A few years ago, I went through the worst experience of my life: my father passed away. It was a cancer which took him, and a small part of myself as well. As I reflect on the time proceeding his death, there were so many hard parts. One of the hardest was not being able to mourn in peace.
Nope, in our society you can’t just mourn a person’s loss – you need to work. Not just at your job, but on piles of paperwork, people to notify, and arrangements to be made. Finally, when I thought all of the hard work was over, I had to empty out my father’s apartment.
Little did I know that this would be the bitterest labor yet.
Going through my father’s old things, I felt the loss of my father with each and every item I sorted.
And there was a lot of sorting to do.
It took weeks to clear out the lifetime of possessions in my single father’s small apartment. Weeks to sell, donate, recycle, or throw out the boxes and boxes of kitchenware, clothing, furniture, office materials, and so much more.
I threw away a normal life of accumulation. A life you and I all go through.
Time, money and effort had been heavily invested in getting all of this stuff – only to be disposed of with great difficulty. We are destroying the planet for future generations, all so that we can enjoy a short lifetime full of material possessions that in many cases are hardly used, rarely necessary, and easily forgotten.
I decided that I didn’t want this to be my “normal.”
I embarked on an experiment lasting 200 days where I would try to buy nothing new.
Like many of us making a steady income, I’d never been very disciplined when it came to my purchases. If I could afford it, and even when I couldn’t, I often just thought “why not?” Could I survive 200 days without paying tribute to the Mall?
I did. Excluding groceries, medicine, a pair of rock climbing shoes and basic toiletries, I borrowed and bought secondhand, or simply went without.
Here is what I learned through this experience.
There is already too much stuff in the world. As I toured various thrift stores, online classifieds, Facebook buy/sell groups and the like, I was shocked to see the sheer volume of stuff we humans have already created. Mountains of clothes, tons of furniture, dishes, pans, walking sticks – an ocean of all things imaginable. As all of this stuff is being thrown away, more is being churned out. We don’t need more.
People buy things out of pure compulsion. As I looked to fill my needs through preowned sources, I was blown away by the amount of new items in thrift stores. Items that were unused, complete with price tags and original packaging. Everything from new scented candles to new clothing graced the aisles of secondhand stores. This showed me that the act of buying is often completely disassociated with needing, or even wanting. It just seemed to be like a compulsion that needed to be filled and that was the end of it.
There is an unreasonable stigma against pre-owned. As I blogged about my experience, I got a lot of interesting feedback on the hygienic aspect of my efforts. Many felt that buying clothing, furniture, and other goods used instead of new was dirty and uncivilized. What a weird mentality! These same people would happily donate their used goods to thrift stores. I guess it’s good enough for the poor – but not for “us.”
There is so much abundance. During my 200 days, I learned that I didn’t need to go to big box stores to buy what I needed – there was plenty in my community. Local thrift stores and classifieds had most of the goods I needed. Our communities have an abundance of stuff and plenty of people willing to give it away at a very low price or for free.
When nothing is new, nothing is expensive. My bank account definitely got a break during these 200 days. Secondhand comes at a delightfully steep discount. I never felt that I compromised on quality, either!
It’s awesome paying a person instead of a corporation. Especially when shopping through classifieds, I found that most sellers were honest and helpful. They were normal people just wanting to recoup a portion of their purchase price by selling perfectly usable items. It was refreshing to know that my money would be going directly to someone just like me, instead of a faceless corporation.
I don’t really need most of that stuff. Truth is, some things you simply cannot find preowned. Lots of items, even common ones, are either impossible or impractical to find preowned. When I was forced to not buy them – against my strongest impulses at times – I was surprised how often nothing changed. Not my health, happiness, or inner harmony. I realized that most things are really just “nice-to-haves” – real needs are very limited.
My 200 days was not only an optional experience in sustainable living and minimalism. It was a necessary and transformative journey.
When someone dies, you’re expected to “get past it” and go back to normal. I thought that even worse than losing my father would be if I came out of the experience unchanged.
Instead, I allowed the experience to change me deeply. I’ll never “get past it,” because every day my father’s passing inspires my words, my actions, and my views on life.
I hope that you might allow this post to change you a bit as well. Maybe you’ll pay a visit to a thrift store for your next clothing purchase, or embark on your own 10, 30, or 200 day challenge. At the very least, I hope you’ll just change the way you think when you buy another item.