A long over-due update to how our year ended

Since our last post, BNNY Burn Out, we have neglected our blog and reframed our rules.  We took an amazing family trip up to the Great Barrier Reef and the ancient Daintree Rainforest (see photo below).  On the trip, we decided to take the down time to check in again with the kids on how the whole buy nothing new for the year challenge was going. 


Our family holiday to the Great Barrier Reef…savings from not buying new ‘stuff’ let us indulge in ‘experiences’ that we’ll remember forever!

Our kids are generally so flexible.  They’re favorite response is, “I don’t mind.”  Which always leaves me thinking, “What does that mean?”  Is that the Australian teenage equivalent of, “I don’t care,” or is it “It’s all good,” or even “Either way, it doesn’t really matter?”  Anyway, I’m still learning to decipher Australian teenager.  But, the take-away is that the kids didn’t seem to be having any major issues with the way we have been living. 

We were able to talk about how part of why were able to afford an amazing family holiday (aside from frequent flyer points) was all the not spending on unnecessary items throughout the year.  And, they got it.  And honestly I think that our kids would be happy (or just obliged) to keep going with this challenge forever if that’s what we decided.  So, in some ways, that is what we decided.


Another new ‘experience’ on our holiday…a one-year-old trying her first coconut water. Yum?

As the end of our year-long challenge approached, my husband and I talked and decided that this had worked so surprisingly and incredibly well for all of us.  It has really brought our values in alignment with our purchases.  And, we are pretty sure we’ve broken some habits that weren’t really about what we wanted but rather what we were used to.  Had we really wanted to buy all those things we can’t remember?  Had we really wanted to spend every few weeks or even months at the mall?  This past year, we went the mall maybe two or three times.  And each time we were struck by the messages that told us to buy or consume something we didn’t really need or want.

So, what we decided was rather than end this challenge cold-turkey at the end of our one year mark (in July), we decided to adopt those principles we listed in our last post, BNNY Burn Out.  While this initially felt like we were going to fall flat of reaching our one year goal, just two to three months before we reached the finish line, we decided that we are well within our rights to move the rules and stick to the principles.  After all, this is our made-up challenge, our made-up rules.  So, we edited some of the rules so that they felt like we could live with them indefinitely.

We’re going to continue to opt for experiences over stuff.  We’ll continue using the second-hand markets.  We’ll re-use things we discovered can be re-used.  But, we’ll also buy new things like:  running shoes, art supplies, rechargeable batteries, etc. The rigidity of the challenge has disappeared.  Essentially, we are ending the task of buying nothing new and instead buying very little new.  But what does that mean?


The art of re-purposing…a natural activity for a toddler…

I have to admit, making this transition made me a bit nervous…thinking this might open up the floodgates to go on a buying spree because we don’t have the same rigid rules but rather principles.  But, here is what has happened so far. 

In the past few months, our end point came and went.  We did not lead up to the one-year mark thinking, “awesome, now we can go on a binge!”  Instead, because we edited our rules before the deadline, we moved seamlessly through the end of year milestone and continued living with the same principles minus the original rigidity.

We have not even gone out to buy new batteries or running shoes, oddly…things we lamented from the time we started the challenge a year ago.  We’ve continued to rotate the batteries we have and are waiting for our next trip to the US to pick up new running shoes.  In the meantime, being pregnant again, swimming and pilates (which don’t require running shoes) have taken over from running and jogging.  Admittedly and sadly, the other contributor minimizing our need for new running shoes has been that exercise has also taken somewhat of a backseat to everyday life…the life of a young family, I suppose.



Some of us are still getting exercise! A ‘found’ trampoline picked up on the curb from hard rubbish…one man’s trash is a two-year-old’s treasure

We bought a second-hand toddler bed on Gumtree and second-hand toddler bedding that I transformed into a custom-made special blanket full of love by hand stitching over the top of the plain washed blanket.  We’ve continued to buy clothes from the op-shops.  Our new purchases have included:  three jars of finger paints, postcards from our trip to send to the grandparents, a leotard for Charlie’s gymnastics, and Peter’s big new purchase, an iPad.  He says he needs it for work.  It’s funny how everyone needs a tablet now when they didn’t exist a couple of years ago.  Technology is funny like that.

As we allowed ourselves back into the mall, one of the first weekends after changing the rules, we just looked around without the same level of restrictions.  We realized that, yes, it does feel like our consumer habits have changed.  This may or may not last, but we had a bit of distaste for things and didn’t really want things like we used to.  We saw cheap-ish clothes and bedding at Target and wandered the aisles without wanting to go pick things up.  It mostly just seemed loud and stressful in there.  Joey, our nearly-two-year-old enjoyed picking up soft fuzzy pink bathrobes, asking if we could take it home and then forgetting about it when she saw a red Elmo pillow, which she forgot about when she saw a sticky ball, which was replaced by a doll…and so on.  Since then, we have found a beautiful fuzzy pink polk-a-dot bathrobe in her size at the local Salvation Army, and she picked up a number of cool new toys and gifts for her second birthday from family members.


