Friday, November 22, 2013

Breaking the Consumerism Addiction

As we're almost full-swing into the holiday season this year, I've been seeing several posts from friends online each week (since September!) about stores and commercials pushing the Christmas shopping season earlier and earlier. And while we all know what's going on here -- stores trying to get us to spend more money -- we fall for it because we love the holidays and can't wait to get into the "holiday spirit."

Before this year, I would have been a part of that, too. I love the holidays. And there's something about decorating your house and wrapping gifts for other that just feels good. So while I was never the one to go on a big shopping spree for the holiday season, I would definitely find myself in Target or at a street fair looking for some items to add some "holiday cheer" to my home. I mean really, who doesn't need a stuffed reindeer and another box of Christmas lights? (I happen to love both of these things!).

This year has been different, though. Despite all of my friends' updates on the holiday shopping season, I haven't felt even the tiniest bit of desire to go out and buy. In fact, when the husband and I were in Ikea last week (sadly, we caved and went to buy new  curtain rods for the house as part of our mad dash to get the house ready to move this weekend), I was so overwhelmed and grossed out by the mass consumption and cheaply made items all around me that I had to leave the store. Even the smell just seemed too much.

I think it's partly because the Bangladeshi garment factory collapse is still on my mind (Is any cute holiday sweater really worth 1,000 lives?), and partly because I'm so in the habit of getting what I need in other ways. But I think part of it, too, is the fact that I've broken a very real addiction that I and most of the country have with shopping. It's an addiction perpetuated by mass media -- when you see enough commercials for something, no matter how stupid you think it is, there is a part of your brain that becomes convinced that you need it (i.e. the $20-$40 rectangle of cheap felt that started the Snuggie craze). 

Because I haven't been in the habit of buying things, I haven't really been spending any time in stores, and because I don't have television (our TV is only hooked up to a DVD player, but we're thinking of getting rid of both in the move) or listen to commercial radio, I haven't been seeing or hearing any commercials. And you know? With the absence of all of those distractions telling me what I must have and must buy for that low low price, I feel really content with what I have. I don't feel deprived or like I'm fighting any urges to go out and buy. After a few months of removing those distractions from my life, I honestly didn't even notice that they were gone. If it weren't for my friends posts about holiday shopping, I think I probably could have forgotten about that craze altogether. 

Or to put it in pictures, because this post is getting a little long:

Aren't the holidays about this:
 And this:
And these:

Instead of this?:

 I realized last week that I have really broken my addiction. It's a wonderful feeling with less clutter, less envy, less stress, more money, more quality time, and more peace and contentment. Now that's some real holiday cheer.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Progress on the House!

So it turns out that working on a house doesn't leave much time for blogging, but I wanted to give you all a quick update on some of the progress we've made (More detailed before and after posts coming in the next few weeks!):

Original backyard:
Backyard that has been neglected for 15+ years
The backyard was completely filled with ivy, bamboo, and blackberry (a trifecta!) It's definitely still a work in progress -- and I can write a whole post about some of the bizarre and awesome things we discovered while slicing through all of that greenery. I'm saving the after picture for a later post, but in the meantime, here's a picture of us with one of our first trees:
Me and Ellen with the key lime tree!
We've also been patching some walls:

And removing others:

All in all, the only thing we're contracting out is the foundation (I do not want to mess with that!). While it's been taking a lot of work, I have to say it feels good to do this kind of work ourselves -- it really feels like we're building our home together. Also a plus is all the money that we're saving by doing our own work, buying materials used, scavenging for materials on freecycle and craigslist, and the old-fashioned borrowing from your neighbors.

I can't wait to post our next updates! We're moving this week and it's all been a little hectic, but I'll have more pictures soon!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Buy Nothing At All?

This man took the buy nothing new year to the next level: buy nothing at all! And he's been at it for 7 years now. We don't exactly share all of the same ideologies, but regardless, I thought this was an interesting read:

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

I'm Back!

Hi blog,

I'm sorry I abandoned you for so many months! Just because I wasn't blogging, doesn't mean I fell off the "buy nothing new" bandwagon, it just means I was really busy and neglectful. I work at a school, so come "summer break" I'm typically not on the internet much, and with that combined with getting ready for a wedding, I just didn't have it in me to make the time to blog.

So now that I'm married (Five days in, woo!) and we bought a new-to-us-but-actually-very-old house, I will have a lot to say as far as how we made the wedding work and how we will make the fixing up and remodeling work in a sustainable and responsible way. So stay tuned!

PS: We just got an old clawfoot bathtub on Craigslist to fix up and add to our current disaster of a bathroom and I'm really excited about it! We also got a low flow toilet, bathroom window, and refrigerator from the ReStore, a used building supply store that benefits Habitat for Humanity. I think this might quickly become my new favorite store! 

Bringing home the new toilet. Please note that it is seat belted for safety :)

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Responsibly Made Flower Girl Dresses

With only four month until our wedding, planning is definitely in full swing, and I am trying to get more and more creative in order to keep our wedding as affordable and responsibly-sourced as possible. 

