Tuesday, December 27, 2016

On Not Buying Things For 6 Months

Cam and I realize that deep down inside we've always liked the idea of being minimalists. Something about being able to load all our earthly possessions up in a car (or a couple suitcases) and move holds immense appeal for us. 

Well in the last two years we've been living in one spot (a record for our marriage) and we've accumulated. We blame in large part; our children and the things they use in different stages and sizes. Also we now have a couch AND an oversized chair. There are now things other than coats in the coat closet (a vacuum, some folding chairs and a few umbrellas). 

Two days after Christmas last year an important thing occurred; our Amazon Prime membership was up for renewal. So we had a discussion about whether to renew it, and decided that while we had used it quite a bit while moving frequently and re-setting up our house (i.e. mattresses shipped to our door) that we didn't have a need this year, and so we would just not buy so much stuff online. And then Cameron, half jokingly added "We have too much stuff, we should just not buy anything at all this year."

Okay, but then we started to look at it seriously. I always try to buy ahead for the boys clothing AND shoe sizes when I see a good deal. We frequently do non-toy gifts for our kids (last Christmas was Aquarium tickets, matching bedsets, and books).

I tried to read a book once about a lady that went a year without buying things, but I didn't make it past April. She was a 20 something that lived in New York with her boyfriend in the summers and lived winters in a cabin in New England - her woes about ski gear and missing out on spring fashion trends were grating at best. In our life with 3 small children I had to look at it realistically; In the next year we're looking at someone growing out of a car seat, needing a new winter coat and possibly other safety and comfort items. But six months… surely we could do six months. 

Most importantly we had to ask, "why?" There are a dozen reasons that all might be good, but in order to stay focused and to know when breaking a rule might be okay, it was important that we pin down our motive. This wasn't about saving money or being more self reliant, although we recognized those as possible outcomes. This was about not acquiring "stuff". 

And so began our goal to not buy THINGS for 6 months .

  1. We will not buy "stuff" from January 1 until July 
  2. Not included in the ban are: food and consumables such as hygiene products that we already purchase. Examples of this are dish soap, bandaids, toothpaste, paper towels, and other things that live a disposable product life (i.e. our kid's health will not suffer as a result of our experiment). 
  3. If something is to be homemade/altered/etc we should first make an effort to use materials that we already own, and should reduce the need for purchased materials as much as possible. 

In short: Use it up, wear it out, make it do, do without, and if none of those work, well then as a last resort buy it because this is after all, a self-inflicted project and not actually the depression. 


Everett sleeps with a noisemaker. With it he does a pretty good job of napping while the other two play wolf in the next room - when it started not working that was no longer the case. So in the middle of January when I was tempted to go buy a new one, I did something crazy instead - I took it apart. I just started unscrewing pieces and cleaning off lint as I went. I learned how the thing worked, got gunk out, put grease in, and wouldn't you know it, it works as well as new. Really I felt so empowered I also took apart our blender that was going out on us, realized it was just full of gunk too and then put it back together… but it was still weird, so Cam looked at it too and noticed a moving part was rubbing a wire, but we just hot-glued it out of the way and it's back to stay! Lesson: sometimes fixing things really isn't that hard if you try…. or have a handy husband… or hot glue. 

From January 1 all the way to February 19th we made it. Easy. That is, except for a still standing debate about whether or not hair-ties are a hygiene item (they are) and whether they are technically consumable (why else would I go through a package in a year?) and the question of whether they are essential (I'm not even going into that one). So yes, I bought hair-ties and they're not stuff, so there. 

Okay, but truly, February was a beautiful and sunny and unusually warm month for us, so we spent a lot of time outside. Wesley started riding his bike on two wheels and consequently wore right through the bottom of his tennis shoes whilst learning how to brake. I mean the entire bottom was beyond repair or toughing it out. Like I mentioned, I had shoes for him a size up… but his feet weren't big enough for those. The only footwear he had left were his red boots, and like I mentioned it was unusually warm out. On February 19th we finally broke and went out to buy (#1) a pair of thick-soled DC skater shoes that he couldn't wear down again. Note: he is still wearing them 10 months later.

The entire month of March we didn’t buy ANY STUFF. None. To be honest it was a little liberating - every time a friend would contact me via Facebook about a thing they “independently consult” I just straight up said “no” and didn’t feel guilty. The hardest moments were when a had a few minutes to kill between “this thing” and “that thing” and I would otherwise just pop in to a Target for a bit. A few times the boys and I still went into some of the cute shops downtown just because they like to look around, but understanding that we would not be buying anything.

