Thursday, January 8, 2009

Buy Nothing Year Redux

I’m a little taken aback to think that more than a year has gone by since I made my final rounds of Consumer Hill last December on a last-minute shopping “spree” before embarking on a year of buying nothing new. I meant to write a series of posts early on addressing “Why Buy Nothing” but I never got around to it. It all comes down to too much stuff: too much stuff in my house; too much stuff in my brain; too much stuff in the gross big box stores; too much stuff in the landfills and incinerators and oceans. I wanted to opt out of my contribution to too much stuff. I also wanted to see if I could actually do it…I’m masochistic like that.

In the final analysis, buying nothing is No Big Deal. Admittedly, I wasn’t a purist. I had my exceptions—socks, undies, supplies for making things, one book, and—a later addition to the list—health and safety items. I bought some stuff: an occlusal guard; a fire escape ladder; a book; a few pairs of socks; yarn, knitting needles, fabric, elastic, thread, paint, a crochet hook; lots of used books; used clothes and games for the kids. I bought some paper dolls when we came to the 16th kid birthday of the year (not including my own three children’s birthdays). I bought C a scythe for Father’s Day (the blade from Austria, the snath handmade in Maine), with the thought it was better than him going out and getting a DR Brush mower. As it turned out he neither assembled the scythe nor bought a brush mower and we went into winter with waist-high weeds all around our house (except for the small area of “lawn” we mow with a rotary mower). I bought a few Christmas gifts. I went an entire year without one stitch of new clothing, other than two pairs of socks, some sweaters from a clothing swap, two summery skirts I made myself and some long johns and legwarmers that I got for Christmas.

I didn’t miss it, at all—the shopping. I didn’t miss the big box stores—I took M to K-Mart to buy himself PokeMon cards once, went to Michaels for some supplies for Christmas gift-making, went to Barnes and Noble when my parents were visiting—and I have no desire to walk into an Old Navy or Bed Bath and Beyond ever, ever again. I loved walking into shops in the Old Port when I went to Portland with some friends, or wandering through the tourist shops when my family was visiting, and feeling absolutely no pressure to buy anything (normally I feel guilty walking out of a small shop without spending money). I loved returning to the fold of the library and hopping on the online library catalog and ordering it through interlibrary loan every time I heard of a book, rather than ordering it off Amazon.

Looking forward to 2009, though, I decided to not “buy nothing” again this year. For one thing, I see several purchases on the horizon—when we build beds for the boys, we’ll need to buy mattresses and at least one set of bedding; E and Z will start on bikes in the spring and will need helmets; M and one of the twins will need new life jackets next summer. Arguably these items could be considered health and safety (and I shudder to think of all that additional plastic), but I’m interested to see how I’ll react to my new freedom. Will the Buy Nothing Year have changed me fundamentally (not that I was ever a huge shopper or spender before) or will I go crazy now?

I did not rush out, wallet in hand on New Year’s Day, partly because I had dissipated some of that consumerism through relaxing the rules at Christmas and partly because I had drained my bank account as a result of relaxing the rules at Christmas. I have bought a few things this week, though:

*Some of these cool blank books——I got six blank books for our use at home (I was trying to figure out how to encourage M to use them and not be afraid of all that white paper and decided I’d write each boy a book for Valentine’s day) and for emergency birthday party gifts, 25 blank comic books and five blank puzzles.

*Two books of pentatonic music for the lyre I got E and Z for Christmas (reasoning that the two books are a heck of a lot cheaper than the Music Together class we opted out of this semester); since I was paying shipping and handling anyway, I bought two books for Easter (yeah, I know, bad)

*This movie, which a friend has been urging me to watch, but since we’re the last people on earth using dial-up, we haven’t been able to. I promise to share it around after we watch it.

Not too much of splurge is it? Ideally, I will continue to deliberate carefully over each purchasing decision, choose used over new, local and handmade over mass-produced, and organic over toxic. I’ll let you know how it goes.


  1. You rock. I'd say you're my role model, except that I am way far away from being even close to trying to emulate you yet. You are a shero.

  2. Hey Andrea,
    You have such creative ideas! And even though you're back to buying (a little) I've listed you as inspiration here:

    Keep up the great work!


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