Take the ‘don’t buy anything for a year’ challenge with me

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By Sabrina Almeida

Ever since I put out four humongous garbage bags of items for the Canadian Diabetes clothesline program, I’ve been wracked with guilt over all the frivolous expenditure. While I’m happy to pass on usable items, the question is whether I really needed to indulge myself… to that extent. With closets (including the laundry one) and cabinets overflowing, we have now taken to investing in furniture with storage. So, we buy more and then spend even more to accommodate it. Huh!

How much do I really use? Well you know what they say—typically only 20% of what’s in the closet 80% of the time. That’s more than half a closet of wastage. Being the only child, and a girl, my family treated me to new clothes for virtually every occasion. I guess the habit stuck.

I’ve always prided myself on not being wasteful but that’s because I’ve never related it to anything other than food, water, gas and electricity. This realization didn’t sit well with me.

As I pulled out Christmas decorations—the situation got worse. Five large totes excluding the tree all sitting in the loft in my garage. A result of wanting themed décor every year. Good for the economy, bad for the wallet. After all my home’s not being featured in Chatelaine. Some how I think both my time and money could be better spent.

Having fewer items would also mean less mess and cleanup. Not to mention how easily my car would fit in its rightful spot—the garage.

It’s a vicious cycle—the wanting and buying new things all the time. That’s why I’ve decided that I’m going to take buy-nothing-for-a-year challenge. It’s going to be hard even though I’m not one who scouts the malls every week for the latest fashion. Home décor is my weakness. I always have ideas about how to update the look of rooms or the whole house – whether it is with paint and new accessories or “small” renovations. Honestly, I think I manoeuvre ‘wants’ into the ‘needs’ category all the time.

Having moved a lot the desire for something new every two or three years probably influences my home renos.

As I was looking for inspiration and tips on Google to help manage my intended frugal lifestyle, I was greatly encouraged by the number of people that had freed themselves from the tight hold of materialism. From college students to young mothers and entire families, there were plenty of role models to spur me on. Not one of them regretted their decision. They had moved on and were so much happier.

Yes, the ripple of minimalism is turning into a wave that I like to get caught up in. If Mark Boyle, The Moneyless Man spent three years without money surely, I could manage 12 months of mindful consumerism. And I’m not even going as far as food—just clothes, accessories and home furnishings.

What got my attention even more than the ka-ching of money savings in the bank, was the quality of life and relationships. People that took this challenge enjoyed quality time with family and friends and inspired them to follow their lead. Celebrations and family gatherings were no longer about décor and presents but just enjoying the camaraderie.

I also learned about Bunz, a trade-based community for exchanging goods and services. I rather liked the Bunz philosophy—you can’t buy happiness but can trade for it. The trading website and mobile app let’s you swap items you don’t want for things that you do. No money exchanges hands. What an excellent idea!

And I discovered the Buy Nothing Year website that offers tips as well as answers questions of hopefuls. It was started by two friends in Calgary who took up the don’t-spend-for-a-year challenge and ended up with more than $55,000 of savings and a website that shares their experiences. Julie Phillips was a hoarder (like me I guess) before she gave up most of her possessions and moved into her good friend Geoffrey Szuszkiewicz’s apartment around three years ago. The life experiment revolved around rethinking their definition of necessities and expenditure was limited to essentials. Any other needs were fulfilled through barter and trading.

To give up the gratifying feeling spending money brings requires a complete reorientation of thinking, no?

I think my best way forward is to take one no-spend month at a time. Changing behavior requires a lot of discipline… and incentives. I guess this means I will be checking my bank account more often. Wish me luck! Or better still, join me!!!

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