That time I aced the big challenge and literally stumbled at the small ones
By Lee Simpson
January 9, 2015
My commitment to purchase nothing, except edibles, for 365 days was not undertaken lightly. My reasons were complex: horror at the cult of consumerism we endorse for our children, sorrow at the planet’s degradation and guilt for past involvement as a magazine publisher persuading women to buy unnecessary stuff. This blog exists because of a Tom Fool's notion - I blabbed to an Observer editor - about writing a single reflection at year's end. This is that thoughtpiece, with thanks to Observer staff and readers; without your alternately judgmental and supportive gaze, I wouldn’t have finished.
Looking back, it wasn’t sacrificing that sweet puzzle for my grandson’s birthday or persuading the dryer to run a few more months that tested me. It was the mundane matter of daily life. Examples? My ‘must buy’ list has items that I actually need now: shoelaces, clothespins and a drain stopper. Those slippery polyester laces cause my walking shoes to loosen every thirtieth step, threatening to trip me and halting the progress of dogs, my husband and small children as I re-tie my shoe. My clothespins, which are essential because of my emergency-only use of my dryer, have gone weirdly black in the salty air, depositing marks on my “whites." Of course, the shabbiness of the more intimate of those whites is something I can bear simply because I don’t publicly bare them. But setting out stained linens for guests? Standards must be upheld!
Another niggling thing that threatened to undo me was an exhausted bathplug. Our tub has a flat rubber disc that used to keep water from draining away. My worst time during my Year of Buying Nothing (YBN) was a flu-ridden day when I fiddled with this cracking rubber thingy. But it didn't prevent the hot water from flowing out, taking the last of my precious bubble bath with it as I sat on the edge of the tub, sobbing feverishly.
Counterpoint? Genuinely triumphant at managing gift-giving. I enjoyed painting greeting cards for one thing. And my son-in-law seemed delighted with his weekly gift of homemade bread. What's more, my church has a Christmas fundraising scheme for grocery cards, but I figured this to be festive and within my YBN rules.
Making do without buying soaps, toiletries, plastic and paper products was cathartic. I became wildly inventive in home-cleaning techniques, reinventing the rag-bag and recycling scraps of plastic-wrap over and over. I emptied drawers where hordes of tiny soaps and lipsticks lurked. They were either used up, re-gifted or donated. As a result, I felt lighter and encouraged others to share this incredibly legal high.
My bottom line? I feel gratified in accomplishing this but certainly not smug. In fact, I'm heading, humbly, to the second-hand store because I really need a coat that isn’t in-your-face-blue!
This year forever alters my approach to purchasing, though. Whenever I buy in the future, I will reflect: is this absolutely necessary? Is there an eco-ethical alternative? That's because every time we pay for something, we ask our planet and our grandchildren to foot the bill. But we really must do is be the solution instead of compounding the problem.
Now, all I have to do is complete a promised book about my YBN!
Sheima Benembarek was born in Saudi Arabia, grew up in Morocco and moved to Canada in 2005. In 2015, she relocated to Toronto. At first, the city seemed so much bigger, impersonal — and even threatening — until a fateful encounter in the subway one day.
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