One thing I've learned through past challenges (and life, generally) is the importance of setting boundaries. Without boundaries, I can easily find myself looking for loopholes - little escape doors through which I can shirk my original intention while still being able to rationalize/justify my actions. If I want to avoid the search for loopholes and the temptation to fall into them, I need to set some rules!
So here they are - the rules that will guide my purchasing choices in 2020.
What's NOT Allowed...
What's *Conditionally* Allowed (and why)...
This year, there will be a pretty major change in my domestic life as my roommate of 6 years moves out (and on to a new, exciting chapter). When that happens, she'll be taking some of her things with her and I'll be moving to the other room in my apartment. In anticipation of this change, I am going to allow myself to buy a few domestic items.
When in Doubt, Use the Chart!
For this year, I will define need as something I require for my day-to-day life. Something that could be useful, or could be helpful, or seems good to have is not a need. If I'm not sure about whether something is necessary enough to purchase, I will resort to the following decision flowchart.
As much as possible, if I MUST buy something, I will have to do my homework to see if I can get the item secondhand or sustainably/ethically sourced.
And There They Are...
The rules for my 2020 challenge. Stay tuned for what happens when I actually try to live by these rules! It's one thing to write them out and think about them in the abstract - it will be something else to actually put them into practice!
Got a Question? Or an Idea for a Rule?
Let me know! I'd love to hear your thoughts and ponder through things with you! Your questions/ideas only help me clarify things I haven't yet considered, so please share them.
Okay, here goes nothin!
If you're anything like me, the onset of 2020 feels... big.
Like holy-shit-the-future-is-now BIG.
2020 is the year that always felt CRAZY far away to me. And now, it's here! Right around the corner!
A BIG Challenge for a BIG Year...
It feels only right that as I start this year, I am gearing up for a challenge that is going to push me farther than any challenge has pushed me yet! This year, I am going to commit to buying nothing except for daily essentials FOR THE ENTIRE YEAR!
I thought for a while about what to call this challenge... Shopping Ban. Spending Ban. Buy Nothing. No New Things. Stop the Stuff. Live with Less. Good God Erica You Already Have Enough! And so on...
The important thing is not so much what this challenge is called, it's what the challenge aims to do. To help unpack the purpose of the challenge, allow me to first tell you a few stories from this past year. Times when I found myself questioning my relationship with "stuff." From each of these experience, a seed was planted. Those seeds are now the basis for this 2020 challenge.
1) Visiting UCSD Surplus Sales
Surplus Sales is a department at UCSD that re-sells and recycles used equipment from the campus. Anytime an office or department refurnishes their space, or when a grad student hauls out of the office they've been parked in for years, they can call Surplus to pick up the old items. The crew hauls the stuff to their warehouse, sorts it, sells what they can, recycles what they can, then disposes of the rest.
Y'all, you seriously should see all the stuff. ALL. THE. STUFF.
We're talking an airplane-hangar-sized warehouse filled, floor to ceiling, with stuff. An entire corner of this place is filled with wheely chairs. Another wing - all filing cabinets! I couldn't count the number of used printers on all my and your and your mom''s fingers and toes!
Seed #1: Visiting surplus and seeing the sheer volume of all their stuff hit me like a bolt of lighting. As I wandered through the aisles, I kept re-realizing that there is just so, so, so, SO much STUFF! On display were only the things deemed fit for re-sale (less than half of the total items taken in), only for one campus, in a state where there are 8 other campuses of comparable size, countless other university campuses, let alone public and private organizations that also refurbish their offices. Multiply that times 50 states, and then multiply that by all the other places in the world that may also be accumulating all of their used stuff. THERE IS SO MUCH STUFF!
2) Bye Bye, Charming Charlie
I'll admit it - I'm a bit of an accessories fiend. I have a fairly large collection of dangly earrings, and post earrings, and statement earrings, and simple earrings. Plus there's the long necklaces, and the short necklaces, and the fancy only-on-special-occasion necklaces. Add to that the bracelets: the bangles, the beaded, the ones with pendants, the ones with gems real and fake, the ones that get in the way of typing on my laptop, and the ones that pull my little arm hairs. And don't even get me started on scarves!!
So, it may not be surprising that I was a HUGE fan of Charming Charlie, a store full of accessories, organized by color and all so very cheap! Charming Charlie was one of my favorite places to shop for accessories.
I say WAS - because Charming Charlie filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in August of this year, and within a few short weeks sold off as much of its inventory as possible and closed all its stores forever. And all of that happened without my knowing until, one Sunday afternoon in early September, I ventured to a mall to shop at Charming Charlie, only to find the doors to the store locked and the place deserted.
I'm ashamed to say what I felt in that moment. Sure, I felt a little annoyed (I drove 20 miles to that particular mall for the sole purpose of going to that store). And yes, I felt disappointed (the color-coding was truly a sight to behold). But more than anything, what I felt in that moment was grief for all the future accessories I wouldn't be able to buy. Despite the hordes of accessories waiting for me at home - some of which I hadn't worn in YEARS - I felt sad because of all the hypothetical accessories that I couldn't have. I felt sad because I wouldn't get anything new from that store again.
