It was a couple of days after Christmas. I was sitting in the stinking heat of the middle of the day, sorting through one of the cupboards in our house. Looking for things that I could donate or sell… and it occurred to me, rather dramatically… the amount of stuff I had managed to accumulate in the space of 12 months. That’s all it had been. 12 months since I had left my life in Indonesia… A life where for three years I lived out of a suitcase. Where Bo had little and we wished for nothing of the material kind. Now all of a sudden here I was, just 12 months later living in a small two bedroom cottage, that was suddenly full of stuff. Sure some of it is from my previous life, kept in storage for many years… but most of it?
Most of it has been acquired in one way or another in the span of a year.
I’ve never thought of myself as much of a consumer driven person. Not one piece of furniture in my home was bought new. 70% if not more of both Bo and my wardrobe is second hand. Most of my books are second hand. Most of my home-wares are op shop finds… not all, but most.
But here I am. In a house filled with stuff. Some of it is lovely stuff, stuff I’m quite attached to. Like the quilt on my bed from an Indian village or the books on my shelf that hold a lot of great memories… but most of it? It’s just stuff.
It occurred to me that perhaps I should challenge myself to a year without buying anything new. I was well aware that it wouldn’t be a new concept, though I hadn’t read much about it… and I didn’t have internet connected at the time so couldn’t do any real research. I was interested to see what other people where doing with the idea. What sort of constraints others had put on themselves… were there rules? What sort of rules? What would I not be “allowed” to purchase?
I pottered around for a few days rolling the idea over in my mind. I had moments of panic. These moments surprised me most. Moments where I actually began to panic, and I would start to find ways to justify buying all sorts of things in my mind. I went online and spent $50 in a boxing day sale on a bunch of size 2-3 t-shirts, a light jumper for myself (I have a total jumper problem… I live in one of the hottest parts of the world, and I just can’t stop myself from needing more) and a pair of new rain boots for Bo. I typed in my credit card details and just bought them all, I mean… They were a great deal after all. Ethically they were total bullshit… but in that moment, I didn’t care.
I found myself one day in a mental flurry, thinking of all of the things I wouldn’t be allowed to buy, or trying to make complex rules for myself that would allow for loopholes where I could still purchase that one elusive item…
Like what if something I’ve always wanted suddenly becomes on sale for 80% off and it’s a once in a life time sale that will never be repeated again… and…and… and…
It was getting a bit overwhelming. I look around at all of these homes and these catalogues and these sales with all of these beautiful items that make my own home look shabby and incomplete. All of these well dressed people… who make ME look shabby and incomplete. Everything is on SALE.
Everyone is on sale.
Once I first rolled the idea around in my head, I never returned to the shopping mall. Besides that one random online shop, I didn’t buy a single thing between Christmas and New years besides some vegetables and some milk… I just sat with the idea.
New years eve rolled around and I first ran the idea by one of my closest friends. We were both sitting in our respective homes while our respective children were having their respective naps… and we were chatting on the internet… as we do… even though we are about three blocks away from each other. I ran the idea past her and one of her first responses was… ‘great idea… WHY ARE YOU NOT AT THE SHOPS STOCKING UP ON EVERYTHING YOU COULD POSSIBLY NEED FOR THE NEXT 12 MONTHS!! I MEAN, WHAT ABOUT COSMETICS!’ It hadn’t even crossed my mind. And then it did. And then I let it go. I didn’t go to the shops that afternoon either. And I haven’t been since (and it’s been great).
Not long after I started mentioning the project to my friends did the questions start coming in. I was having ideas thrown at me left right and center. What ifs. What about food? What about shampoo? What about Bo? What about things she needs? What about birthdays? What about gifts? What about eating out? What about take away? What about processed foods? What about washers for the sink? What happens when something breaks? What about trips to the zoo? What about that overseas trip you are planning? What if? What if? What if?
I was overwhelmed and cautious for the first week, as I wasn’t sure yet of the “rules” that I was going to set for myself. On New Years Day I sat at a cafe, hungover, with four of my friends and watched as they ate big breakfasts and drank mugs of coffee. I drank water. I wasn’t sure if I was going to allow myself to eat out yet…
The plan for this project was never to stock up and to live a solitary life without connection to the world. The idea that this project sprung from was one of taking a pretty dramatic look at my habits of consumption and to see why I feel I “need” the purchase the things that I do… and reevaluate those feelings. I’m still working on my “rules” I’m in the process of reading Judith Levines book “Not buying it,” which is about her own journey doing something similar. I didn’t buy the book. I borrowed it, by post, from a friend in Melbourne… and it’s very interesting.
The way I stand right now I will be aiming to purchase absolutely nothing new in 2014. This includes but is not limited to clothing, cosmetics, furniture, homewares, electronics, toys, soft furnishings… any of these things that are deemed necessary (and this is a tricky one for me) will be purchased second hand.
Things that are must haves: Food, medicine, hygiene products (ie. Toothpaste, tampons etc)
Exceptions: Things that are borrowed that become damaged or broken (this happened… already…) will be replaced, obviously.
There are still things I haven’t figured out yet. I love op shops. Do I need to curb my op shop purchases? What about the tools I use for my upcycling projects (paint, nails, screws etc)… should I be sourcing all of these second hand (I’m leaning very strongly towards Yes)… When I say these things out loud I know the answer is yes… everything should be second hand. Second hand has very little impact on the globe and is great. But I still need to be cautious not to accumulate shit I don’t need just because I can buy it second hand. Because lets face it, op shops are stuffed with cool shit we don’t need… but then, if we don’t need it… where does it go? See my dilemma?
What about gifts?
I thought long and hard about this one. Personal gifts from friends etc. for Bo’s birthday are OK because it would be rude to turn down a gift. Friends will be encouraged to buy something second hand or to make something or to gift Bo with an experience (a trip to the zoo? a lunch date with grandma?) instead of buying something new. My family is pretty good about this and we just successfully had our second plastic free Christmas, so I’m not too worried. As for promotional gifts through the blog? I will no longer be accepting gifts of any product that I wouldn’t be able to buy for myself this year… Want to gift us a box of vegetables? Or some Eco-friendly biodegradable washing powder? I will graciously accept. Cute clothes and hats and jewellery… Thanks but no thanks. Not this year.
I big part of this project for me is to simplify… to sell or donate all of the things in our home that we don’t need or use and to use up all of the things that we have.
It’s a process… and it’s gaining momentum.