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"Buying Nothing New" Isn't About Shopping, It's About Facing Our Deepest Values

As some of you know from my previous blog, I spent the month of October participating in “Buy Nothing New Month.” It’s a campaign based in Australia that challenges people to curb their consumption by pledging not to buy new things for one month.

My pledge started out a little bumpy; I broke down and bought a book on day one. In the following days I felt pangs of withdrawal as I adjusted my routine to avoid the draw of new things. But as time went on, I learned to shop used, borrow from neighbors, and put more thought into my purchases.

By the last few weeks of October, my desire to buy stuff—new or used—had diminished so much that I almost forgot about my pledge. I busied myself with activities instead of shopping trips. I joined my neighborhood’s Urban Farm Collective planning committee and signed up to be a farm intern next season. I joined the social network NeighborGoods, which helps neighbors share their belongings with one another. I joined the local food co-op, challenged myself to shop with all-reusable containers, learned to fix the broken spoke on my bicycle, and so on.

My point is not that shopping had previously taken most of my time, or that this pledge freed up my time and money in drastic ways. I didn’t have a huge revelation about how many resources I wasted buying things. My revelation was about my own values and how I act on them in my daily life.

Throughout the month, I thought a lot about intrinsic and extrinsic motivation and values. Put very simply, intrinsic motivation is something you act on to fulfill your personal beliefs and improve your inner self. Extrinsic values and motivations are things you do to portray a certain image to others. I know the concepts get much more complex as you delve into them, but for now it’s best to keep it simple.

During my “Buy Nothing New” pledge, my extrinsic motivations were painfully obvious. When I want to buy things, it is usually based on some outward image I hope to portray. I got a new job and wanted to seem professional, so I bought professional-looking clothes. I was in a wedding full of fashionable New Yorkers and had an overwhelming desire to buy nice luggage to seem “put together.” I didn’t just want to read the book Pride and Prejudice, I wanted to own it, place it on my shelf, and show everyone who visited my house that I had read it.

Often when I want something new, it serves an outward image of status, success, or apparent happiness. It is at once humbling and empowering to know that I am sometimes driven by such shallow desires.

Without even trying, Buy Nothing New Month caused me to shift my motivation so that I more often prioritized my intrinsic values. Instead of worrying about having matching plates in my kitchen, I worried about having all my friends over for dinner. Instead of worrying about looking perfectly professional each day, I tried to be the hardest working new employee I could be.

Moving forward, my quest to work from intrinsic motivation won’t rule out buying new. Avoiding new purchases was a valuable practice to help me recognize my consumer habits. Now I will buy local goods, items that I need to live by my values, and (realistically) a few guilty pleasure that fall in a gray area in terms of motivation.

I know some of you are light years past the struggle that I faced this month. But for an idealistic 25-year-old who is just learning to walk the walk, Buy Nothing New Month was an enlightening challenge.

Oh! And for anyone who read my previous post and was wondering, we are still TV-free and will likely be that way for a while.

Anjuli Crocker lives in Portland, Oregon, and is a former intern with the Center for a New American Dream. For more on innovative ways to share, check out New Dream's video Share Spray as well as the Guide to Sharing and other online resources.

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