Natalie Seniuk is all smiles when people buy nothing.
The 42-year-old Pelham resident has nothing against a good, old-fashioned purchase, but she has also seen the many benefits of sharing goods and services within a community.
Seniuk became familiar with The Buy Nothing Project, a social movement that has some 6,500 groups worldwide, while living in Hamilton the past 20 years.
Buy Nothing is network of “local gift economies,” where neighbours can share pretty much everything with each other, from a cup of sugar to a fishing rod, without exchanging money. Services and skills — haircutting or music lessons as an example — can also be shared.
Seniuk moved to Pelham last fall to be closer to family — her father lives in Fonthill and she grew up in St. Catharines — and noticed Pelham did not have a local chapter of Buy Nothing.
“I saw an opportunity because the one in Hamilton was amazing and it was really active,” Seniuk said. “If I have something I no longer have a use for, I post it and see if anybody wants it. We share it. We gift it. It’s not trading, it’s not buying, it’s not selling. There are groups for that. Or if I need something, I can see if someone has it.”
Seniuk took on the role of administrator in July, but response has been tepid with only about 70 members so far.
“I’ve mostly advertised at a minimum, through channels I already had in Pelham,” she said. “It’s been through word of mouth and it’s been slow. Ideally, to have a group that’s robust and running, you want a couple of hundred members so I thought the Voice would be a good place to let people know about it.”
Seniuk said Buy Nothing is more than just giving away items or acquiring items free of charge.
“The other part of it is you get to meet your neighbours. You get to meet faces in the neighbourhood.”
Seniuk quickly found use for the Buy Nothing community when she and her husband, Jeff, were setting up their new home.
The other part of it is you get to meet your neighbours. You get to meet faces in the neighbourhood.
“I don’t know a lot of people and someone posted they were pruning their garden and had extra ivy. We just bought a new house and our garden needed it, so I went to that person’s house, got what I needed, and met somebody,” she said. “I was walking down the street the other day and my neighbour who I met through this gave me flowers because she had extra as I was walking by.”
She admits the pandemic has made things difficult.
“Through Covid it’s been a bit trickier because people are nervous about hanging out,” she said. “Before that, you would pop by. You might not become friends with everybody, but now it’s another face.”
Seniuk, who is employed at Metrolinx as a manager for environment programs and permitting, said pretty much anything can be offered.
“A lot of it is standard household stuff,” she said. “Sometimes it starts things. For example, I have a lot of extra clothes and you have a lot of extra clothes so it becomes a clothing swap. It can be anything.”
Seniuk said many also use the service to share items.
“Maybe my lawnmower broke and I need one for the day or I’m going on a trip and need lifejackets and it’s something I don’t want to buy because I’m one going to use it once, and someone might have one there are willing to share,” she said. “That’s where it’s kind of cool. It saves everybody a bit of money.”
How items are distributed is up to the person giving the item away.
“It’s not meant to be competitive,” she said. “Some people will ask to be told why you want it if they were posting something they knew would have a lot of interest. It’s up to the person giving it,” she said.
It is also handy for the those who don’t want to give an item away, but don’t mind lending it out.
“You can give it to someone who uses it regularly and they can give it back if you need it.”
Seniuk said her group is meant for those who reside in Pelham. The closest other group is St. Catharines.
“There is no harm in joining,” she said. “Fonthill has grown and changed so much. People are here from new places and I see it in a lot of the groups.”