In 2012, my family resolved to quit buying new stuff for the entire year. This experiment is nothing new; in fact, it has been recycled many times over. This doesn’t mean we won’t buy anything at all. I’m buying new food and some essentials, like toiletries and medicine. But when we need something else – stuff – we try to find it used, or we borrow or rent. I see it as a triple bottom line approach: In a year of widespread belt-tightening, focusing on people, the planet and profits – or in this case, our pocketbooks – makes just as much sense for families as it does for businesses.
A big part of this experiment is about slowing down, taking the time to consider whether we need something or not and prioritizing where we spend our money.
Freedom from stuff is also a big part of it. In just a short while, I see that not accumulating new stuff means accounting for, valuing, taking good care of and making good use of the stuff we already have. I’m using up stuff that I’d long squirreled away and essentially forgotten. I’m clearing out drawers, closets and our attic—freedom!
A reader of my blog series on this experience suggested that we add another “R” to the familiar triad reduce, reuse, recycle: reflect. And we are indeed more mindful of stuff, having sworn off it for a spell. In fact, my family’s experiment seems to be setting us on a path to expansion rather than contraction.
When you cut the strings to the consumerist treadmill, you find yourself with more time to spend with friends and family, more money and a better sense of what is fulfilling—beyond instant gratification. One family that inspired me to do this experiment (See: No Impact Man ) lived for a year using as little energy and resources as possible. The father described his experience this way: “I saved money, lost weight, gained energy, improved my health, spent more quality time with family and friends, renewed my relationship with my wife and discovered an overall sense of freedom.”
Six months in, one of the best things about the experiment is hearing from people who have been living this way for a long time, cutting their carbon footprints, saving money, weathering the recession and re-jiggering their priorities to favor family, friends and financial sanity over credit card debt and mindless materialism.
These “no-new” veterans will proudly tell you that new stuff, with all of its high-priced packaging, shipping, off-gassing and carbon-intensive manufacturing, is overrated. This doesn’t mean they hate stuff or even shopping! Au contraire. There are plenty of connoisseurs and collectors in our no-new ranks. One characterizes herself as an Elite Thrifter. Because they hunt and forage for these treasures, pawing through lots ofdiscards to find them, they cherish them more than items purchased new.