UPDATE: I’m doing another 200 days of nothing new challenge, starting October 1st, 2015. Join me and the hundreds of others who have signed up!
A few days ago, I sent my story on how I decided to buy nothing new for 200 days to a number of online publications. Two posted the story, and from there, 200 days has gotten republished on a few sites and has gotten thousands of social shares.
By internet standards, this is definitely no big deal. Nonetheless, I’m delightfully surprised that this story has gotten the attention it has.
It was time that I wrote something about it for my own blog.
Permit me to start by talking about my dad first a little bit, as he is so central to everything I do today.
About my dad
He came to Canada from Morocco in his early 30s, and married my mom, a French-Canadian, and together they had three daughters. When my parents separated when I was around 8 years old, my father became a single dad to three young girls. He never remarried.
He was a truly exceptional father. He cooked, cleaned, picked us up and drove us everywhere, helped us with our homework and always encouraged us to be the best we can be.
He had a Masters in Mathematics, was fluent in 3 languages (French, English and Arabic) and was extremely well read. My fondest memories of my father involves long discussions on politics, religion and philosophy.
I guess that everyone feels this way when they lose someone they love, but the world has been impoverished because of his passing. May God allow us to be reunited in heaven.
What happened after my dad passed away
When he passed away from cancer at the age of 65, it was up to me and my two sisters to take care of all of the administrative work. We had to fill many papers, inform many people, and finally empty out the many things in his old apartment.
Emptying out my dad’s apartment was a pivotal moment in my life. I cannot fully describe how difficult it was moving out my father’s things, both physically and emotionally. There were mountains of clothing, furniture, utensils, nick-nacks, photos, books, electronics that we got rid of, and there was still a good 10-15 boxes that we kept.
The worse part was that much of it went to the dump.
My dad was an average consumer. Even still, there was just so much waste produced during his short lifetime.
It struck me that the way that we are built to consume in industrialized societies was a form of extremism.
I decided that instead of fueling the machine, I was going to try to live off of its waste. I’d been going to thrift stores for clothing for years, but I’d never tried to supply my needs exclusively through pre-owned sources.
And I was successful. For 200 days, I was able to get everything I needed pre-owned, except for groceries, basic toiletries, and a pair of new rock climbing shoes (I added a day at the end making up for it). I also got rid of a lot of stuff, including my wedding dress, bags of photographs, clothing, jewelry, kitchen items, old trophies and more.
I went without things like new underwear, new gifts for others, face cream, new clothes and the various other things you’d typically have the impulse or need to buy over 200 days (more than half a year).
Why did I do 200 days of nothing new?
My father’s illness and ultimate death obviously had a huge impact on me, as it would on anyone.
As I spent the last few weeks with him, caring for him as his health declined, a question gnawed sharply into my soul.
We embellish our lives with so many possessions, emotions, people, and aspirations. In the end, what does it really matter? What are all of these things about, if we are to die unable to take anything with us?
I felt that I had been made to bear witness to what consumerism really means to people and the environment. I’d never truly understood it’s emotional, spiritual, and environmental costs until that experience.
I did 200 days because I hoped that my actions would become more closely aligned with the reality that possession of anything is temporary.
Consumerism is a lie
Consumerism teaches us that it is good to accumulate for its own sake. That the world can endlessly supply us with all of the stuff we want. That the limit of our consciousness is basically just us, stuff and our desire for this said stuff.
Here is the reality:
- We are not alone in the world; what we buy and how much we buy impacts the world is so many ways. From sweatshops in Bangladesh producing clothing and goods, to forests destroyed to extract metals for our phones, to the destructive effect of plastic on our natural environment, the effects are devastating.
- We are not immortal; when you die, you don’t take the crap you bought to the grave. It stays behind, for future generations to deal with.
- The earth is coming up to its limits of what she can provide; We need to think of more collaborative and sustainable ways of getting what we need and want.
We need to fight consumerism. It inflicts deep spiritual wounds on our society. When everyone is buying so much all the time, there is no need to share and borrow. No need to fix things, or make quality items. No need to value old items.
I don’t mean to say that any buying new things is destructive. Some stuff is very constructive, such as buying containers to avoid takeout boxes, or supporting a local economy by purchasing from local artisans. Things like medical equipment need to be new and sterile.
I also don’t mean to say that we are never to buy anything new as a long term lifestyle.
What I mean to say that we need to properly understand the impacts of what we buy. Only then can we consume less and create systems of collaborative consumption and ethical commerce.
Should you do a buy nothing new challenge?
I would definitely encourage you to do your own buy nothing new challenge, just so that you can truly understand what is already out there. If you have never done anything like this, you will be shocked by the amount of materials in thrift store and online classifieds.
I’ve created a free course to show you the many ways you can avoid buying new things.
It will help you break down your prejudices against used materials, and help you learn to ask to borrow for stuff from your friends and family. It can encourage you to donate or give away your own excess items instead of just throwing them away.
I began this blog with the mission to help people find and learn ways to live more sustainably. I also want to use it as a platform to do my own explorations into alternative and more eco-friendly ways of existing. I’ll definitely be doing more challenges – perhaps another buy nothing new challenge!
[mailmunch-form id=”121726″] Given the effect that my article has had, I do feel that there are people who want to hear these messages.
We feel like something is “off”.
I may not know exactly what the right answers are, but I do have quite a few ideas.
And I’m sure you do too. Tell me about yours in the comments below!