Challenge Completed – Happy New Year!

So, it’s 2015 and The Challenge is officially over. What now? Shopping spree! Time to go out and buy everything I’ve ever wanted to buy all year long …

… Actually, no. I have no such desire. In fact, I’ve had a difficult time coming up with ideas for my extended family regarding Christmas and birthday gifts. (My birthday was yesterday.) “Well, what do you need?” My mom asks. “Running shoes. I need running shoes.” I say. My Dad has a friend who owns a running store, so he has taken dibs on that gift. As for the rest, I’m kind of at a loss.

My mom and I may go to a day spa, spend some time together, and treat ourselves to a massage. I might get a heart-rate monitor that syncs with my running app. Beyond that, I think I’ll save my birthday and Christmas money for experiences: triathlon race entry fees, music concerts, special dinners. I don’t have any specific plans. I just know I don’t want stuff.

Stuff has been trickling out our door–mostly to the Goodwill–like water from a leaky tap. I look around my house (and closet) and think, “Wow. I absolutely LOVE everything I own.” It is a fabulous feeling.

There are some small things that will be purchased in the next few weeks: pantyhose with no runs or holes in them, a non-broken umbrella, scotch tape (it’s amazing what can be accomplished with electrical tape when need be), and my husband wants a caddy for our shower. Fair enough. I suppose.

Later this month we will also be purchasing a family cargo bike. It’s a major investment but one that we’ve had plenty of time to research, consider, and save-up for. As a car-free family living in The City, we think it makes sense. And I can’t wait. I keep asking myself if this is an “acquisition of material stuff” excitement, but I’d like to think it isn’t. It’s an “ease of lifestyle” excitement. It’s not about the thing, but about the experiences it will provide. But, okay. Maybe I’m a little excited about the bike itself. It is orange, after all.

So, there’s my future spending plans. No long wish-lists and no binge shopping to “reward” myself for a year of–mostly–successful “dieting.” While the official challenge has come to a close, The Fasting Consumer is far from done.

I love owning less. I love being happy and comfortable with four people and a dog in under 1000sqft–even with bicycles hanging from the ceiling. I love feeling impervious to marketing and to the cute little displays of nicknacks and must-haves for every new season. (I know I’m not really impervious, but I’m headed that way, and it feels great.) I love that my kids are happy with less and I love that this year’s Christmas-a-la-Fasting Consumer was awesome. Looking ahead, I can’t imagine doing it any other way.

While I did have visions of a completely stuff-free Christmas–visions of holding hands and singing Da-who Dorays around a giant tree, it didn’t quite work out that way. We wanted to buy absolutely nothing but, in the end, decided that empty stockings would be a little inexplicable to kids who still believe in Santa. While our seven-year-old is well aware of the Fasting Consumer “game,” it was clear that, in her mind, Santa was not playing. So, we buckled and filled the stockings. We kept it simple: chocolates, socks, and underwear. The one somewhat extravagant stocking stuffer (a camera for our daughter) was purchased off Craigslist for $15. Crafty elves, I tell you.

There were no other “Santa” presents and no presents from Mom and Dad (for the kids, for each other, or for anyone else), but from grandparents my daughter got a pogo stick and some new books, and my son, a ukelele and some little toy cars.

Our minimal shopping lists afforded us both the time and the money to purchase quality fair-trade organic chocolates, socks, and even underwear (I’m not joking), and to support local, independent stores. Shopping was accomplished in one stress-free afternoon while we took turns playing with the kiddos. Peter baked Dutch Stollen as gifts for our extended family and we wrapped the stocking items in packing paper from the pogo-stick delivery, electrical tape, and some leftover raffia. It was quite lovely, actually.

On Christmas morning, the kids were ecstatic. Despite there being only two presents under the tree (and some awesome stockings – granted), the Christmas magic was alive and well.

We had a few ribbons. We had a few tags. We had a few packages, boxes, and bags, but with limited stuff, we had something much more: the joy of a Christmas barely bought from a store. [Acknowledgements to Dr. Seuss.]

A Christmas with absolutely no material presents now seems entirely feasible, but not entirely necessary.  Call me weak, but I reckon that one or two little grandparent gifts for the kids, some small clothing staple necessities, and some holiday baking seems like a reasonable and sensible way to celebrate, even for a Fasting Consumer.

