The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish

January 11, 2016

Buying Nothing New in 2016

secondhand-notebook-featuredI’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.
  • stainless-steel-drain-board-2Garlic 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.stainless-steel-zip-ties
  • 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.Dux-solid-aluminum-pencil-sharpener
  • 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.)
  • Toothbrushes
  • Toilet paper
  • Personal care/cleaning ingredients (vinegar, baking soda, coconut oil, etc.)
  • Sunscreen
  • Soap
  • 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:

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.


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Tea and Cake for the Soul
5 years ago

Love this, there’s so much we can to do reuse and mend isn’t there?

Nguyen Thao
7 years ago

I love this post! Ive been thinking about this idea myself, partly cos I love a challenge and this one really appeals, but also because were moving into a new house this year and Im concious not to buy a bunch of new stuff. I havent thought about my rules yet because we probably dont move til Feb when I do Im going to come back to your list : )

Good luck Beth and really looking forward to hearing about how your year unfolds : )

Liesl Clark
7 years ago

Hi Beth: I so applaud you in this endeavor and will be watching and reading! We’ve been buying as little as possible for years, and it’s why we started The Buy Nothing Project, hyper-local gift economies that allow neighbors to share with each other, no strings attached, just giving, asking, and gratitude. We now have nearly 1300 groups in 19 countries. I’m not sure exactly where you live, but we do have 3 groups in the Oakland area. I’d be happy to send you a link to our Find A Group page to see if there’s one in your neighborhood. It will truly be a life-saver in your year of buying nothing new. The most important part of that equation will be connecting with your neighbors to receive from them, but also to give to them (even plastic crap you don’t want!), as humans have done (in close proximity to each other) for millennia. I just wanted to applaud you here and hope to help you in connecting directly with your neighbors. Do let me know if you’d like to be added to your local Buy Nothing group and I’ll send you a link. It’s a social experiment my friend Rebecca and I started 2 years ago and it’s truly taking root all over the world, partly thanks to your inspiration.
— Liesl, at Pioneering the Simple Life (and Trash Backwards)

HD Zero Dechets
7 years ago

I applaud you! This is no small challenge. I have been working on buying nothing new since 2014 when I adopted a zero waste lifestyle thanks to Bea Johnson’s book. I am still amazed how conditioned we are to buy stuff. I live in a big city so the temptations are endless. When you start shopping only for utilitarian reasons then you realize you have to fill a certain void (no shopping for pleasure)differently. Or may be not! Let this “void” guide you:-). For me it was a rebirth not filling my days with shopping (I also have limited grocery shopping considerably). I have learned how to live a simple life but incredibly rich. Among the changes are a stronger connection to our planet. I lost twenty pounds. I walk everywhere. I know all the trees in my neighborhood. I have time to read books (from the library) for hours, to write fiction and poetry, to take classes. I meditate every day and have a community of likeminded friends. I no longer work overtime. I have no credit card loans. But most of all I have learned how to follow my gut and intuitions more and not be afraid to do so. I feel stimulated. I research ,investigate and then make up my mind. Financially this lifestyle makes sense but the most important thing to me is to question why we are doing what we are doing and act with the deepest honesty. Enjoy the ride and thanks for your book i checked out at the library and that ironically had a plastic cover! !:-)

7 years ago

I love this post! I’ve been thinking about this idea myself, partly cos I love a challenge and this one really appeals, but also because we’re moving into a new house this year and I’m concious not to buy a bunch of new stuff. I haven’t thought about my rules yet because we probably don’t move til Feb… when I do I’m going to come back to your list : )

Good luck Beth and really looking forward to hearing about how your year unfolds : )

7 years ago

I look forward to reading about this as you go along. You are an inspiration and it’s nice that you tell what really happens and not “fluff” things up to make yourself seem perfect. It makes people like me feel better knowing that no one is perfect :)

7 years ago

i enjoyed this! I am not as dedicated as you are; but I agree. Except for the “Amish” products. The Amish people are notorious for having cruel “puppy Mills.” This is a source of destroying the balance of nature. God wishes and good health to you & yours

7 years ago

Congratulations Beth! Onward toward minimalism for 2016 and beyond. I like the idea of buying experiences. Entertainment can fall into experiences, like watching movies in the theater. Go, (all you awesome) minimalists!

7 years ago
Reply to  Beth Terry

Hello Beth, you may want to try crosswords, sudoku, word search or other games for your phone or tablet. Shortz has a slew of crosswords that you can download daily. (Always have to save a few for those times in the bathroom, though).

