What is the No New Year Challenge?
I’m challenging myself to a ‘No New Year’. Don’t worry, I’ll still be acknowledging the first of January. But I’m not planning to buy anything new for a whole year. Why? Here’s the not so long story… For the past few weeks, elbow deep in a kitchen renovation, I’ve been overcome by the lure to acquire new things, as if having them will somehow bestow on me a magical new lease of life. And it’s not just the kitchen that has suckered me in.
It seems that a renovation in one room triggers an urgent need to update other areas of my home as well. So along with the kitchen, Mum (who, along with Dad, I share a home with) and I blitzed our bedrooms, spare room, dining and the living rooms. Not surprisingly, the intoxicating gloss and glamour of the marketing world had us salivating for shiny new linen, lamps, chairs, tables, plants and the rest. There seems to be an endless stream of options to go nuts over, and trawling through it all has zapped up hours of my life I’ll never get back.
Our desires (and luckily our bank accounts) were tempered somewhat though when we decluttered each room and found a load of stuff we no longer need, use or have space for. Neither Mum nor I am especially sentimental or overly materialistic and having downsized the family home a few years ago, we’re hyper-aware of trying to reduce the clutter in our lives. It’s what inspired me to become a Professional Organiser and start Declutter Life. Even though, we still have a lot.
As we dragged out the contents of the old kitchen to make way for the new, I was aghast at the amount of stuff three adults had just in this one room. I had a pit in my stomach looking at it all spill out into our living room and then grappled with the guilt about what to do with what we no longer needed or could use. We took what we could to Vinnies and to friends and family who wanted it, but the rest went to landfill. I shudder with guilt at the thought – sending anything to landfill sends me into a sweat.
As a Professional Organiser, I spend some time at the tip after decluttering for clients. It’s a sobering experience each and every time. Having spent years of my life living and working in the poorest and most desperate communities overseas, I find it incredibly hard to justify how disposable we can be in our Western world, and the damage our consumer habits cause. I am also the first to put my hand up and say I too am guilty of buying, using and discarding without much thought to the impact of my habits.
So, as we renovated, decluttered and reorganised our home, I tried to quiet my inner conflict – between my desire to reinvent my space with new things and my guilt at being a disposable consumer – by making an effort to use my own and online networks to buy, swap and sell stuff.
The challenge to find things second hand quickly became addictive, and very satisfying. It got me wondering if I could extend the challenge past a kitchen and home makeover, and maybe continue second-hand shopping as a general consumer rule? With so much stuff already available, could I step off the demand side of the merry-go-round that peddles the supply of new stuff and by doing so, could I help (in a small way) save more stuff from going to landfill?
I admit I’m not sure yet that I could go completely minimalist or go a year without buying anything (my absolute respect goes to Michelle McGagh who inspired me with her ‘No Spend Year’ – a fantastic read that in keeping with the theme, I borrowed from the library). But maybe for one year, I can try only buying second hand.
Thinking about this has already thrown up a bucket load of questions in my own mind. Taking a leaf out of Dave Bruno’s ‘100 Thing Challenge’, I’ve realised I need to think about when I will start my challenge, and decide on its parameters. For example, will I allow myself to buy certain categories new like food, hygiene and cleaning products? And what about stuff I need to run Declutter Life? I live with two other adults, so do I limit the challenge only to what I consume, or extend it to common items? If so, what?
I need to give a little more thought to all these questions. But as a means of accountability, I have decided to share my journey with you. Maybe you have some ideas or are willing to offer me suggestions. I can’t promise I will do everything suggested, but I would love to try.
I am not doing this challenge or sharing it with you as a judgement on your choices, but rather on mine. Who knows what will happen or if I will even succeed? I just know I want to try. So, thank you in advance for being here.
Now, first question – what are the rules?
The No New Year Rules
When I decided to go a year without buying new things, I’ll be honest, I was initially thinking of the big ticket items I normally sourced second hand or could probably do without. But, as I shared my idea with family and friends (with, I’ll admit, a little smugness), I became increasingly aware of everything I actually buy and use and my excitement (and smugness) quickly turned into panic. Would my No New Year challenge have to include everything I buy new?
