Nothing New for a Year – Spring Update
My last Nothing New for a Year blog came out on February 12, 2017 and was the journal of my first month of buying nothing new for an entire year. Here it is September 1st, and 6 months have passed without a new blog. I was planning on doing a monthly blog about this experience, but that completely got away from me. It’s safe to say I have been overly busy for a good portion of this year.
I am going to catch you up to date in a series of two blogs. This one will include February through May, including three weeks in Florida, six weeks in Costa Rica, and a seven-week speaking tour in Europe. The next blog will document my bicycle ride across the United States. A lot happened in both, so I could easily have split this up into more blogs, but I’ll go with that for the sake of finally catching up.
When I left off with my last blog in January I had made it through the first month without buying anything new. For anyone new to this project, you can read the guidelines of the project in my first blog. Since it’s been a while, I might as well mention that “new”- means brand-new. Anything already used is fine. And when I say nothing new, that doesn’t just mean buying nothing new, it also means receiving nothing in the form of a gift, freebie, etc. This really isn’t about money. It’s about the way we use resources. It’s about our imbalances with stuff. It’s about rethinking all our relationships with material goods. And yes, it is about reducing my dependency on money.
So, let’s start with February. I was in Orlando, Florida, and had just gotten back from a beautiful week and a half of camping on the islands near New Smyrna beach with a used canoe that Cheryl and I had purchased on Craigslist and then resold when we were done with it. In Orlando I spent a large portion of my time catching up on projects, organizing my European tour, organizing my upcoming bike ride across the USA, and working on a food waste investigation.
I purchased a few new items in February, and one was some used earplugs on eBay. Now when I say “used”, I don’t mean they were in somebody’s ears already. These were in a damaged package that wasn’t being sold at retail.
I also bought an adapter for the lens of my iPod camera for producing videos. I had tried to be crafty and make my own adapter, but I wasn’t quite able to pull it off. This little thing was quite the specialty piece too, so it wasn’t like I could find it easily on Craigslist or a website of that sort. So, I contacted the company to ask if they had any used ones and they sent me a returned one that they wouldn’t sell.
I bought some used iPod charging cords on eBay. I meant to buy one, but it came as 3 instead. I’ve probably broken 5 or 10 of these in the last 5 years. They are such an incredibly unsustainable product and one of the reasons I would like to move completely away from electronics. They are also needing to be upgraded because of planned obsolesce. I’m glad I’m at least past the perceived obsolescence trap though.
In January, I found thrown-out toothbrushes in a CVS dumpster. They were tossed out because the package was damaged. The brushes were never used and they were in perfect condition. I had solved my problem of toothbrushes for at least 6 months.
That’s what I thought, at least. Those brushes just weren’t feeling good for me. I’m not picky about many things, but I am particular about my toothbrush. Plus, I didn’t really want to represent disposable plastic brushes. So I contacted a bamboo toothbrush company and asked if they had any that they couldn’t sell that might go to waste. They said yes, and happily sent me their prototypes that were sitting around. That was great because now I could brush with an ecofriendly and nontoxic (for the environment and me) bamboo brush. When I’m done using them, I can use the bamboo for firewood or compost it. The bristles can be recycled in some places, but they will likely go to the landfill.
I also got a soap bottle and some soap. I use very little soap, so a little lasts me a very long time. This little company called Fillaree had reached out to me about possibly featuring them or sending me some product. I happened to need a little glass bottle because my plastic Dr. Bronner’s one that I’d used for a couple of years had broken. They sent me a used bottle I can refill over and over and use for years to come. The soap is 100% biodegradable, which means that the water can be used to grow food or just to water plants. And the soap has a wonderful natural lavender smell to it that brightens up my day. Most soaps are made from a long list of chemical ingredients, but this one is plant-based and much more earth friendly. Check out Fillaree to learn more about refilling your own soap bottle and using soap that’s better for you and the planet!
On February 20th, I flew down to Costa Rica to speak at Envision Festival and to take a month and a half to learn a lot about growing food and sustainable living, as well as finally catching up on real rest, which I had yet to do since Trash Me in New York City in September and October. I made it the whole month of March without buying any items at all. I gave a talk and 2 workshops at Envision Festival. The workshops were “How to Become an Environmental Activist and Make a Big Impact” and “Minimalism, Simple Living and Sustainable Traveling.”