7 years ago

Thanks for the new posts, Beth! I’m a plastic-pollution-researching marine biologist turned farmer (yes, as a reaction to studying plastic pollution and realizing what it was a symptom of…), so I’ve spent a lot of years cutting plastic out of my life. I also don’t make and therefore spend much money. In response to your wonderment about entertainment… here are three of my favorite forms of inexpensive entertainment:
1) Gardening or foraging! (and then your food comes without plastic!)
2) Group read aloud nights. Once a week get together with a group of family or friends and take turns reading out loud from a good book. The James Herriot books were a big hit in my family last winter (and are easily found in every library). The Mossflower series are great if you have a group of kids and adults together.
3) Craft night! Anybody who needs a little designated crafting time or moral support comes over to my house every thursday night. Sometimes we have a potluck too, sometimes we just knit or carve spoons, sometimes we mend clothes or baskets, sometimes we finish farm chores like repairing bee hives! It’s pretty much always way more fun that crafting by one’s self.

You’re in for a wicked fun and satisfying year of making things!

david richardson
7 years ago

So honored to be on your list of acceptable “new” stuff! Seriously Beth, though I can’t rise to your level of commitment you always inspire me; thanks to you I am much more mindful of my own actions and their repercussions for the planet .

7 years ago

This is great! I actually have been through literally the exact same thing as you near the beginning of last year or end of the year before that. I was looking for so many new things that I needed because I needed the absolute PERFECT thing and because I “wanted to support those businesses.” This year I also really want to be serious about being really careful what I buy new. Obviously for environmental reasons, but I’d love to see the financial impact, as well.

Judith C
7 years ago

As I was reading this post, I was trying to think when was the last time I bought anything new… I guess when I went back to work at the school last Fall. Not bad, I’m ahead of the game! If you know what kind of boots you are looking for and know how they fit, got to Ebay and look for them. Look for New and No Box. In some states it is against the law for a shoe store to sell shoes without a box. So they have to sell on Ebay. I look for Pay it Now and free shipping too. I have purchase several pair of Danskos this way and saved lots of money. Most are more than 1/2 the store price.

7 years ago

So I have a question for you, or anyone out there taking on challenges like this. What do you do when emergencies strike?

I can think of several examples, but here’s a recent one. I ended up with a family of feral cats living in my backyard this fall, and with a big storm moving in & a 2 month waiting list for help from the feral rescue organization, they were in real need of shelter. I thought about a bunch of options – building a shelter from wood, trying to find used materials yadda, yadda, yadda. But when it came down to it, there were kittens who weren’t gonna make it through the next 48 hours without shelter, and the most reasonable option involved a plastic storage bin, styrofoam insulation and purchasing an outdoor rated heating pad that was mostly made of plastic – so that’s what I did.

I dunno… maybe I just convince myself that things are emergencies when they’re really not, but I seem to have ended up in a lot of those situations over the past few years. Just wondering what your strategy is for situations like that.

7 years ago

I’m in! I will do this with you. So, I will write down when I find anything I really ‘need’ other than the list of ”things I can buy new”. Are gifts to someone else included? I try to buy something like tickets to go somewhere or donations instead of materials. How about audio books and mp3 music? I assume that those go into the ‘entertainment’ category.
I’m excited! Yay!

7 years ago

Wow!! Good luck to you, and am looking forward to hearing how you handle different issues (e.g., had forgotten what a great resource the Depot is). What an inspiration. Journaling’s a great idea!
As far as self-flagellation, well, as you said: *over*

7 years ago

Good luck and best wishes! Looking forward to following your journey, and trying my best to reduce as well.

7 years ago

This is an admirable resolution! I salute you! I wish I were strong enough to do this, too, but I guess I’m more acquisitive than I would like to think I am. To be fair, however, most of my purchases have been related to removing plastic from food prep and storage; reducing PFCs and chemical fire retardants in my home; and outdoor gear. I’m actively trying to fix that last one though by reflecting on how ridiculous my itch purchase a niche item optimized for every narrow situation is. Good luck to you in 2016! :)

Deborah Ray
7 years ago

Kudos on the Buy Nothing New resolution for 2016! I started BNN over a year ago and following your blog has really helped me stick to it by realizing the environmental consequences of the things I buy. I haven’t done perfectly, but the best part are those times that I can use my creativity or brute determination to find alternatives. Also, knowing that when I do buy something I value it much more than I would have before this project. Good luck! And I look forward to reading about how it goes for you.

