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Make It Do: A Year of Buying Only What I Need

“In 2012, I'm not going to buy anything except what I've used up or worn out. For all else, I'll make do with what I already own or I'll do without.”

This was Meg Hourihan’s 2012 New Year’s resolution. She considered making it an experiment for just a couple of months, but realized that would only defer purchases. If she really wanted to experience a new lifestyle, she would have to do it for the full year.

And so her Make It Do project was born. In 2012, Hourihan is living under four guiding principles:

  • Use it up: Only replace things after you use them up (e.g., food, toiletries, makeup).
  • Wear it out: Don't buy new clothes or products unless they fall apart and cannot be mended.
  • Make it do: Live with (and be content with) what you have.
  • Do without: Don't go beyond your means, and borrow things when you need to.

Make no mistake, Hourihan is no reclusive minimalist living in a yurt. She lives in New York City with her husband and two young kids. She spent years as a web entrepreneur, co-founding popular websites such as Blogger. She loves skiing, enjoys cooking, and (as she realized recently) owns about 26 pairs of shoes.

“I’m not comfortable with how easily I spend money and buy things on impulse, simply because I have the luxury to do so. This is a project to see what happens when I use what I have, for a year.”

Hourihan grew up in New England with what she calls an old-time “Yankee-ness” way of life. Her grandparents lived through the Depression and would time her showers and remind her how much it cost to heat water. Her grandmother would even save Hourihan's cereal milk for her to drink with lunch if she didn't finish it at breakfast.

“‘Sustainable’ wasn't the term when I was younger, but it's something I've always been aware of, and pretty interested in.... I feel like I had more of an anti-consumerist philosophy when I was younger (and poorer) and somehow just got away from that over the years. So I see this project as a personal consciousness-raising, a way to reconnect with a former version of myself perhaps, and to step back from a typical 21st-century urban lifestyle.”

Now into the third month of her project, Hourihan has found herself buying less, sitting at her sewing machine more, using up food at the back of her pantry, and even trying to figure out how make her own saline solution. She chronicles her experience regularly on the Make It Do blog. Her recent posts include resisting an online deal for skinny jeans, deciding whether to have her kids "make do" too, and a new awareness of just how hard it is to escape consumerism in the city. Quarterly, she will evaluate her spending and compare it to previous years to see how much money she saves.

With the average American consuming far more than our fair share (we make up just 5 percent of the world's population but use 30 percent of the world's resources), a Make It Do campaign could certainly be beneficial nationwide. But while Hourihan’s yearlong experiment may inspire others to downshift and rethink the American way of life, she is not trying to change the world.

“I think there's something totally screwed up with a system that requires us all to live beyond our means to keep it functioning, but I'm not ready to lead the revolution quite yet. If other people are inspired and want to do it, I think that would be awesome. Right now it's really a project for myself, to see if I can do it, and to see what happens to me during the experience.”

Follow Hourihan's Make It Do project at makeit.do, and her personal blog at megnut.com.

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Comments

I think the best thing that you are doing is making deliberate decisions about what you actually need versus what you want (or buy without even thinking if you want it or not). Thanks for making your example public, which inspires me and others to make similar examinations of our consumption habits.

Your project brings up some perennial questions for me: How much is enough stuff? What constitutes “worn out?”
One thing I often notice is that what seems like a big sacrifice to one person can seem like a luxury to others. For example, one of my friends recently “cut back to basic cable” while another doesn’t own (or want) a television at all. Another friend has all the latest electronic equipment, but buys all her clothes by the pound from St. Vinnie’s Dig N Save (and she looks good!). I think the answer lies in making deliberate choices about what we really want rather than mindlessly consuming. If we all put a lot of thought into what we consume, the overall level of consumption would go down, and the level of satisfaction would go up.

Posted by Anne at March 16, 2012 at 11:09am

Love this! I was raised by a mother who lived by that motto – she reused EVERYTHING and really exemplified how you can live a joyful, meaningful, thoughtful life without falling for the ‘consumption lifestyle’. By stepping away from thoughtless consumption I believe we can then afford to really invest in the people in our communities who offer well made goods. The locally made piece of furniture, a handmade piece of clothing or jewelry. When we do make purchases let’s buy things that are well made and worthy of repair. Together we can turn this around!

Posted by K. Masterson at March 15, 2012 at 7:36pm

Congratulations on your year-long commitment, Meg! Our family did the same for the year 2011, and to our great delight and surprise, our 8-year-old son said at the end of the year, ’Let’s do it again!’ Many unexpected great things came out of the year for us, and our buying habits have been forever changed for the better- we’ve gotten off the train of consumerism. Friends and family have been influenced in the process, too. Good on you, and have fun with it!

Posted by Rebecca Weiss at March 15, 2012 at 6:53pm

Thank you for doing your part ! Also think of how much less you are adding to our land fills !! I am trying to remind people around me that PLASTIC is made from PETROLEUM- There is so much WASTE in throw away plastic, plastic water bottles, juice bottles, sports drinks etc- forget the food containers etc UGHHH !! Where does it all go in NYC? PLASTIC = OIL = WAR = LESS FOR AMERICAN QUALITY OF LIFE !!




BUT

Posted by Toni at March 15, 2012 at 5:25pm

This was one of my dad’s favorite and guiding mottoes. It has stuck with me but living in a consumer society it was easier to just have it as a nag in the back of my head. When I moved to Europe all that changed. Yes, there were lovely things around to buy but, and I am not sure exactly why – (mainly money and space concerns I think) I resisted to the point where I became much more critical of impulsive purchases and understand now for instance that I only can wear a certain number of things in a lifetime so do I REALLY need another? All of that to say that I was pleasantly surprised to come across this blog. So Brava! We all need encouragement to do this and I think that in today’s society it is not easy even when it is a clear decision to make do. There are way too many advertisements and eye candies in windows that tempt one to think that one SHOULD have it or one NEEDS it. Discipline comes hard but is rewarded.

Posted by Charity Moschopoulos at March 15, 2012 at 4:47am

People have called me " cheap " but I have actually enjoyed and am accustomed to living as a " minimalist " for many, many years. Before I buy anything I think awhile about it as to whether I really need it, may already have it buried somewhere and then I go see if I can find it in a thrift shop first. Over the years it has become a fun challenge for me to do this plus, to me, it is striking out against corporate America by simply not buying! Cheap? Well I am quite happy with what I have and the money is always there for the bills. That’s about all I need.

Posted by Mark Smith. aka: Doomsday1965@yahoo.com at March 15, 2012 at 4:24am

Way to go, Meg! I follow the same without the declaration of intent. My core value is one of non-wasting. Our family’s most recent adventure was giving up the basic Dish Network package for Netflix on Roku. Surprise, we now have more time for reading, conversation, and journaling! Thank you for putting yourself out there.

Posted by Marla at March 14, 2012 at 9:42pm

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