Living with no more stuff

Read about one family's trials and tribulations as they try to buy only the essentials for 30 days.

By Leslie Garrett

Laying down the rules
It's the response of friends that first raised suspicion that 30 days of consumer celibacy might not be the cakewalk I expect. "Wow," says one friend, almost speechless at the prospect of not buying anything except the essentials for one month. Other responses range from, "Just stock up beforehand," which makes me think she has missed the whole point, to, "Well…I could never do it."

Am I overestimating my family of five's ability to do without for 30 days? Am I crazy to think that, with less stuff, we might be farther along our path to Zen?

We're at the dinner table when I outline "our adventure" to my family. (Mothers are nothing if not spin doctors.) All too familiar with my environmental stance, my family isn't overly surprised by my plan. I regularly write about the environment and am the author of The Virtuous Consumer: Your Essential Shopping Guide for a Better, Kinder, Healthier World (Inner Ocean, 2007). My kids have joined me on TV segments on how families can green their lives. They've also heard me wax on about the environmental cost of our consumption: the resource depletion, the pollution from manufacturing and shipping, and overflowing landfills. But that doesn't mean my husband and three children enthusiastically share my eco-leanings.

Laying down the rules
My husband, Dan, and children listen grudgingly as I outline the guidelines for our month of going off the consumer grid: No purchasing of new items, except for food – aiming only to buy perishables such as milk and fruit – and, if necessary, medicine. "It'll be fun," I say, trying to sound convincing. Apparently my family doesn't think so.

Ten-year-old Sophie and eight-year-old Spencer stare at me, speechless. Six-year-old Charlotte bursts into tears and runs from the room. Bewildered, I look around. My husband remarks that he "has to take clients golfing" or his membership is a waste. (Clever. He knows how I despise waste.) Dan anticipates resistance from me. But under the "rules," I tell him, that's OK. We will still "buy" piano lessons and our weekly yoga classes. It's the DVDs, the toys and the mindless isn't-this-cute- and-oh-it's-on-sale purchases that we're putting the brakes on for 30 days.

Charlotte returns to the table, her cheeks still wet. "What's the problem?" I ask, genuinely baffled.

"I need…" she sniffles, and then takes a deep breath, "stuff!"

Without realizing it, my six-year-old has summed up the catalyst for my desire to embark on this month-long experiment. I hope that we'll all learn to live with less and to spend less. My family, while less enthused than I, concludes that resistance is futile.

Page 1 of 4 -[ Read page two for week one and two of the challenge


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