Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Buy Nothing Year

Published May 24, 2009
St. George Spectrum & Daily News

My hair straightener died the other day. I walked into my bathroom, hurrying to ready myself for work, and grabbed it off the counter where it had been lying in the pretense of heating. I ran the straightener through a lock of curls, eager to tame them into flat and silky obedience. My curls bounced back defiantly, and my heart sank. “Oh no,” I moaned, “oh no, no, no, no, no.”

Any other year of my life, this situation would have been an annoyance, a minor setback. Sure, I would have endured one bad hair day, but then I would have made my way to a store to replace the broken styling tool and life would have continued on, silky hair and all. This year, however, things are different. This year, we’ve committed to an experiment we call the Buy Nothing Year.

Buy Nothing Year is something of a misnomer. I don’t know anyone who could manage to go a full year without buying anything. Buy Nothing We Don’t Absolutely Need Year would be more accurate, but that’s quite the mouthful, don’t you think?

To explain: Such purchases as groceries, medicine, light bulbs, and other necessities do not fall under the Buy Nothing Year Umbrella. Birthday, Anniversary, and Christmas presents are also exempt. Clothing is mixed. When the kids outgrew their shoes, a true need was indicated, so the shoes were replaced. When the kids asked about Easter clothes, we all knew the Sunday clothes we had were sufficient, so no new outfits were bought.

My deceased straightener left me in a pickle. Was it a necessity or a luxury? Was it under the umbrella or would it bounce easily off the top of it? I would still have hair without a straightener. I could still style my hair without a straightener. However, the only style I’ve been able to manage without a straightener is something I like to call, “Lunch Lady Hair,” and that’s just not good for anyone. (My apologies to lunch ladies everywhere.)

The Buy Nothing Year has brought us closer to the old adage of “use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without,” but it’s the “do without” part that’s hard. I’m perfectly willing to wear my shoes until they’re dead. I will rig up a bungee to keep the condiments in a broken refrigerator door. I will decorate my house simply by rearranging the furniture. When it comes to my hair, however, I don’t think any amount of Buy Nothing commitment will cause me to want to look like I had a bad perm in 1986 and decided I’d never update the look.

Fortunately for me, my husband agreed. He placed the hair straightener firmly within the light bulbs and razors category and encouraged me to go out and find a good deal on a new one. I walked into Big Lots as the Lunchiest Lunch Lady who ever Lunched. I emerged from my bathroom an hour later as Sarah, the Silkily Sensible Queen of Frugality.

Someday, I might look back on this and think we rationalized our way out of the rules we chose to live by for the year. In the end, though, the Buy Nothing Year is more about training ourselves to use self discipline and avoid impulsive purchases than becoming misers. The hope is that in years to come, we’ll do exactly what we did in the Great Straightener Disaster of 2009. We’ll carefully consider the necessity of a purchase and come to a conclusion together, then look for the best bargain we can find.

When the lunch ladies come after me, I’ll carefully consider the necessity of a bribe.