings, and locally caught crab shared at our gatherings. Everyone just brings a basket and takes home their fill of produce, fruit, flowers, and other consumables. Participants depart enriched by the offerings and the knowledge that their food bills will be much less that week. A sharing economy is joyful. It brings neighbors together to share their bounty and eat locally grown, caught, and foraged foods.
Taking this successful model of collaborative consumption further, Rebecca and I wanted to help take the burden of buying out of the holidays. What if we opened a “Buy Nothing, Give Freely Gift Boutique?” The idea is truly simple: Every family has toys their child outgrows and most are made of plastic. Why not offer those up to others in exchange for free ones that your children will enjoy? I tend to have excellent toy karma. So, we have enough toys to keep 10 families happy for years. Each year, in the fall I start boxing up our unwanted toy bounty in preparation for the free gift boutique.
We also have an agreement with a local school that conducts a gift boutique for their students. When their shop (of donated gifts) closes, they want to get rid of the nice housewares and toys quickly so we pick up those boxes of goods and add them to our mix so kids and adults can browse our displays for gifts for family members of all ages. Some families come with toys and items to share in the shop and others come simply to gather much-appreciated gifts. All are welcome.
It’s a one day, once-a-year holiday event and pure joy to see the happy faces and thoughtful children as they think of everyone in their family they’d like to find a special something for.
Each gift has a printed reminder of where the gift came from, the benefits of a gift economy, and the responsibility we each have as stewards of that item, ensuring that it stays in our materials economy, and not in our landfills or oceans, for a long time hence.
For more green gifting ideas please visit our Trash Backwards app, celebrating the reuse of everyday items, transforming them into something new.