Dresses for our three flower girls have been throwing me for a bit of a loop -- I didn't want to buy from a big-box-store dress because of the environmental and social/public health implications, but I also needed to find three matching dresses (because apparently you have to buy young sisters the same dress or they will fight over them). And, of course, I'm on a budget.

This is where Etsy, which continually impresses me with its potential for awesomeness, comes in. I love that Etsy gives me access to artists and tradespeople in my larger community that I wouldn't have necessarily found using google or walking around my neighborhood. (They also have lots of "vintage" -- read: "used" -- finds). I think that often times when we need "stuff," it can feel like there are no other options aside from the big-box-stores or Goodwill, but Etsy is just one of many awesome alternative options for more responsibly sourced items.

After a little searching, I found a woman in LA who will make three flower girl dresses for us from a picture I sent her. And her price is more affordable than the original retail price of the pictured dress. So I saved money, supported a local tradeswoman, and did not support the labor shipping practices that I feel strongly against. I'm going to go ahead and call this a win.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Homemade Organic Furniture, Part Two!

I saw this wooden rocker and foot stool at a garage sale this weekend for $50 so I picked it up. The frame is awesome and sturdy, and will make a great base for an organic armchair! I'm pretty excited.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Sure, I want to shop sustainably and responsibly, but how?

In the course of the "buy nothing new" year, I've found that there are some items that are just much, much harder to buy used. In particular, electronics. Sure, there's always craigslist or something from a friend of a friend, but people want to make sure they are buying something that works, and I totally get that. 

The Significant Other and I are both in the market for new phones right now, as our previous ones are just about dead. I bought him a phone off of ebay, which has been working great so far, but then today I just stumbled across this totally awesome alternative option:

ReCellular is a totally awesome, sustainability-conscious company that allows you to sell them old cell phones and also purchase discounted refurbished models (apparently, they also deal in laptops and netbooks). 

Given how damaging our consumer tech culture is, I am super excited about this alternative for purchasing "new" electronics. 

This site is just one of many alternative options out there for people who want to find more sustainable and humane methods of purchasing. I've found that you really can find anything you could possibly need sustainably, it just sometimes requires a little extra research.

Don't have time to research? Check out my growing list of responsible producers and please, suggest any of your own favorites that may be missing!

Monday, May 6, 2013

Social Accountability Audits are a "Fraud"

I needed to read this after my slip off the wagon last week. It's just another reminder that impulsive purchases that seem so harmless and insignificant to us here in the states can have detrimental and sometimes deadly effects on people in other countries.

Here is the article I just read:
Safety Inspections by Social Audit Firms for U.S. Companies Called 'Facade' by Labor Groups 

From the article, about these "social auditing firms":
"Not only has it helped keep wages low and working conditions poor," the report's foreword states of the auditing industry, "it has provided public relations cover for producers whose disregard for health and safety has cost hundreds of lives."

Many U.S. companies, including Apple and other tech and clothing manufacturers, use firms like these to satisfy our country's half-hearted concern for people in other countries. I say half-hearted, because if we, as a country, were truly concerned, we would put effort into changing the working conditions, not just hiring a company to tell us that it's all okay. 

It's a good reminder that every time I make a purchase without researching the origin of the product, I am supporting this system that marginalizes and endangers people across the world, and has taken thousands of lives.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

I Fell Off the Wagon

So after 4 months of buying nothing new, I fell off the wagon last week. Here's what I bought:

Swimsuit (Made in USA)
Undergarments (Made in USA and Europe)

Two of these technically fall into my acceptable exceptions (Made in the USA), but I honestly didn't need any of these things. These were also all things I purchased for my wedding and/or honeymoon, which really makes me think about the pressures of the wedding industry and our consumer culture in general. Why do we feel the need to buy something shiny and new for these special occasions? Why am I being told to spend $$$$$$ on fancy new things for our wedding? Don't I already have nice dresses, swimsuits, and undergarments? And when did the process of shopping for wedding stuff become this all-important rite of passage for every bride to make a big deal of and share with her nearest and dearest (i.e. Say Yes to the Dress -- now there's a glorified monetary transaction)?

Okay that's a lot of questions there, but all of this really has gotten me thinking about how we've completely commercialized and put price tags on these special occasions in our life. Isn't a wedding about love (both with your partner, and with your family and friends)? Isn't Mother's Day about celebrating the woman who gave you life? Aren't birthdays about celebrating the awesomeness of special friends and family? And don't even get me started on Christmas and Hanukkah.

When did we start letting corporations sell us this idea of all this "necessary" stuff? The idea that you absolutely must purchase cute, themed tangible items for people on designated days of the year? And that you absolutely must have a new outfit for every special occasion? And that, if you are a bride, well then you absolutely must secure yourself a whole new wardrobe full of white dresses and bathing suits and shoes and bachelorette party apparel, etc.?

