A year ago I had a crazy idea. Not a new idea in the grand scheme of things, but I pretty radical idea in my own world. At the beginning of 2014 I vowed to go one year without buying anything new. It was a relatively simple thing to do. I’ve never been a big consumer but I certainly have been a mindless one from time to time. Within a few months of the project beginning I discovered something that has actually changed the way that Bo and I live our everyday life – whilst I first started the project as a kind of personal activism against consumerism, it occurred to me quickly that this project was actually about something much bigger. It was about building community. When we have a strong tight knit community of people around us, our need to consume dramatically decreases without us doing much at all. When we have a strong network around us we are suddenly able to borrow things we would have previously bought. We are able to exchange, and with every exchange we have the opportunity to connect, and through those connections we build relationships and with those relationships, communities are born. When we live as a part of a strong community our need to find ‘comfort’ or ’emotional healing’ from purchasing things lessens, because we have people around us to help us shoulder the load. A community is a place where the desire to share is greater than the desire to own.
We live in a world where suburbs sprawl out as far as the eye can see. Little matching houses in a sea of winding roads. So many people, but so little connection. We spend more time comparing than we do connecting. It’s our greatest downfall I think in our modern world, the fact that we are easily forgetting what it is to connect to other human beings, not through likes or online fan bases, but through real people who live around us. We spend so much time in front of screens where other people parade their lives as if they are perfection and we feel shit about ourselves because we aren’t holding it together. But the truth is, no one has it all together – no matter how perfect they look on the outside. What truly defines is is not how we look on the outside, but instead how we behave when noone is watching. People are imperfect and life is messy, and none of us are immune to that.
Big houses, designer clothes, a constant stream of homewares, new cars, fancy gadgets – our society demands that we follow suit, that we keep up, because this, this is how we show our neighbours that we are successful.
But what is success?
Success, to each of us is probably something quite different. For many people success may be as simply ‘living a happy life.’ I think this is a very valuable definition of success, but not one that can every be found in a shopping mall. Happiness doesn’t come from things. It comes from our relationship with the world around us, and like everything, it starts with our relationship with ourself. Being content to exist outside of competition, outside of comparison, is a very hard goal to reach… it is perhaps the price of privilege. But it is not one a challenge that we can’t overcome. There are many courses out there that will charge you a fortune to try to teach you how to be happy… but the reality is, happiness comes when you least expect it. Happiness comes from engaging positively in the world around you, it comes from having gratitude for what you already have, it comes from being genuinely pleased with other people’s success and it comes from celebrating the little things. Actually trying to DO those things consciously all the time is pretty difficult… but with simple skills in mindfulness it is achievable for all of us. To be successful perhaps is just to be present, to be mindful of the way that we behave, the words that we use and the things that we buy – perhaps being successful is actually seeing ourselves as a part of a world much bigger than us… where everything we do makes a difference not to us, but to the world around us. Because it does. It always makes a difference, however small.
During the first half of this year we shed a lot of our old things in the search for a simpler life. And then in the middle of the year we moved out of our home and started to live with no fixed address. We are still living that way until the end of our final house sit in a few weeks time and when it’s over I will probably talk about it a bit more.
Doing the nothing new project brought me a lot of amazing opportunities, I became a part of a strong, tight knit, imperfect community full of passionate people. I had the honour of speaking about the project at TEDxPerth (and hopefully the talk will actually go online at some point). I was interviewed on a lot of mainstream media (for better, and for worse) and I was faced with a lot of people who challenged the project and my motivations for doing what I have done.
Living without shopping was relatively easy. It was just about changing habits and shifting perspective. Then as if the year had passed at a million miles an hour, it was over.
It’s been quite a ride, and it’s certainly not a journey that ended on the first of January. There will be more projects relating to it, and plenty of info coming your way to help support you to make some more conscious changes in your own lives. I have purchased a handful of new things in the past few days… very consciously. There was no shopping spree, just a few practical things that we needed, a tee or two, a pair of sandals, a kit to repair something I broke during the year. There is no doubt that elements of this project will continue for the rest of my life.
I’m working on an offline community project that has been like a little baby of mine for the past six months. And I’ll be happy to share it with you when it launches at the end of the month.
I’d love to know, for those of you who have been following along with the project at any time throughout the year, what you got from it (if anything)… and what sort of choices you are making this year.
I’m living 2015 with no direct resolutions, just a commitment to making conscious choices in every area of my life and trying, as always, to make little waves of change.
If not now, then when? If not us, then who?
Happy new year friends. Here is to a wonderful 2015. I hope you will stick around