It’s my birthday eve, and I can’t sleep.
I’m not up dreaming about how I will celebrate, and I’m not worrying about my age. New wrinkles around my eyes don’t bother me, but the furrowed face of our world does. While my small life is pretty happy, our society stoops and staggers with exhaustion. We gawk at “hoarders” buried alive in their possessions, we chide tween girls for using filters that elicit “slut-shaming,” and we fuel our days with food hastily devoured from paper bags.
We live in a world where “nasty woman” is a suitable debate retort.
We’re fractured. We’re angry. We’re too tired to count gray hairs.
A few months ago, I decided that my birthday gift to myself would be to refrain from purchasing new things for the entire year. At the time, we weren’t in this frenzied abyss of uncertainty, and so a small gesture to stand up for the environment and shift towards simplicity felt important, maybe even quietly radical. I planned for a life with less packaging and a long respite from consumerism. I thought I’d write about mascara recipes and how to mend dresses along the way. I wanted to inspire simplicity.
I’ve been sick of stuff for awhile. My maker career requires that I buy so many materials, and fretting about necklace chain finishes and craft fair fixtures started to seem really shallow. Most of my personal possessions are thrift store finds and family hand me downs, but I need to buy a lot of new stuff for my business.
I have also always been a sucker for the sale rack. Even if it’s not my size, 90% off means, “You must buy this, Meghan.” I’m such an advocate for the handmade movement, but fast fashion is my guilty pleasure. I felt like taking a break from buying things would bring me peace and make a quiet impact on those around me. I thought perhaps my example would lead others to reduce consumption and enjoy everything they already have.
I’ve always been one to look for the simple solutions. In college, I dated a boy based only on the fact that we had the same photo of Mother Teresa taped to our walls and we both wanted to do good. He had these grand plans to “shift collective consciousness.” I just hoped that by reaching out with kindness, I could be part of a ripple of good.
The year of nothing new evolved with a similar intent. Avoiding new purchases will free up time once spent acquiring and tending to superfluous stuff. I know that my singular, individual choice will have no impact on the Earth, but perhaps it will show people around me that it is okay to buy a little less. Tonight, as I think about everything going on around me, I feel like my attempt to live in a smaller footprint might be feebly inadequate, though.
I’m usually pretty quiet about what I do. Although I’m writing about my adventures in nothing new, it seems really odd to stand up and shout, “Look at me! I’m writing about doing nothing! It’s for my own sanity and the health of our overburdened planet! You should try it!”
So instead, I’ll probably whisper and just try to reach out and be kind.
I hope it’s enough, in this tornado of anger and insults, to just offer up a little shelter and kindness. I don’t want to feel compelled to shout and ruffle feathers. What would I yell anyway? “Hey, everybody! Can’t we just live simply and be nice?!?!”
So, even though it’s small gesture, the year of nothing new stands as is. Starting on my birthday, I won’t buy any shiny-packaged gadgets at big box stores. I’ll avert my eyes when I see $3 fast-fashion leggings. Amazon packing peanuts and piles of boxes won’t crowd my garage at Christmas. Instead, I’ll spend more time with the people I love. We’ll mend and cherish the things we have, and we’ll make do.
I know this vow to live simply might not have a huge impact on others, but it will give me the strength to focus on cultivating good. I wish there was a way to shift our shared consciousness so I could wake up tomorrow in a world where we didn’t turn a plea for help into an argument about which lives matter most. I dream of power asserted with deference instead of blind insults. I wish “internet predator,” “gender inequality,” and “The Wall” weren’t in my 6 year old’s vocabulary. The list is long, and the shift would need to be radical.
Trying to change all the broken parts at once is overwhelming. It’s like the first leathery bite of that elephant, though. You find the piece you can stomach and just start chewing. I know that if I strip away the frivolous worries of my existence, like buying new things, I’ll have more energy to be part of doing something good. I think we can all set down our phones, rest our eyes from the absurd and macabre parade of horrors marching through our news feeds, and just be kind for a moment.
For my birthday, I’m going to start making giving and kindness my top priority. I want to reach out, listen, and remind others to relish the wonder around them. I want permission to live simply and savor the quiet beauty right in front of me.