My Buy Nothing Challenge

“Buy nothing. Give freely. Share creatively.” These are the corner stones of the Buy Nothing Project, founded in Washington (the state) by two friends, Rebecca and Liesl (Buy Nothing Project, n.d.)*. I’m interested in reducing waste and other green goings on, so when this project came across my radar, it piqued my interest because it’s such a simple concept.

When I originally wanted to be involved in the Buy Nothing Project, I couldn’t find a Facebook group for my city, which meant I wasn’t able to join because part of the premise is a hyper local gifting economy. Until I found the BuyNothing7 Challenge, I thought I was SOL for getting involved. Since then, I have found a local group to me and have been participating almost daily.

Back to the 7 day challenge. It was an interesting concept. Spend no money, except on essentials for 7 days. That part can be simple, especially in these pandemic times, but then comes the challenge part; each day there is a specific “todo” to really get involved in the gift economy. So knowing there was a new challenge every day, I decided to put this challenge off until after classes started. Then until after midterms ended. Then “maybe after the reading break” and I realized I just had to commit and make myself accountable for my own BuyNothing7.

Day 1, BuyNothing7; Give

The first task in BuyNothing7 is to give. You’re asked to “Pick a closet, drawer, or room and clean it out! But first take a before picture in advance of your clean-out. Place in a box the things you no longer need.” Then essentially give away those things.

Giving comes easily to me; not so easily? Giving away things of mine. I grew up poor, for a lack of a better word, and I early on became uniquely attached to my things. I also am a bit of a… collector. If I think something may have a use, I have a hard time getting rid of it. This is something I’m working very hard to amend but I have collected literally every tin that we have gotten from my daughter’s formula and not given them away because “I can use these!”. I am still unwilling to give up those tins, but there are pleanty of other things which I can part with.

I started off this day’s challenge fulfilling a gift to someone in my local BuyNothing group who has been looking for milk jugs for their winter garden. They’ve started to collect now for next winter. I have all the clean milk jugs that I can use for my own winter sowing, so I’ve been collecting these 4L jugs for this person that I don’t even know for a few weeks now and I just remembered that my collection has grown enough now that I can tell her to come and pick them up.

But that isn’t explicitly the challenge. Sure, I gave, but I had already set that all aside and it felt a little like cheating, especially as I hadn’t cleaned anything. It took me about 30 minutes to decide to clean my sewing desk.

Before I cleaned up my sewing desk
After the big clean. There’s still a little bit of crap hanging around, but at least the desk is functional now!

This sewing desk often becomes a junk desk. It sits in our den and because it’s corner lines up with the corner of the room, we can put things on it that Cecilia (daughter/person) can’t reach. Which means it’s seldomly useable for it’s intended purpose; sewing. I have a matching dress project that I started working on in December that I frankly forgot about that I managed to uncover while cleaning! And now that I’ve cleaned the desk off, I can keep on working on it.

Clowns, man, clowns

As for the gift; I uncovered here a brand new car window sunshade that we never used but my daughter decided to rip out of the packaging. We would likely never use it (clowns creep me out) so I posted it. I also came across my collection on safety eyes (the hard plastic pieces used as eyes for stuffed animals). This pack had some outrageous number of eyes and noses in it, and I needed a few different sizes so I splurged. I will keep on using them, but I realized that there’s no way that I’ll be using them all, so I sent out another offer into the Facebook Buy Nothing world, offering a few pairs to anyone who needed them so they wouldn’t have to go purchase their own extraordinary number.

Day one down, and it was a lot easier than I chalked it up to be. Now for day two.

Day 2, BuyNothing7; Fix

We live in such a wasteful world. I’m sure you can think of something that you owned that when it broke, instead of fixing it, you just tossed it. I can think of a few pairs of pants which ripped where my thighs rub together and instead of fixing them, which I am completely capable of doing, I put them in the “donate” pile. Looking back on this, I can only think of myself as a complete piece of rubbish. Not only was I unwilling to fix them or repurpose them, I gave a pair of pants to a charity who would undoubtedly just toss them as actually fixing them isn’t part of what they do. I put the onus of throwing them away on someone else’s shoulders so that I wouldn’t feel bad about throwing them out myself.

I’m getting off track. The point of this day is to look around at the things in your home which need to be fixed and actually put the time into fixing that thing. And if you don’t know how, it was something that you could approach your local Buy Nothing group for as an ask. And if you had nothing to fix, then offer yourself to your group to perform a service.