Diane Marie
7 years ago

Hi. I’m curious why your new boots need to be leather, given the impact of animal agriculture (leather being a by-produce of the meat and dairy industries) on our earth, air and water. And in the same vein, if you’re considering changing to a plant-based diet?

7 years ago
Reply to  Diane Marie

I’m very curious what you think is a good alternative to leather. Because “vegan leather” is really bad for our earth, air and water too.

7 years ago
Reply to  cocoricoucou

Maybe if you stopped seeing animals and their parts as commodities and start taking into consideration the abuse we inflict on them, you’ll see leather for what it is — a product from a cruel and unsustainable and unnatural industry.

Leather is also not necessarily a byproduct of the meat and dairy industries – countries other than the U.S. slaughter animals specifically for their parts and skins.

Diane Marie is right – the animal for commodity industry is the single largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. It’s not even debatable anymore. If that doesn’t do it for you, how about any creature with a nervous system, a brain, and nerve endings can experience pain. And trust me, nobody’s killing that cow kindly for your leather shoes and jacket. If you’ve seen the way capitalists treat and commodify human beings for profit, you can be sure they aren’t treating commodity animals any better.

So what is the alternative? Synthetics, and vegan clothes have come a long way, many even made with more sustainable practices and recycled materials. You can’t “recycle” a cow. Once it’s slaughtered for your jacket or your shoes, its life is over.

So this is one area where I will take the “plastic,” as it were.

7 years ago
Reply to  Beth Terry

It doesn’t. Many vegans wear used leather clothes and shoes. The thinking is that the cruelty was already done and they didn’t contribute to it by buying it used. One argument against it is that you send the message that you’re okay with wearing leather and contributing to animal commodification, since nobody knows your shoes are used or new.

But I don’t even know if that argument holds up any longer, because cruelty-free shoes can look like they are made of leather. I own synthetic jackets that people think are leather and compliment on my “beautiful leather.” And I certainly don’t care what other people think of my clothes, I wear cruelty free clothes so I’m not contributing to what is a violent and exploitive commodification process.

Vegan shoes have come a long way technologically. I’ve been wearing them for 20+ years and the products just keep getting better, more improved, more comfortable, more stylish. And a lot of them are manufactured with recycled materials. And like animal based shoes, there’s good quality and bad quality. There’s not a single activity I’ve had to forego or curtail because I didn’t have shoes that “worked.” I’ve worn cruelty-free running shoes, hiking boots, heels, clogs, sandals, and dress boots. I’ve hiked all over the Sierra, the Trinity Alps, Rainier, and the Tetons in vegan hiking boots, I’ve run marathons and 50-mile runs in vegan running shoes. I’ve been to the ballet and the theater in vegan heels. :o) It doesn’t interfere with my quality of life to wear this stuff and it doesn’t send my $$ to the horrible animal commodity industry in the process.

Good luck in your search, no matter what you choose.

7 years ago
Reply to  Dylan

Sorry, but it will take more than a comment on a blog for me to be “sold”. I buy cruelty-free meat and cruelty-free leather. But I’m sure that in your head “cruelty-free” means “vegan” so we can’t really have a normal dialogue.

The only leather I buy is vegetable tanned leather made with dairy cow who only eat organic grass and are humanely raised but I’m sure you’ll find a way to vilify me by saying that I didn’t visit the installations myself or something. Oh and by the way, it’s 100% biodegradable but I guess you don’t care about that at all.

7 years ago
Reply to  cocoricoucou

There’s no such thing as cruelty-free meat or leather. An animal was killed for your convenience. How is oppression and exploitation of animals really any different than exploitation and oppression of humans. In your mind, is there also cruelty-free slavery and cruelty-free war?

Profitable exploitation of animals has been protected by capital and your indifference and contempt for those who oppose it is not surprising. Capitalists have robustly despised the animal rights movement for decades because it challenges that very exploitation and aims to change habits like yours to subsidize it.

Biodegradable? You mean the GHGs emitted by the animal exploitation industry are biodegradable? Wow, who knew? Your excuse that YOUR leather and dairy before being slaughtered mercilessly are eating grass in Farmer Jill’s field won’t work. The bulk of the world can’t rely on your chosen source of meat since opting out of industrialization is not only impossible, it’s elitist on its face. Did you want the open grasslands converted to farming animals for leather jackets? How “biodegradable” is that?