A lot has happened this year. We moved to San Francisco, my husband took a job in Silicon Valley, I wrote the LSAT and applied for law school (I should hear back in the next couple months), and we purged a good 50% of our stored items (basement, closets, etc.), and a whole bunch of our every day stuff as well.

Life is looking grand and as the future unfolds, I plan to continue, perhaps not with the hard-set rules of the one-year challenge, but with the attitude of being a mindful consumer. While some purchases seem necessary, attempting to make it a year without giving-in to any apparent “needs” has taught me a lot about needs versus wants, about materialism, and ultimately about how consumerism interferes with life, the sustainability of our planet, and with true, uncluttered happiness.

I have so much more I would like to write about, including stuff I promised to write about and never did: thoughts about food choices, the economy, and about my quest to create a soap exchange. So, although the year is up, the writing will not stop. As I continue my journey, I will continue to update you with our Fasting Consumer successes, our failures, and the lessons we learn along the way.

Thanks for a great year and here’s to living 2015 in a way that may sustain happiness for all earth’s citizens, present and future.

Sincerely,

The Fasting Consumer

Advertisements

Guilty as Sin

Yeah, so … I bought a phone.

I’ve been procrastinating on writing this post for a month, but I just had to tell you. It’s been driving me crazy. But wait, before you write me off completely, before you decide that I’m no longer worth listening to, that my experience is fake, and that this is not a consumer fast at all, allow me to explain — not justify, just explain.

I didn’t upgrade my phone because I “needed” (aka desperately wanted) the latest bells and whistles. I didn’t replace my old phone the moment it started acting up. I didn’t even replace it the moment I was certain it had permanently bricked. I did try to have the old one fixed. I did look into buying an identical used replacement. I did live with a barely functioning and later non-existent phone for a long time. I did agonize over The Fasting Consumer challenge and whether or not I could/should endure phoneless for the rest of the year.

I asked all the “do I really need this?” questions and ballyhooed the benefits of Experiencing Life Without Until Such a Life Becomes Normal. And it did become normal. And I did survive. And it was a valuable experience.

But a month ago, I decided that the experience was over. Actually, my husband decided and I unreluctantly agreed.

We’re not huge cell phone people. When we first began The Challenge, my phone was three years old, my husband’s was two, and both were the first smartphones either of us had owned. We didn’t do the whole contract thing but instead purchased Androids outright and got crazy cheap monthly plans. My husband had a data-only plan and was reachable solely through email and a flaky internet-phone app. (Sorry, Peter. It was.) I had limited everything and didn’t mind. The phone was merely a convenience. Friends would often phone the house and say, “Um, I texted you three hours ago.” “You did? Oh. Sorry.”

But still, like many Western families, our phones had become prominent tools in our day-to-day lives — so much so that my husband was terrified of the phones dying in 2014. I should have been a little more terrified myself.

First my husband’s GPS stopped working: no transit apps, no maps, and certainly no running/cycling apps. That was in March. In April it was the battery, and by June the phone was taking ten minutes to boot and usually crashed before the boot completed. If you were lucky enough to get to the home screen, it was 50/50 (optimistically) whether or not you could then open the email program before it would crash again.

My phone had a less drawn-out death. The GPS got flaky in May. In June it started doing funny things and then one week it became possessed. No joke. It would randomly start playing audio tracks saved in bizarre places (often several at once), it would make its own calls–not pocket calls: I was holding the phone and watching it make calls–and then it just died, never to come alive again.

Peter has a tablet. It has no data, but he commutes on a bus with internet and is otherwise at work. So, he graciously said, “Take my phone. I’ll use the tablet.” So I did. Occasionally I could fire-off a text or check my email in a pinch, but eventually the phone had a sub-ten-minute lifespan and often couldn’t boot in time or would crash too many times to accomplish anything  before the battery died. I realize now that it would have been better to ditch the phone outright than to hang on to it in the false hope that it might actually do something to aid in a sticky situation. Because it never did. It just made me want to throw it under a cable-car.

