As kids, my siblings, cousins and I used to always laugh at our quirky Latvian grandfather, who would methodically cut open, invert, rinse out and reuse old milk bags (those heavy duty one-litre bags that most people toss in the trash, or possibly the blue bin). He would explain to us how strong and useful these bags are, and how they could be used in other ways around the house. As kids, we totally didn’t ‘get it’. Now, as an adult, with more of an appreciation for where things come from, and where stuff ultimately ends up… I feel like I get it.
I highly recommend watching The Story of Stuff – a 20 minute video that went viral in 2007, providing facts and visuals on the consumption life cycle and issues surrounding sustainability and the environment. [A number of follow up videos, including the Story of Bottled Water and the Story of Solutions: Better, not More have since been released. The Story of Stuff Project has developed into an entire community/movement and its creator, Annie Leonard, is now the Executive Director at Greenpeace USA. ]
It’s so easy for us, as consumers, to feel distant/disconnected from the products we buy and the things we throw out – from food and clothes to furniture and electronics – but these videos really highlight how consumers can and DO have an impact on our natural resources and our communities, simply by being more conscious of our shopping habits.
It’s been nearly two years since I bought myself anything new. The closest thing to a new purchase I’ve made is this awesome purse, hand-made in Canada from salvaged airplane seats [check out Mariclaro for other repurposed and practical goods]. I’ve followed the ‘Buy Nothing New‘ movement/philosophy as much as possible in the last few years and honestly haven’t found it to be overly difficult. I am *far* from the stereotypical ‘shopper’ – I enjoy buying food and puttering at farmers’ markets, but that’s pretty much it; I don’t enjoy malls – so it was pretty easy for me to commit to the nothing new philosophy. [Though, I know that if I walked into a Winners store, I would surely find dozens of tops, skirts and shoes that would be absolutely lovely to have in my closet… I guess I just prefer to get hand-me-downs and shop second hand if I truly need an item at all]
Simple ‘Less Stuff’ tips:
- Buy items with less packaging / sustainably sourced (e.g. loose produce, bulk items) or make your own (nut milk, broth, sauces, soaps, etc.)
- Avoid disposables/switch to reusables (party plates, cutlery, napkins, cloth diapers and wipes, feminine products and pads) – there are so many great reusable products available!
- Re-use jars, containers and bags (I always keep a few bags scrunched up in my purse – that way I can’t forget them in the car/at home, etc.)
- Skip the gift wrap/save and use reusable gift bags
- Mend holes, re-sew buttons/zippers
- Share/lend with your family/friends/community – there are some things not everyone has, and not everyone needs all the time – a leaf-blower, a travel stroller, a hiking backpack
- If you have kids, look for a toy lending library (like the Ontario Early Years Centres) – you can rotate through different items, like fine and gross motor skills, without cluttering up your home or having to spend a penny!!!
- And for adults who need to get fancy, there’s Rent Frock Repeat! No need to spend a fortune and clutter your closet (with something you’ll likely only wear once)!
- Donate!!! Rather than tossing unwanted items in the trash or even recycling, join your local Buy Nothing chapter on Facebook, check out Kijiji or Freecycle, or make a drop off at Value Village – there are even organizations, like the Ontario Federation for Cerebral Palsy that will PICK-UP certain items directly from your home at no cost! Habitat for Humanity ReStores accept home renovation materials like cabinets, tiles, paint and light fixtures – plus they have an e-waste program that recycles electronics!
Of course I still buy new toilet paper, food, toothpaste and essential oils when needed, but I haven’t had the need to purchase new jeans, sweaters or anything else since 2014. And it feels great.
The financial savings mean I’ll be able to retire sooner, take a nice vacation or pay for essential things like a new roof or car repairs. Even when we recently traveled to Arizona and I forgot to pack a sweater, we simply found a local thrift shop and $5 later, I had supported the Sedona Humane Society AND I was warm 🙂 Certainly there are many people who get more pleasure out of a new pair of shoes than they do by saving for retirement – and that’s fine by me! But I am content (sometimes even eager) to re-work my existing wardrobe (mending holes, or altering the fit), to go through a box of hand-me-downs from friends, or to make a quick trip to Value Village if I really need a pair of rubber boots or a ‘new’ black skirt. And if I’m going to buy something new, I want it to be a long-lasting quality item, ideally made in Canada in some sustainable fashion.
Our grandparents (and great grandparents) lived in a different time, when there was an appreciation for quality, thriftiness, repurposing and a consciousness about waste. This attitude and gratitude is making a comeback and that can only be a good thing.
My daughter recently asked me why every day isn’t Earth Day – it was such a sweet moment, that really made me proud. Every day IS Earth Day!
While I strive to take on the challenge of becoming even less wasteful (check out this zero-waste lifestyle for inspiration!), for now, I am happy to be making an impact in whatever way I can.
Happy Earth Day!