Week One: Beyond Buying - Our Journey Begins

Graphic courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Graphic courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
I'm not sure when we hit our breaking point - perhaps when we noticed every single item in our laundry hamper bore tags indicating each was made in a foreign country or when we bought a pair of headphones which broke in less than 24 hours.

But at some point last month the stars of discontent were perfectly aligned and my husband and I finally concluded at the same moment that our consumptive lifestyle had to change. 

Mind you, we are an average middle-class family. We could actually be considered quite downwardly mobile after the 2008 Depression (Yes, I call it that - because for most paycheck-to-paycheck people that's what it felt like.)

Our disposable income had actually become pretty meager compared to what it once was -  but still we found ourselves running out to the mall  whenever anything would break or we felt an urge to buy.

We had already read many books on Simple Living - there is actually a whole movement of people who have taken pains to scale back their lives and live in less stressful and complicated ways. A few years ago we even thought about joining The Compact - a group which eschews buying anything new other than the bare essentials. (It was founded in 2005 in San Francisco by a group of 10 friends and has now spread into an international phenomenon.)

We weren't ready to form a local group of like-minded people, such as was done by the San Francisco Compact group,  but we were willing to make a solo attempt to tame our consumer beast within

So, as of January 1 our family has made a pact not to purchase anything new for an entire year with a few exceptions (food, cleaning/grooming/health products, underwear, socks, shoes, and some work clothes needed for my husband IF we cannot find something suitable for him in a thrift store).  We also will purchase anything new needed for our pets' health.  (Mind you - these are our own arbitrary rules that we think will work for us. Things may get more difficult along the way as we find we just cannot find something used that suddenly feels "essential". We have heard from others who have tried this, for instance, that certain hardware items sometimes become critically essential and cannot be located used. )  Our hope is to find used hardware and car repair parts first, however, before resorting to buying new ones.

When we find we need something (or want something) we will be using Freecycle, Craig's List, flea markets, garage sales, our public library, asking friends to share/barter and culling thrift stores when necessary.

We hope to buy from local artisans when we absolutely feel we need to purchase a "new" gift or buy the recipient something consumable from the grocery store.  We might even get brave and try to make a gift ourselves - despite being pretty artistically challenged. (Fortunately we don't do a lot of gift exchanging in our circle of family and friends - so this one should be easy to accomplish.)  We could also offer a gift of our time or cook something for them.

Shopping at local, small businesses (Farmers' markets, local produce stands, grocery stores owned by small business people) will be our goal, as well.

Accomplishing all this may mean going out of our way sometimes. To minimize gas consumed we will try to walk, bike or take public transit to procure items. If that is not possible we will drive, but combine errands and carefully map our route.

We will not be dumpster diving (although some people adopting a more radical Freegan lifestyle go all the way and do so). 

Mostly we hope to slow our impulse to buy.  We want to cultivate the lost art of repairing our belongings, making things from scratch and making do with what we have by substituting other items that will serve the same purpose.

Have you ever seen the sections in cookbooks where a list of substitute ingredients can be found?  We want to create a similar list of substitutions for ourselves when we feel the urge to buy other items

While we will allow ourselves an occasional modest meal out (that's all we can afford anyway) we want to first explore other options such as packing a picnic or eating before we leave the house if we're going somewhere. As for entertainment - we are already spending virtually nothing in this category so our once every three or four month trip to the movies and our Netflix subscription will remain undisturbed.  We will be on the look-out for free entertainment opportunities, however, such as concerts in the park, docent led hikes in our community,  free classes at our rec center and other ways to fill the time up that we used to browse in stores.

So, that's the groundwork for what we'll be attempting. I'm sure it would be easier if I didn't have a whole family tagging along on this journey. (I can already hear the squawks over various purchase categories).  But, I think we have a shot at succeeding because my husband seems to have finally reached the same stage of disgust with me over issues such as climate change, peak oil, exploitation of workers by multi-national corporations etc.. I also think writing this blog will help keep us honest and on track.

I want to return to a more local commerce - where the money we spend supports local charities and individuals and stays in our community. I want to develop a culture of sharing resources with my neighbors and a sense of self-reliance that seems to have evaporated over the past 50 years.

Perhaps I'm being naive. I have a year to find out.

I will be posting on this blog every week or so about our journey and invite readers to share their own efforts to live more simply in the comments section below.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Vanessa Castañeda January 06, 2014 at 02:39 PM
This is a great idea, Carol. Thought: A friend of mine sometimes substitutes lemon juice for a countertop cleaner.
Becky January 11, 2014 at 05:58 PM
I want to do this. I find myself buying too much food and either throwing it away or eating too much. And I know what you mean about CCC (Cheap Crap from China) breaking way before its time. My parents have a 30 year old microwave, but Atom Appliance told me to only expect 3 years of life from a new one. Although I do believe in new repair parts. My husband fixed our 2 year old refrigerator with a new fan.


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