Editor’s note 1/4/16: Four years ago, Sightline’s strategic communications guru, Anna Fahey, took up a particularly inspiring New Year’s Resolution. She blogged about it all year long in the series My Year of Nothing New. Read how it all got started below, and share your own sustainability resolution with us in the comments if you feel so inspired!
‘Tis the season to swear off bad habits and become a better person once and for all—yep, time for New Year’s resolutions.
I usually don’t bother with this annual ritual. I gave up becoming a better person long ago! But this year, I do have a resolution—a pretty ambitious one—and I figure if I blog about it, my chances for success might go up.
To clarify, it doesn’t mean we won’t buy anything at all, but when we do need something, we’ll try to find it used. When we can, we’ll borrow or rent. Of course we’ll buy our food new and we will make an exception for some essentials like toiletries and medicine—and underwear. The idea is to be more conscious and thoughtful about the things we do buy. Progress, not necessarily perfection.
I’m excited about this experiment. I see it as a triple bottom line approach. In a year of widespread belt-tightening, focusing on people,the planet and profits—or in this case our pocketbooks—makes just as much sense for families as it does for businesses.
I feel extremely lucky; my family has everything we need and then some. More stuff doesn’t mean more happiness, but we still fall into the consumerist trap—especially as parents. But stuff also diverts us from what’s important and can even bog us down—just ask my husband about our basement storage space filled with my boxes.
Plus, it’s time to begin instilling important values—like moderation, thrift, resourcefulness, creativity, sharing—in our toddler whose favorite words right now include “mine,” “toy,” and—shockingly—“buy.”
So, this year we’ll try to trade in our waste, clutter, and material impulses for more time and resources we can focus on experiences with friends and family and on our health.
For all my talk, I’m not the vision of green virtue that I’d like to be. I also don’t delude myself that individual behavior changes are going to be enough to combat climate change or many other environmental threats. (Let’s face it, there are habits none of us can kick alone, like “stop killing people for oil“—see Terry Tamminen’s awesome Top 5 Resolutions list at Grist). But that’s not a good reason to do nothing. Individual actions are definitely part of the solution—materially and symbolically. So, while Sightline and others work toward policy that puts a real price on pollution, a simple, straightforward way I can take control over my own carbon footprint is buying less.
In our family, we’ve already made a commitment to eat less meat—a big greenhouse gas producer, but it’s easy to forget that stuff we buy takes surprising amounts of energy to produce too.
There’s another side effect I’m looking forward to as well. Talking to my friends and family about climate change and other issues that I focus on everyday in my work isn’t always easy—even for a communications strategist! Taking on this personal, concrete challenge may lead to more productive ways to share my own commitment to the policy changes that will help us protect the things we truly love.
In a way, I’m thinking of this as Occupy My Wallet. Adbusters calls Buy Nothing Day (an alternative to the traditional holiday shopping frenzy on the day after Thanksgiving), a “fast from hyper consumerism.” It’s a political statement that appeals to me, but my motivations here are admittedly more selfish. This is a way to keep money in my wallet. I’m curious to see how much money my family might save and whether we will emerge with an altered relationship to things—both the stuff we think we want and the stuff we already have.
So, that’s the plan for our “year of nothing new.” Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. We’re taking that old mantra more seriously. But even with the advantage that I actually like garage sales and thrift store shopping (I know some people don’t share that joy), I don’t think this will be easy. I’ll report back periodically to let you know how it’s going.
On day four I can say that a nasty winter cold has kept me at home and away from any real buying temptations (but there’s always online shopping!). But a new awareness is already emerging. It’s been surprising to note that at least once a day I think of something I think I want to buy—but so far, on reflection, it hasn’t been anything I really need.
Please let me know if you’ve done something like this before and have some advice or if you’d like to join me in solidarity! And happy New Year.