This whole notion of the "stuff" that is linked to these holidays and celebrations is so new. Do you think people in the 1930's and 1940's bought new outfits for every wedding and birthday party? Or bought presents for everyone they knew at Christmas? Or even received presents for so many of these holidays that have now been totally commercialized (i.e. Easter, Mother's Day, Valentine's Day)? Giving a gift used to be a special and unexpected gesture of compassion and friendship, and now it's become a required part of nearly every major holiday and celebration. So much so that we make registries to tell people what to get us, because we know they're going to buy us something. (I guess that's part of what really bothers me about registries).

So here I am to admit that, for a week or two there, I totally got sucked into this. I was sold the idea that my wedding would be less special if I didn't have "all the stuff," and I totally bought in. But now I'm seeing through the B.S. My wedding (and my life!) will be just as amazing, just as wonderful, just as special without "all the stuff" -- in fact, it might just even be better.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Do-It-Yourself (and Buy Nothing New) Wedding Videography

So weddings are expensive! Really expensive. And I think wedding planning has felt challenging largely because many of the weddings I've seen and read about feel really wasteful (in terms of money and resources). There's probably a whole post I can write about this later. 

Anyway, we decided that we wanted some video of our upcoming wedding, but didn't want to shell out $2,000+ for a videographer, so:

I bought a few used (and cheap!) flipcams to have get video clips throughout the day (which we can then have professionally edited -- this was totally inspired by my awesome friend Kim). As regular readers will know, I have strong feelings about the huge impact of our culture of disposable technology so, not only do I feel good about getting used electronics, which have no further environmental or socially irresponsible impact, but I also just save myself a good $1900+ on videos for our wedding. I call that a win!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Getting Rich with Responsible Consumerism!

So something that I particularly am loving so far about the "buy nothing new" year is that, not only am I supporting my social and environmental values, but I am also saving a significant amount of money!

This is a graph of my net worth from the last few months. I've taken out the dollar amounts, but even without them you can see where my net worth was in December and January, when I started the "buy nothing new" year, and where it's grown to in just three months. I haven't gotten a raise or come into any money, and I haven't even sold any of the things I'm trying to get rid of yet, but my net worth from January to March grew almost $10,000.

That's right, I just made $10,000 in three months just by cutting back the amount of "stuff" that I'm buying. And I really wasn't buying that much to begin with -- a few art supplies here, a shirt or two there, CVS runs for last minute things I needed -- but by cutting out a large portion of that and buying used for the things I still need, I've saved a substantial amount of money. And I expect this trend to continue (although realistically I know it will probably level out a bit).

So really, who can afford not to be a conscious consumer? :)

Monday, April 15, 2013

Four (and a half) Month Update

So I'm now four and a half months in the "Buy Nothing New" year, and I've been neglecting the blog a little bit, so I want to post an update. 

As far as buying nothing new, things have been going great! I still struggle with gifts and how to navigate that, but I'm trying to get more and more creative.

As far as buying in general, I think I've fallen off the wagon a little bit. Goodwill is my weakness, and I find that when I go in there and let myself look around (as opposed to just searching for exactly what I came in for), I tend to buy things that I don't really need.

In the last two months I bought the following items at Goodwill:
- Button down shirt for work
- Cute hat that I really didn't need
- Vases for centerpieces for the wedding
- Rubber duckies (which I ended up using for wedding stuff)
- Three sweaters that I didn't need
- Picture frames that I didn't need
- And I almost bought a trumpet :)

While it's awesome that I can find all of these great things at Goodwill (which is responsible for workers, the environment, and my bank account), I think I really need to re-visit the consumerism flowchart that I wrote about earlier. All of this shopping is a little bit counter-productive to my de-cluttering initiative! It's time to get back on track!

Buy Nothing New Wedding Update

I have been largely away from the blog for a few weeks now, in part because I have been spending most of my free internet time planning for this upcoming wedding! I'm really doing my best to put together a wedding that still reflects my values, and here's where I'm at right now:

Things I've figured out in a responsible/sustainable way(Blog posts coming soon!):
- Venue, food, photography
- Do-It-Yourself Videography
- My dress/ensemble
- Centerpieces (I love Goodwill!)

Things I still haven't quite figured out how to do sustainably:
- Future Husband's apparel (How do you multiple coordinating ties in a specific color family used?)
- Gifts for the awesome people who are helping us out
- Other decorations and activities
- Flowers 

If anyone has suggestion on any of these things, please let me know! I promise to come back and start blogging again very soon :)

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Buy Nothing New Wedding!

As my real life friends already know, I got engaged this past weekend and I'm getting married in September of this year. Yay!

Since I have no intention of compromising on my "buy nothing new" year, I guess my upcoming wedding has just turned into a "buy nothing new" wedding!

Oooh, this just got interesting.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Turning an old dress into a new dress!

