Nothing New in 2012?

A New Year's resolution to stop buying new stuff.
This post is 1 in the series: My Year of Nothing New


Tis the season to swear off bad habits and become a better person once and for all—yep, time for New Year’s resolutions.

I usually don’t bother with this annual ritual. I gave up becoming a better person long ago! But this year, I do have a resolution—a pretty ambitious one—and I figure if I blog about it, my chances for success might go up.

My family is resolving to quit buying new stuff for one year. (The experiment itself is nothing new…in fact, it’s been recycled many times over.)

To clarify, it doesn’t mean we won’t buy anything at all, but when we do need something, we’ll try to find it used. When we can, we’ll borrow or rent. Of course we’ll buy our food new and we will make an exception for some essentials like toiletries and medicine—and underwear. The idea is to be more conscious and thoughtful about the things we do buy. Progress, not necessarily perfection.

I’m excited about this experiment. 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.

People. I feel extremely lucky; my family has everything we need and then some. More stuff doesn’t mean more happiness, but we still fall into the consumerist trap—especially as parents. But stuff also diverts us from what’s important and can even bog us down—just ask my husband about our basement storage space filled with my boxes.

Plus, it’s time to begin instilling important values—like moderation, thrift, resourcefulness, creativity, sharing—in our toddler whose favorite words right now include “mine,” “toy,” and—shockingly—“buy.”

So, this year we’ll try to trade in our waste, clutter, and material impulses for more time and resources we can focus on experiences with friends and family and on our health.

Planet. For all my talk, I’m not the vision of green virtue that I’d like to be. I also don’t delude myself that individual behavior changes are going to be enough to combat climate change or many other environmental threats. (Let’s face it, there are habits none of us can kick alone, like “stop killing people for oil“—see Terry Tamminen’s awesome Top 5 Resolutions list at Grist). But that’s not a good reason to do nothing. Individual actions are definitely part of the solution—materially and symbolically. So, while Sightline and others work toward policy that puts a real price on pollution, a simple, straightforward way I can take control over my own carbon footprint is buying less.

In our family, we’ve already made a commitment to eat less meat—a big greenhouse gas producer, but it’s easy to forget that stuff we buy takes surprising amounts of energy to produce too.

There’s another side effect I’m looking forward to as well. Talking to my friends and family about climate change and other issues that I focus on everyday in my work isn’t always easy—even for a communications strategist! Taking on this personal, concrete challenge may lead to more productive ways to share my own commitment to the policy changes that will help us protect the things we truly love.

Pocketbook. In a way, I’m thinking of this as Occupy My Wallet. Adbusters calls Buy Nothing Day (an alternative to the traditional holiday shopping frenzy on the day after Thanksgiving), a “fast from hyper consumerism.” It’s a political statement that appeals to me, but my motivations here are admittedly more selfish. This is a way to keep money in my wallet. I’m curious to see how much money my family might save and whether we will emerge with an altered relationship to things—both the stuff we think we want and the stuff we already have.

So, that’s the plan for our “year of nothing new.” Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. We’re taking that old mantra more seriously. But even with the advantage that I actually like garage sales and thrift store shopping (I know some people don’t share that joy), I don’t think this will be easy. I’ll report back periodically to let you know how it’s going.

On day four I can say that a nasty winter cold has kept me at home and away from any real buying temptations (but there’s always online shopping!). But a new awareness is already emerging. It’s been surprising to note that at least once a day I think of something I think I want to buy—but so far, on reflection, it hasn’t been anything I really need.

Please let me know if you’ve done something like this before and have some advice or if you’d like to join me in solidarity! And happy New Year.

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  1. PG says:

    You’re definitely coming at it from good place; helping the environment is the byproduct of saving money instead of the focus. You’ll still contribute to the economy by purchasing only pre-loved goods and more than likely the economy you’ll be helping is a local one. Good luck, get well and I hope you’re successful.

  2. Wendy says:

    I have been doing this for clothing at least since 2011, going to consignment stores or Goodwill. I am on a diet to lose weight and I refuse to buy anything new at all until I am down to the size I want to be (I am 1/3 of the way there). And then I want to try to buy organic clothing instead of Asian import crap. More power to you!

  3. Anna Fahey says:

    PG: I love your term “pre-loved” for used goods. What’s amazing to me is the flip side of that: almost-new stuff you can buy at thrift or consignment shops that has barely been loved at all!

    Wendy: Thanks for sharing your experience. I’ve been buying mostly used clothes myself for many years. And re: Asia. I was inspired, in part, by Sara Bongiorni’s book, A Year Without ‘Made in China’.

