In 4 months, I’ve only spent $15 on new stuff, and my life has never felt richer.
Around my birthday, I realized I wanted a break from consumerism , so I took a year off from fast fashion, big box stores, and too many plastic packages. I envisioned a year of hunting down used versions of things I could no longer instantly have with a click on Amazon. I prepared myself for long, fruitless searches and lots of DIY. I imagined I would have lots of stories to share about the everyday trials of alternative consumerism.
Instead, I just stopped consuming.
I’ve always enjoyed ambling through thrift stores, procrastinating on big projects by browsing for stuff. The simple act of committing to not buying new shifted my perspective away from buying completely. Instead of feeling frustrated because I can’t buy cheap Target clothing and then scouring thrift stores in search of an alternative, now the shelves of shiny new things barely register. I’ve sort of forgotten that consuming is a thing.
Marketing is lost on me.
The big test was a trip to Ikea a month or so ago. Restless from wintery weather, Jammer and I wanted a place to walk around and stretch our legs. We decided on a stroll around the massive store. Usually, I find at least one thing I can’t resist, and the clever marketing and low prices often lead to a mindlessly stocked cart. I hadn’t been since the advent of nothing new, and I was oddly nervous.
Immediately, I saw something I wanted.
In one of the cozy vignettes, a futon was adorned with black and white cat pillows. Cats might be my favorite design motif, and they were only $3! My impulse was to find a way to work around my anti-consumerist challenge and just get one.
Then I paused. After months of no new things, I was about to derail my efforts with a cushion I didn’t need. I glanced around and I noticed that Ikea had filled every nook with the adorable and affordable cushions. Through astute merchandising, little kitties had pawed their way into most of the carts around me. I saw the clever marketing suggesting the cushion was perfect for everything from kitchen nooks to lofted dorm beds. By taking a single step back, I avoided succumbing to the calculated plan.
Ironically, a few weeks later, Eloise received the cat pillow from a friend for her birthday. It looks great in her room, and I love that those kitties found a way into our world despite my staunch resistance.
Not buying new things is just too easy. I worried that my family would struggle with holiday gifts for me, wondering how they would break out of the sweater and kitchen gadget cycle. Instead, I got grocery store gift cards, vintage dishes, and food products I love. Everything was useful, nothing needed returned, and my insistence that I valued time together more than money spent made the season extra merry and bright.
I knew my biggest challenge would be my trip to Mexico. I love chatting with vendors and supporting local economies, and I wasn’t sure how I would resist buying something.
I decided I would buy a couple used items and consumables so I’d have some souvenirs. I spent awhile chatting with a shopkeeper one afternoon, and I really wanted to support the talented artisans. I asked if I could buy the shop incense burner, and the owner laughed, trying to convince me to get a new one. I explained my challenge and she nodded, wrapping up the smudged dish as carefully as if it were brand new. We also bought coffee and sea salt, pleased that we could get things we love locally. I had more than enough to remember my trip, and I hadn’t bought anything new.
When travelling, I always meet a vendor that steals my heart, and this trip was no different. In the end, I spent $15 on some beaded jewelry, a sarong, and a chicken bobble head because I couldn’t walk away from the warmhearted vendors. In 4 months, the new items I have purchased could fit in my handbag, and I have spent less than most people do on lunch.
There was a new artisan fair set up on the plaza, and I spent a lazy evening watching the villagers carefully string beads into intricate patterns. I looked for a place to donate to the festival, but was told to just buy something to ensure this particular festival continued. So I bought a ring from a mother and daughter duo with their pretty pieces sparkling in the sun.
Later, I bought a sarong from a woman who had painstakingly unfurled every piece of fabric for some picky shoppers. Her shoulders hunched under her heavy bag, she was shuffling off to rest. The wind had picked up and I’d forgotten a sweater. The top piece of fabric lifted in the breeze, and the pattern caught my eye. I needed something cozy, and I knew she could use the sale. We sat on a low wall overlooking the beach and talked while I bought the wrap.
Finally, one night at dinner, I noticed a teary child vendor surveying the bobble heads in his fanny pack. He had a broken turtle he was trying to mend, and he looked so small and sad. We chatted a bit and my family decided to each buy something from him, including my little chicken. His pack of wares nearly empty, he grinned and ran off to play with friends.
These purchases have layers of meaning that make them true souvenirs. I didn’t hastily purchase them in a rush on the way out of town or set out to buy something from the trip. They just crossed my path in a way that I couldn’t resist, and they carry stories that will never fade.
Marketing wheedles into our subconscious, and we’re like robots programmed to purchase. We don’t need more things to be happy. Newness fades, and we start the cycle all over again, filling time and space with meaningless objects.
I quit consumerism, and cleared away the clutter hiding truly meaningful experiences. Time once spent shopping or conjuring up the perfect thing to make or find is now filled with more books. I can really listen to people, unfettered by the need to tend to a shopping list or a project. I have watched snow fall, birds frolic, and springtime bulbs rise sleepily from the earth.
My favorite pair of sneakers is wearing thin, and sometimes water seeps in through the soles. Setting out on this journey, I imagined such a situation would send me out to scour every Goodwill for a new-ish pair of size 7 sneakers. In 4 months, I’ve only been thrifting a few times, and I barely notice the occasional dampness in my well worn shoes. Instead, I’m considering the wonder of a world so full of potential and beauty that I couldn’t possibly need something more.
I never anticipated that just breaking from consumer culture would be so wholly liberating. When I let go of the premise that my life would be better with this item or that, I realized just how great my life is right now. I feel more satisfied in my day to day activities, my relationships are richer, and I don’t long for anything. I have enough. More importantly, I AM enough. My challenge really is the perfect gift, and I imagine I’ll carry these habits with me long after my next birthday.