My Material Footprint and a Year of Nothing New

I recently decided I needed to squeeze my material footprint into a smaller shoe.

At a muggy mid-summer craft fair, I realized I was sick of stuff.  I deluded myself into believing that my indie business was eco-friendly because I tried to use recycled materials and minimize packaging. My wares were definitely a conscientious choice compared to the Made in China junk sold in big box stores, right?  I aimed for a life of honorable compassion, filled with uncomplicated creativity.

Instead, material goods engulfed me.  I needed so many things to run my business, and my lovely, uncluttered studio heaved under the piles of stuff.  Sure, I made my products locally, but my materials came from very far away.  Even the components I purchased from local sellers still had the shadow of Made in China somewhere in the production chain.   I may have collected beach glass in Michigan, but the wire I used to wrap the pendants journeyed from overseas.  Likewise, I stitched dresses of upcycled fabric together with sweatshop thread.

beach glass heart
My Earth-friendly scavenged glass necklace is still made with wire that probably came from China.

So, on that sweltering day, I was already weary of my indie materialist’s life.  I had schlepped plastic tables and crinkly, cellophane wrapped goods out to a field to convince folks that they needed more.  A mom stopped in with a stroller overflowing with snack bags, sippy cups, toys, and shopping bags and diaper bags stuffed with even more stuff.  Her toddler daughter wanted  a necklace but couldn’t decide which one.  Of course a major meltdown ensued.  The mom frantically purchased both necklaces and slogged off dragging a cartload of consumerism.

I thought to all the times I had been in that mom’s shoes:  In an overstimulating world full of irresistible marketing, even the youngest humans feel compelled to acquire.  It’s so easy to feel powerless when faced with colorful advertising, and I had also often placated my child with more.  The choice to buy another thing for my daughter often made me feel a little guilty, and now my guilt was magnified because I felt like part of the problem.

In my indie, feel-good business, I was still just a stuff hustler.  I was at a point in my business where I was making affordable things that I could produce quickly and sell cheaply because that’s what buyers consumed.  I wasn’t making heirloom goods or practical everyday items.  With a booth full of cute and tiny things, I was like a locally made Claire’s pushing more cheap, colorful junk on fledgling consumers.  I didn’t feel like some important part of an alternative economy anymore.  I felt like a niche shop in the mall.

santa cat
So much stuff! I was a one person factory…

When I researched just how much Americans buy, I decided that I wanted out of the cycle.  We love to talk about recycling and reusing, makers in particular love to re-purpose old things, but what about the less glamorous act of reducing?  Acquiring less really is really the simplest and most effective way to reduce our impact on the Earth.

Every American throws away up to 82 pounds of clothing in a year, and 185 pounds of plastic! I dug deeper and learned that we waste even more when you look at the production waste for our possessions.  According to an article on Mongabay, each American consumes over 50,000 pounds of raw materials per year.  That’s almost as much as 10 elephants worth of waste just to make the stuff we buy!



I was so busy worrying about my carbon consumption that I completely ignored my material footprint.  All my hoofing it around town and recycling meant very little under the cloud of a business where greater success led to a bigger material footprint. We are consuming goods so quickly that materialism is consuming us.  Looking back, the compassionate choice would have been to distract and entertain my toddler shopper with a fun story or song instead of placating her with a new possession.  I could use my creative power to break the mold of consumer culture instead of simply clocking in every day on the assembly line.

So, I decided to make some simple changes in my life to bring me peace and to refocus my priorities with my year of nothing new challenge.  I’ve been cutting back slowly since that fateful craft fair, and on October 20, 2016 (my birthday) I’m going to stop buying new things for a year.  Of course, I’ll still buy food and other consumables, but I’m going to make a concerted effort to buy consumables with minimal packaging.  This isn’t a license for a year of thrift store shopping sprees, either.  My goal is to prioritize activities that don’t include acquiring stuff.

This will radically alter my maker business, too, as I won’t be able to buy the bulk materials I need to be a 1 person factory anymore.  I’m going to take the time to reflect and refocus, shifting from the mass production mode I’ve been in back to more meaningful creativity.  I’m excited and a bit apprehensive, and I hope you’ll stop back by to cheer me on.  After all, since I won’t be out shopping, I’ll have more time to chat, too.

6 thoughts on “My Material Footprint and a Year of Nothing New

  1. Meghan! You go girl! I have NEVER responded to a blog before, but felt compelled to respond to yours. I so relate to your “too much stuff” epiphany! I look forward to seeing how it goes! Stay strong!

    1. Hi Becca! Oh, thank you for responding to my blog! What an honor to be the first to inspire you to respond. 🙂 You made my day. I’ll admit, the holidays were tough for “no new stuff,” but we cut down on gifts considerably and didn’t buy any gifts that were actually brand new. It amazed me how many people sell things on eBay that their children barely touched. I was able to buy a few toys for my daughter that were essentially brand new, but they were considered used and useless to the seller’s children. Even though we were able to cut back on our own consumption, the reminders of our consumer culture all around me were overwhelming.

      I’m going to write a post about it soon, too! I decided to take a holiday break to spend time with my daughter while she’s out of school. Keep in touch! I’d love to hear any ideas and tips you have for cutting back on consumerism!

  2. Your thoughts echo my own. I support my family with my business, but the complexity! The icky feeling of marketing! I keep reminding myself that I am offering a service that people enjoy, and pretty much avoid the marketing for the most part. Still. I am thinking of transitioning to pottery that I make myself from local clay. We’ll see. Keep enjoying your journey!

    1. Hi Michelle! Thanks for reading and reaching out! I think even a small line of pottery from local clay would be enough to make customers pause and consider their buying habits. I have a friend who harvests some of her clay from her own backyard for a line of small earrings she makes. It takes time to clean it, and it isn’t as high quality as some of the clay she buys. She still enjoys the ritual of digging the clay herself and the satisfaction of a completely closed production loop. The all local line is pricier than her other items, but they sell well.

      Enjoy your adventures in using local clay! I think it sounds really fun, and I’d love to hear how it goes.

  3. Thanks for your article. Enlightening for sure. I am a knitter and often wonder what footprint I am leaving just for my yarn as they too travel a great distance and probably do a whole lot of damage in the dying process.

    I will definitely rethink how my footprint of junk is making an impact too.

    1. Hi Shelley! Thank you! I’m glad my post was inspiring. 🙂 Have you ever considered a small eco-friendly line? A friend from Lithuania only uses recycled yarn, and she knits the prettiest things! I’ve tried unraveling sweaters for knitting from time to time. It certainly takes more time and effort, but I feel like it’s worth it in the long run. I thrift for yarn, too. You couldn’t sustain all your production this way, but it might be nice to have a small collection of items with recycled yarn.

      I also used to buy yarn from a little shop that marked each skein with the name of the sheep that supplied the wool and where the natural dye material came from. Of course, I could only use the yarn to knit things for friends and family because it would be cost prohibitive to use the yarn on a commercial scale. That might be part of the problem, though…our consumers have such unrealistic price expectations. I think we could take small steps to offer the option for something more sustainable for our shoppers, even if it is more expensive. Then, at the very least, they will stop and consider their buying choices for a moment. (Well, maybe and hopefully they will!)

      Thanks again for reading and responding! I hope 2017 is prosperous and fulfilling!

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