The Year of No New Things

The Year of No New Things

When my sister and I were young–and let’s face it, this tradition lasted long past we could call ourselves that—our mom would show off her cunning side with our yearly Easter egg hunt. It was normally too cold to hide eggs outside like they do with great fanfare at the White House, or better in Steel Magnolias,  but still our inside competitions were fiercesome ones. Bright plastic eggs literally stuffed with candy would find their way into couch cushions and utensil drawers, behind potted plants and inside stacks of bowls. Just when we thought we’d found all the hiding places possible, Mom would throw us a curve ball and exploit some new nook, and inevitably that egg would remain hidden until sometime in July, the candy inside half melted but still good.

During this harmless childhood fun a key difference between me and my sister became clear. She is a born hunter, whereas I am a proud gatherer. While I took my time being scrupulous in checking every square inch of the dining room, she’d have buzzed through the whole house and filled her basket with eggs. My dad would keep score like a game show host: Another find for the little one! You better pick it up, Jen. Once she found more than twice as many as i did, and although I was fine with it Mom insisted that we equalize our loot. Sister was not fine with it, and most of the day she’d note whenever I took a piece of candy that it was probably hers, not mine.

Where I live is something like that Easter egg hunt, times a million. My city is the epitome of our dog-eating-dog, rat racing culture, where introducing yourself is more like reading off your resume. We are all hungry for what everyone else has, and we’re pretty good at stalking each other down to get the first pounce. Being a gatherer in a hunter’s world isn’t so easy, and for a long time I didn’t want to acknowledge why I might feel so tired all the time by just existing here.

Competing with others for resources that we all have an inherent right to isn’t in my nature; I prefer to find my own treasures, using intuition and the kind of sight that comes from repeated observation. Competing with myself, however, is a whole different story. Gretchen Rubin offers a wonderful breakdown of personality types in her book The Four Tendencies, and I wasn’t surprised to see all my traits align with the category of “Upholder.” Living by self-imposed rules—whether it be not eating animal products or practicing yoga four times a week—is my superpower. Most of the time they are healthy ones that challenge me to do better in a way that no external pressure could. It’s why I’m dangerously good at cleanses; a promise to myself is one that I’m not inclined to break, especially when it’s motivated by a personal virtue like ensuring the best life on our planet for the current generations living here, let alone future ones.

Trying to compete with all the forces that are destroying our home is a game I felt I was fast losing. No matter how far I traveled to avoid the pollution and packaging of shipping goods I could buy online, no matter how many times I remembered my reusable tote at the grocery story, trying to reverse the balance of supply and demand for sustainable products left me exhausted. Until I realized I could channel my special breed of hunter for good. In this city where it’s near impossible to avoid something plastic or polluting, I’ve decided to go cold turkey, as my upholding-self naturally would.

As of March 19, 2018, the day I bought three books from Book Culture on Columbus, I pledge a Year of No New Things.

The idea is not one I can take credit for. Lauren Singer, founder of Trash is for Tossers, was one of the instigators of the Zero Waste movement with her famous year of trash that fit in a mason jar. A blog post of hers inspired me to commit more fully to buying fewer new things. Why stop at fewer, though? The self-competitor in me dared me to up my game, and I wasn’t about to let Me beat Me.

In a way this challenge isn’t so much challenging as I buy very few non-essentials anyway. It’s a real splurge for me to buy new clothes or accessories since I hate shopping, IRL or online. Plus, my small apartment puts an external limit on just how much I can own without being swallowed by things. Still, I realized I would need something new eventually, so my rules/exceptions are:

  • Bathroom and skin care/health products
  • Intimate clothing (underwear, socks, tights)
  • Food and drink (no plastic or paper drink containers; minimal packaging otherwise; organic and local whenever possible)

This puts clothes, shoes, bags, jewelry, makeup, books (which I suspect will be the hardest), and housewares/tools/decorations in the no-fly zone.

Should I need to buy something prohibited, it must be organic and made in the US (preferably local). There is also an exception within the exception, wherein topical beauty and health products can be store-bought only if the cost of ingredients to make them is more than the item itself and won’t otherwise be useable (i.e., a jar of coconut oil, which has myriad beauty and food uses beyond the amount called for in a specific skin care or body oil recipe).

To kick myself off, I’ve already done a big closet purge of unnecessary goods, turning to my NYC Greenmarket textile recycling and the online reselling platform Poshmark (follow my closet @jkurdyla). Adina Grigore’s Skin Cleanse has also been a great resource for ways to use everyday, edible products to nourish my body from the outside-in, and I’m excited to try her recipes for toothpaste and dry shampoo as my current supply of these is nearing empty. The founder of cult brand S. W. Basics, Grigore is an advocate for fewer better ingredients in what you put on your skin, a philosophy that reaffirms the idea that there is no difference between who we are on the inside and on the outside. Like our skin, we are permeable and permeate, which means the balance of what we put out must equal what we put in.

By choosing to not take more energy into my space, I suspect a more manageable homeostasis of existing energy will ensue. I won’t need to work so hard to give more than I have, because I’m not taking more than I’ve given. It’s when we forget this need for balance that our hunter-selves wake up, because if we honored that connectivity all the time we’d have no desire to squash it in others.

Already in the first few weeks of no new things, I feel a sense of clearing. The vision of an empty space wherein, as Seamus Heaney writes in “Clearances,” the “heft and hush become a bright nowhere, / A soul ramifying and forever / Silent, beyond silence listened for.”

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