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My Year of Buying Nothing

An introduction

By Lee Simpson


Making a promise to purchase nothing for 365 days is something I do after both soul-searching and researching. Why would I elect this deprivation? Well, my reasons are more complicated than the vow itself.

Walking down the Christmas toy aisle for the first time in years was a shock — so much stuff! All sponsored and branded, gender-manipulative, manufactured on foreign soil, breakable and guaranteed obsolete upon purchase. What are we doing to our children? Only the same thing we do to ourselves in the appliance department, the linen area, the ever-expanding clothing section and — my personal temptation — the cosmetic department.

Here’s my confession: I once played a big part in the proliferation of these massive amounts of unnecessary stuff. Before becoming a United Chuch minister and staffer at The Observer, I was publisher of Canada’s most successful women’s magazine. There were many positive aspects to this work, of course. Excellent service journalism. Recognition of women writers. Courageous positions taken and political points scored.  I walked with prime ministers, poets, painters — and even a prince! It was exhilarating, and I feel proud of my career.

But part of my job was to promote the purchase of stuff, and the majority was fattening, silly, fragile, fleeting of use and unnecessary to the well-being of the reader. I was an enthusiastic participant in a business that reduced people to their lowest common denominator: consumers.

I remain unhappy about that, but this is the year of my personal mea culpa. This quest is an elongated Lenten reflection. Whenever I purposefully do not buy, I dedicate that moment to God.

That’s enough of the “why.” Now here is the “how.” Because I must still function as a healthy human being upon whom others depend, there are planned exceptions: food for the purposes of feeding myself, family and friends; household bills; prescription medications and charitable donations.

The list of off-limits items? Clothing, shoes, furniture, books, toiletries, cosmetics, gifts and cards, garden and craft supplies, technology and hardware. Nothing new or second-hand.

I don’t own a car, though my husband does. So as a non-driver, not purchasing gas is a sacrifice without cost. But I plan to stick with bus travel and not resort to taxis. My travel exemptions? A plane trip  to see my nonagenarian dad. We’ll also go on our customary family camp vacation by car, but there are five of us plus three dogs in that vehicle, so it doesn't qualify as a "pleasure trip!”

For sanity and sanitation, I did stockpile eco-friendly dishwasher and laundry detergent. Also, I pre-purchased deodorant and bath soap, as I would like those nearest and dearest to remain so. TP is not optional. But cloth hankies await the first sniffle, and my mother kept a clean kitchen for decades without paper towels. Remember “rags?”

Naturally, gifts will be accepted, but preferably for services rather than "stuff:” hair-cuts, pedicures, magazines and craft supplies if I ever run out of the yarn, paper, paints and fabric I’ve hoarded for years.

Please watch for my blog every other Friday as I learn publicly just how difficult it is to journey from the blissful unknown. Meanwhile, join me in chanting my mantra:

Use it up,
Wear it out,
Make it do,
Or do without.


Rev. Lee Simpson is a writer in Lunenburg, N.S. New posts of YBN will appear every other Friday. You can also check out a short documentary about Lee at http://www.ucobserver.org/video/2014/04/ybn/.
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