The Year in Review

We’ve rung in 2018 – popped champagne bottles, set off fireworks, and discussed new resolutions. Of course, the beginning of 2018 coincides with the end of 2017, and thus the end of my no new purchases challenge. (If this is the first you’re hearing about this, consider reading my intention and plan). As I claimed from the outset, this was an opportunity for me to critically evaluate my own consumption and make changes where possible, not remove myself from standard consumer cycles in order to point fingers or cast guilt.

In the end, new purchases were made, but the list is short and I would deem them all necessary or a means to a less wasteful ends in the long run. If I’m not mistaken, it looked something like this:

  • 2 pairs of running shoes
  • 1 water bottle for running
  • 1 menstrual cup
  • A handful of intentional gifts
  • Various household & personal care items (ie. lightbulbs, batteries, soap)

I’m not sure what I expected when I began, but I am finishing content with this list. I own the items, but the items don’t own me, and the purchases I did make are coupled with stories a bit more exciting than wandering the aisles of standard retailers.

WHAT I EXPERIENCED

If I encountered skeptics about this whole undertaking, they didn’t express it. I was asked on a number of occasions if I felt I was missing out, or if there were particular items I wanted but wasn’t able to find, but no one approached me with disdain or doubt. I certainly didn’t feel deprived, but instead managed to accumulate a wealth of experiences I would not have otherwise. I would say that this challenge, in part, contributed to living a more exciting, if not fuller, life this year.

I navigated online yard sales, learned some new acronyms, and sent a lot of “I’m going to pick up an item from Craigslist, here’s the address just in case” texts if I couldn’t enlist a friend to come along. I left cash under doormats, purchased shelves from pregnant women, discussed podcasts with a guy selling an AUX cord, and made awkward eye contact with a number of people who were not, in fact, the person I was supposed to be meeting in front of Barnes and Noble.

I met my neighbors down the street after a year of living in my current apartment after Hannah and I managed to fit a sideboard cabinet into the back of my Honda Fit, but needed a hand getting it out. We witnessed the strength of a six year old trying to impress and were invited to taste some kom-brew-cha in a neighborly mid-summer exchange.

I ate some crunchy beans and forced down some stringy pink-tinted yogurt as a result of some cooking mishaps, but enjoyed a variety of homemade kitchen staples including hot sauce, peanut butter, and greek yogurt. I didn’t form any bonds with sellers at the farmers’ market – or really even learn how to maneuver it with confidence and grace -but I ate some pretty darn good produce.

Secondhand shops took on a sort of magical quality as places were where nothing was “off limits”. I spent time wandering aisles of well-loved books, often finding copies of exactly what I was looking for, but more often leaving with more than I intended to. I didn’t completely stave off impulse purchases, as I now have 6 kitchen chairs I have yet to finishing repairing and a set of cycling shoes I recently acquired, though we all know I am not about to start using them in the middle of winter.

I was introduced to the world of “zero-wasters”, and challenged to not only consider what I am buying but how it is packaged and where it ultimately ends up, as there is no such thing as “away” when we “throw away” items.

And lastly, upon visiting a shopping mall in December to meet a friend for dinner, I wandered through the mall with an almost child-like wonder. My head spinning, I was glad to find it is an overwhelming facet of suburban life I know I can largely function without.

LESSONS LEARNED

Most of my 2017 purchases were coupled with patience, planning, and intentionality. If I knew there was something I wanted or was going to need, I had to know well in advance so I could have enough time to find it somewhere – things like kitchen items Hannah took with her when she moved, or a particular style of shelves I’d been eyeing.

A year of no new things reframed my thinking from “what is it I want?” to “what is available?”. In a world of infinite choice and one-click ordering, the things we want and the things that are available are often one and the same. But strip that away, and we’re forced to consider if something we already own is just as effective, or if there’s a simpler solution for the need to be satisfied.

Over the course of the year I grew more comfortable with paying what some might view as a “premium” for local or handcrafted items – but came to better recognize the true cost and value of quality. Perhaps a more earnest view of materialism is not having lots of mass produced items, but instead truly valuing the few but well-built pieces we do have. What if every purchase we made was an investment, in both our own lives and the lives of the person from whom we are purchasing?

WHAT’S NEXT

Of course, all of this was just one thread in the 2017 tapestry that included lots of changes and new experiences unrelated to my purchasing habits. As the year has drawn to a close, friends have asked if I plan to continue and the answer is yes, though with less rigidity. I’ve learned that life can be contently lived without shopping malls and large discount retailers, though they certainly make things more convenient, and there is a happy balance of convenience and consciousness to be maintained.

It’s been fun, at times it’s been weird, but here’s to a new year of new challenges!

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