Speaking of biodegradation, the definition of capitalism is exploited labor + x resource = piles of toxic garbage + non-existent money (+ usually some trinket for a rich asshole, a fur or a yacht). Waste the world & *everything* in it for the nothing that is money for a financier’s offshore account.

It’s harder to miss capitalism’s destruction of any sense of decency or innocence or sacredness if you will (i.e., not to be exploited, violated) when it comes to animals. And BTW some % of the money generated by exploited labor goes for government, i.e., cops and soldiers to protect the creative destruction that generates new markets.

But by all means, knock yourself out defending that system, it’s so much easier to punch down on those of us who won’t.

7 years ago
Reply to  cocoricoucou

I’ve heard that vegan ‘leather’ is made from pineapple plants (not the fruit part), and that it was developed ny a woman here in the Philippines.

7 years ago

Way to go! I think that sometimes the most ambitious goals that seem impossible can bring the most reward by the end of the year.

I just stumbled upon your blog and am really inspired to begin to cut plastic out of my life and move towards more natural, biodegradable products that are better for my family and the environment. In order to help me stick with it, I’ve decided to document my journey at I think I’m going to have to make an ambitious goal myself as well for 2016!

7 years ago

I think you can get your daily dose of ‘entertainment’ without buying new. What things do you have in mind? You could always borrow books and movies from friends or the library, or bookswap online (like

If it’s things like events or entry (concerts, park or swimming pool entry, cinema tickets etc.), it doesn’t count as ‘things’ in my opinion, as there is nothing that you ‘keep’ afterwards, even though you’d of course spend money. Sometimes, though, you can get a taste of that for free, too, e.g. in my town there is regular live music in pubs. It’s not Lady Gaga, but it’s free apart from the drinks you have. And parks are always free.

You can be entertained by YouTube for free, or by just skipping internet entirely and pursuing a hobby when you get bored. Or do one to help with the other (such as YouTube tutorials which are hugely underrated and free). I started practicing yoga with YouTube to try it out, rather than spending money on a class.

And there is a lot of entertainment in a deck of cards, if you can get some friends/family to join in ;) Many board games can be played virtually, and the apps are usually free, too, which saves you buying board games if you don’t have them.

Yes, there is a few things you need to pay for, but considering all this, you should be able to manage on a buy nothing new basis ;) Or maybe you want to make a separate entertainment budget and just balance the non-spending and spending activities you do? Let me know how you solve this one!

7 years ago

I’m very curious about those metal zip ties. We have a purpose for which the plastic zip ties we already had did not work. (Attaching a basket to a bike. Fortunately we were in the driveway when it fell off). Do they have a weight rating?

It sounds like this challenge should be a good way to get back to thoughtful consumer behavior. Good luck.

7 years ago

Oh my gosh I love this post, it’s so funny to read (in your voice)!!! :) Sending you lots of encouragement for this because it’s a wonderful and lofty ambition!! I was at a workshop and the attendees were talking about how new hobbies are exciting because of the SHOPPING involved. I really agree with that sentiment – it’s way too easy to get sucked into shop shop shop mode in place of action. I’m guilty of the same thing. Let me share some secondhand things I bought to replace plastic/crappy materials and have not used YET: cast iron waffle maker, cast iron muffin pans (but my oven’s been broken for 1 yr+), new glass Boba straw (granted, I’ve only owned for two weeks), cast iron juice press. Can you tell I love cast iron? lol You’ve inspired me to write a blog post about consumption and plastic free living. Did I tell you I have a blog?? here:

7 years ago
Reply to  Beth Terry

No I actually haven’t told friends about my blog since it was more of a place to share my crafty ventures with other creative folk :) **not many of my friends like to do DIY. But my blog is morphing into social commentary and environmental activism. YES, I will email you when I write the post! Thank you for being an inspiration!

Karen @ simplystashless
7 years ago

I’ve made the same challenge to myself this year with similar caveats. Just this weekend I made bags to use for foods from the bulk bins and found an awesome basket (secondhand of course) to wrangle my loose potatoes now that I don’t buy them in bags. It’s a lot more fun figuring out ways to get around buying new and also reducing waste.

Colony Vintage
7 years ago

I love your resolution to not buy anything new in 2016! I recently learned about being plastic-free and waste free, and the first wave that hit me was that I felt like I needed to buy everything new. It took me a few days to calm down and realize that I need to use what I have first.

I am looking forward to following you in this journey!! I am also vowing not to buy anything for the month of January,