Buy Nothing, an experiment in anti-consumerism

Week 7 by portlandia
February 19, 2008, 9:07 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Well, I guess that I’m long overdue for a post.

Since school started I’ve been very busy as per the usual. Between crew practice five days a week, trying to captain a fencing team, full time classes and part-time work, things have been a little hectic. But I have a few minutes so it’s time to chat about our progress.

In my Environmental Sustainability class at Portland State, we’ve talked a lot about sustainable lifestyles, economies and industries. The first day of class we were asked to calculate our ecological footprint using the website:

It is an interesting calculation that estimates how many planets it would take if everyone lived like you. For example, when I took this quiz my total footprint was 5 acres. In comparison, the average ecological footprint in the U.S. is 24 acres a person and compares that to the available 4.5 biologically productive acres per person worldwide. If everyone lived like me we would need 1.2 planets. Take the quiz and post your results!

In the same class, one of our term projects is to do two personal water audits using a kit from the city. Basically you calculate how many gallons of water per minute every fixture in your home uses. Peter and I are lucky enough to be living in a LEED Silver certified building that happens to be furnished with low-flow showers, sinks and toilets. My calculated water use (at home) this last week was 91.35 gallons. Not bad considering the average American uses 173 gallons per day. I am astonished by that figure especially when you consider the world average is just 43 gallons per day.

Water Use

Peter and I have started to do more of our grocery shopping at the local People’s Co-op which is a convenient 3 mile bike ride from our apartment. It is a great little food store in an awesome cob building. They carry all organic, mostly local foods as well as natural and organic bulk foods and tons of yummy vegan treats.

After learning about the policy side of pesticides and herbicides in my Environmental Law & Policy class I have stopped buying non-organic produce all together. It is amazing how many known carcinogenic pesticides there are that are still being used on produce today.

DDT Is Good For Me

I feel like our buy-nothing experiment is working well. I tried to use my debit card to buy groceries the other day and I couldn’t remember what my PIN was. That is a pretty awesome feeling. Plus we have been making our own kinds of fun. Instead of going to a movie theater and paying $8 a person for a two-hour movie, it is much more fun to watch a DVD and make cupcakes with a good friend.

This last weekend I worked on making a gift for an upcoming birthday. I won’t reveal yet what it is but I am very proud of making something so useful out of reused material that I had laying around. 🙂




Offsetting oil purchaces by Peter W
February 3, 2008, 3:18 pm
Filed under: Anti-Consumerism, bikes

About a week ago I helped my dad out by picking up his Subaru station wagon from the auto shop – it was getting some upholstery work done on its 21 year old interior. So I rode my bike to the shop, threw the bike in the back of the wagon, and sat down in the drivers seat, keys in hand.

It took me a few minutes to re-familiarize myself with the controls of what used to be my regular ride to high school. It took just a second to figure out which key starts the engine, and another few seconds to get the radio and mirrors adjusted, but it was the essentials that took the longest–the pedals. I’m sitting in the parking lot looking down in the footwell, thinking “OK, I know one of these things is to accelerate and one is to stop, but which is which? And more importantly… what does that third pedal do?”. By this time the autoshop guys who handed me the keys after I told them I was picking up the car for my dad were starting to wonder if maybe I was lying and perhaps they should be calling the cops… Fortunately I was able to reload my stick-shift driving program, figure out the clutch again, and avoid hitting the shop’s garage door and bushes on the way out.

So lets just say I don’t drive frequently these days. It definitely saves me some money though. That said, I still get rides from friends or family fairly often. But if one reason for doing this experiment is to see if I can live without needing to interact with a system that relies on money, then getting others to pay for things like gas — essentially buying by proxy — is technically cheating. The other more immediate and important reason not to get free rides is that in the end, someone is giving money to the oil companies who are doing a darn good job ensuring our society stays car-dependent (thus resulting in over 42,000 automobile crash deaths per year), and keeping us in places like Iraq (thus resulting in a hellofalotof American soldiers and Iraqi civilians dieing) so we can ensure our petroleum security.

So here’s my new, reinforced, resolution:

In 2008, I will minimize the number of trips I take in cars. Also, to offset the money that goes to Big Oil’s lobbyists when I take trips in automobiles, I will track how many miles I travel by car and give 10 cents per mile to the Bicycle Transportation Alliance and the Willamette Pedestrian Coalition so they can encourage cycling and walking for transportation as an alternative to driving.