So the school district that I work for holds a teacher prom every year -- there's dancing, drinks, casino games, food, and (of course!) a prom king and queen. Davey and I went this year and it was 10,000 times better than actual prom was back in the day!

Not being a very fancy person, I needed a dress to wear to teacher prom and at first, I was sure that I didn't have anything in my closet. That is, until I found this dress in the very back corner:

This was the dress that I wore when I went to the Oscars in 8th grade, and while I love the color, it's really not something I would ever wear again. I had mostly just been holding onto it for sentimental reasons, and the off chance that I would need a floor length blue dress some day. Because I wanted to give this dress a second chance, and because of the rules of my "buy nothing new" year, I decided to make this dress above into this dress below:

 Picture of the front coming soon! We had cheesy prom portraits taken so I'll upload those when I get them :)

I hemmed the floor-length skirt into a knee-length skirt, and then used the extra fabric to construct a bodice and sleeves. I had some awesome polka-dot ribbon laying around and decided to use that for a sash. (For the record, I am in no way a professional or even talented seamstress -- I didn't use a pattern or anything, just played around with my sewing machine until the dress looked good!)

I ended up loving this dress so much that I am now totally inspired to alter other clothes that have been hanging in the back of my closet into items that I'll actually wear. For $0 I got a perfectly nice teacher prom dress and gave an old sentimental item new life.

I love the way that this "buy nothing new" year has forced me to become more creative and more resourceful, and find creative solutions that I never would have thought of before!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

"The things I consumed ended up consuming me"

An interesting and quick article about a man who realized the detrimental effects of all his "stuff" and found happiness in relationships and experiences :)

Monday, March 4, 2013

Purchase #2

(To clarify, I'm using my "Purchase" posts to document all non-gift items that I've purchased, whether used or new. I'm not documenting gifts here or materials that I gathered for projects, as those are getting their own posts)

Over the weekend, I bought a used sewing machine:

My "New to Me" Sewing Machine! Original retail (back in the day) = $1,100. I paid $250.

This was not an anticipated purchase. Sadly, I lent my sewing machine out to a friend a couple of months back, and when it was returned it was acting strange. I troubleshooted the best I could during the make your own couch project, but when I started on my next project (altering some old clothes to make "new to me" clothes), it completely died. I took it in to get it fixed at this local vacuum and sewing machine repair shop (a totally amazing place), and the technician I spoke with said it would cost far more to fix than the machine is actually worth. :(
I have been interested in looking at a better machine for a couple of years now, but had no reason to ditch my old machine while it still worked. So when my old Singer finally bit the dust, I decided to see what used machines the store had on hand for sale. My "new to me" Pfaff machine is one of the best sewing machines ever made, and had always been a dream that was totally out of my price range, so I was very excited that this store just happened to have one for a reasonable price!
It was also interesting to talk with the technician, who told me that almost all of the new machines now are being very cheaply produced in China and Thailand and that they are very poor quality. He says that these days he really only recommends buying used to his customers, which is pretty awesome. And why not, when you get such great quality for a more affordable price, while simultaneously withholding support from a production system that marginalizes workers and uses up natural resources?
I worked on my alterations project yesterday (post coming soon!) on my "new to me" machine, and it is amazing! I can't wait to post all of the fun things I'm working on with this machine.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Two Months Update

As of tomorrow, I am officially two months into the "buy nothing new" year, and so far, so good!

Despite celebrating Valentine's Day and going on a vacation this month, I succeeded in not buying anything new for myself!* Yay!

So here is what I bought this month:

- Box of chocolates and newborn-sized hearts t-shirt for family who had a new baby and weren't able to go out and celebrate (gift)
- Four pairs of shoes as a charitable donation (gift)
- *A friend bought me a $2 pair of headphones from the gate at Virgin America so I wouldn't freak out on our flight home from vacation (I am phobic of flying!!). This was technically a gift, but could have been totally avoided if I had thought ahead and brought my own, so I'm partially counting this purchase.

I feel like I did pretty well this month, and really wasn't tempted at all. In fact, I feel like I'm more or less "over" shopping at this point -- the fumes in the stores now make me nauseous, I've found more important things (to me) to spend my money on (or rather save my money for!), and I just don't want or need all the clutter. It's really freeing :)

As far as room for improvement, I think it still all comes down to planning ahead. If I had thought of it ahead of time, I could have gotten some of those gifts and donations used or homemade, and I definitely could have avoided the purchase of the $2 headphones. Let's see if I can do even better next month!

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Do I Need This?

I just stumbled across this on the internet and felt compelled to post this. It's how I feel about pretty much all new "stuff" right now, and is pretty hilarious:

Now just replace the word "panflute" with anything at all you are tempted to buy or debating getting rid of. I've realized that, chances are, if I haven't needed it before now, and if I am even contemplating getting rid of it, I probably don't need it. This flowchart is my new de-cluttering motto :)

Buy Nothing New Vacation!

Sorry for disappearing so abruptly -- I was on vacation in Washington DC earlier this week and had a fabulous time!

