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!

Responsible Consumerism and Human Trafficking

When I started thinking about doing a "buy nothing new" year, I knew that I felt very strongly about not supporting manufacturers that have oppressive and dangerous working conditions, but I really didn't know the full extent of the mistreatment (to put it lightly) that some of these factories exact on their workers.

Apparently, there are 12.3 million people in forced labour or sexual servitude in the world at any given time. 12.3 million people in slavery! According to the International Organization for Migration, human trafficking (better known for its role in sexual exploitation) is also driven by the demand for cheap labor around the world.

Here's a short article about IOM's "Buy Responsibly" campaign:

and some good information (with interactive map!) about what's behind some of the most common products we buy:

This definitely motivates me to not only continue my "buy nothing new" year, but also to make sure I'm looking for that Fair Trade label on the food I purchase.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Does this count as cheating?

So now that I'm back at work (I work at a middle school), I'm realizing that there is going to be another challenge to this venture -- what am I going to do about school supplies?

Unfortunately, working in an under-funded (aren't they all!) school in a low-income area, there really are lots of things that the school and these kids needs. And there is no funding to get these items. I was able to get a lot of things used to set up my office (board games, art supplies, $20 Goodwill couch), but now that I'm also coaching the basketball team, I'm not totally sure what I'm going to do. We need more jerseys, and a play clipboard, and I would love to give the kids T-shirts or something to make them feel special, but those are all things that are very hard (or gross!) to find used! Before the break, I finally just asked for donations of basketballs becacuse I didn't know where else to look for them.

I caved today and bought a play clipboard online off of ebay. I think it is used, and was only $8, and it's for my super awesome middle schoolers, but it still doesn't feel totally kosher to buy something more or less for me only 8 days into the "buy nothing new" year...

Hmm, I'm going to have to get creative here!

Monday, January 7, 2013

"Buy nothing new" emotional disclaimer

As you can probably tell at this point, I am really excited about my "buy nothing new" year. I think it's going to be challenging at times, but also adventurous, cleansing, interesting, and a concrete expression of my values.

That being said, I am having a bit of a hard time expressing my excitement about this outside of the blogosphere. I know this is an unconventional goal and there is definitely a small part of me that fears being judged, but mostly I just fear offending other people. How do I express my excitement about "buy nothing new" year and my high valuation of responsible consumerism without inadvertantly making others feel judged or offended?

The few people I have told about this have all been excited and supportive (they are my besties, after all), but how will everyone else react?

I guess this is just the therapist in me, sometimes a little too empathetic, but I do want to put it out there loud and clear that I mean no offense, judgment, condescension, etc. with my enthusiasm for my non-consumer lifestyle! Thank you for understanding :)

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Challenge #1: Gifts

One of the biggest challenges I anticipate facing this year is the question of what to do about gifts. 

I love giving gifts and try to do it as much as possible, but there are some things that bother me about gift-giving culture these days:

1. First, I am really uncomfortable with "obligatory" gifts, where you feel you must get a person something for a holiday or event and end up buying them random junk because you don't know what to get them and can't show up with nothing. In high school, this obligatory present was often manifested in Bath & Body Works lotion gift sets (I think I still have a few of those lying around my parents' house).

2. I really don't like registries. Really, really don't like them. I understand that they are very commonplace these days, and that people put out registries with the absolute best of intentions in order to help out their guests, but they still make me really uncomfortable. (Sorry to those of you who love registries -- I know for some guests and celebrants they just make everything easier!). Partly this is because I think the best part of a present is the surprise aspect and the thought put into it, which you don't necessarily get with a gift off of a registry, and the other part is just feeling really uncomfortable with the idea of giving someone else my shopping list to have them go out and buy a specific item and wrap it up for me. It just doesn't feel genuine.  So yes, no judgement whatsoever to those who are fans of registries, but I personally really don't like them.

(Above, my solution to my first gift-giving dilemma of 2013)

So this past weekend we had a family baby shower to go to, and I wanted to bring something that was more a little more personalized than a registry item, yet not something totally useless or random (like a re-gifted lotion gift set :) ). We knew we wanted to give them a gift certificate to a local hot tub spot (as the mommy-to-be has been sincerely missing her ability to sit in a hot tub for the past 8 months!), but wanted to bring something else tangible for them to open at the shower. 

My solution was this diaper cake. I found a beautiful platter at goodwill, put a bottle of homemade wine in the middle (the significant other is an excellent vintner), and surrounded the bottle with approximately 80 eco-friendly diapers (well, as eco-friendly as disposables can be!). I then purchased a few baby bath items (sponges, wash cloths) and the Ernie cake topper (they love muppets) new. 

