2020: Buy Nothing Challenge
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. :)
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