Why I Decided To Do A 200 Days Of Nothing New Challenge (And Why You Should Too)

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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!

Buy Nothing New Challenge Facebook group

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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.

What’s next

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!

12 thoughts on “Why I Decided To Do A 200 Days Of Nothing New Challenge (And Why You Should Too)

  1. I just came across the article by Assya Barrette and I have say “Thank You”. It was wonderfully refreshing. I, too, recently lost my mother and I alone had to go through her belongings. It was sad that most of her hidden treasures I had never seen nor anyone else. My mother was an “accumulator” . I donated most of her items and sold quite a bit but it made me want a simpler life. So I sold (or donated) most of my stuff, moved to a small condo and decreased my shopping. Now with more money in the bank, the bills all paid off and less “stuff” to clean or gather dust, I feel rejuvenated. I now go to thrift stores more often and love to find items that may have a story in them. What a wonderful way to share with others and find yourself too. It really isn’t that hard to stop and take stock in what you have and what you actually need in life. Thanks for sharing! Kay Wade

    1. Thanks so much! I think we are all accumulators until we get pushed into a moment of clarity and poof! you realize that having stuff for the sake of having it is nuts.

  2. This is a very interesting challenge. While I’m not sure I could go 200 days, you’ve definitely given me food for thought.

    One question, though. Why did you settle on 200 days? Why not 150, or 250?

    Also (and I guess this is a second question), do you include electronic purchases, such as e-books or downloaded music? Or is it just a physical object, such as a book or CD? Those would be my hardest things to avoid, I think…

    1. Hi Marion!

      The 200 days was actually completely random.
      My challenge was mostly around reducing my environmental impact and the amount of stuff that I owned. I did not consider electronic purchases to be ecologically damaging nor add to my collection of “stuff”. That’s just me though, I might be wrong!

  3. I had a similar experience when my father died. For as long as I can remember, my family sentimentalized at least some possessions and I treasured things that passed down through the generations. I adored my father and his possessions, no matter how banal or mass-produced they were achieved a sacred quality because they were his. This might have worked in the pre-Industrial Revolution days, but when he died we were deep in a throwaway, accumulating consumer culture and Dad never threw anything away. He got the memo about shopping but not the one about getting rid of stuff. When I read about your project, I had already recognized my vulnerability for pathological hoarding and become politically opposed to consumerism and the transformation of the planet into duplicative crap and landfills.

    I’ve been buying secondhand almost exclusively for the last couple years. Books are a dilemma. I’m trying to adjust to e-books, assuming a “new” e-book purchase is as virtuous as a thrift-store book. I sew and quilt so I’ve been trying to use material I already have. With just about every kitchen implement known to man I need to start eliminating things, like the tagine I rarely use but like knowing I could use any time I was inspired to make something Moroccan. I have some vague idea of retiring to a tiny house so I hope your suggestions will move me closer to my divestment goals.

    1. My condolences regarding your father. Reading your description of your father made me think of my own in many ways.
      I’m so inspired by this comment. I too believe that consumerism is pure destruction, and we must fight it. Like you say, it’s crazy that we transform the boundless beauty of nature into crap.
      Like I said, I don’t think that all buying is destructive. Some buying is extremely constructive (I’d say that books might fit into that category!).
      Best of luck with your beautiful goal.

  4. Amazing !!!!

    And i thought i was the only one who thought on similar lines. Although i have not gone 200 days without purchasing but i can definitely reduce my purchases. We have more things than we need and sadly the more things we buy to simplify our lives the more complicated they become. Consumerism is killing us and this lifestyle is not sustainable and eventually i believe that we ( the human race) will be forced to create sustainable lifestyles. Its just a matter of when.

    Keep it up

  5. Amazing work Assya. I chanced your article in the Dawn publication at first. Sorry for your loss.
    People like you make the world a better place to live in.

  6. Assya,
    I understand about losing your father, I also lost my Dad on 9/10/2002. I was not near enough to help go through all his things as my mother was still living at that time. It wasn’t until 9/15/2013 that my brother and I lost our mother. It was sort of beautiful and crazy scary when my brother got up from our lunch and said to me, so you want to go thru mom’s stuff now? That was about 3:30 in the afternoon and we went into her room and started going through all of it. Every drawer in every chest, I think my sister-in-law was a little overwhelmed by our actions. It was very sobering to see what things meant something to her and did they mean anything to my brother or me. Now looking back over the last 2 years that she has been gone, I realized that I was trying to fulfill something that I never had when I was a youngster and teenager and that is to have more than 5 things in my clothes closet and more than 6 pair of underwear at a time. Now that I have a whole second bedroom turned into a closet to store the excess, I now realize where most of my stress comes from, inside that room. Now my challenge is not only to not buy anything new for 365 days, but in that 365 days to purge everything that is simply not usable to me and my current shape. No more saving this for when I loose 15 pounds, 30 pounds or whatever. Thank you so much for the encouragement to start a wonderful cleaning of house and spirit. I have always loved shopping at thrift stores but in the last few years I have said, wow this is cute or interesting, but where would I put it? There is no room for it in my little 10 x 55′ mobile home. I just need to recycle the things that can be and hopefully not too much to the dump. I truly am sorry for your loss, I know loosing a Dad is the most painful thing I have had to go through. May you be blessed, see each other again and in the meantime, live a good, clean and productive life helping others like you helped me to see the bright beautiful light.

  7. Having lived two years in Argentina really changed my perspective on what I really needed or wanted in life. We’re surrounded by privilege that we don’t recognize. I have yet to find a person who didn’t make enough in life, they just spent too much…whether its housing, college, cars, or whatever. Step back and reconsider life, you have more than you realize. Nice article.

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