“High fives and good karma”

Online trading group rethinks money, community and commerce

Illustration by Gabrielle Funk

The internet is rife with places to buy people’s old stuff. Sites like Kijiji, eBay and Etsy facilitate item-for-cash exchanges between frequently anonymous individuals. Bunz sets out to do something different.

Bunz is an app and also a Facebook group (Bunz Trading Zone Winnipeg) that started in Toronto in 2013 and has since spread across North America, opening its Winnipeg chapter in 2015. Users can post photos and descriptions of what they have and what they are looking for in exchange. Trades can be anything – except money.

“My Bunz love goes back several years ... I’ve been a part of the group pretty well since the beginning” Ryyn Riou, a social work student with a concentration in community development and a local Bunz admin, says.

“To understand what Bunz is, you have to understand what a trade economy is built around,” Riou says.

It’s “the idea of removing the capitalization of money and the idea that an item or service is worth certain things and really seeing, ‘This plant has no use for me any more. I want someone to love it. Give me a high five, give me a bar of chocolate, give me a bottle of wine.’”

For users like Christine A, using plants as currency is not a hypothetical example.

“What I really enjoy (about Bunz) is that people don’t always necessarily trade things value for value. For example, I ended up successfully obtaining a queen bed frame for a spider plant,” she says.

“A lot of things are traded for high-fives and good karma, which I think is very (beneficial) to individuals that don’t have as many resources as other people.”

A says that Bunz is particularly important for people in tight economic situations.

“Because I am a lone parent and full-time student, I don’t have a lot of extra resources in terms of my finances,” she says.

“I can use an excess of belongings that are no longer useful to me as a form of currency ... I love plants, and I have a lot of houseplants. I’m finding myself using (plants) as currency for even household items, such as toilet paper, dish soap and groceries.”

For Riou, trade economies aren’t just about getting possessions without spending money. They actually change the feeling of possessions themselves.

“I know that if somebody has made something for me or we’ve worked out some sort of deal through Bunz, it’s so much more than just that transaction, because I can buy anything on Amazon,” she says.

“But if I know the person that made the soap that I’m using, and I’m supporting them, I feel good about that. I feel like it’s so much more meaningful. I don’t want to throw it away. I don’t want to waste it. I don’t need five of the same thing. I feel like it really fills me up in a different way.”

Find Bunz on Facebook or download the app, Bunz: Trade and Shop Local, available only for iOS.

Published in Volume 73, Number 20 of The Uniter (March 7, 2019)

Related Reads