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!