Early last year, I issued what I called the “Use It Up Challenge,” in which I implored us all to tone down the decluttering madness to stop and consider whether we might be able to get more use out of our belongings before we discard them. In part because most of what we donate with good intentions actually ends up in landfills, as trash. In part because much of what we declutter, we later end up repurchasing, which requires more resources for manufacturing and shipping and is ultimately more wasteful. And in part because many of us buy less when we look around and see plenty that we already possess.
That challenge posed the question:
“If we knew this thing was going straight to the landfill when it leaves our hands, would we treat it differently? Would we try harder to get more use out of it?”
In the ONL house, we did pretty well at that challenge. We donated very little last year in terms of physical goods (though did donate a lot charitably – I cannot encourage that half of donating enough!), and instead tried to get the full use out of the things that no longer spark joy or whatever less woo-woo way you want to describe it. We also found some new homes for things that we might otherwise have donated, and that way we know they’ll get used instead of just end up trashed.
Where we did not do so well was in the second part of that challenge: the nothing new year. Our aspiration was to buy little to nothing that was newly manufactured, with the goal to acquire as little stuff as possible, but where necessary, we’d try our best to buy that thing secondhand.
We started with good intentions. A few days into the challenge, I accidentally broke our Chemex coffee pot, and I quickly found one that was used in good condition. We needed a Japanese phrasebook for our trip to Japan, and I found that used, too. But then we realized no amount of duct tape was going to coax our old ski bag into making it intact it across the Pacific, and couldn’t find a used ski bag that wasn’t already just as beat up. We bought new.
And then the rest of the year happened. The purse I bought in Japan. The eclipse glasses that were totally worth it and made a life-changing experience possible. The motorized standing desk that has made my back thankful every day since. The inflatable kayaks we can’t wait to use this summer. The backcountry ski jacket I got for a song. The new underwear stock-up order we placed before we lost our paychecks. The new laptop computer to replace the company laptop I’d used for years. The $200 order of socks. The burlier mountain bike.
Our “nothing new year” turned into a “many things new year.”
And, to be honest, we’re okay with that. Last year was our last year of steady income, probably forever, and we bought some things that we needed and will use for a very long time. If anything, we just picked the wrong year for the nothing new year. Or, rather, the truth is probably somewhere in between those things. Some of things we bought, we legitimately needed, and we don’t regret those things. And some of the things we didn’t need, and that’s where we want to be more mindful.
And that’s why we’re making 2018 our Nothing New Year Redux.
The Answer to the Super Frugal Vs. Normal Spending Question
I recently asked you all to weigh in the question of whether we should be super frugal in our first year of retirement or spend normally, according to what we’d always planned. And our answer has everything to do with the nothing new year:
We’re going to spend according to plan on experiences and everyday expenses like groceries and utilities (or normal for us, anyway). But we’re going super frugal on purchases of things, namely by not buying them.
Our motivation in buying as little stuff as possible this year has less to do with money than it does with wanting to be environmentally responsible (a strong motivation of ours from the beginning), and with recognizing that we already have everything we need. Early retirement, to us, is about appreciating what we have, and valuing time over money, and better appreciating our abundance in physical possessions feels like the same idea.
But the money side effect is certainly a good thing, and breaking ourselves of the habit of buying stuff will go a long way toward resetting our baseline spending, and help ensure that we aren’t sloppy with the budget as we occasionally were while accumulating our savings. (Blessing/curse of a higher income: easy to save fast, but also easy to play fast and loose.)
The Rules of the Nothing New Year Redux
Last year, the Use It Up Challenge was a general call-to-action, and while a bunch of you wrote to say you were inspired by it and were rethinking your habits (which made me so happy, btw), there weren’t any rules attached to it, particularly to the Nothing New Year part of it, and I think that may be part of why we fell off the wagon so quickly.
So this year, there are rules.
The five simple rules:
Don’t buy stuff. Obvious.
Only make a few exceptions. There’s a short list of items we know we need that aren’t practical to buy used (alpine ski boots for me, for example, and new bed pillows), replacements for things that really and truly break or wear out (e.g. running shoes), and consumable items if we are absolutely positive that we don’t already have that product in the pantry or bathroom cabinet.
Look locally first. When we do buy things, whether new or used, we’ll do our best to buy them locally, which ties into the last rule:
Consider packaging. In both the rare instances when we need to buy a thing, and the allowable purchases of consumable products (soap, toilet paper, coconut oil, etc.), weigh packaging more heavily when deciding where to buy. We’ve been frustrated when we’ve hunted down used goods online only to have them ship in monstrous amounts of cardboard and plastic. And same for the things we’ve been buying through Amazon subscribe and save. Like, really, the toilet paper box isn’t okay to ship in, and needs to be inside another box, even though toilet paper is itself padding? And the KIND bars can’t be inside a small box, and need to ship in a box ten times their volume that’s then filled with plastic air bubbles to take up the remaining space? We have saved money and brain space by ordering that way, but also violated some of our core tenets of wastefulness, and we’re going to make the effort this year to be mindful of packaging again. (And also consider whether we need KIND bars at all or can make our own that don’t require individual wrapping.) This also means going back to reusable containers for grocery shopping when possible, and making more things from scratch, which we’re excited to do anyway.
Question the need. For all things we buy, consumable and not, question whether we really need them, whether something we already have could fill that purpose, or whether doing without would really be so bad. We want to be as resourceful as we can be, and we’re going to force it if we have to.
All the while, we’ll strive to continue our “use it up” philosophy that we’ve fostered, so that there’s not only less coming into our house, but less coming out of it as well. And not less with an asterisk, like only after some massive declutter. Less, period.
What’s Your Mindfulness Plan for 2018?
Whether you’re aiming to use it up this year, to buy nothing new, to save more, pay down debt, be kinder to others, tune out social media, or anything else that speaks to you, share it here! What’s your way of being more mindful and intentional in 2018? Let’s discuss in the comments!