It was one such situation (not the first but maybe the twenty-seventh) that finally broke this Fasting Consumer. It had been a horrible day of missed connections, unaccomplished errands, bad news, and stressful kid traumas. I found myself exhausted on a train platform with two starving children at 7pm, waiting to meet Peter for over 45 minutes. He was, of course, waiting with equal frustration on another platform. Several hours later, after a fruitless argument about what constituted the boundaries of The Castro and after spectacular meltdowns from all members of the family (the most spectacular coming from yours truly), Peter said:

“Look. We’ve bought and wasted several train tickets due to miscommunications. We’ve taken taxis instead of Lyft [a cheaper alternative if you have a phone], and tonight could have been altogether avoided if we had had some way of reaching each other. We know we’re going to buy a phone in January anyway, and right now not having one is costing us. This is ridiculous. Go buy a phone tomorrow or I’m buying one for you. You can blog about it and blame it on me.”

Perhaps it is possible to come up with equally convincing “logic” for every decision we make as consumers, which is the very reason I wanted to be strict about The Challenge in the first place, but whether it was in a moment of weakness or a moment of strength–a moment where my reason stood-up to my stubborn insanity, the “logic” got me. And I agreed. And I’m not blaming it on anyone.

Two weeks later my Samsung Galaxy MINI arrived in the mail. I love it. It’s not a fancy IPhone6 and I don’t have an expensive monthly plan. I communicate, sync my shopping list with Peter’s, use transit apps, and for the first time in months run with music and track how fast and far I’m going. It’s a luxury and I recognize it as such.

Still, I caved. I accept that and I own the decision.

And The Fasting Consumer is not over. I plan to carry-on right through the holidays and finish strong, albeit, with a new phone.

Birthday Parties and Back to School

When I first began The Fasting Consumer challenge, more people questioned me about birthday parties and back-to-school than about soap and toilet paper.

Because, being a Fasting Consumer as an adult is one thing, but to not buy anything when you have kids? Unthinkable. Of course, there’s the question of clothes (they’re growing, after all), craft supplies, lunch supplies, and the 13th time replacing that mysteriously lost sock, spoon, sweater, or shoe. (How does one lose a shoe, anyway?) But, no. Surprisingly, the greater concern trumping even these practical worries seemed to be The-Birthday-Party and heavens to Murgatroid, THE Back-To-School. Since when was the latter even a thing?

And when did birthday parties become more than Mom baking a cake while pals and I trashed the house and stayed up until [places pinky in the corner of mouth] “midnight” watching Home Alone 2? And when did Back-To-School became this paramount event resembling Christmas in August — a yet-but-another feather in the cap of consumer-based capitalism?

I’m not altogether sure. But, I am happy to report that The Fasting Consumer has now survived one toddler birthday, one school-aged birthday, and one back-to-school for a second-grader. And it really wasn’t that difficult. In fact, it was lovely.

My son turned two in June. We had just moved from Toronto to our temporary housing in San Jose and had the use of a pool. For my little guy, I couldn’t think of anything he would rather do than swim. On his birthday we made pizzas–his favourite meal–on the outdoor barbeques. I bought him his birthday cake only because all our bakewear was still in boxes en-route from Canada. He opened a present from my parents (a Waldorf doll), a present from Oma and Opa (a little tow-truck), and a present from my grandparents (some “big boy” underwear). He knew it was a special day. He had time to enjoy each of his presents (and enjoys them still), and the four of us had a care-free, stress-free, and wonderful time celebrating a life. Not a photo-op. Not a sea of lavish gifts. Not a chance to impress friends or neighbours or fellow parents. A fun day for a two-year-old. Period. Fasting Consumer or not, I couldn’t imagine it any other way.

The whole “Back-To-School” thing puzzles me. My daughter had a backpack at the end of last year. She also had a lunch bag, a pencil bag, and a water bottle. Did they self-destruct over the summer? No; they did not. They’re just as good as they ever were. They don’t have TV characters on them, so they won’t be “outdated” and they’re of the same rugged quality that one would expect from any Mountain Equipment Co-op gear. They don’t need replacing now and my hope is that they won’t for all of elementary school. When it comes to paper and pencils and duotangs and such, doesn’t every house have a plethora of these things lurking in the depths of desk drawers and boxes? I mean, really. I had to slice a couple used pages out of the front of a few exercise books and I put new labels on some old folders, but it was no big deal. Back to school: done.

