From the “Just Living” Archives
Last January, I embarked upon an experiment: 365 days without buying anything new, except for food, services, and certain items of clothing and personal care. I called it my year of “making do.” That year is finally over, and I have learned a lot.
Was it easy? In some ways yes, it was. I have never been much of a shopper; a daylong trip to the mall for me is akin to torture. I can think of any number of things I would rather do, including clean the bathroom and mop the kitchen floor with a toothbrush. Avoiding the urge to splurge was pretty easy when it came to gratuitous shopping.
I joined a Yahoo group called “The Compact” so that I would have some company on this rather strange journey, and that turned out to be a wise decision. The group is a large and diverse one, so I learned a lot from the daily posts and discovered several blogs of interest. If you’re considering trying something like this, rest assured that you will find no shortage of resources and companions to walk alongside you.
The Compact allows for a jubilee day once a year–a break from the “nothing new” pact. I did take my jubilee day and bought a Brita water pitcher to keep in the refrigerator in hope that it would break my daughter of the plastic water bottle habit. It hasn’t erased the problem completely, but it has helped. I also bought a new clergy shirt from Augsburg Fortress. My others are six years old and were a little shabby for weddings and funerals. I’ll confess to falling off the frugality wagon once–buying a baby shower gift for a parishioner because I simply didn’t have the time to make something or come up with any other ideas. At least I bought it at a local merchant and not one of the big box stores. From now on I plan to give savings bonds and a home-crafted card.
As to my own wardrobe, it is amazing to discover just how much one has and little one truly needs. I downsized my wearables by 75 percent and bought less than $50 worth of “new to me” items from resale stores. Our family donated to two charity rummage sales, participated in a community-wide yard sale, and listed several things on Freecycle. I’ve given away or sold on Amazon more than half of my books and am trying to work up the fortitude to reduce the collection by another 50 percent in 2009.
More important than the tangible actions is the growing awareness and lifestyle changes that this experiment is fostering. Our family is more aware of the exorbitant amount of packaging that comes along with the purchase of consumer goods. We take notice of the countries of origin when we make a purchase, trying to consider the ethical implications our purchases have on our sisters and brothers in other parts of the world. We believe in fair trade more than free trade, and we are dedicated to being better stewards of the resources that God has graciously given to us.
What about Christmas? I’m not purchasing any new “stuff” for that holiday either. Gifts to friends include certificates to the local movie theatre, beauty shop, bakery, and community cafÃ©. Other gifts will be made to non-profit organizations in honor of friends and family members. My daughters and mother are receiving dinner out and tickets to see a Christmas Eve matinee performance of the Broadway musical Wicked.
Am I glad the year is over? In some ways it will be nice to have the option to buy something new if I truly have need, but I doubt that will happen very often. You see, instead of a one year experiment, this is becoming more of a lifestyle choice. It’s a choice that makes a lot of sense to me–spiritually, financially, and ethically. Stuff doesn’t fill the holes in our life; only God can do that. Stuff doesn’t buy love and happiness, but sharing time and life experiences leads to that end. Or, as the apostle Paul so eloquently states in Philippians 4:12-13:
“…for I have learned to be content with whatever I have….I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
Happy not-so-new Year! May there be joy in your journey and the peace of Christ in your heart!
For more information on a low-consumer lifestyle, you may find the following resources of interest:
Sustaining Simplicity: A Journal by Anne Bayse (Augsburg Fortress)
Our Lives are not our Own by Rochelle Melander and Harold Eppley (Augsburg Fortress)
Not Buying It: My Year Without Shopping by Judith Levine (Free Press)
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver (Harper-Perennial)
‘Tis a Gift to be Simple by Barbara DeGrote-Sorensen (Augsburg Fortress)
On the Web:
The Story of Stuff with Annie Leonard http://www.storyofstuff.com/
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/thecompact/ (The Compact Yahoo Group)
http://thenonconsumeradvocate.wordpress.com/ (The Non-Consumer Advocate Blog)
http://www.thesimpledollar.com/ (The Simple Dollar Blog)
Copyright (c) 2008, The Rev. Sharron Lucas, all rights reserved. Used by permission.