Costa Rica was a great experience. I covered this in previous blogs, but to refresh you, my nothing new for a year does not mean I can’t eat new food. I could go a year of only dumpster diving and in effect not eat any “new food,” but I feel I’ve already proven that point enough times of how much food is going to waste and don’t need to focus on it. Down here I ate a lot of really fresh food straight from the land. Here’s one of our garden harvests from one of Stephen Brooks gardens:
I’ve found that I don’t need to buy stuff or have a lot of stuff to live a very satisfying life. In fact, I do believe that’s one reason that people buy so much stuff: to find purpose in life. To feel meaningful. To fill time. To get a rush. I’ve felt that in the past. I can relate and understand. But I’m happy to have ascended beyond that to a great extent. New things can still really excite me, but I sure don’t let it get the best of me too often. Instead, I find excitement in many things far greater than shopping. Nature provides me with so much, without taking anything from anyone else or causing any form of inequality. Check out this cashew fruit. This provided me joy for a while, then I ate it and returned the scraps to the earth.
While in Costa Rica, I made the time to sew up all my items that had holes and tears in them. My backpack was one of those items. Repairing items is one of the basic necessities to not have to buy anything new.
On March 31st, I left the peace of Costa Rica for what I was sure would be a very busy tour in Europe. Over 7 weeks I gave 26 talks in 8 different countries. I visited Ireland, the UK, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, Austria and France.
On day one I needed an adapter to be able to charge my computer. I borrowed my host’s for the time that I was in Dublin. Sharing is one simple way to not need to buy anything new. I didn’t need to own one and she didn’t need it at the time because it was a travel adapter and she wasn’t traveling. So why buy a new one when we could share?
When I was leaving, I asked her if I could borrow it for my whole tour and then mail it back to her from France- she gladly said yes. That was certainly a relief because it would have been a challenge to have to ask in each city that I visited. Now for full transparency, I want to say that I sent it back to her from Paris, but somehow it got lost in the mail. I offered to pay her for it but she refused a few times. I thought this would result in her buying a new one but she said she never really used it and didn’t even need to get another one.
In London, one of the places I spoke at was Farmstand. The owner offered me a nice metal water bottle. I told him that I didn’t need one and that I wasn’t accepting anything new this year. So, he offered me his personal one. I still kindly declined because I was happy with my glass kombucha bottle. The reason is that in the past, I’ve consistently lost any nice water bottle that I’ve had, so I’ve found that to save money and resources it makes sense to just use a glass bottle from buying a kombucha at the store. He insisted about 3 times, so I accepted the bottle. Still, at least it wasn’t new but I figured I’d lose it before leaving Europe. Well, it’s been about four and a half months and I do still have it. One thing I should note is that by giving me his used one, he probably went to the shelf the next day and took a new one. In the big picture that is the exact same thing as him giving me a new one. Because ultimately, a new bottle was needed because of me.
I had planned to put the button back at the end of the event and then forgot. So, I carried it around with me all the way through Europe with the intention of sending it back to them once I got back to the USA. Well, I set it down in New York City and lost it. So, this button became my first new item of the year and it was an accident.
Sometime in the UK, I ran out of my lavender essential oil, which is one of my very few personal hygiene items (see my natural personal hygiene blog). I wanted to buy a new one, but instead left a little at the bottom and filled it with water. That worked well and bought me time until I could figure out how to get some used lavender or find a way to refill my bottle at least- so I didn’t need to get a new bottle.
I also visited some very fitting projects while I was in the UK and made some videos.
In Totnes, I visited this Earth.Food.Love the Zero Waste Shop. It’s a shop that has 100% package-free foods so you can eat without creating any trash. Here’s a video I did on the shop:
Nicola and Richard actually invited me to Totnes and they were the lovely people that hosted my talk there. I’m very humbled to say that I was one of their influences to start this shop!
Some of you may know that my goal this year is to produce 100 positive stories. And if you read my earlier blog, you know that I bought equipment to produce videos. I bought everything used for just a few hundred dollars and have been able to produce a solid number of videos reaching millions of views. It’s nice to see that it’s possible to get good messages out there with very little equipment, without constant upgrades of stuff, and without spending a lot of money.
In Essen, Germany, Europe’s Green Capital of 2017, I met with Mayor Thomas Kufen. I gave him a reusable Klean Kanteen water bottle and he committed to using it to lead by example in showing how we can all create much less waste. That was a brand-new water bottle, which is sort of like I got something new, except I didn’t. That’s a gray area, I guess. You can see the water bottle in my hand that was given to me in London.
Most people who know me know I’m not one for material gifts, but Jenny in Essen, Germany, brought me the most thoughtful one that I had received in a while. She brought me homemade dumpster jam! It was made 100% from ingredients she rescued from grocery store dumpsters including strawberries, raspberries, and even the sugar. And of course, the jar was repurposed as well!
It was very delicious and I was very grateful for Jenny’s thoughtfulness. She proved that day that there are so many ways that we can give to each other without needing to spend money or waste anything.
In Vienna, Austria, there was a really cool catering business called Wastecooking at my talk that served up a delicious meal, made almost completely from food that would have gone to waste. They gave out reusable dishes (with a deposit) and that way they were zero waste too. Sadly, I forgot to give my dish and fork back, so I had to hold onto that. It wasn’t new but it was still something. I know that I used it for a while in Europe but I don’t remember what ended up happening to it. I think I might have left it in a kitchen sink at one of my hosts houses.