Except for one thing. We’re at a new school in a new city and I find out (with less than a week’s notice) that the school is a uniform school. Checkmate. If we’d been here longer and knew more people, I might have found a network of parents selling/swapping uniforms, but as it was, there was not much I could do. I was lucky, however, to find the exact requirements for my daughter’s uniform–in her size–at the Goodwill for a grand total of $3. She needed a second outfit for laundry days, though, and I was able to find one discounted after the first week of school for a total of $20. Not bad. Still a Fasting Consumer cheat, I realize, but dare I say an unavoidable one.

horse

For my daughter’s seventh birthday we gave her an experience. She wanted to go horseback riding. Instead of a couple hours of quasi-organized chaos structured around gifts and loot-bags and candy and crafts and cheap plastic dollar store toys, we rented a car and drove her and a friend to a small farm north of The City. The two girls rode horses and later shared cupcakes with a few random farm kids. (I needed extra singers and they were all too happy to oblige for the small price of a frosted muffin.) That evening we had a family dinner and my daughter opened her presents from Gammy and Fer, Oma & Opa, and my grandparents. She got some new books and a new skirt (for fun) and some much needed socks and a pair of new shoes. The cool thing is, I suspect that many kids wouldn’t consider a new pair of practical everyday shoes “a gift,” especially when they are replacing shoes that are clearly too small and are falling apart. But Aurora had to wait for these shoes, knowing that because of “the game,” we couldn’t buy her new ones and that she would have to wait for Mama and Papa’s birthday present. She was counting down the days until she got her “Blundstones just like Daddy’s” and still, over a month later, seems genuinely in love with them. Cool kid. (Says an extremely biased parent.)BDOutfit

I do believe that the Fasting Consumer has made us all–and my daughter especially–more appreciative of what we have. I wasn’t worried about birthdays and back to school at the start of this challenge, and now, not only am I not worried, but I’m excited to have found new and wonderful ways of celebrating and to proclaim that it is possible: kids can have birthdays without their parents buying stuff, and Back-To-School? It’s really not a thing. Summer’s over. Dig-out the school bags and Go. Back. To. School. Done.

Now, about my husband’s missing bike shoes … (Yup; you probably assumed it was my kid who had lost a shoe. Nope.)  … That’s another story.

Gone Astray

“Hey, Fasting Consumer! It’s been ages since we’ve heard from you. You must be over there buying all kinds of interesting things  … ”

“No, no! I’ve just been, you know … distracted. Moving across the country, settling into a new house in a new city, getting kids registered for school, creating new routines: it’s left little time for writing. What time I have had I’ve been focusing on LSAT studying (see Big Announcement! (And I totally cheated)), but now that that’s over, I’m back! And rest assured. The fast has been going great. Despite the lack of posts, we’ve being sticking hard to our Challenge.”

***

Um, not true. I thought it was true, and then I re-read my posts to date and re-read The Challenge. Yeah. Oops. Sure, my lack of writing can be attributed to the challenges of moving and to my studying, but perhaps I also just ran out of steam. Turns out a year is a long time, and, despite my previous claims that “this isn’t hard at all!“, turns out this challenge is, well … challenging.

Before I get to the ways in which I have not been rockin’ The Challenge, I should follow-up on a previous post. In Had I Known, I broke down our moving process into four steps: moving out of our previous home, travelling, moving into temporary housing, and moving into our permanent home. I accounted for all the items we purchased in steps 1 through 3 and described how we got around not buying anything else. I think we did pretty well!

Now for step 4.

It helps that we moved from a home with a porch, a sunroom, an unfinished basement, and a detached garage to a home with, um … a small closet under our upstairs neighbours’ stairs? We were prepared for this. Sort of.

The movers were laughing at me when I cried, “What?! More?!” as the endless stream of boxes came parading into every corner of our San Francisco apartment. Never before have I been so stressed-out about Too Much Stuff. (And that’s saying a lot.)

But, we did it.

We purged before we left. We purged when we arrived, and we’re still purging today. Now I can proudly say that the contents of our previous basement, sunroom, porch, and garage have been reduced to what can fit under one twin and one double-bed (leaving space for the dog), and in the affectionately named Harry Potter Closet. Success! And I don’t miss a darned thing.