Thus the present was part used, part homemade, and part new, which I felt was a good compromise. And the parents-to-be loved it, which made me happy.

I think that gifts are going to have to be somewhat of an exception to my rules this year. I will definitely try to utilize used and homemade items, but when used or homemade is not appropriate, or when I find something new that is perfect for the recipient, I'm not going to restrict myself, because I love giving presents and seeing the smiles on people's faces when they receive them :)

Basically this was just a really long post about a diaper cake, but I hope you enjoyed!

Thursday, January 3, 2013

What my wallet says about me

So why am I doing this crazy experiment anyway?

I've been thinking a lot more over the past few months about "stuff," and about consumerism, and about what influence our wallets are having outside of our own communities. This has led me to do the "buy nothing new" year for three main reasons:

1. I will not support dangerous and oppressive labor practices in other countries. The fact that people are dying in these factories overseas (from job-site accidents, chemical exposure, and suicide) in order to make cheap and often disposable products for the US is, frankly, horrific and unacceptable, and something I will not support with my money. (Hence if I do need to purchase a product new, I will get it from local, responsible manufacturers.)

2. The environmental impact of mining, manufacturing, packaging, and shipping all of these new products from far away countries is huge. Also not something I want to support.

3. I believe that I (and many Americans) have too much "stuff". It costs me money, it stresses me out, it makes moving awful, and I get attached to items that I really don't need. I would so much rather use my time, energy, and money to pursue meaningful experiences and retire early than to accumulate more "stuff" that really doesn't make me happy in the long run. I could go on and on about this and consumerism and how our culture feeds consumerism endlessly, but I'll keep it short and stop there.

Anyway, these are the three main reasons that I've decided to do a "buy nothing new" year. I also anticipate that I will save a lot of money, which is always nice.

I want to put out there that I know that doing this "buy nothing new" year is right for me, but recognize that it may not be right for everyone, and I am in no way trying to pass judgement on those who enjoy an occasional shopping trip to Target (or "Tar-jay"). I'm writing this blog just to document and share my experiences with this shift in purchasing in hopes that it may be helpful or interesting to any of you who might happen to read it. If I ever get too "preachy," please feel free to call me out :)

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Last Hurrah

So you may be wondering -- did I go on a big spending spree on December 31 to buy everything I would need, thus making my year without spending way less impressive and legit?

I did go out to a (pretty, outside, fun-to-walk-around) mall a few days ago, with the intention of getting any last shopping urges out of my system, and what did I buy?

A bath mat.

Yep, just a bath mat -- exciting, I know.

I think I've really been ready for this "buy nothing new" challenge for a while now, and have just been waiting for January 1 to make it official. Honestly, I've come to realize that there is nothing material that I really need (and having had some pretty rocky finances in the past, I am extremely grateful to be able to say that!). So instead of having to restrain myself from buying a new pair of boots or some fancy clothes, I really and truly just did not even want to purchase them, and actually I started to feel pretty overwhelmed just being in a mall.

So there it is, my last shopping hurrah. I bought a bath mat. It's really soft and matches my towels (and was on sale), so I am happy about that :)

Where will my two cents go this year?

As part of my New Year's resolution to de-clutter my life, I've pledged to buy nothing new this year. (And encouraged by my friend Lisa, I'm going to write about it on this blog -- Lisa, you may be the only person who ends up reading this!)

What does this mean? How will this work? Is this even possible?

Well here is the plan:

  • I will not spend any money on new items this year (but I won't refuse gifts from others, because that would just not be nice).
  • If there is something I need, I will get it used or make it myself (so, as much as I love Goodwill, there will be no shopping trips just to browse).
  • If, for some reason, there is really no other way to purchase something used (or if it would be really disgusting to -- i.e. underwear), I will only buy a needed item that has been made in the USA. More on the reasons for this later.

Of course every good goal has one or two exceptions, and here are mine. These are the things I will be purchasing new this year:

  • Food (Yeah, going to need some of that).
  • Toilet paper (Because, eew).
  • Essential toiletries (Used toothbrush? No thank you).
  • Medicines and other things my doctor may prescribe.
  • Socks and undergarments (but only ones made in the USA).

Alright, this post is long enough, so I'll end here. I'm actually really excited for my "buy nothing new" year. Tomorrow I'll write more about my reasons for doing this, but for now -- Happy New Year! I hope you (Lisa, my only reader) have a fabulous day.