Update: Make sure to visit my Nothing New page to find quick links for our monthly reviews of buying nothing new in 2013!
After two years in the US, Black Friday still puzzles me. I understand that it’s the kick-off to Christmas shopping and I also get that everyone loves a deal. But this year, as I heard reports of people pulling a gun in the middle of Sears, threatening to stab people in KMart, getting arrested for freaking out in line at Wal-Mart, and leaving their 2-year-old son alone in the car while they go buy a flat screen, I had quite enough of it.
The acquisition of more things seems to be the center of North American economic stability. News reports over the holidays boasted of consumer spending being higher than in recent years and proving we are in better financial health. But better financial health for whom? The GDP? The families who are relying on defaults and bankruptcy to save them so they can go back to their former spending habits? Or the typical consumer who is carrying an average of 4-10 credit cards in their wallet and wearing the burden of an average of $7,193 in debt¹? If you ask me, that is not economic health at all. That is a burden which continues to stress the nation as we willingly sabotage our own happiness with every purchase.
Stuff, Stuff, and More Stuff
As I waited in line amidst the craziness of post-Christmas shopping in my local Sur la Table kitchen store, an elderly couple stood in front of me. I couldn’t help but hear the older gentleman say with a touch of sarcasm, “geesh, how did we ever survive all those years without all this…stuff.”
I chuckled and struck up a conversation with them just as a young couple roamed nearby with the bridal registry scanner. As the 20-something soon-to-be-newylweds went about choosing all the trinkets and gadgets their hearts desired, the elderly couple reminisced about a time when there was no such thing as a Cake Pop Maker, a boil-over stopper, or an avocado slicer. Heaven forbid; they made square cakes (gasp!), they carefully took the time to prevent their water from boiling over (how old fashioned!) and they used a knife to cut an avocado (they might as well be cavemen!).
Entitlement Breeds Lack of Contentment
Sarcasm aside, I also believe that this desire to have more reinforces our First World sense of entitlement — that we somehow “deserve” to have nice things. And yet, the more nice things we obtain, the further we separate ourselves from the poor and the needy, widening the gap between “us” and “them”. And if that’s not bad enough, the desire for more brings an enormous impact on our environment, takes a psychological toll as it clutters our minds, and perhaps worst of all, creates discontent with what we already own. One walk though your local mall and you’re sure to come away feeling that your life is not good enough. That you are somehow inadequate for not being able to purchase all the things you yearned for.
My friend Nicole put this theory into words as her Facebook status the other day:
Walked into Z gallery and started to cry. . . Maybe in my next life : /
Nicole perfectly summed up exactly how we all feel — that our lives are incomplete until we can buy all the things we want. That maybe we’ll be satisfied in our “next life”. I will preface this by saying that Nicole is not alone in this sentiment — I am just as guilty of feeling this way. Our society is so driven by consumerism that it is only natural for us to all share in the struggle of being satisfied with what we have. But if we really get to the heart of it, we are left with something quite ugly: greed.
excessive or rapacious desire, especially for wealth or possessions.
Although some of us are fuelled by it more than others, I think it’s safe to say we all struggle with greed. In a world where contentment is about as real as a unicorn, the powerful currents of greed and discontent will easily sweep us all away unless we consciously choose to fight it.
What To Do About It
We vote for the society we want our kids to live in every time we make a purchase. Be it for organic food, farmers market eggs, or Made in the USA jeans…the good ol’ dollar is the loudest voice of all. So for this year’s Life Resolution, our family is taking a stand against this idyllic promise that your life can be better, more fulfilled, and happier when you buy that thing or have that gadget.
This year, our family will buy nothing new.
So how will this change our current habits?
It means the next time the boys have a birthday party, there will be cloth napkins and homemade party hats instead of the latest and greatest Made In China party theme decor.
It means every gift we give in 2013 will be handmade or secondhand.
It means our clothes and shoes will come from thrift shops or consignment stores and any new home decor or kitchen supplies will come from garage sales.
It means I’ll spend an entire year without having to go to the mall! Or Target. Or any other place that is designed to leave you feeling like your life is lacking unless you buy their stuff. To avoid temptation, I’ll buy consumable supplies online and have it delivered right to my door.
The Fine Print
There are a few exceptions:
- undergarments (i.e. socks/underwear)
- consumable supplies, for example:
- ingredients for my homemade health & beauty supplies (i.e. laundry detergent)
- toilet paper
- printer ink
- homeschool supplies that I can’t find secondhand (i.e. curriculum materials)
- craft supplies that I can’t find secondhand (i.e. sewing thread)
It should be said that our motivation for doing this is not to save money (although that will be a natural byproduct). And of course, still being able to buy things (albeit secondhand) doesn’t necessarily squash the issues I’ve highlighted here. One can still feel greed and consumerism while buying secondhand! But we feel that this is a big step in doing our part to fight the currents. To be different. And to teach our kids (and ourselves) that more stuff does not translate into more life. And it certainly does not translate into more happiness.
Wealth consists not in having great possessions, but in having few wants.