But, did we do it without buying anything? Well, almost. Despite my best efforts to save every nail, hook, and screw, many of our pictures and hooks were hung with those removable sticky-tab thingys, and so, the sticky tabs needed replacing. Oops. Also, we had to hang our bicycles from the ceiling (and put the stroller under them). We purchased some hooks and hardware for that feat. But, that’s about it!

There are certainly things we would like to buy for our new home (like a shower-caddy and a wall lamp for the living room which has no lights), but we’re managing just fine. My aunt and uncle have some table lamps they’re getting rid of and we’re trading them for our deep-freeze that is sitting empty in a crowded hallway. The bathtub ledge only has space for shampoo, conditioner, and a bar of soap. Sort of. They keep falling into the bath, but you know what? Who cares. And who needs more stuff on the bathtub than two hair-products and soap?

So, I’d say step 4 and the move on a whole have been a Fasting Consumer triumph. But, before my horn gets all cued-up for tooting, the last three months have seen not only a silent Fasting Consumer, but a somewhat wayward one as well.

I somehow forgot that I had said I was going to make all my own soaps, shampoos, and cleaners. Yeah. I gave-up on that a while ago. It’s not that it would be that difficult, and there is certainly no shortage of online resources to help me through that process. It just wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be and with all the other things going on, I decided I didn’t have the time or the energy to fuss. A good excuse? No, not really, but there you have it.

And then there’s all that wine. I moved to Napa Valley Land where wine flows more freely (and cheaply) than water! Okay, I exaggerate. A little. But, yes. We are buying wine. And beer. And enjoying it immensely (in moderation, of course.) What can I say?

But wait, there’s more. Moving to a new city means new bakeries and new cafes. Need I say more? I’ve relapsed. Big time. (See Confessions and Coffee.)

I would love to say that re-reading my original commitments and getting back to writing has suddenly inspired me to once again renounce lattes, goodies, and alcohol, and to bring out the lye, but alas, no. I’m feeling challenged enough just by continuing to avoid all the new and whacky thrift stores in Haight-Ashbury, the cute little antique shops, and the artisan craft-fairs around every corner. Gotta love San Francisco.

So, there you go, dear readers. The Fasting Consumer has returned, perhaps not as enthusiastically as she left you some three months ago, but still trudging-on and feeling mighty humbled and ridiculous for how challenging this actually is.

Had I Known

Had I known that 2014 would be the year our family would move to a new house in a new city in a new country some 4200km away, I may not have chosen it to be our year of buying nothing. “Since you’re moving, the challenge is ‘off,’ right?” people have asked. I confess, I’ve had to think about the answer.

At what other time in my life have I ever bought more than in the first few months after a move? This door needs a hook. This closet space needs extra shelves. This furniture doesn’t fit right. We need a new toilet brush. “Something” needs to go here

Could we actually move without purchasing anything? Would that even be possible? Well, there’s only one way to find out. No, the challenge is not “off.” It’s just getting interesting. Game on.

We’re moving for my husband’s career. He was head-hunted and offered an unbeatable opportunity. To boot, the new company is paying for a complete relocation package. So, no cheating there. The packing, the moving, the flying, the temporary housing, the temporary car rental, the temporary storage: all covered. We just have to do it without buying any “stuff.”

On Tuesday, the packer was at our house. She asked about the plunger, the garbage and recycling bins, and the grungy old broom. Typically, I would say that a new house warrants some new supplies. I don’t blame her for asking, but I answered (with a cringe), “No. It all has to go. Sorry.”

As she wrapped the toilet brush in packing paper, I told her about The Fasting Consumer. At first her reaction was one of pity or disgust. I couldn’t quite tell which. (Perhaps it was both.) When I answered her emphatic “why?!” however, she became slightly more enthusiastic. (You can read the basic answer here.)

“That’s amazing,” she said. “You haven’t bought anything since January 1st?! No clothes? No purses?” I laughed. Clothes and purses are the furthest thing from my mind. “And no tinfoil, no ziplock bags,  no tape … ” I answered. “Paper towels?” she asked, “Please tell me you’ve bought paper towels.” Again, I laughed. “Actually, I’ve never bought paper towels.” I said, “I’ve always used washable rags.”