Now I'm not one to go on vacation to go shopping, so my first vacation in the "buy nothing new" year wasn't too challenging, but it did make me more aware of my past vacation spending habits.

Look Familiar? These little stands seem to be everywhere in every major city in the world.

We went to several of the Smithsonians and many of the national monuments, and every single one had its own gift shop. The Smithsonians had multiple gift shops per museum, and everywhere we went these little tourist shops seemed to be full of people. 

Now I have a confession to make -- in the past, I would have been one of them. I used to (as in years ago) be a little obsessed with collecting, and convinced that I needed souvenirs to remember every cool place I'd ever been. In the last few years, I've started to get away from this as I've begun to de-clutter, but I would still find myself looking for a hat pin or postcard or some small trinket to memorialize the experience. 

Why do we feel that we need physical objects to help us remember fun experiences? Is it because we're afraid we'll forget them? Or because we're drawn to the novelty of something we can't buy anywhere else? Is it to show off to friends all the cool things we've done?

And then what happens to these trinkets? As I've been de-cluttering this year, I have come across several vacation souvenirs. It's probably the first time I've looked at many of them since the vacations they came from. Some of them are so random that I don't even remember where I got them.

And what about the souvenir-less vacations that I've taken? Are they any less special, do I remember them any less fondly because I didn't buy a little plastic Eiffel Tower, etc.? 

Okay, so maybe I had way too long to think about this on the plane, but I'm grateful that I've come to a place where I don't feel that I need physical mementos to remind me of the special times in my life. Not that there's anything wrong with a souvenir here and there, but it's nice to feel less and less connected with objects, and more connected with the memories and experiences themselves. I think this is one of my favorite side effects of my "buy nothing new" year so far. 

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Happy (Non-Consumer) Valentine's Day!

Happy Valentine's Day, everyone! I know some people feel like Valentine's Day is purely a commercial holiday, but when you take all of the commercialism and consumerism out of it, you're left with just another day to celebrate your love :) That is exactly what the Significant Other and I will be doing tonight with homemade cards and a homemade candlelit dinner (no boxes of chocolates, imported roses, or cheesy gifts here! Although cheesy gifts can sometimes be pretty fun).

Above is my homemade card, that I had some fun making. I must say, it's really nice and relaxing not to have to worry about running out to buy gifts and cards and flowers and the whole shebang. I was worried about how I would handle holidays during the "buy nothing new" year, but I'm now thinking that maybe non-consumer holidays are the way to go after all :)

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

We Made an Organic Couch!

Our organic, carcinogen-free, super hippie couch is finally done, and now I get to post about it! So here it is, how to make an organic sofa:

The Significant Other on the new couch!

So first here is a little background on why we wanted a new couch in the first place -- the couch we had before was a great find from a thrift store that I've had for a few years, but it was too short so we had been thinking about an upgrade for a while now. What really motivated the change, though, was a cancer scare a few months back that got us thinking about all the carcinogens in our houses -- particularly the toxic flame retardants that are in all furniture made in the last few decades and have been  shown lately to be relatively dangerous (Here's a good summarizing article that also touches on the shifting policies around flame retardants). Between the flame retardants and the toxic off-gassing, we knew we didn't want to get just any new or used couch. Unfortunately, organic couches start at $2,500 and only get more expensive from there, so that left us with one option -- construct our own!

So with off-gassing, flame retardants, environmental impact, and labor practices (and cost!) in mind, here are the materials we gathered to put together our new organic sofa:

  • Wooden futon frame, used (Craigslist)
  • 100% natural latex foam block, returned (used) and re-cut to our dimensions
  • Organic cotton batting (new, made in USA)
  • Upholstery fabric (new, made in USA)
  • Natural bamboo fiber for pillow stuffing (new, made in USA)
Assembling the frame
We assembled the frame, and the significant other made a few structural adjustments:
 The finished frame
The wood is great because of it's visual appeal and because of the vast difference in off-gassing, etc. versus a plastic, metal, or composite frame. Also, the foam works best on slats so that it can "breathe".
Next we got the natural latex foam -- I found a nearby store that sells 100% natural latex foam that is completely free from chemical additives and flame retardants and was able to buy a large block of foam from them for a discount because it had originally been custom cut for another customer and then returned because the size didn't work. So it was never really used, but it's purchase didn't initiate the production of a new item, which is kind of the best of both worlds. The company was able to re-cut the giant foam block into six smaller blocks, which we wrapped in organic cotton batting and covered in muslin to use as the cushions:
Frame + Cushions!
The Significant Other picked out some upholstery fabric that was Made in the USA (woohoo!) and we then got to work on covering all the cushions:

By the way, I did do work on this, too, but just made the S.O. pose for the pictures :)
See, here I am sewing!
Covered cushions!
Once the cushions were covered, the last step was to make pillows for the arms (to make it more comfortable and "couch-y" versus "futon-y") and a couple of throw pillows. I again used "Made in USA" fabric as well as domestically produced 100% natural bamboo fiber:
Here's what the arms look like now (a couple more pillows are coming soon):

I don't have a final picture of the whole couch because I ran out of stuffing for the last pillows (but didn't want to wait to post this!), but you can tell by that smile how much the Significant Other likes it already haha:

So that's our new couch! It's actually really comfortable, and ended up costing us less than a new couch from a department store would. It was somewhat challenging to find foam and batting that wasn't treated with flame retardants and other toxic additives, but I hope that that will all change soon as California continues to re-evaluate the necessity of these chemical additives in furniture.

