On Nothing New (Again)

In recent years I have grown more keen on making New Year’s resolutions. Though I never take them too seriously, there is something refreshing about setting goals and guidelines for yourself at the start of a new year. For 2014, I’ve taken a stab at creating some resolutions that I can take a bit more seriously, things that will improve my general well-being and happiness, others that help me adhere to ethical guidelines, plus some goals that will help me achieve larger bucket list items, all of which are outlined in ways that are both achievable and relatively practical. Listing these on my calendar in the form of a to-do list will hopefully serve as a daily reminder of how I want to live my life and how I should be spending my time, money, thoughts, and energy in 2014.

The resolution about which I am most excited, however, involves abstaining from something for moral reasons, rather than doing or creating something. I’m aiming to make no new purchases in the coming year. No brand new clothes, nothing new in the home goods department, and certainly no shoes, purses, or other accessories either. I’ve tried my hand at such a challenge before with some positive results. But then something comes along that I absolutely need – my old winter jacket falls apart at the seams, a change in my employment requires a change in my wardrobe – and renders most of my efforts completely moot (last year I think I made it about 6 months until something needed buying, then I adhered to it intermittently thereafter). A domino effect comes into play after that first purchase as I allow myself to write off subsequent buys with less and less explanation or thought until I’ve abandoned the challenge altogether. And that is exactly what I hope will not happen this time around.

I recently realized that I have reached a level of satiety regarding my belongings. Everything decorative in my home has it’s place and I rarely find myself in need of a new kitchen gadget or yet another candle (who really needs these things anyway?). And it has been months, if not years, since I rifled through my closet, unable to find absolutely anything fit for a particular occasion, whether casual, formal, or anywhere in between (though my husband will probably argue with me on this one). I admittedly do own more belongings, clothes and otherwise, than I truly need, however this is the fact upon which I know I can successfully fulfill my resolution. There is no way I can make an argument to myself that I need something more, because I have more than enough as is.

Inspired by writers such as Elizabeth Cline, whose revealing book about the clothing industry makes me question why we throw our money away on new and incredibly poorly made clothing, and William Powers, who spent some time living off the land in a 12 foot by 12 foot cabin with no electricity or running water, I realize that my goal is a pretty amateur effort at curbing my own personal case of affluenza, lowering my carbon footprint, and reconnecting with my sense of happiness, creativity, and community. It almost makes me sad to know that, for some people, this challenge is a rather measly attempt to positively improve the world and my life, while for those on the other side of the lifestyle spectrum, this is an absurdly strict rule to which they themselves never could nor would adhere.

But the reasons to give it a shot are myriad and varied, from the environmental toll of material production and consumption to the financial strain it places on us when we believe we are constantly in need of more things, not to mention the emotional and social burdens incurred by using material goods to find happiness. The clothes mass-produced today are oftentimes as good as rags, made of such inferior quality compared to the clothing of old as to be practically disposable – one wear and they’re pilled, torn, ill-fitting, and snagged. The people who make them are, more often than not, subsisting on below living wages in a third world nation. And the stores that sell them often belong to corporations where CEOs make unheard of sums of money while providing measly hourly wages and few essential benefits to their hardworking employees that serve as the face of the brand.

Maybe this resolution is not so much about abstaining from consumption, as it is about giving what I buy much greater thought. Because when I do think about it more deeply – about the implications of each individual purchase, about how every time I go to checkout I find it the tiniest bit easier to justify the next purchase and then the next, about whether the ticketed price of a product has any connection to its true value and worth, about the real reason I feel compelled to go to the mall or browse the racks at Marshall’s – I realize that I often don’t truly want to buy anything. What I seek on a more essential level may range from a cure for loneliness to a cure for boredom, from a desire to craft a specific material identity to a simple need to be out of the house. Whatever the motivating factor, there are always alternative ways to find a cure that are more fruitful and productive and have less negative repercussions. Then if I find that what I thought I so desperately needed is still lingering in my mind, I can find a secondhand store or a traditional craftsperson to procure it from. Armed with more knowledge than I’ve had in the past and the recurring experience of material satiety, my commitment to (and excitement about) this goal is, I believe, stronger and more realistic than it was in the past. My commitment to finding happiness in non-material goods is more solid than ever – and arguably the true purpose behind the nothing new resolution.

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