The buy-nothing-new challenge
It takes discipline to stick to your New Year's resolutions. Just ask the Gabriel family from Okotoks, Alta.
Since last Jan. 1, Jessica and Jaime Gabriel and their three sons - Andrew, 9, Ben, 5, and Will, 3 - have been embarked on a challenge to buy nothing new for a full year. With the exception of food, hygiene and safety products (like new brakes for their truck), almost every material item they've purchased this year has been sourced second-hand.
As their challenge draws to an end, Ms. Gabriel, who has been documenting her family's experience on her blog Nothing New Nothing Wasted, tells The Globe and Mail how they've coped.
What motivated you to do this challenge?
The whole idea of challenging our family to do something was really appealing to me. It was very unifying. The rewards for doing it are all-encompassing. We taught our children about delayed gratification, we taught ourselves about meeting our needs creatively, we cut down on the amount the environment had to pay for us to have the things that we wanted or needed, it cut down on costs.
What were the best resources you found for used items?
There's just so many resources out there. There's Kijiji, there's Freecycle, your friends are wanting to get rid of stuff, and people are constantly upgrading their own stuff, and it's amazing the quality of goods you can get second-hand and not feel like you're living a second-hand life.
And then there's stuff that's in our houses that can be up-cycled into something else. I had some comforters that weren't all that visually appealing to me, so I recovered them with fabric that I had kicking around.
Another thing that my husband did was he got an old dilapidated barbecue from the dump and he cut the legs off of it and made an ice-fishing fireplace out of it. So we've learned to see things in a different light.
Were you ever worried about the risk of bedbugs?
Whatever we did get was washed, and honestly, it didn't even cross our minds. It is also not as huge an issue in our little part of Canada, possibly due to the climate.
How much did you end up spending per month?
Just on used stuff? I'd say around $30 to $40. It could have probably even be less than that, but that just makes up for the months when we had to spend a little bit more....
My in-laws moved in with us from Newfoundland this year. Setting up a bedroom for them and then later on, their own basement suite, I was able to do that for under $100 and that included everything from the bed to the dishes to knick-knacks and whatever.
Your husband slipped early on by buying a fishing magazine. Were there other lapses during the year?
The other night he came home and threw a bundle of socks at me for the boys and as he threw it, he said, "Sorry," because he knew he had bought something new. I just looked at him, like, "What? We're in spitting distance of the end of this thing."
And when my in-laws moved in with us, I did buy a set of sheets and towels and pillows brand-new for them. But at the same time, they're not involved in the challenge, so I'm not going to give them old pillows. Other than that, there's nothing that really stands out.
With all the marketing for toys and games, how do you get your children to resist asking for new things?
I'm kind of teaching them about materialism and marketing and consumerism and things like that, so now they understand a little bit more of the consequences of the toys they want. They might see something that looks really cool, but there's eight pounds of packaging on it or there might be a kid their own age somewhere in the world working in poverty to make it for them.
At your children's ages, how much of that do they really understand?
I think the challenge has helped us in that it allowed us to step back completely from buying so that we were able to have these conversations.
It also drastically cut down on how often we were ever in a store other than a grocery store. So they didn't really see a lot of the new products that came out. I mean, they heard about it from commercials or from their friends or whatever. But before the challenge started, it was at the point where every time we'd come home, the kids would say "What did you buy me? What did you buy me?" Now there's hardly any of that. ...
We also don't have teenagers. We've got little boys and if it's new to them, it doesn't matter if it's new at all.
Would you actually say the challenge was fun?
Yes, it didn't start becoming work until about month nine. The first six months were a breeze, but from nine months till now, it's felt really long. To do it for a year really tests your commitment as well as your perseverance - that's something we learned as well.
Is there anything you're dying to buy once your challenge is over?
Yes. I love scrap-booking and not being able to buy anything new for that was very challenging, especially the Canadian Scrapbooker magazine. That was the one thing that I would have loved to have been able to buy.
Come January, when we can buy new again, it's not like we're going to go out shopping ridiculously. Honestly, the things that I want are like a package of paper doilies from the dollar store.
This interview has been condensed and edited.