Anyway, you may not be that impressed, but I am super excited about our responsibly made (by us!), environmentally friendly, non-toxic sofa. Next up, putting together an organic/non-toxic armchair!

(Also, this was our first time putting together anything like this, so I would love any feedback/suggestions/comments you may have!)

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Off-Gassing (It's as gross as it sounds!)

Wow, has it really been a week since I posted last? I guess when you're not buying things, there isn't always too much to report. I'm still going strong on the "buy nothing new" year, and despite the absence of "new and exciting" purchases in my life, I am quite happy, well-equipped, and generally content. The goodwill pile is also building up and I'm feeling just a little less stressed with every useless bit of clutter that I'm eliminating. Woohoo!

Anyway, I've been thinking a lot about off-gassing lately as the Significant Other and I have been building our couch (I know, I know, I need to post the pictures!). Part of the reason that we have been putting together a couch ourselves is to avoid exposure to the dangerous chemicals in flame retardants and other components of furniture. After a recent cancer scare, this is pretty important to us!

There are so many dangerous chemicals in the air we breathe in our homes, cars, and offices these days. I used to love the "new car smell," until I realized it was just chemical off-gassing from all the new material in the car. I also went into a store the other day for the first time in 5 weeks or so and got a headache from all the off-gassing of the new products. 

The EPA confirms that indoor air is far more polluted than outdoor air, and a recent study found 300 foreign chemicals inside a newly furnished baby's room versus only 2 foreign chemicals right outside the window. 

You can check out an article about the study here.

The article also suggests buying used as an important step in minimizing exposure to these synthetic and usually dangerous chemicals, so you know I like that. (Although used furniture still continues to off-gas -- at a much lower rate -- hence our decision to put together our couch ourselves!)

Off-gassing is another interesting thing to consider when contemplating a new purchase. Do I really want to bring known carcinogens into my house, and support their continued use through my purchase?  Just another motivator for me to stick with used and handmade!

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

One Month Update

Okay technically it will have been one month into my "buy nothing new" year tomorrow, but I felt like writing this post today, so I'm going to do it :)

What I bought this month:

Digital camera (used)
Diapers and small bath toys for baby shower gift (new)
Fabric for make-your-own couch project (new, made in USA)

The digital camera was to replace my old camera that brokein August; the present was for a family member's baby shower (and you really can't buy diapers used!); and the fabric is the only new component of our couch that we are assembling in order to avoid purchasing an entirely new couch. I do feel like each purchase was needed and that I did my best to avoid buying new, but I definitely still see a lot of room for improvement here! (It also doesn't look so good that, after months of searching, I finally found a good used camera only two weeks into my "buy nothing new" year!)

So, one month in, how is this all going? I've found that, overall, it's not the big purchases that have been hard to cut down on (I wasn't really in the habit of "going shopping" and buying new clothes, shoes, etc.), but it's the little things (that sure do add up!) where I've noticed a real change. Instead of running over to Target or CVS for a lampshade or a glue stick or a pillow (these all came up this month), I'm getting more creative. I'm thinking about other ways I can make things work -- maybe by buying used or modifying something I already own or just trying a new approach.

When the bigger things do come up (we need a new couch), I've gotten extra creative and have been able to get exactly what I need, almost entirely used (and for way cheaper!), just by planning ahead.

I think the main difference with the "buy nothing new" year is that I can't really do last-minute shopping ("Oh shoot, we need a new couch/camera/pair of shoes/extension cord/etc., let's run over to Target/Best Buy/Payless/CVS/etc."), but really that's a change I have been wanting to make anyway. By thinking more about what I actually need and being more deliberate with my purchases, I will
a.) save money, b.) reduce the clutter, and c.) end up with something that I actually need vs. something that will do for now.

So one month down, 11 more to go. I hope that next month I can come on here and tell you I bought nothing at all! And maybe give an update on that goodwill pile, as well, as I continue to de-clutter my life :)

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Disposable Consumerism - Tech Edition

Last week I vented a little about the environmental impacts of disposable consumerism. This week I just want to expand on this idea a little by mentioning a specific aspect about our disposable consumerism culture that drives me a little extra crazy -- the constant cycle of upgrading electronic devices. 