  4. Sian Wu says:

    My coworker has done a buy nothing year, and clothing swaps have been a great way to refresh the wardrobe and still keep with the rules!

  5. Georgie Bright Kunkel says:

    A century or two ago most people lived on farms and They made their own clothing and their own furniture for the most part. If there
    was a house or barn to construct, neighbors helped them.

    Now we have to pay for advertising of products, transportation of farm output and manufacturing output and pay for automobiles to drive to work often far away, and pay for expensive highways. All this adds to the cost of everything.

    Both husband and wife need to work full time to afford all this for a family.
    Add to this the “things” that we seem to crave and it makes it almost impossible to achieve the lifestyle of the isolated family in today’s world.
    Technology and the gadgets that it has spawned increase the expense of modern living. The generations no longer halp each other for the most part. And so family support services such as childcare,
    housework, and the like must be hired from outside the family.

    We certainly need to scale down this lifestyle and contribute to
    sustainability of our earth. We need to take back our world and cherish it and preserve it and start being self sufficient in many ways that we have not been accustomed to for many years. We need to decentralize the cities and reclaim farmland nearer to where people live and begin to interact in new ways so that all ages can interact more often in creating a society that speaks to each other more often. Otherwise our texting thumbs will become over stressed and our conversational skills will atrophy and we will be a society that is completely unreal and only experienced virtually rather than in reality.

  6. Luke says:

    buying new…underwear socks carharrts and sometimes boots.

    I buy food new, coffee and eating out new.

    some but not all of my tools(needed a new screwgun and used was the same price for a lesser gun that I didn’t want). vehicle maintenance should be new(no used tires/oil here).

    Oh yeah, I buy ammo new(only a few people manufacture their own bullets). I buy raw materials for my business new, but as locally as I can.

    everything else…craigslist. EVERYTHING IS ON CRAIGSLIST. It’s like everyone in this region uses that service. If you really wanted something specific you could put in a few calls to some consignment shops and they’d track down what you wanted for you, but yeah. Craigslist.

    F box stores with fall apart junk furniture made by children. I get my furniture at estate sales or from the free section of CL.

    F Apple for charging 2K dollars for a computer that is essentially the same as the one they had a child make 4 years ago. I bought the 4 year old one from a guy who bought it new, for 500 bucks.

    So good on ya, I wish you the best of luck in trying to do this thing.

  7. westomoon says:

    I wish you happy hunting and good luck with your venture. Don’t forget that the Freecycle program is also a good resource (check for the program for your area).

    Mine is run by my (rural) county, and it is mind-boggling to track the requests that get fulfilled. I keep thinking “No way — you’d be lucky to find that for a bundle of money!” And yet the most unlikely “Wanted” posts keep being followed by “Found” (aka “Eureka”) posts. It’s fun, too.

  8. Shelly Randall says:

    This is a great New Year’s challenge, Anna, and I wish you well. I just read an excerpt from Kym Miller’s “Taking a Year Off from Buying” as the first reading assignment in the Northwest Earth Institute course I am convening this week: “Healthy Children, Healthy Planet.”

    The opening session is all about consumerism and how we can counter that as parents. One of Kym’s experiences was the joy of watching her children get creative and more meaningful in their gift-giving (for example, making a necklace containing a friend’s favorite colors and symbols).

    In my blog’s New Year’s Resolutions post, I challenged my readers to shift at least one of their significant, ongoing purchases from a mega-retailer to a local merchant. This is of course easier if you live where I do–a 45-minute drive from big-box stores! I just avoid big box stores altogether and support our Port Townsend Main Street retailers. I find I buy less stuff when I am not tempted/overwhelmed by the overabundance on mega-retailers’ shelves.

    You’re taking this concept to another level, and I look forward to your updates!

  9. Paul says:

    HI there,
    Only just stumbled on this post as it was linked from the Babes on Bikes post.
    How did you go with this New Year’s resolution. I’ve been on the “nothing new” thing for a while. Not by choice mind you.
    There’a a movement called freecycle and there are thousands of groups around the world. I think it started in AZ.
    Anyway, the idea is to post an offer of an item you don’t want and it’s too good to throw away i.e. a superceded computer, a bicycle that your kids have grown out of or clothes that don’t fit you any more (Too big because of all the cycling …hehe).
    On the reverse you can post ‘wanted’ for items that you might need. It’s a great initiative.

  10. says:

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    Anyhow, thanks a lot for your personal time, Andres

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