Better than presents…what a two-year-old really wants for her birthday…chocolate cake!

It turns out, there were few real pressing desires we had been suppressing during our nearly-year-long challenge.  It’s liberating to know we have flexibility now, but maybe we really have changed.  Although our new principles allow us to buy things consciously but new, we have not rushed out to buy plastic wrap, zip lock bags, tupperware, running shoes, batteries, crayons, paper or an ironing board cover…all things we thought we’d be dying to go get once this was over.  The reality is that along the way, we did receive some generous donations of art supplies (one from a colleague whose children are all grown and out of university who donated their old reams of butcher paper, colored pencils and pastels, crayons and fun extras from the grandparents, chalk and tape from a friend through mothers group…).   Now that people know we’re up for taking second-hand items, we get calls from friends offering things they are going to put in hard rubbish or donate.  We often get first look at bags of maternity clothes, old bed frames, housewares, etc.  I like that people think of us when they’re doing a spring clean…if we can re-use something headed for the landfill, then that’s awesome. 

But, we’ve also reached a limit of ‘stuff’ in our home and are more selective about what we choose to inherit so as not to become hoarders or create an unnecessary house of clutter.  As Joey received more gifts for her birthday and Charlie for hers, we went through both of their closets and bundled up toys, books, and clothes to donate and give away.  In preparation for the new baby, we have kept some of Joey’s old baby toys and clothes and searched through the garage to see what we had stored.  Turns out, we have bought a total of one tiny white jumpsuit for our new baby, who will likely inherit everything else. 

As we re-shuffle the bedrooms with another child on the way, we have found awesome second-hand dressers for the kids, a second-hand TV for the kids’ rumpus room, and we’re currently searching for an updated second-hand breastfeeding chair and clothes dryer to make life a bit more comfortable at an affordable price.  This is all since we re-framed our rules back in April/May and passed our one-year mark in July.  It doesn’t seem strange that we continue to use all of our ‘buy nothing new’ principles to keep going.  It’s practical and affordable.  And, we’re now accustomed to the buying channels and the principles. 


One of the second-hand dressers we picked up from the Salvos in our kid re-shuffle as we prepare for a new baby.

In the past month, we did have an onslaught of 2-year-old birthday parties, and I have to say it was a huge time-saver to duck into K-mart to pick up a few new Lego sets, as opposed to hunting and searching and creating for party after party.  Sometimes the convenience wins out. 

After our one-year challenge, we found the combination of what we inherited, found in hard rubbish, bought second hand, repurposed and lived without has helped redefine our needs.  I’m really proud that although our year-long challenge has ended, we have not run out like mad consumers and bought things because we can (it was a legitimate fear).  So, that’s our update for now.  I suppose as we continue to learn from our re-invention of living more consciously with our values, we will occasionally continue to post here.  

I also have come across some other cool projects people are under-taking that are quite similar, living with less, The Simple Year, and, of course, buy nothing new month, our inspiration that kicked us off on our journey.  If you have a similar project, let us know, so we can see what you’re up to and share it here.

To wrap up our year, here’s a video clip from “The New Joneses,” a project started by Tamara DiMattina, the same creative mind behind Buy Nothing New Month.  We were lucky enough to participate in sharing our experiences with tour groups of school kids earlier last year.  So, if we’re quieter on our activities, know you can find inspiration in this broader community through cool initiatives like this one.  


BNNY Burn Out!

As might be evidenced by the less frequent blog entries (life does get busy), our buy nothing new year challenge is hitting a sort of burn out phase.  I don’t know if others who go through these kinds of challenges or lifestyle changes hit the proverbial wall at some point or if it’s just our family.

With 8 months down, 4 months to go, this past week, my husband and I both decided that we’d hit the mall to get our daughter some proper beach shoes for our trip to Queensland next month.

This summer, our little 18-month-old gained loads of confidence at the beach, becoming an overly confident ‘swimmer’.  That little independent streak meant she charged straight for the water, burning her feet on the hot sand during this past heat wave, stumbling upon rocks and sharp shells, yelling, “ouch, mommy, feet,” yet, not wanting me to pick her up or keep on the second-hand sandals we found that are, admittedly, one size too big.  She also likes to walk on her tippy toes as far out to sea as she can, trying with all her might to outpace any adult or sibling trying to look after her out there.


Our confident little water baby, heading out to sea

So, with an impending trip to the barrier reef, we thought it worthwhile to find a flotation swimsafe suit and some proper beach shoes so we don’t need to be on high alert all week with pools and sea all around.  We searched at op-shops, on gumtree, eBay, even eBay international.  In the end, we couldn’t find the right size and product that could get to us in time before our trip, so we classified the stuff under ‘health and safety’ and decided to take our first trip to Chadstone (the big Melbourne mall) in over a year.