I quickly added,”But we do buy toilet paper. I’ve read of people doing similar challenges and they don’t buy toilet paper. We buy toilet paper.” It felt good to defend my sanity in light of her expression.

“So that’s why you’re following me around, carefully collecting every nail and screw off the wall,” she said. “Yup. Can’t buy any nails, but I figure, as long as I don’t lose any (and we aren’t buying any more pictures), we should be fine, ” I said.

Here’s the carefully sorted and stored collection.

IMAG0825

 

Sorry, Home Hardware. You won’t be getting our business. (And yes, those bags were purchased in 2013. They’ve been washed and re-washed uncountable times.)

Step 1 of the move was packing and cleaning out our old house. Items purchased (other than food): one container of Spackle to fill the holes in the wall. We couldn’t let The Fasting Consumer be an excuse for being irresponsible tenants, obviously.

Step 2 was the actual travelling. I usually buy gifts for the kids to be unwrapped on the plane. This time, I rooted through the crafts and toys we already had, found stuff that hadn’t been played with in a while and wrapped it in used paper. Later, some amazing friends gave us kid activities for the plane as going away presents–an awesome gift for kids and parents alike.

I bought Aurora a pack of gum for take-off and landing (we wouldn’t otherwise purchase gum) and I re-stocked our children’s chewable Gravol supply.  Step 2 otherwise required no extra purchases.

Step 3 was checking-in to our temporary housing. Before leaving Toronto, I was careful to research what would and wouldn’t be provided in temp so as to pack all that might be needed in our suitcases. Still, it’s hard to think of everything. Upon arriving, I quickly realized that there was no dishcloth. I was determined to make the facecloth work, but was delighted when I remembered that I threw the tattered dirty dishcloths from cleaning out our old kitchen in the laundry bag rather than the garbage. Waste not; want not!

Another thing I forgot to pack: elastics and little clips for resealing opened bags of food. Luckily, we did toss a random roll of painting tape in our luggage. I’ve been using little strips of green tape to hold down the folded-over bags.

Unfortunately, I didn’t pack any used grocery bags for garbage. We had to buy a small box of kitchen waste bags for our new home. Those bags are the only thing we’ve purchased during step 3.

Step 4 will be moving into our permanent, unfurnished home and setting it up with our own stuff, carefully stowed away by our faithful packer. That’s when I expect the real challenge will come. Stay tuned.

 

Spring Allergies

Okay, so I suck at blogging. I’ve fallen despicably short of my 2014 writing goals and I apologize. (Again.)

On the upside, I’m kickin’ the butt out of this challenge!

Remember when I talked about losing excess fat stores? I was referring, of course, to the stores of stuff in my house (not my tush). Well, let me tell you: my house’s diet would put the South Atkins Paleo Green-Sludge Master Beach Cleanse to shame. If getting rid of unwanted clutter was a tenth as appealing to our society as obsessing over the desire to look like half-starved, butt-less movie stars, I could write a book and make millions. Because that’s what I care about. Right.

Anyway, I truly wish I had weighed the pounds of stuff I’ve shed from my house in the last 5 months. Withal, the more I get rid of, the less I want to own. Unlike an obsessed dieter teetering towards anorexia, however, I’m pretty certain this new obsession will not damage my–or my family’s–health. Pretty sure we’ll be just fine. (I intend no disrespect to, nor do I make light of the real and awful plight of anorexia. Quite the contrary: I wish to point out that our society’s multi-million dollar obsession with dieting and body image can cause great harm, whereas, wannabe minimalists–though sometimes nutty and worthy of absurd reality television–are rarely at risk of dying.)

I used to think I wasn’t a materialistic person. I was wrong. Try as I might to pretend I wasn’t stuff-oriented, that oh-so-human desire for novelty often resulted in a desire for a new thing–a new article of clothing (for myself or for the kids), a new eco-friendly lunch bag, a new pair of funky, locally made earrings … heck, even a new dishcloth would do. Often, I satisfied this desire by buying something used or even by swapping something with a friend. This is great, but it still means relying on a material object to satisfy an arguably non-material need. That is materialistic. I still have a long way to go if I’m going to avoid being that.

