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My Year of Buying Nothing

That time I made a couple of lists

By Lee Simpson

My daughter, an intrepid excavator of second-hand emporiums, recently asked what I need for Christmas. Recent festive seasons spawned rules for family giving: for starters, one gift each except for stockings, which emphasize the practical. After all, nothing says “Joy!” in our house like the sight of a new toothbrush poking out of the top. Secondly, newspapers have to be used as gift wrap, hiding the edible, the secondhand or the handmade.

If you aren't into this, you may think it paints a dreary portrait. But it's not so; recent Christmases saw the unveiling of previously loved, long-sought books; a reclaimed set of brightly stained blocks for my grandson; a watercolour of a heron on our own shoreline; hand-embroidered (and cheeky!) hankies; extremely edible maple cream fudge and knitted scarves in the shades of our favourite foods. We are not alone: at our grandson’s birthday, his other grandparents presented him with a beautifully redecorated crafts set that originally belonged to an uncle — now a practicing architect.

Admittedly, making that list for my daughter has focused my mind. I have not only reviewed items I will personally buy — happily and with great relief — in January, I have taken inventory of those that will no longer be needed after my Year of Buying Nothing.

The former list includes a replacement for my previously mentioned black coat. It's discrete, not bright blue down, moulting with every move. The kitchen linens desperately need renewal, too. Oven mitts, thin enough to be dangerous, and dishcloths are losing their edges (And to think I once discarded these when they were merely stained!). Household liquids, like laundry detergent, liquid soap, bubble bath and shampoo, have been eked out also. Still, this does not work with saline solution for contact lenses. I've taken to wearing my glasses except for special occasions, but I admit this is dispiriting. As well, I need new footwear as my basic, black flats split last winter. I tend to ignore my mother’s advice, "Never wear brown shoes with black or navy,” and jauntily sport decades old-silk scarves to offset any fashion faux pas. Now the less said about my undergarments, the better! But suffice to say, come January, my rag bag runneth over!

Speaking of rags brings me to the second list: items I will not seek this or any other New Year. Those things attached to the bottom of Swiffers that are discarded after one use? Never again; I have tailored rags now! Facial tissues? Hankies are both elegant and eco-friendly, although elegance is pointless when it comes to a two-year old with a cold. Paper towels? Not so much although it's a sin to drain bacon on a good tea towel, and toilet paper is both wasteful and useless for this purpose. Plastic wrap? Between reuseable bread bags and the inverted plate trick, there's no need to strain the environment. My stash of cosmetics, meanwhile, remains a treasure horde for yet another year.

Be that as it may, local bookstores and magazine shops better look out on Jan. 1; Lee is back in town with mad money to spend!


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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