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culture

Barter a Better Bargain Next Buy Nothing Day

Local swappers got into the spirit with their own takes on the anti-consumerist holiday.

Toronto is home to a host of swapping, bartering, and sharing communities. Swapsity is one of them, and for this year’s Buy Nothing Day on November 25, they put their own twist on the occasion, calling it Buy Nothing, Swap Something Day. Swapsity is an online swapping community dedicated to helping Canadians build a more collaborative, consumption-conscious, and sustainable lifestyle through barter. Along with their online forum, they host face-to-face swap meets and help organize local swap groups.

This year, Swapsity marked Buy Nothing, Swap Something Day at U of T’s Sidney Smith Hall with a movie screening of Living Without Money and a presentation by Toronto’s own barter babe, Shannon Simmons, of the Barter Babes Project. The aim of the day, slightly different from Buy Nothing Day’s, is to show people that the barter and cash economy can co-exist. And, we discovered, they can.

Living Without Money follows a 68-year-old German woman who has been living money-free for 14 years. Frustrated by the pervasive influence of money in society, Heidemarie gave away all her possessions save for a suitcase of clothing in exchange for a sense of freedom. She recalls that it was like having a weight lifted off her shoulders. Ever since, she has been living a mobile life, staying with friends and family in between giving presentations around Europe about her life experiences, hoping to inspire others to reconsider the importance of money in their lives. We see Heidemarie’s creativity manifest as she barters for food and shelter. By some, her minimalist lifestyle is seen as parasitic; others see it as inspiration. Whatever your perspective, it’s a fascinating look into the life of someone who gave “it all” up for something she feels is much greater.

Shannon Simmons is another bartering adventurer. She quit her job at a high-end investment firm to launch the Barter Babes Project, where she planned to spend a year bartering with young women in return for her financial advice. New to the barter world, the transition wasn’t as smooth as she would have hoped. Credit card bills were coupled with panic attacks, she still had to pay her rent, and the frozen lasagnas she received as barter didn’t quite cut it. Yet now, a year later, she has bartered with 300 women and has it down to an art.

The movie and Simmons’ talk attracted quite the crowd of twenty- and thirty-somethings. It’s clear that the world of barter is well beyond subculture status. Between clothing swaps, Freecycle sites, Couchsurfing and collaborative consumption projects, people around the world are testing out new ways to build community through money-less exchange. And the audience last Friday was no exception.

Paul Baines, one of the many vocal audience members in the discussion, came because he’s interested in alternative economies and wanted to see what was happening on the local level. “I’m into the idea of swapping because our current economic system is totally broken and we need as many alternatives for people and the planet as possible.”

About two-thirds of the audience hadn’t used a swap service before. Paul was part of that majority, but is keen to try. “I’m equally excited about swapping as I am about trying to figure out what skills I have to offer,” he said. While you might think you can only offer what others pay you to do, we are much more than our jobs. Combine what you can do with what you could give away, and you’re bound to have a barter on your hands.

It’s no coincidence that Buy Nothing Day coincides with Black Friday—the busiest shopping day of the year in the United States. On this day, retailers kick off the holiday shopping craze with major pre-Christmas sales, opening their doors as early as 4 a.m. Widely popularized by Adbusters, Buy Nothing Day began in the early 1990s.

Swapsity asked people at the October 30 Pedestrian Sunday why they swap. Photo from {a href="http://www.facebook.com/Swapsity"}Swapsity's Facebook page{/a}.

Even for those who consider themselves retail lightweights, the day allows for a collective pause at the onset of the year’s biggest shopping season, also known as the holidays. Buy Nothing Day urges us to reconsider how we define our needs and helps us put a bit more thought into the purchases we make. More than marking a single day when some choose to leave their wallets at home, though, Buy Nothing Day waves the flag of a broader movement that is challenging consumer culture in innovative ways.

And the innovations are countless. Swapping, bartering, and sharing are a few platforms savvy citizens are using to exchange goods and services outside the monetary system:

  • Swaps come in many forms like clothing swaps, media swaps (e.g. DVDs/video games), and even house swaps (the latter being a temporary swap. Think: my Toronto pad for your London flat.) Swaps can be a direct exchange (like a barter) or indirect in the case of clothing swaps where we all bring our clothes and leave with a mixed bag.
  • Barter is a way of swapping between two people and is commonly used worldwide when currencies are unstable or simply unavailable. Regardless of circumstances, it helps us tap into our own abundant talents and trade them for something we want without having to use dollars acquired in the job market.
  • Sharing is as obvious as it sounds. Why does everyone need their very own ladder, wheelbarrow, book collection, and even car? For the stuff that doesn’t get used too often, formal or informal sharing saves on space, storage, the environment, and of course, our wallets. Think public libraries, AutoShare, and tool-sharing groups.

Most folks acknowledge that money is a necessary part of our world. Its utility is highest when a direct exchange of such goods and services isn’t possible. However, when you keep it local, you can achieve the same outcomes of shopping (i.e. access to goods and services) through swapping, bartering, or sharing. Plus, you’ll probably make more friends and have a better time doing it than your local mall can offer.

If you didn’t get in on the festivities last Friday, it’s not too late. Tonight, Swapsity and Fashion Takes Action are co-hosting Shop Sustainable, an eco-friendly marketplace and clothing swap.


Every day is a good day to buy less. If you want to learn more or get involved in one of your local alternative economies, check out these great initiatives in addition to the ones mentioned above:

Many more examples are listed on Toronto’s Unstash site.

Comments

  • Bayla Fishman

    What a great article. It’s wonderful that Shannon Simmons can make a go of it without money. That German woman is an inspiration.

    Bayla

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Daniel-Porter/100002261900550 Daniel Porter

    I’m missing barterquest.com here. I use that site a lot! I really like the fact I can barter my ‘time’ (I do plumbing, handy work, etc.) and got so much useful stuff back!

    • http://www.facebook.com/marium.ibrahim.75 Marium Ibrahim

      Wow thats great! I actually do bartering with ITEX Toronto at creativebarter.ca. They have a variety of companies with very useful everyday products and services. Plumbing is great for this barter company! Check out the website, it’s a great way to cut business costs with barting at ITEX!

  • http://www.swapsity.ca Marta

    What an amazing article! Thank you for coming out to our event and helping to raise awareness about the benefits of barter. Think of all the money and waste that could be saved simply by deciding to swap instead of shop! Everyone has something to barter, even if they don’t realize it yet. Swapsity’s Swap Wizard is a great way to discover what skills and items we have to swap and share with our fellow Torontonians. Check it out at http://www.swapsity.ca/items/wizard and get swapping!

  • http://unstash.com Lon

    cool thanks for mentioning our blog post listing resources in toronto. http://unstash.com as a platform will be launching soon – we’re laser focused on helping Torontonians share more!

  • http://www.favabank.co.uk Favabank

    For any UK based readers, a social bartering platform at http://www.favabank.co.uk is coming to the end of testing and will be officially launching shortly. Good to see that the popularity of barter and swap sites seems to be on the rise. We need more sustainable ways of living, hopefully we are in the process of creating a culture of sharing and re-using…

  • Sal

    I know this talented writer who is also skilled in the building trades. Flipping older homes since the 70′s he needs a $40,000 mortgage and will work for the loan.