By Tara Tracy
I’ve been meaning to post this FOREVER (since it was published in early February).
It’s a story about our year of buying nothing new! My good friend Lex (Alexa Carson) prompted us to take, or re-take this whole buy-nothing new challenge on New Year’s day–and this is her take on it. I think it’s great. (And I’m sooo pumped to help her celebrate her fall wedding by focusing on the GOOD stuff …not all that other STUFF.)
Consumption cut: Relying on second-hand, handmade or borrowed items for one year
Michelle McQuigge, The Canadian Press
TORONTO – Alexa Carson’s new dining room table spent no time in a furniture warehouse, did not come with a single sundry screw or assembly instruction, and did not even bear a shipping label when it was delivered to her house.
The table — hand-crafted from an ash tree in an Ontario forest — was both made and delivered by Carson’s father-in-law and now occupies a place of pride in her Toronto home.
For the 32-year-old program manager, it represents a milestone in her quest to buy nothing new in 2011. The fact that she can obtain a “beautiful” piece of furniture without setting foot in a store or throwing out a shipping box validates her belief that life can be lived more simply, she said.
“It’s handmade and sustainable (the table is from reclaimed wood), and because of this and the knowledge that someone we love made it just for us, it is 1,000 times more valuable than anything we could ever buy at a store,” Carson said. “It will last longer than a cheaply made Ikea table.”
Though construction on the table began months before Carson vowed to buy nothing new for a whole year, the acquisition fit in perfectly with her new mission. Carson has committed to limiting her purchases for all of 2011, relying on second-hand, handmade or borrowed items to fulfil her few needs.
She has found two willing friends to join her, saying all believe their lives are overrun with material possessions.
“This isn’t about being really frugal or saving money, it’s about being conscious of the accumulation of stuff on our planet and trying not to contribute to that,” she said. “We really believe that anything we truly need already exists, so we can borrow it or buy second-hand.”
Kira Petersson-Martin shares the philosophy so passionately espoused by Carson and her friends.
The 26-year-old single mother from St. John’s, N.L., said the environmental repercussions of a consumerist culture prompted her to swear off new purchases for 2011, adding the experiment may also set a strong example for her four-year-old daughter.
“I work really hard with (my daughter) to get her to realize where food comes from. ‘Do the vegetables come from Mexico? What is the cost of that?'” Petersson-Martin said.
“Extending that to material things like toys and clothes, that’s something I look forward to being able to discuss with her. When I was little and I would ask for things, my Mom would say, `We don’t have the money.’ I don’t want to push that message. I want her to ask, “Do I need this?'”
Kate Tilleczek, Canada Research Chair in Child/Youth Cultures and Transitions, said Carson and Petersson-Martin embody a set of values that is of increasing importance to Canadian youth.
Research suggests environmentalism is a key concern among young people, she said, adding people in their teens and early 20s are overwhelmingly supportive of political movements such as the Green Party.
The plan to buy nothing new is an effective form of social protest called “culture jamming,” prompted by a natural aversion to the way society functions, she said.
“Young people’s status and identity is more tied to consumerist stuff than pretty much any phase of adulthood,” Tilleczek said from her office at the University of Prince Edward Island.
“They’re really status and commodity driven because of the social organization of what we’re allowing them to do. These young women are working in a long historical tradition of social resistance to things in society that are problematic and that they can see.”
Carson and Petersson-Martin have established nearly identical guidelines for their “buy nothing” years.”
Both have committed to shun purchases of new clothing, cosmetics, electronics, housewares and other items that could be obtained second-hand. Exceptions are made for certain items, such as food, basic toiletries and underwear.
Carson is willing to make exceptions for emergency expenses, while Petersson-Martin made a concession in the name of sanitation and acquired a litter box for the kitten she rescued last month.
Both acknowledge the experiment makes demands of their time and creative powers. Carson said her full-time work schedule hasn’t left her with the time to touch up the lining of her winter boots, while Petersson-Martin said she likely wouldn’t be able to succeed without the luxury of a flexible student timetable.
Some people don’t have time to go to Value Village or look around on Craigslist to find what they need,” she said. “I don’t want to sound prescriptive and say that this is something that everyone should do.”
Despite the odd temptation presented by a pair of boots or chairs to complement her new dining room table, Carson said the experiment has been a positive, liberating experience.
“When you’re really trying to keep what you consider your needs down, you appreciate what you already have and how few material things you actually need.”