Having read Dave Bruno’s, ‘100 Thing Challenge’, I knew I needed some rules if I was going to stick to and ultimately succeed in my quest to avoid buying new. Like Dave, I had more questions than answers as I embarked on defining some parameters for my challenge: What about my household cleaning products, anything in my fridge, my must-have safety and hygiene products and even my guilty indulgences? Then there’s the stuff used by everyone in my home – was it fair to expect my family to take up the challenge too? Should I accept new things that I am given as gifts? And, what about the stuff I need for my business? My head was spinning! To help my overcome my sense of overwhelm, I decided to split the things I would normally buy or use into five categories:
- Consumable items: Anything I ingest or apply on my or my pet to stay safe and healthy (such as food, beverages, household cleaning products, personal cleaning, hygiene or beauty products, pet cleaning products, first aid, medications and health supplements).
- Non-consumable items: Anything else I wear or use to stay safe, healthy and happy (such as clothes, furniture, entertainment, accessories).
- Business items: Anything I use to promote and implement my services (such as stationery, technology, organising tools, safety equipment and transport).
- Communal items: Anything that is used by me and other members of my household to stay safe and enjoy our environment (such as furniture and homewares, electricals, gardening equipment, composting and vehicles).
- Gifts: Anything I buy for others or receive to celebrate an occasion.
I then asked my family, friends and supporters what rules I should apply for the NNY challenge for each category. Here is some advice they gave…
“Don’t buy anything if you already have one at home that isn’t finished yet. For example, it’s too easy to buy hair care and moisturises before the others are finished and then you end up with a cupboard full of bottles”
“I would never buy undies, socks and toothbrushes if they weren’t brand new”
“You could try buying vouchers for experiences when buying gifts for others”
I also asked Mum, who I live with, given this had the potential to impact her and Dad as well, Mum is amazingly supportive of my challenge, but hinted that she is not yet ready for her and Dad to embrace the challenge for themselves, and I love them for it.
So, with all that in mind, I decided on the following rules for items I use, items I share and items I give (and receive) as gifts:
Items I use
- First do without.
- If I can’t do without, source secondhand or borrow.
- If I can’t do without or source secondhand or borrow, buy or make ethically-sourced products that leave zero/minimum waste.
Items I share
- Ask those I live with if we can’t do without, if we can source secondhand or borrow, or buy or make what we need from ethically-sourced products that leave zero/minimum waste.
- Respect their decisions without judgement.
Items I give (and receive) as gifts
- Give to others or ask for myself, experiences to enjoy rather than to have, regift quality and meaningful items, or source gifts that are ethically-made and leave zero/minimum waste.
Let the challenge begin!
So now the rules are sorted, it’s on with the challenge! I am not doing this challenge or sharing it with you as a judgement on your choices, but rather on mine. Who knows what will happen or if I will even succeed? I just know I want to try. So, thank you in advance for being here.
Got some suggestions? Email me.
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My wardrobe grew with four extra tops in January – a bottle green top to add to my collection of staples, a brand new labelled tee donated as a sample to Red Cross and a wonderful white cotton shirt were all added to my collection as well. Even though it is second hand, great quality and fits perfectly doesn’t necessarily mean I need it. Must remember Rule One, go without!
Found another designer label white top that someone donated to Vinnies. Just what I was after for work!
Picked up these accessories from Vinnies to top off the outfit I wore to the Arnotts Foundation Gala Ball.
Visited Reverse Garbage at Marrickville and picked up this brand new backpack from an organisation that must have had excess stock from a summit they hosted. Fantastic that they donated rather than send to landfill. Even more fantastic that I found it as my backpack was on its last legs!
A week in and my washing powder has finished. Instead of replenishing with another supermarket bought powder, true to my rules, I am trying this environmentally-friendly, minimal waste product instead – the soap nut. Will tell you how it goes!
Tips for gifts
Visit your local Vinnies or Charity Shop soon after Christmas to pick up a never-opened gift donated. I found this beautiful box set below with candle, soap and hand cream to go into my present box. The hip flask gift box is perfect from my nephew who was looking for one the week before I found this!
Restore an old and precious photo. I restored and enlarged this photo of my Aunt Josephine and gave it to her daughter, my cousin Laura for her 30th birthday. Both were chuffed!
Other ideas – Car wash and restaurant vouchers are other no new gift ideas I offered as inspiration to friends and family.
Is someone close to you having a baby? We bought a friend a voucher to visit her local beautician for some pampering before the baby arrives.
With a little help from Ben, we cut and drilled holes into left over PVC pipes to make underground worm farms. Saving the pipes and also food scraps from landfill!
I’m always up for a challenge, but find it more motivating and fun when I share the experience.
Want to find out how I’m going, get some inspiration and share your ideas?