I will admit, I had to go grocery shopping today, but as per the BuyNothing7 challenge rules, this is totally okay, as long as I don’t purchase things on impulse, as it’s a need. I got everything on my list and nothing else, except hand soap. It was on my list for weeks and the store was always out when I went, so hand soap wasn’t on this list, but it was on my general list of things that we needed and the store wasn’t out. I also got myself a coffee as a little treat for getting out of bed to grocery shop at 7:30am, which was also something I had planned and is okay as per the rules. I almost cracked to get a super tasty looking cranberry muffin, but I am proud to say that I resisted.

These were obviously sewn on the machine as this tan thread was not broken and was much longer than the space it had come out of. This means that there is a bobbin thread underneath which held this tan thread in-place.
So what I did was come in with some black button thread (which is like extra-strength thread) and replaced the bobbin thread that had broken. I also made sure to put a few extra stiches in on that tan thread, just to increase the longevity a bit further.

For the day specific challenge, I decided to repair my husband’s slippers. As far as projects go, this one was simple, but also sitting on my todo list for far too long. As you can see in the photo, a thread holding the leather sole onto the felted slipper was beginning to unravel. These slippers were given to Jim (husband/man) as a welcome gift from his last employer and he adores them, I guess they’re comfortable, anyway, he had asked me to fix them and I gave him explicit instructions not to wear them until they were fixed so that the fix doesn’t become more difficult. Poor guy keeps complaining about his cold toes, instead of, you know, wearing socks.

This fix took me approximately 15 minutes. I could have done it faster, but I wanted to be careful to ensure the slipper looked as good as it did before and not disrupt the integrity of the original thread, as it is still holding most of the slipper intact.

It’s pretty obvious why this is a challenge in the BuyNothing7, because it encourages a fix culture rather than one of waste where you throw a thing away when it becomes dysfunctional, and replace it. Obviously, on some level, there are a lot of aspects about the Buy Nothing culture that I agree with which is why I decided to do this challenge in the first place, but analyzing each challenge as I am doing here really helps to drive the point home.

I love showing off the things I’ve made, like this awesome little derpy heart stuffie that I made for my best friend’s kid before he had heart surgery.

As a quick update on day one as well is that in offering safety eyes to other people in my buy nothing group, I’ve made a friend (kind of) who is coming to pick up some eyes from me, but who has started a conversation with me and is sharing resources for her crochet and is marveling at my work.

Day 3, BuyNothing7; Resources

For day 3, we are encouraged to share resources with others. Whether this is sharing a handy life hack or linking out to a list of 50 things that you never need to buy again. For this task I decided to write a blog post dedicated to sharing some of my favorite frugal garden “hacks” which you should totally check out if you’re as cheap as I am. I decided that not only could I share some awesome Buy Nothing resources, I could also create a Buy Nothing resource.

The blog post didn’t take me long to write, maybe 2 hours total with formatting and inserting images, and what it made me do is reach out to a local gardening community (on Facebook of course) and ask them what their favourite frugal “hacks” are. I had a fair number on my own, but there were a few I was having troubles with remembering (like taking cuttings off of another plant to grow a new plant) that served as a refresher. There were also some new ideas for me, and it created a really important discussion in that group. In a way, this challenge is bringing out some social opportunities.

Day 4, BuyNothing7; Needs vs Wants

This day’s challenge was mostly about inner reflection. There’s a fine line between needs and wants, and that line shouldn’t matter. When you’re taking the time to do the BuyNothing7, there’s no reason you shouldn’t have both your needs AND wants fulfilled.

I took probably only 30 minutes to think about needs vs wants today and I think I have a hard time driving a line because it really depends on my mood if something is a need or a want. For example, we recently bought a brand new BBQ, for cooking up the cow we have in the freezer and to get more use out of our deck and to enjoy another cooking method. The BBQ is a want, but its also a need if we think about the type of lifestyle we want for our family. I want the “eat outdoors” lifestyle in the summer, I need to eat something that wasn’t heated up on my stove, I NEED a hotdog off the BBQ because I am not allowed to have a fire in my backyard. There are a lot of wants and needs all rolled into one item, which is where I feel it gets a little convoluted.

Sure, we can look at whoever’s hierarchy of needs (I’m not going to name drop because it was totally stolen from Indigenous peoples and I am not here for that) and state what my overarching needs are, because they are the same as every other living human. But what about food. Food is a need, but I don’t need dried pasta, I could make it myself. The need comes into play when you evaluate what your time is worth and do a cost analysis. I can make pasta (and I do sometimes) but it’s not a sustainable thing for me to be doing. I also don’t need pasta period, I could survive on just produce, but again what kind of quality of life would I have? (I’m not saying people who eat strictly vegetables have a low quality of life, just that it would create a less than desirable quality of life for myself).