Seed #2: As I sat dumbstruck in that mall, staring at a darkened shell of a store, I realized that I need to examine my personal relationship with stuff. Why had I driven 20 miles, burning precious oil and fuel, to purchase a handful of cheap accessories that I may only wear a handful of times, to the neglect of the things I already owned, just to repeat the same consumption cycle again in 5-6 months? And why did I feel so sad about not getting anything new? Stuff doesn't deserve grief unless it is truly priceless. Some cheap blue earrings among a sea of cheap blue earrings were NOT priceless.
3) Building Awareness of Consumption Culture
Over the past year, I've read and watched a number of things that have given me a visceral, gut-punch view of how mass consumption takes its toll on the world (and everyone in it) and that have helped me see the underlying forces that perpetuate mass consumption culture despite its human and environmental costs.
Seed #3: Consumption is a social system, just like any other social system. And there's nothing I like more than interrogating the social systems into which I've been enculturated, learning more about who benefits from these arrangements, and smashing/subverting these systems accordingly. My mindset towards consumption can be just as critical and galvanizing as my mindset towards racism and patriarchy.
Okay, back to the 2020 Challenge
I mentioned above that what this challenge is called isn't as important as what it aims to do. In light of the seeds planted throughout 2019, here are the goals/purposes of the "Buy Nothing" Challenge in 2020:
And What of the Blog?
I'll be using this blog to share updates and lessons from the challenge. I'll also share resources I find that help me along the way. For example, in preparation for 2020 I've been reading The Year of Less by Cait Flanders. I'll share more about this wonderful little book and the way it's inspired me, as well as other resources I find throughout the year.
On top of being able to share about the challenge, the blog will also force me:
Disclaimers and Next Steps...
For now, this challenge is all about consumption of material goods. I know that lots of people will have lots of feelings about other kinds of consumption - like going vegan, or practicing zero waste, or giving up plastic. These are valid, but just not the focus of this challenge. One thing at a time!
And before anyone tries to @ me on this - this is not a minimalism challenge. I imagine an entire future post where I talk through my feelings on voluntary minimalism and the ways in which minimalists and the minimal aesthetic are a new kind of privileged, conspicuous consumption. But for now, just know that I'm not about to become a so-called "minimalist."
That's all for now! In the days to come, I'll share the rules for the challenge and my plan for working within them. I hope you'll stay tuned and follow along!
Thank you for reading. :)
Most of my friends and family know that, at any given moment, I am in the middle of undertaking some kind of personal challenge. Seriously, you could ask me "What's your current challenge?" at just about any time and I'll have some kind of response. I call them challenges, but since there's no competition or prize involved perhaps a better name for these projects is DARES (as in truth-or-dare).
In the Beginning...
When I first started out with challenges in 2014, my close friends and family were the source of each new endeavor. They would, essentially, dare me to try something for a month, and together we would create the rules/boundaries for the challenge. Okay, I know what you may be thinking - "you let yourself be a guinea pig for other people's weird interests?" Not exactly! Behind every dare there needed to be a clear, constructive purpose. The challenger had to think of something I could benefit from learning and/or experiencing, and then design a challenge that could be a conduit for those kinds of lessons.
Each of these earlier challenges lasted for exactly one month, and I described what I was doing and learning on my first blog, Thirty Day Endeavors. During 2014, I spent May through December undertaking challenges such as:
This initial set of challenges jump-started a new way of being in the world for me. And in the years that followed, while I didn't keep up with the blog, I did keep up with the challenges. After doing so many challenges suggested by others, I decided to get into the driver's seat. I dared myself to do (or not do) things for a certain amount of time to see how that disrupted my habits, changed my mindsets, and helped me learn something I didn't know before. These challenges ranged from 3 months to a year, depending on what I was doing.
And what was I doing?
When it comes to deciding on a challenge, I have exactly one rule that I live by:
If it scares me or seems impossible, I have to do it.
It is this rule that led me to forego shaving my armpits, that caused me to leave my phone in another room the moment I got home from work, that prompted me to remove Amazon (yes, including Prime) out of my life as much as possible (AWS is almost impossible to escape!), and totally changed my relationship with television.
The Past Becomes Present, and the Present Becomes Future
One thing that I've learned over the years is that every challenge, no matter how big or small, makes an impact in my life. Not only do I learn something about the challenge topic, I also learn a lot about myself. With each challenge I build up my sense of resilience and capability. I look back on these times and think "I did that! What else can I do?" But I also cultivate a lot of self-compassion and patience. It's rare to complete a challenge without at least one slip-up (sometimes even one colossal fuck-up!), but I've learned not to throw in the towel just because I had one or two (or five) missteps. Reflecting on and coping with these missteps becomes a crucial part of every new challenge, even more so than the surface-level behavior changes that come with trying something new.
The other thing that challenges have given me is a broader view of possibility for myself. It's hard to describe, but I have greater awareness of potential challenges now than ever before. I'm subconsciously on the look-out for new frontiers within myself, new ways of being in the world. As a result, my sense of myself has become more flexible and ever-evolving. When I started my first Thirty-Day Endeavor, I could not have foreseen this greater mindset shift. I had no idea that I would integrate a challenge-oriented mindset into my life for years to come. And yet, here we are.
As I look forward to 2020, I am eager to see what new lessons I will learn, and to share whatever insight I can. I have a new challenge lined up, and it is possibly the hardest challenge I've ever undertaken.
More on that later. :)