But I’ve since discovered something awesome. Recently, I rid my kitchen of a whack of under-used dishes and in so doing was able to reorganized my excessively-used mason jars. New shoes? Forget it. New cupboard bliss? Yes. My desire for novelty in my everyday surroundings is–for now–being fulfilled by a couple shelves of OCD approved jar placement. I did the same with my linen/sweater chest, the kids’ dresser, my closet, the basement, the sun room … novelty, everywhere novelty! And everywhere, something to get rid of. And everywhere, a new sense of freedom.

I’ve always been happy with what I own, but I confess that I’ve always had a “list.” That annoying mental list that lurks at the back of your brain, gnaws on your self-esteem, feeds off of every consumerist attack that pounces from the moment you engage with the world; that list that forever holds just one more thing necessary for making your wardrobe/kitchen/bathroom/bicycle/car/sporting gear/gadget collection/ … life complete–do you know that list?

At the beginning of 2014 there were a few items on my list. I wanted a new-to-me rug for the living room, and, you know those baggy pants that gather tightly at the ankle and usually have some kind of funky high waist? Yeah. I wanted a pair of those. I figured I still would come January, 2015, and that I would then fill-in those missing pieces of my life, but already, the list is gone. I wouldn’t want the pants even if they were randomly dropped on my doorstep. (So please don’t.)

While reorganizing my closet, I realised I have pants. They look plenty fine and they work plenty fine. They may not be those pants, but there will always be some style/colour/thickness/length of pant that I don’t own. At a certain point, enough is enough. I now believe I’m experiencing “enough.” Wow. How liberating.

This reminds me of a story from when my husband and I were first together. I would open the fridge to find literally nine jars of opened jam. Then, we’d be at the store and my dear man would say, “Ooo, bumbleberry jam! We don’t have any of that.” And, in the basket it would go. I laugh and I laughed at the time–in addition to regulating how many opened jars of jam were permitted in the fridge at once–but really, it is no laughing matter. It’s funny when it’s about blackcurrant-pomegranate and apricot-ginger preserves, but this perceived need for every novel flavour/model/style/version/upgrade/feature permeates all areas of consumption in our over-spent, over-worked, resource-lacking, and disaster-impending society. At some point, perhaps we could just be thankful for “strawberry” and call it a day.

I keep joking that “my spring cleaning is causing spring allergies.” I’ve become severely allergic to stuff. The thought of anything new (that can’t be eaten) entering our house drives me batty.

An exception: my daughter was down to one pair of pants. Both knees were worn-out. I patched them (with patches we already owned), but they wore through again. #MommyFail.IMAG0750

 

On the weekend, a friend whose daughter is two years older than mine arrived with boxes of hand-me-downs, and in them, Aurora pants! I cued a playlist and observed a hallway fashion show. “New” pants have been worn every day since. They are appreciated not because they are new or novel, but simply because they were needed. Thank you, Debra and Mackenzie! I can deal with that “stuff.”

A short-cut to one of my frequented subway stops passes through a mall. I used to hate the trek because of the temptation. Soon, I got over the temptation and enjoyed the trek because it made me feel impervious to pressure. Now, I’m back to dreading it because I cringe at the displays like they were windows full of spiders. Eeeee, stuff.

If someone said, “Hey, Bronwyn, I want to give you $100 and take you shopping,” I’d definitely decline. “Could we just do something instead? A concert? Dinner and a walk?”

This does, however, lead me to another confession. While I’m thrilled about my new relationship/break-up with stuff, I’ve relapsed in my commitment to eliminate spending on activities, and I’ve also purchased some alcohol–not lots, but some.

I’m not sure how I feel about this. Part of me feels weak, like a cop-out and a poor excuse for a “fasting consumer.” Another part feels justified — like it’s a return to my original goals. (See, And so, we begin!)

For some, this challenge has been equated to an exercise in frugality. I love frugality and think it is a worthy goal that boasts many personal and societal benefits (especially if choosing to be charitable with the money/time that is saved). To this end, purchasing alcohol, boat rides to Toronto Islands, trips to Niagara Falls with Great-grandma, and spending money on date nights are failures on the road to complete consumer fasting.