While it’s important to distinguish needs vs wants, it’s also imperative to evaluate your wants on a scale. We’re going to need a new car soon. I want a new car soon. Both of these are true. When we buy a car, I have two lists. I have a list of needs: I need to be able to strap two car seats in. I need something hybrid or electric if we’re buying new. I need to have something with a fair amount of space so that I can shove work things in. I also have some wants: I want it to have towing capabilities. I want it to be a manual (which is not happening with an electric car). I want seats that fold down flat. I want a trunk that open by me pressing my foot under the bumper. There are a lot of things I want, but I realize that all my wants are not realistic. But having one or two of my wants will bring me some joy, which makes at least one of my wants a need.

I feel my writing is starting to get too introspective now. I’m going to move one. The point is, I spent some time with my needs and wants.

Day 5, BuyNothing7; Sustainable 24

Think about what you’re spending money on that maybe you don’t even realize that you’re spending money on in these 7 days. Your lights are on, you’re probably not freezing or boiling hot, because of the silent things we spend money on. So in this 24 hour period, we’re asked to consider what we’re spending money on and how we can reduce that cost. Often when we spend money we’re also impacting our environment in some way, so reducing these regular costs can help to reduce our ecofootprint. The main take away is “spend less, conserve more.”

Some of the expenses I found we were silently paying for:

  • Disney+
  • Spottify
  • Microsoft programs (word, excel, etc)
  • Client management software
  • Timeline creation software
  • Website hosting
  • Domain names
  • Website security
  • Hydro
  • Fortis (natural gas)
  • City utilities
  • Diapers
  • Telus
  • Banking fees
  • Insurance (home, car, life)
  • Property tax

Obviously, there’s not a lot we can do about a number of these expenses (if we stopped paying our home insurance, we would be in violation of our mortgage agreement and could seriously effect all sorts of things), but there are a lot of things here that we could trim down.

We had already decided to cut out Netflix and cable; we pay for Disney+ still because we find it’s the best platform for us. When we cut cable, we had to keep internet (working from home also means we have to have like the biggest internet package) so we minimized that cost a bunch (by like $100/month… why IS cable so expensive?) back in September and can’t move much from there.

And my plant budget can come way down because I’m propagating my very own babies in class!

I realized that I didn’t need to continue paying for Microsoft office as part of my tuition includes the Microsoft suite, so I’ll be getting rid of my subscription and using the “free” one through school. I can’t do much about my client management system for wedding planning, nor the timeline software. Once I understand better how my wedding planning business is going to function post pandemic, I might downgrade that to a lower package.

On day 5 I also signed up for Chip Drop which provided me with 5 yard of fresh wood chips, free, from an arborist doing a local job, which means they waste less gas and less dump fees. This allows me to spend less money on my garden and also allows me the opportunity to make it social by offering wood chips to my gardening neighbors, as there is no way I’m using all 5 yards.

Website hosting is pretty pricey, and we own at least one domain name we don’t use, so I’m going to attempt to sell that name, and if I want to pay less for site security I won’t have a funtional website for my business. What I am going to try to do is convert that website to a new hosting platform and cut out security entirely. I may have to pay a bit upfront for a transfer and my SEO may suffer, but $1200/year is a bit steep for a business that may not survive much past the pandemic.

Hydro is our electricity, and we suck up A LOT, especially now that we’re home all the time. I have retrofitted a number of our light switches to smart switches to lights turn off on schedule (and I’ve turned off the auto on, so we have to need the light to turn on). I also have a lot of things plugged into power bars and I turn off the power bars when I don’t need the items on, which is going a long way. What I think I might do, further, is install smart outlets/switches to things like the TV so that we can have the TV essentially not plugged in at night, but I have to make sure that’s safe for something like my husband’s PS4 first.

With Fortis (natural gas) there’s a limited number of things we can do; we use natural gas for all our cooking and heating, and we have a smart thermostat for our furnace so we’re able to control consumption that way (which is awesome). We will be eventually installing outdoor gas lines for our BBQ and a fireplace we hope to get in the next few years.

With banking fees, I realized that I didn’t need to have all the accounts open that I have, so I’ve decided to close at least one of them and have added a monthly reminder to my phone to pay off my visa so that I don’t incur fees there. I’ve also made an appointment with my bank to re-open my TFSA and start putting money in there monthly.

Another thing, not listed, is taxes. I am SO bad about doing taxes on time, so this year I have a goal to do my taxes before the deadline so that I don’t occur any weird fees for late payments or anything like that.

Though I do worry, what boxes will she play in if we stop buying diapers!?

