The house, even now, 5 full days after Christmas is full of junk.  The floor is littered with pieces of cardboard packaging, little bits of plastic.  Toys have taken over the living room and while it is a joyful scene I feel like we are choking on our abundance.

This was a leaner Christmas than ones past.  I made a conscious decision to limit what we would receive, what we would get.  And still, it seems like there is too much.  Too much in a house that was already bursting at the seams.  I have periodically taken long weekends to declutter, hired dumpsters and practically rented a my own personal truck to take unneeded goods to Goodwill.  But still, the things in our life seem to be taking over no matter how hard I try.  It is time for radical action.

This coming year I am considering an experiment.  An experiment about consuming less.  I am considering not buying anything unless we need it.

This is not an easy endeavor.  And if I am completely honest I have to admit that I am both overwhelmed and terrified about making this commitment.  Like every other red-blooded American who grew up in times of plenty, I have been and am susceptible to comfort shopping.  I blunt my discomfort with excess.  And then I grow fat, weary and a bit numb.

So I am, slowing, easing into a year without stuff.    But what does it mean not to buy something unless you “need” it.  What do we really need anyway?  Need is such a loaded word, a word that is more illusion than reality.  We need air, water and something to eat.  Does saying that we won’t buy it unless we need it simply mean–nothing but food, electricity, heat and medicine…clothes for Max when his get too small?  Or does it simply mean I am eliminating splurge/impulse buys? 

What are the rules?  What are the limits?  How does one design something like this that will work?  Am I simply formalizing the rules I have tried to live by or am I really trying to create new shifts in this house?

I have thought long and hard about it.  I am still working it out.  I am trying to figure out what does it mean.  

What does it mean to have a consumption free year…What kind of things can we consume?  Food is a given, but what about other things?  I am giving up services too–like dance class and guitar lessons (NO!) but then what about the things I “need” for those activities.  What if I lose my guitar tuner?  What if I “need” new picks.  And what about birthdays?  Christmas?  While giving up my Starbucks seems reasonable–am I also giving up treating Max and his friends to icecream? 

I am thinking long and hard about our goals…what I am trying to teach Max…what I am trying to learn myself and I am trying to create reasonable guidelines that will help us grow and will create radical shifts without being so impossible and scary that I get paralyzed.  If you have any ideas I would love to hear them.  If you have ever done such a thing I would love to hear what worked for you.

I have decided that along with my other posts I will try and keep a record of this year here on this blog.  It could be quite ordinary and boring….or it could create radical shifts.  I don’t know.  Its OK not to know.  And I’ve told myself that it is OK if this experiment is not perfect or saintly or radical enough.  Its enough just to play with the possibilities and give it a whirl…isn’t it? 

I wonder what will come of it?  I wonder what may happen or open up or close down for us?  I wonder…

6 Responses to “Living Without”

  1. Jena Says:

    You will learn so much, and so will he.

    I admire you.
    And love you.

  2. Sara Says:

    for inspiration, check out this book (from the library of course!):
    Not Buying It: My Year Without Shopping by Judith Levine
    I’m also reading a cool book called Made from Scratch.
    have fun!

  3. Patricia Dolan Says:

    Sweet,Dear Meg,

    Great post…I’m voluntarily joining you on you 09 endeavor…consider me a compatriot in consumer reduction. I second, Sara’s suggestion…Not Buying It is a quick, provocative read….she eliminated debt and saved a specific amount of $. I know we will learn more about ourselves in 09 when we clear away the debris of what we think we ‘need’ and strip down to the core basics of what we already are.

    All my love,
    Trish

  4. Ruthie Says:

    Hi Meg,
    Hmmm, quite tempted to join you. I think that there are many things that you can decide to do beforehand that will fit the bill for the things that you used to do….lets say, taking Max and his friends out to icecream. If your goal is to save money, then you could have ice cream treats ready, perhaps ones that you and Max made beforehand (like homemade icecream sandwiches), for a semi-improptu icecream treat for them. To be successful at this lifestyle change, especially with children in the mix, you are going to have to be creative, and Max is going to have to buy into the program, too. You are going to have to make a plan of how to manage certain activities that have been a part of the social part of your lives, because without it, you will most likely “fall off the wagon”. I would say, YES!, hit the material goods consumption with everything you’ve got! Think now about how you will manage birthdays, holidays, and other family functions.
    I am not saying to be stiff and inflexible, but have alternatives in mind to cut the bills, eat healthier…think of ways to re-invent the toys he already has. I have a friend that rotated her kids toys every couple of months…..

    Decide to invest in things that feed your spirit…a few new picks would certainly qualify….that is, if you really did need them. I suppose you could attempt to borrow first for these things. Or, you could learn a new way to pick or strum without picks…get someone to teach you a new way…many possibilities open up when you decide to ponder a decision like this.

    It is late…. I will have to think more about this so that my next comment might be a smidge more coherent and helpful.

    Ruthie from California

  5. angela Says:

    fantastic!

    my turn around came last summer.
    A tornado hit a community four miles south of me and many many people lost everything. Then a few weeks later I lost my job. The realization that I do not need to hold onto things to make me happy was a great turning point for me.

    I was out of work for two wonderful summer months. I purged things, car loads of things and spend hardly any money. What I did spend I payed cash for – if it is not a necessity, pay cash. The ice cream, the bag of chips, the trips to the craft store.

    enjoy – I believe I have become a more self centered person because of it!

  6. Jen Ballantyne Says:

    Darling Meg, this is exciting and something so wonderful. I have read a few sites lately where folks have decided to stop ‘consuming’ mostly they are doing their little bit by purchasing handmade gifts only (try http://www.etsy.com), or buying gifts that have been reinvented, like puppets made out of an old woollen top-that sort of thing. I think it’s a fabulous mission you are on and I am extremely interested in doing something at least in an effort to consume less. Love you sweetheart, talk soon, Jen xxxxx