I’m not going to buy anything new this year. Except food. And soap. And toilet paper. Recycled toilet paper. Okay, let me start over. I’m not going to buy any new, non-consumable things. Except I already have. Yesterday. So, what’s all this about?
After spending the last eight years of my life avoiding new plastic (plastic products and plastic packaging), I suddenly found myself in 2015 obsessed with not only avoiding new plastic but also replacing the minute amount of existing plastic in my house with brand new, mostly expensive, plastic-free products, which is exactly what I had decided NOT to do when I started this project. Off the top of my head, these are some things I replaced this year:
- Plastic drain board replaced with this heavy, Amish-made stainless steel drain board.
- Garlic press with plastic-coated grips replaced with an all stainless Rosle garlic press.
- Vegetable peeler with plastic handle replaced with an all stainless Rosle model that was very expensive and works less well.
- Plastic spatula replaced with a Casabella bamboo and medical grade silicone spatula.
- Plastic zip ties replaced with stainless steel ones which don’t even work well, and plus we already have a a huge collection of twist ties that can be easily repurposed instead of using any new zip ties. I really don’t know what possessed me to buy them except that they weren’t plastic.
- Metal sieve with plastic handle replaced with metal sieve with stainless steel handle.
- Plastic turkey baster replaced with Norpro stainless steel baster with silicone bulb even though at the time I bought it, I hadn’t cooked a turkey or basted anything since 2004.
- Plastic laundry basket replaced with steel wire and canvas laundry basket. (The same plastic laundry basket that I repaired in 2009.)
- Plastic pencil sharpener replaced with an exquisite expensive DUX solid aluminum German pencil sharpener with round aluminum canister for catching pencil shavings when I’m on the go.
- Polyester oven mitts replaced with 100% organic cotton oven mitts from A Greener Kitchen (including organic cotton batting — not polyfill.)
- Plastic apple corer replaced with an all stainless apple corer. But good god, who needs any apple corer? A knife works better and wastes less apple.
- This one is hard to admit — I replaced all my acrylic knitting needles with bamboo ones and donated the plastic ones to the East Bay Depot for Creative Reuse. It’s hard to admit because it seems so senseless. Those acrylic needles were not actually hurting me. That’s when I really knew I had a problem.
Some purchases I can justify, of course. I don’t want to cook with plastic for health reasons, hence replacing the spatula and turkey baster. Our cotton oven mitts had gotten a big hole, revealing polyester batting inside that gave off toxic fumes when it got hot. And the pencil sharpener is a marvel of German design and a pure pleasure to use. But that’s pretty much it. The rest of the things I bought because of an itch I was trying to scratch. I feel like maybe I lost sight of the reason for reducing my plastic consumption — reducing my ecological footprint and protecting my health — and started using plastic reduction as an excuse to satisfy a craving for new things… a craving I hadn’t felt so strongly in years. (I bought a whole bunch of new natural organic and hemp clothes last year, too.)
Now, I’m not saying that buying new things is inherently bad! We need to support businesses, especially small businesses, that are producing alternatives to the toxic polluting crap out there. Pam Wheelock from Purrfect Play (a company committed to making natural, plastic-free pet products) wrote on my Facebook page:
I am confused how “buying nothing new” will help the green producers like my company who have almost 0% waste, strive to make a green fair wage product, and are struggling to survive against the onslaught of cheap crap from China. Shouldn’t it be “buy smart, buy value”?
She’s right. But my challenge this year is personal. It’s about stopping in my consumerist tracks for a period of time in order to find out what things I truly need. It’s about discovering what creative solutions I can come up with when there’s something I do need (just as I’ve had to do to reduce my plastic consumption), and cultivating a sense of inner sufficiency with what I have right now. It’s also about saving money!
I asked my Facebook followers to help me come up with rules for what things I should still buy new and what things are fine to acquire secondhand. Please feel free to join the discussion over there or in the comments here. This is what I’ve decided so far:
Things I Can Buy New:
- Food for humans and cats (limit restaurants to once a week or less)
- Light bulbs (Replace with LEDs as CFLs burn out. Shouldn’t need many.)
- Toilet paper
- Personal care/cleaning ingredients (vinegar, baking soda, coconut oil, etc.)
- Choreboy copper scrubbers
- Medicines and a few necessary supplements
- Cat litter
- Cat supplement
- Copies of my book to sell at events
- Transportation (Public transit whenever possible. Limit Lyft to twice a month emergencies. Necessary plane tickets. Zipcar only for speaking events and one hauling run for the year, if needed.)
- Entertainment… have to figure out the rule. I’d like to find more ways to entertain myself without spending money.
- Meditation retreat payments
- Repairs/maintenance… secondhand whenever possible. Hopefully nothing breaks. It’s okay to buy something new to preserve something old, as long as the new part is only a small percentage of the item.
- Haircuts from my friend David Richardson. I’ve tried doing it myself. Not a good idea.
- House cleaners every four weeks
I should have enough already:
- Skoy cloths (if not, I’ll use rags)
- Essential oils
- Laundry soap (make from soapnuts)
- Beeswax Hanukkah candles (bought more on sale for 2016)
Things I Want That I’ll Have to Find Secondhand or Borrow or Make Myself:
- A good pair of leather boots (Look in secondhand stores so I can try them on)
- A copy of Oliver Sacks’s new book “Gratitude” (Going to reserve it at the library)
- A pair of fingerless mittens with flaps (Knit them myself from my existing yarn stash)
- An ironing board cover (Make it myself from an old sheet)
- Prepared foods (There are a few things I’ve been buying in glass jars that I’m going to learn to make myself. I’ll blog about these as I do them.)
What am I forgetting?
I’ve Already Bought One New Thing
I broke our apartment yesterday trying to DIY. I tried installing a dimmer switch in the bedroom — a switch I bought last year — to control the ceiling light fixture. I had already installed a dimmer switch successfully in the bathroom a few weeks ago, so it shouldn’t have been a big deal. Except when I turned the power on and flipped the switch, the light came on for a few seconds, then made a popping sound, and went out. It’s not the circuit breaker — other lights on the same circuit work fine. And it’s not that the new dimmer switch is bad — I reinstalled the original switch and it won’t work now either. And it’s not the light bulb — I tried it in a different fixture, and it works. Yesterday, thinking I just needed a different dimmer switch, I bought a new one and installed it. No luck. Time to call an electrician.
But I’ve Also Made a Good Start!
That notebook in the picture at the top of this post? I decided I wanted a physical journal for recording my thoughts this year, and instead of getting a new one, I found that one used (some pages were missing) from the East Bay Depot for Creative Reuse in Oakland. It’s an awesome resource for office, school, and art supplies, and I try to check there before buying any of those things new.
And I’ve started making things, too! (Not started. I’ve handmade lots of things in the last 8 years. Maybe re-started is how I should phrase it.) I’ll post some of the things I’ve created recently and plans for upcoming projects in my next post. The self-flagellation is over. Stay tuned.