New Year’s Resolution: Less Stuff

As you might have been able to tell from all the thingless-Christmas posts I recently made, these days I’m working on reducing my material stuff. So I decided to centre my New Years resolutions around becoming conscious of my addiction to stuff and ultimately reducing the amount of stuff I have in my life.

What’s wrong with stuff? Well first of all, stuff takes natural resources and energy to produce. A lot of stuff requires storage facilities (such as book cases) or requires maintenance, both of which cost money. Some stuff-addicted friends of mine have had to move into bigger apartments or houses just so they had more room for their stuff! Bigger houses take more resources to build, maintain, heat, cool, and clean and they cost more to buy or rent. A lot of stuff also takes up space after it’s been “disposed of” in landfills. Plus making, using and disposing of stuff can produce pollution that poisons air, land and waterways. If you want to know more about stuff and how our addiction to it is destroying our planet check-out the short on-line video “The Story of Stuff” with Annie Leonard.

So how am I addressing my own addiction to stuff? First, I’m keeping track of every penny I spend. This stops me from being in denial about how much of my money and energy is going towards stuff and its maintenance. For more on the cost of stuff in your own life and the importance of keeping track of your spending see the simple living classic Your Money or Your Life by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin.

Second, in order to help me reduce the amount of stuff I’m acquiring, I’m bringing a list of questions with me when I go shopping. I have adapted my questions from a great little book called 30 Days to a Simpler Life, by Connie Cox and Chris Evatt (which they used to have at the Ottawa Public Library, but which has mysteriously disappeared from their catalogue).

My own personal list of 10 shopping questions is as follows:

  • Does this purchase meet my values of environmental sustainability and social justice?
  • Will purchasing this object help me to meet my goals?
  • Will it create more work?
  • Will it create more costs?
  • Will it make my life easier?
  • Am I willing to scrap what it is replacing?
  • Do I need it?
  • Would I buy it at full price?
  • Would I buy it if it did not reduce shipping costs for other items?
  • Do I want it because I believe it will make me feel better?

Again, following the sound advice of Connie and Chris, when I have the desire to make a big purchase I am going to wait a month to see if I actually need it or if it was merely a passing impulse.

My final strategy for this year’s resolution is to get rid of stuff that I no longer use which is taking up space in my house.   Again, I have turned to Connie and Chris for tips on how to tackle such a life-simplifying task.  However, my motivation comes from Annie Leonard who cites a U.S. study that found only 1% of the stuff people purchase is still being used 6 months later.  One Percent!

To help me reduce the stuff in my house without increasing the stuff languishing in landfills I’m going to make use of the Ottawa Full Circles community.  Full Circles is an on-line group that helps people get the things  they no longer use to people who need them, thereby reducing purchases of new items and reducing the stuff going to landfill sites.  All for free.

So there you have my new year’s resolution and my plans for carrying through with it.  I’d love to hear other people’s resolutions…

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11 thoughts on “New Year’s Resolution: Less Stuff

  • What a great way to start the new year. I was lucky to receive mostly useful gifts for xmass this year. I am trying to get rid of any old items that have been duplicated by new gifts, one t-shirt in, one t-shirt out. I am also getting rid of things that I simply don’t use. If it’s been around for a year and I haven’t used it, then it’s time to go.

    Next I need to work on giving gifts that are more useful and environmentally friendly.

  • I’m really trying to be aware of where the stuff I am purchasing is from – is there a dollar store where everything is made in Canada vs. China? I found this great little book at Chapters that is made by a publishing house that uses environmentally friendly resources and supports Nepal – will have to find the webiste for you!

  • I’ve been visiting your blog off and on for a while and I just wanted to say you’re amazing –so many great ideas and resolves. I’m a great advocate of reducing our stuff. People’s homes just keep getting bigger and bigger so they can house all their stuff. Stores keep getting bigger and bigger so they can sell more stuff. 40 years ago a grocery story was like 1/6 the size of the average grocery store today. Big box stores and malls didn’t exist. Department stores were the size of the average suburban house. Somehow everyone survived anyway.

  • I didn’t actually make a formal resolution, but the new year always seems to inspire new beginnings for me. One year I started running, this year, I find myself blogging! Perhaps this stems from appreciating the blogging efforts of people like yourself. I’ve decided to chronicle my attempts to grow a garden, to write about the local producers in my area, and the politics that connect eating, living, and sustainability for me.

    Thanks for blogging about green living in Ottawa!

    http://www.hitpaydirt.wordpress.com

  • Here it is: Tushita (www.tushita.com) – you can purchase calendars, books, notebooks and other items.

    Of course as you mentioned the first question should always be – do I really need this!

  • Less stuff is always on my list of resolutions! I really like your list of 10 shopping questions. I usually can’t remember more than a couple, so I tend to ask myself:
    1. Do I need it?
    2. How long can I use it?
    3. Can I recycle it efficiently when I’m done with it?

  • Hi,

    Perhaps you’ve already mentioned this in an earlier blog, but another great way of ‘stuff-transferring’ and recycling is the city’s Take It Back program http://app01.ottawa.ca/takeitback/Welcome.do?lang=en

    I was especially pleased when I found out Computer Recyclers (http://www.computerrecyclersottawa.com/) recycles CDs, cassettes and floppy discs, among other very ‘non-decomposable’ things. Up until then I had been storing boxes full of these electronic disposables because I couldn’t bear the thought of them sitting in a landfill – for probably longer than my lifetime!

    Thanks for posting Full Circles, I’m going to look into it.

  • Not sure if this falls into the theme of “Less Stuff” but for those of you out there who have been renovating and overestimated the amount of material you needed and have the excess sitting around in your basement you can easily get rid of it and help a good cause. You can take it to your local “Habitat for Humanity ReStore”. They are “building supply stores that accept and resell quality new and used building materials” to provide funds for their housing projects. Ottawa has two: East ReStore at 2370 Walkley Rd. Unit 170; and West ReStore at 7 Enterprises Ave. You can find out more at http://www.habitat.ca

  • Hi there!
    My New Year’s resolution is to buy nothing new in 2008, aside from food and basic toiletries, so I was thrilled to read your post and discover another Ottawanian thinking along the same lines. I’m chronicling my year at http://www.unstuff.blogspot.com and I’ve linked your site on mine. Best of luck ‘unstuffing’!
    Amber

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