All the different natural resources and dangerous chemicals that go into cell phone production

It feels like, as a culture, we have placed soo much emphasis and importance on our cell phones, tablets, laptops, etc. They are "our lives," they go with us everywhere, and frankly, they are a status symbol. I guess this explains why we are constantly being told we need to upgrade to the newest, sleekest, smallest, coolest model. It seems most of the big companies these days cater to this mindset, coming out with "new and improved" phones every year or even more often (I'm looking at you, Apple!) and then convincing us that our lives absolutely cannot go on until we have 4G/Siri/Bluetooth/whatever the next cool thing is. And the result of this is that we have people standing in line for hours and sometimes days to upgrade their perfectly functional phone to the next "it" model. I mean really, how often have you heard of someone trying to get their phone fixed before going out to purchase a new one? The fact is that now even our cell phones have become "disposable".

So what's the environmental impact? On average, the U.S. now throws out 100 million cell phones every year. Not only is that a monumental waste, but because of the toxicity of some of the chemicals used in cell phone production, we are literally poisoning areas and communities all over the world with our e-waste.

This really motivates me to make certain important changes in how I purchase and use electronic devices:

1.) If something breaks, I will first do all that I can to get it repaired/replace a part.
2.) If it isn't reparable, I will:
   -- Purchase a refurbished model rather than new
   -- Make sure to responsibly recycle the old electronic device.

And honestly, I've come to the realization that I don't need or want the next "smartest" phone/tablet/etc. My current phone is only moderately intelligent -- it calls, it texts, and it can check my email in a pinch, and that's all I really need my phone to do :)

Thank you for letting me vent! Does this drive anyone else a little crazy?

Monday, January 28, 2013


I recently joined a freecycle group, and I am loving the generosity, thriftiness, and dedication to waste reduction of the people in these networks! For those who aren't familiar, you basically join a Freecycle network in your area and then can give and get a wide assortment of things for free. 

I don't check it daily, as I'm still trying to de-clutter, but when there is something that I'm looking for, I will definitely stop here first! I'm also planning on listing our old couch on here, so if anyone wants a free couch, check it out :)

Another great site with the same idea:

Which reminds me, my make-your-own-couch post will be up sometime this week! I'm excited.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Environmental Impact of Disposable Consumerism

Sometimes this is what our consumer society feels like to me:
 A constant revolving door of stuff. We input disposable products from the big stores, and then a short time later, output them into the trash. I call it disposable consumerism, and it drives me a little bit crazy. And yet there are so many stores that cater to this type of purchasing (Walmart, H&M, Forever 21, Dollar Tree, CVS, etc.). These stores sell cheap, low-quality products that aren't made to last, but rather made to be used a handful of times and then tossed to be replaced with a new product. And in the meantime, we are consuming millions and millions of tons of natural resources to create, transport, and then dispose of these products. 

Anyway, I thought this infographic was interesting, although it barely scrapes the surface of the problems with a disposable consumerism-oriented society:


Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Purchase #1

Pentax Optio WG-1
This is the first item I have purchased for myself this year -- and it was used, so it didn't break any of the rules!
My digital camera broke back in August, and I'd been doing research on camera for months, keeping an eye out for a good deal on a refurbished or used model, while trying to decide if I really needed a digital camera anyway.
I finally decided that, yes, I did really want a small digital camera that I can take anywhere (this one is waterproof, shockproof, etc.), and picked this model from the reviews I read online. When a great deal on a barely used model (70% under MSRP) popped up online recently, I decided to go for it.
So this is my new camera. I got a quality, durable camera on the cheap without supporting the company that made this model overseas or triggering the production of a new camera. I am super excited. 

Tuesday, January 22, 2013


I received a catalog in the mail on Friday that I had forgotten to cancel. Of course it was the one and only catalog that I've received in the last few months that actually advertised things I wanted -- cute and colorful work-appropriate clothing. 

I let myself look through the magazine and admire the clothes and definitely felt a few pangs of temptation, but as I reached the last page I thought of all the clothing I already own, and the faces of the workers who were producing this clothing in poor conditions for almost no pay, and the low quality of cheap clothing, and the environmental impact...

And after letting that all sink in for a minute, I hopped on the computer to remove my name from their mailing list and promptly threw the catalog in the recycling. 

It felt good :)

Friday, January 18, 2013

A Photo Essay, and Making a Couch

Copyright by Michael Wolf

There is an interesting photo essay circulating the internet called "The Real Toy Story" by Michael Wolf. While the photo essay doesn't really explore the working conditions in these giant productions, it does help to put a more human face on mass production and helps us to remember where all of these cheap products really come from. 

  Copyright by Michael Wolf

See more of the images Here

In other news, I the Significant Other and I have been working on putting together our own couch, rather than buying new or used (more on the reasons for this later). We are almost done and I'm pretty excited about it. I will follow up with a post all about our handmade couch next week, but in the meantime, it really helps reinforce to me that, with a little creativity, you can make it a whole year or longer without buying anything new!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

De-Cluttering the Mailbox

An important part of de-cluttering for me this year has been de-cluttering my mailbox. Along with all the various envelopes for people who no longer live at my house, we also get a seemingly endless supply of magazines, catalogs, adtervisements, and coupons. These drive me a little bit crazy because a.) wow, what a waste of paper, b.) I hate going to get the mail and then realizing that there is actually nothing in that pile for me or anyone who lives here, and c.) I really don't need catalogs and coupons that encourage me to buy more "stuff" that I really don't need (How often does a really good coupon make you go out and buy something that you didn't want or need in the first place?).

