Last Wednesday, as I grabbed the sack of recyclable waste and marched downstairs as usual, to be on time for the bi-weekly dry waste collection van, I looked absently at the contents of the sack. There were plastic food packets, odd bits of paper, and a couple of empty takeaway containers. But, filling the sack almost entirely was packaging from online shopping. Laminated bags torn apart hurriedly for the fleeting gratification that new clothes (naturally-dyed, handwoven cotton, might I add) offer. Staring up at me was the bag that held my most recent purchase, a dress that promptly joined its predecessors in a pile in the dark depths of my cupboard never to surface until cleaning day next year.
I'm not one for new year resolutions. But, I stepped into 2017 resolving not to buy anything new this year. Nothing, save for food, underwear, hygiene products such as toothpaste and soap, and essentials including cooking fuel. Nothing else; not for myself, or the home or for those I share it with. No new clothes, electronics, books, packaged processed food, canned beverages...you know where I’m going with this.
This is not my crusade against large, unsustainable, exploitative business. My self-imposed ban also includes products of small entrepreneurs and items handmade by independent artisans and craftspeople. Within its purview fall items that are manufactured ethically, sourced fairly, packaged sustainably, and comprised of natural, organic components. Since it is not about being thrifty but about not buying at all, the ban will also extend to the purchase of recycled, upcycled, used and secondhand goods.
What I am looking forward to from 2017 is rediscovering the joy I felt upon receiving that never-worn purple dress, dusting off and reading that much-recommended Donna Tartt novel, and finally putting to use the fancy coffee-maker bought in an impulsive fit. I’m excited by the prospect of DIYing, reusing, borrowing, swapping, sharing, and freecycling. And, by all the new people and experiences this will bring me in contact with. I hope to learn how to refurbish the old, mend the soiled and broken and, by way of that, to live lighter and more wholesomely, less weighed down by my possessions, and as less of a burden to the planet.
To be honest, this shopping detox is quite overwhelming. Last night, I found myself contemplating whether I had inadvertently bought something new during the day. That is what the act of shopping has become - persistent, pervasive, mundane, and meaningless; squirming into our lives without us knowing and when we least expect it. Reorienting myself to meet my new goals will, undoubtedly, be challenging.
But, guiding me on this journey are examples from a growing movement of people shunning the consumerist culture and opting for a more minimalistic way of living. Over the last year, I have taken more control over my mind and body by choosing mostly whole, unprocessed, vegan foods. This has taught me that I can live with less than I imagined I need and that, if I put my mind to it, habits and preferences I have cultivated over years, can be cast off overnight.
Admittedly, there will be emergency purchases such as the hat I’ll be forced to buy to prevent a sunstroke on my next hike because I've forgotten mine at home or a new battery to keep my computer working. But, with careful planning and an unwavering resolve, I think I can pare down my possessions and create less trash while saving some money, decluttering my life, and focusing on what really matters.
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