The last thing to touch on here is diapers. It is my hope that I have purchased my last box of diapers. Cecilia is slowly being potty trained and if I can cut out diapers that is $30/month that I can save!

Day 6, BuyNothing7; Make It Social

This one is hard to do in a pandemic, but not impossible. Make your Buy Nothing journey a social goal and do things with others to encourage that attitude. The more people in your life who are involved in a gifting economy, the better your experience.

While a gifting economy isn’t synonymous with sustainability, I can say with confidence, when you involve your friends and family in a project like this, you get to live more sustainably.

In the past I’ve hosted clothing exchanges with a small group of women where we all come together after emptying out our closets of the things we don’t wear any more or that are too small, but when I got pregnant it stopped happening then this whole nonsense about some sort of pandemic came up and we just haven’t been able to come together to do this great event again.

Our food prep days are some of my favourite days; I even have a blog post about my most recent one!

Another social thing I’ve done in the past have been my salsa days. A group of us meet up at one place and together we make GALLONS of salsa and we all split the cost and get to go home with some yummy jars that last us a few months.

So while there are a lot of social things we can’t do, I am very much looking forward to the things that we can do. Once restrictions are lifted a bit and we can reintroduce our small group bubbles, I will be having another salsa day. I will also 100% be inviting people to do pickles with me again this year.

I am also working on making a little “produce stand” for my front yard where I can share with my neighbors the excess food from my garden.

The social thing that I decided to do was to bring the conversation to my small group of friends and invite them to contribute sustainable actions that they get to take. It wasn’t much, but it made me happy. Also we’re going to go visit the bird sanctuary tomorrow (3 of us and two kids; we’re keeping our distance and arriving separately) and while it’s not free, it is low cost and a group activity.

Day 7, BuyNothing7; Make a Habit

There is absolutely scientific proof that to make a habit, something needs to be done for at least 21 days, so the 7th challenge is to embrace the challenge for another 23 days; each of those days including even more challenges. And if you decide that the challenge isn’t something you need to continue to do, you’re asked to do two exercises:

  1. “take a moment to reflect on what you’ve learned or a behavior or trait about your buying that you’ve discovered and share it” as a gratitude post.
  2. “take a look at some of these behavioral changes that many of us have taken on over the past few years, to curb buying and spark more home-made and home-fixed things. Perhaps you might want to try more DIY-style solutions as alternatives to buying?”

I cannot believe that I am at day 7 already. There were a few times I felt a little weak, up to and including this morning (while admittedly scrolling through Facebook marketplace), where I wanted to make a purchase and instead took a moment, and tried to analyze what I wanted to purchase, why, and if it was worth breaking my challenge and starting all over. I did not break. When I made cookies and decided that the upcycled oven racks that I had been using for cookie cooling racks were not going to do the trick and I decided that I needed a proper cooling rack, instead of ordering it online or going to the store to buy one, I posted the ask on my local Buy Nothing Facebook group.

On the other side of things, when I went to sell some seeds that I had grown the previous year, I also posted some in my Buy Nothing group and I have given away so many seeds for pumpkins, radishes, peas, and cilantro. While I would love to sell some of my packets of seeds, a lot of people are just learning to garden and I think I would’ve been more inclined to experiment with more plants if I had access to free seeds when I was just learning.

For my gratitude post, I shared the following sentiment:

I’ve just finished day 7. I didn’t realize how much of an effort I would need to put in just to not spend money. I thought “I’m frugal, I avoid spending money” which isn’t the full truth. I love a good deal, so I spend. I like to browse my local thrift store and try to find neat little things. I enjoy shopping. But I also enjoy not contributing to more waste in this world, which I’m not always great at. This challenge encouraged me to look into the why of my spending. For the most part, I spend because I have an unhealthy attachment to things. I’m not a hoarder, per say, but I do look at things and think “Oh, this is neat” or “I could probably use that for something”. I’m taking a more careful look at these habits now and am going to try to ask “why” more often. I’m also going to continue to lean on my community before spending money on items. I can see if there’s anyone in my community who might have and no longer need the thing I want. I can make the intentional effort to share with my community the things I no longer have use for; I NEED to be able to identify the things I no longer have use for. Buy Nothing is an attitude, and I am grateful that I have been given the opportunity to explore that attitude.

And for the second part, I don’t know that I will have any trouble incorporating more DIY into my regular life 🙂

Other things I did this week in the buy nothing spirit included:

*I want to note here, I have no copyright or anything with the Buy Nothing Project or BuyNothing7 Challenge, this is merely me writing about my experience doing the BuyNothing7 Challenge

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