Week 1 – moviegoing by Peter W
January 6, 2008, 1:47 pm
Filed under: Anti-Consumerism

Its only been 6 days since our ‘buy nothing’ experiment began, and I’ve already had to make a tough decision. Last month I promised my sister I’d see The Golden Compass with her, and unfortunately we didn’t see it in December. That meant that I’d either have to break my rules or break my promise. After debating the idea with my parents, I eventually decided to go to the movie.

Although I didn’t technically spend money (my parents bought the tickets), I still feel like I compromised my values. Part of the idea of the experiment is that if we do spend money, it should be to support things we like, and the Century Cedar Hills Crossing movie theater is definitely *not* something I want to support. The theater is part of Cinemark, which is a chain of 404 theaters in the US and Latin America (not quite ‘local economy’, if you know what I mean). On top of that, the place is part of the sprawling Cedar Hills Mall which completely auto-oriented and has lousy bike parking (I had to leave my racing bike attached to a cheap bike rack in the rain for 2 hours).

I actually think the most ethical thing to do would have been to just sneak in.

As for the film – it was pretty good, but I’d suggest waiting until the trilogy is out on DVD (the end of the film was basically a ‘to be continued’). Also, if you really need to spend a couple hours watching a screen, I think you can do better for the planet by seeing something like DiCaprio’s inspiring film about climate change, The 11th Hour.

I’m glad I was able to keep my promise to my sister, but if I do need to go to another movie this year, I think I’ll see an independent film at an independent theater.

— Peter

Peter - Hawaii

Overveiw by portlandia
January 3, 2008, 2:40 am
Filed under: Anti-Consumerism | Tags: , , , , ,

Anti-Consumerism: The Experiment was an idea Jenny had a few weeks ago when the holiday shopping season was in full swing. She got disgusted with the American consumerism. In her opinion, it now seems like a fully fledged religion, complete with rituals and holidays. She didn’t want to buy another single thing! Instead Jenny talked with Peter and they came up with an experiment to not buy anything other than essential items for the year 2008. We will be keeping this blog as a way to track our progress and share thoughts on living an anti-consumerist lifestyle.

Meet: Jenny
A sophomore at Portland State University studying Environmental Science, she loves photography, anything outdoors, and hopes to become a certified Wilderness First Responder. Jenny is semi-vegan (she still eats eggs and fish). She has a blue road bike that she loves dearly. Her personal blog can be found here.

Meet: Peter
A junior at Portland State University studying Computer Science, he loves long bike rides, hot chocolate and pastries. Peter is vegetarian (unlike Jenny he eats dairy, but no fish). He has a cyclocross bike named Eve and a road bike named Calypso. His personal blog about his ideas, bikes, design, architecture, politics, tech and software can be found here.

Peter and Jenny are dating and living in an apartment in Portland. They do not own a car, television, dishwasher, washing machine, or dryer. Their only pet is a stuffed dragon named Fig. They both ride bicycles for transportation.

Jenny & Peter

Anti-Consumerism: The Experiment

One year (365 days) starting on January 1st, 2008 and concluding on January 1st, 2009 without purchasing any item that is non-essential with a few exceptions. This will encourage appreciation for the things that we have, time to spend bonding with family and friends, and by reducing our contribution to pollution and waste, living a more sustainable life.

College is busy and we understand that having time to eat meals at home all the time is somewhat unreasonable, so we will try to eat out a maximum of two times a week. Our focus is to lead a more sustainable lifestyle, so buying local unprocessed foods as well as eating at restaurants that are locally owned and use locally grown products is preferable.

The No-Buy List

  • Coffee drinks
  • Non-school related books
  • Movie rentals
  • Movie tickets
  • Non-essential clothing
  • Gifts
  • Non-essential food

The Exceptions

  • Textbooks
  • Basic food
  • A maximum of two meals a week out
  • Health or hygiene-related items
  • School tuition
  • Rent
  • Health copays
  • Transportation (bus tickets)
  • Equipment rental from the university’s Outdoor Program
  • Essential bike gear

We both brainstormed some strategies for how we will accomplish this. Here is what we came up with …


  • Plan menus ahead of time
  • Cook extra and save leftovers
  • Pack lunches
  • Make our own gifts
  • Set up weekly dinners with friends
  • Check out library books
  • Spend time in bookstores just reading
  • Salvage unused items from friends and family
  • Find non-commercial forms of entertainment and recreation
  • Volunteer in exchange for organizational memberships, supported bike rides, etc.