In Southern France, I gave a few talks. One was in Perpignan and another was in this tiny little town about an hour away. It was a really heart-touching night, being in the tiny little community and being so well-received. There were around 100 people there in a town of only about 400, or something like that if I recall correctly. There were people that came from nearby villages. It was just a really nice experience. So, because I was feeling emotional, when this one man wanted to give me a shirt, I had such a hard time saying no. So, I accepted it. I did tell him I was not accepting anything new but he (and Emma who spoke fluent English) assured me it had been worn before. He also gave me a bottle of wine. When we got back to Emma’s house, which was this amazing 200+ year-old home in a tiny village in the mountains, I gave her the wine and the shirt. She was going to covertly return the shirt, I think.
In Orleans, France, I ran out of toothpaste. Now, like my toothbrush, I am also very particular about my toothpaste. Basically, I’m particular about my mouth and tooth hygiene. I use Jason Powersmile, which is one of my few consistent purchases and one of my luxuries in life. I could easily find a used tube of toothpaste but I’m not going to use an unnatural toothpaste and I haven’t been able to find a used tube of Jason Powersmile. Now luckily my host Justine in Orleans makes her own toothpaste and she made me some. I didn’t have to buy anything new or waste any packaging. She put it into a used little jar. She saved me! Although fast-forward a week or so and I decided I didn’t really like the toothpaste. When I got back to the USA and met up with Cheryl in NYC she had a tube of Powersmile, which is her favorite too, and I used that while having no luck with finding a partially used tube online. So when it comes to toothpaste I think it’s safe to say that although I didn’t buy a new tube I did use new toothpaste. I’ll continue on that in the next blog though.
Also in Orleans, one of the elementary schools invited me to spend time with the students. We did a little reuse activity where they made all sorts of different art and toys out of used materials and materials from the recycle bin. It was very cute and very nice to see the philosophy of reuse being instilled in the youth.
In Paris, France, I gave my second TEDx talk. This one was called “Be the Change in a Messed-up World”. I was very nervous and had run out of my lavender essential oil, which was a huge bummer because it helps to calm nerves. But wouldn’t you know it, there was a girl there who gave me an essential oil as a gift. I declined because it was new and in a new bottle. But I asked if she had any from bulk and if she could fill my bottle and she did! So, I was able to breathe in the lavender all morning to calm my nerves. I was so thankful to her because it really made a huge difference and helped me give my talk much more smoothly.
My bottle is on the left with the cap off. The bottle she gifted me is on the right.
Here she is filling my bottle:
I knew I set it down on one of the theater chairs but then it disappeared. I searched and searched and couldn’t find it. The next day I went back and did some more searching. I stuffed my hand really deep into one of the seats and found it tucked way into the base of the chair. That was a close call because they almost had to buy a new one to replace it, which would have been the first new purchase.
Also at the talk, Sara Safari gave me a copy of her book. I opened it up and it was already signed to me. I had to very kindly explain that I’m not accepting anything new for the year and give it back. But then I came up with a better alternative. I offered a book giveaway on my Facebook page to help her spread her message and she sent the book to the person who won the giveaway.
Easily one of the most challenging parts of not getting anything new is being comfortable with saying no. Just about everyone I know feels rude saying no to a gift. I totally understand this as I’ve felt it hundreds of times in my 30-year life. But for me, it truly is more important to be able to politely decline and not end up with cupboards and shelves full of stuff that I don’t want or need. Because it really does add up. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with kindly saying that you don’t need something. We must put our priority more on the Earth as a whole, and sometimes that might mean a slightly awkward situation, but once you get used to it and become comfortable, then that comfort is more likely to pass on to the person giving you something. This has been my experience and I wanted to share this for anyone who would like to be able to politely decline things that they don’t need.
When I arrived back in the United States in late May, I was just a few days away from the halfway point and I had successfully still managed to buy or receive nothing new. And I had also managed to refrain from buying or acquiring most anything used too. But then on May 29th, I lost that button, officially breaking my streak. Some people might think I strive for perfection, but the reality is that I don’t. I do set strong tests of my ability and I do come up with exercises to immerse myself in issues. But those are temporary. So, sure, I am not getting anything new for this year. But it’s not for life. It’s for a tiny fraction of my life. My general goal in life is to just do a very good job. And I don’t mean just kidding myself by saying “I’m doing my best,” but being able to believe that when I say it. My message isn’t that we should never buy anything new. This is a bit of an extreme endeavor and it’s to get us to self-reflect on our own actions and question them.
It’s hard to never buy anything new again. Maybe it’s not even really possible. But it’s not so hard to cut out the junky stuff and fill it with a more purposeful and meaningful life.