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Inside the World of Buy Nothing, Where Dryer Lint Is a Hot Commodity

Buy Nothing is “the only reason why I’m still on Facebook,” said Mr. Stahl, who has been a member since March. “There is no community meeting place anymore,” he added, except on Buy Nothing, where a member of his group recently offered a half-eaten birthday cake — a gift members were happy to take.

And it’s not just partially eaten food that people want. Oh, no. The list goes on.

There is the standard fare: used furniture, clothing, baby items and household goods. But the surprising things are what keep it interesting. In one Los Angeles group, used makeup, including lip gloss, frequently makes the rounds. Income disparity comes into sharp focus, too. In Silicon Valley, one group member gave away a piece of artwork that had, apparently, been bought for $10,000, while in the Germantown neighborhood of Philadelphia, members share essential items like canned food, cheese, milk and medical supplies.

Life lived in a gifting economy requires a measure of patience, a virtue that can be hard to find if you want to clean out your closet quickly.

“You have to let things simmer for a while. That can be a little annoying when you want something and you feel a little pressure that the group wants you to sit and wait,” said Janis Gross, 60, who teaches jewelry making and is a member of a Buy Nothing group covering Stuyvesant Town and Gramercy Park, in Manhattan.

Let the item simmer, as the group requests, and then you eventually have to choose one recipient among many. But how do you decide which stranger is deserving of your old ice-cube trays?

“It’s like getting picked for the basketball team — 10 people reply and how do you pick?” Ms. Gross said. “I don’t like the public nature of it. I don’t like having to say, ‘Sorry Mary, I’m going to give it to Fred.’”

Sometimes people don’t show up to claim their stuff, or make it difficult to arrange a time for a pickup. Private messages can get lost in Facebook Messenger, leading to confusion or disappointment. Some members seem to claim more stuff than others, simply because they spend more time on Facebook. When you know another member personally, which is likely when everyone lives in the neighborhood, you might offend a friend if you choose someone else to take your loot.

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