It would, however, be easy to spend next to nothing and still acquire a bunch of stuff. There’s thrift shopping, dollar stores galore, coupons, and good old-fashioned deals. So, what am I about? Spending as little as possible, or divorcing my need for stuff and purchasing no physical things? I’m definitely about the latter, but should I attempt to be about both simultaneously?

I’m still trying to work this out. In the meantime, a toast to strawberry jam, to “enough” pants for all my family members, to an acquired allergy to stuff, and to a confession that I’m toasting with a glass of Pinot Noir. (This one, consequently, was a party gift, but I confess nonetheless.)

 

 

Less stuff; more fun!

My apologies for temporarily losing my blogging streak. I assure you, though, I haven’t neglected the consumer fasting.

People keep asking, “Yeah, so, how’s that going?” And I’m all, “Yeah, It’s um … going.” “Really?” they ask, “You really haven’t bought anything?” “Nope. Nothing.” Done.

What’s there to talk about?

Well, there was my Master Card bill. It was the lowest my family has seen in years. This fast was never meant to be about saving money (read about my motivations here), but it was exciting, nonetheless, to see a “total spending” amount that blew the old socks off any number we’ve achieved in the past. There have been times when we’ve painstakingly accounted for every penny, have obsessed over shaving every sliver off the top of every budget, and have allowed the quest for a number to rule our lives. And never were we this successful.

This time, we just kept our fast and enjoyed life as is. There was no sense of deprivation, no struggle, no time-consuming tallying and tracking. There was just living – simple and free.

And, there’s something else to talk about: my house is too big. Seriously, I find myself thinking–for the first time ever–that we have more space than we really need. Our two-bed/1-bath bungalow is cozy and not at all excessive for a family of four, but since getting rid of a whole lot of stuff and replacing it with a whole lot of nothing, I’m realizing that smaller is possible (and might even be better).

And last but not least, we decided to celebrate. We took the money we’ve earned from selling the stuff we no longer need and bought ourselves an evening of babysitting and a night out on the town. And, yes, we bought a couple drinks. I know, in This is too hard, I said we would no longer buy alcohol. We haven’t decided to reinstate our $20/month alcohol budget (this “celebration” was just a one-off), but we did decide, just this once, to trade stuff for experiences and call it even.

I hope I’m not being a hypocrite. Originally, I set-out to spend an entire year buying absolutely no physical stuff. Experiences were excluded from the fast. I have since upped the anti and have banned all sorts of experiences, foods, and beverages. I do wonder why I chose to do that. Banning experiences doesn’t fit, exactly, with my original motivations (as described in my first post: And so, we begin!), but I have had some valid reasons for choosing to make the challenge more difficult. Mostly, I have wanted to strip away everything possible in order to discover what will really be missed and what was simply a spending habit. But, where do I draw the line?

Though I’ve been motivated by the intrinsic pursuit of simplicity through deprivation, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I’ve also been influenced by the judgement of those who didn’t feel my “consumer fast” was a consumer fast at all. I’m a little disappointed in myself that judgement from others might have played a role in changing my family’s personal challenge, but then again, I am writing a public blog.

If a blog isn’t a means for readers and writers to interact with one another and to examine ideas after exposing them to the perspectives of others, then what is it?

Truth is, I’m not missing the shopping for end of season deals, the absence of Groupon emails, the broken salad bowl that we didn’t replace (the punch bowl works fine), and I’m definitely not missing the lack of “a new pair of skinnies for Spring,” regardless of how much The Gap may insist that I need them.

I am missing date nights, the occasional coffee shop visit, and bringing a bottle of local wine to a friend’s house for dinner. I will definitely miss my once a week beer once they are gone. (I’ve been rationing ever since we made the decision to cut the–albeit tiny–alcohol budget.) Is the fact that I miss these things reason enough to keep abstaining from them? Am I only questioning my reasons for cutting them as a potential excuse for bringing them back? What do you think?

So, “how’s it going?” you ask. Great. I love my low Master Card bill. I love my de-cluttered house. I love being immune to the pressures of needing to shop for new and better things. I also LOVE that, this weekend, we sold stuff and spent the money on having fun. Was it consumerist? Yeah, maybe. Was it cheating? Yeah, maybe. But somehow, it felt “right.” Right?