So I've taken a couple of different steps to reduce the junk mail, and it's really been working really well! How did I do it?

1. I opted out of all credit card pre-screen offers Here (This site is endorsed by the US Trade Commission, so it's legit!)

2. I created an account on DMA Choice which allowed me to opt-out of all catalogs, magazines, etc. You can also use this site to just opt out of the catalogs you don't want. I've found that this site keeps you off of future mailings lists for new catalogs, but doesn't really stop the ones you are already receiving.

3. I used Catalog Choice to easily submit requests to the catalog companies that were still sending me material. This site makes it pretty simple to opt-out.

4. For any catalogs, magazines, newsletters, etc. that I was still receiving, I contacted the companies directly and asked them to remove my name from their mailing list. Most companies allow you to do this online.

5. For mail that I received not addressed to me, I marked it "Return to Sender" and put it back in the mailbox.

That may seem like a lot of steps, but it really didn't take long at all, and most of it can be done online. Finally being able to open the mailbox without being bombarded by random junk I don't need is so worth it, and by avoiding unwanted catalogs and coupons, I really haven't felt any urge at all yet to buy something new.

So the "buy nothing new" year continues and many trees are saved :)

Monday, January 14, 2013

The True Cost of Free Shipping

I just finished reading this story written by a journalist who worked in a online retail distribution center in the US -- it is a really interesting read and sheds light on the labor practices that enable us to consume cheaper and cheaper products in the US:

"I Was a Warehouse Wage Slave"

It really opened my eyes to another piece of the cheap and disposable consumerism industry -- dangerous and miserable working conditions overseas, the huge environmental footprint of manufacturing and shipping, and the mentally, physically, and financially unhealthy conditions that US workers endure to get us those products cheaper and faster.

I hope that as more and more people learn about these labor practices (that the corporations are working hard at keeping hidden!)we can demand change. In the meantime, it's just further motivation to keep on the "buy nothing new" year!

Friday, January 11, 2013

Speaking of Goodwill...

This song is so hilarious -- although beware of the NSFW language :)

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Part Two of my Resolution

So as previously stated, my New Years' resolution is to de-clutter my life. Part one of this process is the "buy nothing new" year, which is going well so far (although I'm only 10 days in!). Part two is to de-clutter my home by getting rid of some of the random junk that I have lying around that I really don't need.

The beginnings of my Goodwill pile!

Originally I had planned to set a goal of donating a certain percentage of my current possessions, but that just seemed too arbitrary and difficult to verify. Instead, I am now going through my things and asking myself "Do I need this?" "Does this make me happy?" If the item doesn't evoke an affirmative response to either of these questions, it goes in the pile. 

It's actually been a really great and cleansing process, and I look forward to how much easier it will be to find things I'm looking for and maintain some semblance of cleanliness once the de-cluttering is finished.

I will keep you all posted as my pile grows, and possibly post some items for sale on here if I get really motivated :)

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

My Favorite Responsible Producers!

Inspired by my earlier post on just how irresonsible so much of worldwide manufacturing is, I've decided to start a list of some of my favorite responsiblly-manufactured brands.

These are all brands that I have done at least some research on and feel comfortable supporting if I do have to buy something new:

(These are just off the top of my head right now, I'll continue to add to this as I find more!)

$ = good deal, comparable to other brands
$$ = a little pricier, but you get what you pay for
$$$ = expensive, but responsible consumerism doesn't always come cheap!

ReCellular and Mobile Karma (Link) $

Tees by Tina (Link) $$$
Earth Creations (Link) $$
Great list of clothing retailers (Link)
American Apparel (Link) *Made in USA and committed to sustainability, but there have been recent controversies around working conditions and sexual harrassment* $$

Undergarments & Sleepwear:
Only Hearts (Link) $$
Commando (Link) $$
Hanky Panky (Link) $$$
Bella Materna *Maternity and Nursing* (Link) $$

New Balance *Only some models are made in the USA* (Link) $$
Klogs (Clogs) (Link) $$
Tic Tac Toe's (Link)$$

Bario Neal (Link) $-$$ 

Hair Care and Skin Care:
Yes to Carrots (Link) $

Cleaning Products:
Simple Green Naturals (Link) $
Casabella *Made in USA and utilizes recycled materials* (Link) $$
Homemaid (Link) $

Chocolate, Coffee, and Tea:
Equal Exchange (Link) $$


Do you have any favorite responsibly-produced brands? Please leave any other suggested additions to this list in the comments below!