Wesley decided that he needed more socks. We discussed that “sock season” (yes, I used that term) was coming to an end so we could wait until the fall. He still felt that he needed another pair or two, so we researched making socks. We found a tutorial for making them out of old long shirt sleeves. We made 2 pairs, and he liked doing it, but wearing them with shoes he found a little uncomfortable… so Daws acquired the socks and Wes decided to tough it out. 

The neighbor girl invited the boys to her birthday party. They made her homemade finger paints and I made her an apron/smock from my fabric stash. 

Everett’s birthday was mid-April. I had a lot of really cool plans of things that I was going to make for him, but the first two weeks of the month ended up being crazy. I made him a picture book but felt pretty lame about just that, so I broke and bought (#2) a dollar container of bubbles, which to be honest was what he really wanted. Also, Wes had to get (#3) a pair of sandals because - what the heck - unseasonably warm. Can I tell you the hardest thing about actually being in the store to buy a thing that we need? It’s not justifing other “needs” as well - it was way easier not to start down the slope.

Cam bought a thing. In April his dad talked him into a plan to catch salmon in the Columbia, trolling behind his boat. After long internal debates, Cam bought (#4) a pole so they could spend that time together… and he keeps the pole at his parent’s house so that it doesn’t add to “stuff” around here. They managed to get out on the river three times, but didn’t get any fish (yet).

Okay, so I know this was not an actual necessary purchase, but I simply couldn’t pass up. Dawson lost one of his yellow rainboots back in February or so, and I’d been making him just wear his tennis shoes… but then my neighbor across the street had a garage sale and there were an adorable pair of (#5) practically new green Wellingtons in Dawson’s size. $2. I couldn’t not do it, some things just make too much sense. I know I know, I shouldn't have gone in the first place.

My Mom’s birthday is in May. My parents were introduced to corn hole recently, so we decided to stick to the lawn games and make a ladder golf yard game. Per rule 3, we used some rope we had around, and went to our nearby golf course and had the boys find golf balls to use for the bolas. All we had to buy were the PVC pipe and connectors. 

Cameron also turned the big 30. Rather than buy a present, the boys and I wrote notes on an entire stack of post-it notes and put them on his car for him to discover when he left for work. I knew he’d be miffed if he was actually late, so while he was in the shower, I also set all the clocks in the house 5 minutes ahead so he’d have a little extra time. He loved it.

For Memorial Day we decided to go down to Silver Falls with the Cameron’s Family. We came up for dinner and stayed at their house the night before so that we wouldn’t have so much driving to do the day of. It wasn’t until the next morning that I realized I had throughly packed the children, but that I only had the pair of flip flops that I wore down. My feet are too small to borrow anyone else’s, and the hike gets slick around the falls so I ended up running to the store and got myself (#6) new tennis shoes. Besides, my old ones were dying -  and little melted on the bottom from a camping trip a few years before ;)

Our crockpot ceramic bowl cracked in the middle of June - which is actually a summer essential for me. We don’t have AC so on hot days I’ll often set up the crockpot in the garage so the house doesn’t get warmer. The bummer was it was in my plan to use it 3 times that week (why was it so crazy hot this spring?). There was nothing I could do to fix it, so we ate our salads without chicken and used the microwave or stovetop. You know what, a change of plans didn’t kill us, and we had some new skillet meals invented. Rather than go out and by a box box fan for our high 90’s week, I redoubled my diligence to cool the house down at night and keep it that way. We spent afternoons at the lake or took picnic dinners hiking in the hills. 

And last up: Wes’ birthday was just a few days before the end of our 6 month experiment. We love to go on family bike rides, but it was getting clear he was too big for his bike (also, Dawson was ready to get started on a little bike of his own). We decided to buy him a (#7) bigger bike for his birthday rather than making him wait until after his birthday (or having us do something else for his birthday and then get him a bike the next week). We decided to go with a second hand bike so we felt a little less like we splurged for him. 


So there you have it, 6 months without buying “stuff” (except for about 7 things). Oddly enough, 4 of them were shoes. If anyone has come up with a suitable shoe-buying alternative I’m all ears. We noticed that the times we ended up buying things were because we didn’t plan ahead. Because of that, we didn’t have what we needed or time to make something that would work. 

I will admit that July 4 I finally made it to the store, and promptly dropped 70$ on a new crockpot, a box fan, and a new bicycle helmet for Dawson now that he moved up in the world to a real bike. Wes did finally get new socks in September before school started. 

But really, in the 6 months that have followed, I've found myself a little slower to rush to buy something, a little more willing to open it up a broken item and try to fix it, and I've had an easier time telling my children (and people selling things) that we don't need it. I don't know about making it a regular habit, but I think in a few years when my children are a little older we'll try it again, with them on board this time I'd love for them to learn the same lessons. 

1 comment:

  1. Now that Christmas is over, this sounds like a good experiment!