On the drive there, my husband and I got a bit excited.  We talked about how fun it would be to shop for something and buy something in the mall.  There can be a real satisfaction from trawling aisles and doors and windows and racks and conquering something in some pseudo-victory.  I allowed myself to admit, I’m feeling a bit over this self-imposed challenge.

Our little trip to the mall got me thinking about what we’d keep and what we’d throw out if we were to adopt this as more of a lifestyle and not a year-long challenge, which ultimately will be more sustainable.

  1. We’d keep prioritizing experiences over stuff
  2. We’d keep doing most of our clothes shopping at the local op shops and second-hand markets (We ended up not buying anything, feeling frustrated with over-priced stuff we didn’t want, totally unfulfilled and exhausted after our trip to the mall)
  3. We’d still use gumtree (less so eBay) to find ‘stuff’
  4. Hard rubbish is always worth a look (our whole summer backyard was furnished with curbside ‘trash’—plastic playhouse, splash pools, basketball hoop, kid’s painting table and chairs)


    Pals in the play area of our backyard, furnished by curbside recycling/hard rubbish

  5. We’d re-use packaging that we can reclaim (like berry punnets for Tupperware and old bread bags for sandwiches)
  6. We’d still make cool stuff from re-claimed and found items (like our Christmas tree and home-made gifts)

…but…here’s the burn-out kicking in…


Loving (rationed) finger paint!

7.  We would let ourselves buy art supplies, like crayons, paint, chalk, tape, glue
8.  We would let ourselves indulge in the occasional new DVD (that we can’t rent or find second-hand, but are dying to see the next season!)

9.  If I want a new swimsuit…it’s been years (other than a maternity suit) since I bought a new one, and dammit, I will buy a new swimsuit, even if I don’t absolutely need it
10. When any of us needs new running shoes…without feeling guilty or trying oddball things or suffering and waiting to exercise properly, we’ll just get proper new shoes
11. We will bond over browsing endless shops and buying something ‘cheap’ and meaningless, just to bond (I feel I’ve been missing out on my teenage daughter’s favorite bonding activity)
12. We will buy some new exercise clothes!  (Running shorts and yoga pants wear out!)
13. We will sometimes buy frivolous games or toys…a new stuffed animal, a hair clip, stickers or a bubble wand!
14. We will buy rechargeable batteries!!!

We are doing more than making it work and suffering through.  We’re becoming more resourceful, living with less.  And, it has helped us feel like we’re living more in alignment not only with our budget but with our values.  So, we are following through for 4 more months and seeing whether this phase of being over it subsides.  Maybe we have some crazy guru-like insight that can only be gained by dedication and discipline to a challenge.  Like the wise (crazy) old dudes, the saddhus, in India carrying a flower pot on their head for life or raising one arm up for years until it atrophies…maybe some other level of truth reveals itself and we are wiser for it.

Or maybe, the list above (or something like it) is our arrival point.  On some level, we are wired consumers, and we admit it.  We can adopt simpler living principles, use less, buy less new, but maybe reframe the life-long rules so that they feel less like rules and more like a way to live.

Week of Extreme Nice

Week of Extreme Nice.

I came across an idea in a book that had a particularly awesome ring to it; it was something called, “Extreme Nice.”  The way the writer described it was that she not only did extra nice things for her loved ones, but she did them while consciously screening out her own behaviors for resentment, guilt, annoyance and other petty emotions.  In the end, she ended up a bit resentful and annoyed because no one noticed her efforts, which maybe meant she was often quite ‘nice’ or maybe her version of extreme nice wasn’t all that nice.  Who knows.  But the idea seemed like a gem, especially in our year of buying nothing new.  What could be better than being nice to my husband for a week.  So that was it.  His birthday gift for this year:  a week of extreme nice.

Week of Extreme Nice

Up early to start the week of "extreme nice"

Up early to start the week of “extreme nice”

It was my husband’s birthday last month.  We all had a bit of gift burn-out from Christmas, and I wasn’t feeling up to the challenge of another birthday gift to get creative.  I think the BNN thing lost it’s shiny newness, and I’m realizing that it requires more effort to be thoughtful and plan ahead.

I came across an idea in a book that had a particularly awesome ring to it; it was something called, “Extreme Nice.”  The way the writer described it was that she not only did extra nice things for her loved ones, but she did them while consciously screening out her own behaviors for resentment, guilt, annoyance and other petty emotions.  In the end, she ended up a bit resentful and annoyed because no one noticed her efforts, which maybe meant she was often quite ‘nice’ or maybe her version of extreme nice wasn’t all that nice.  Who knows.  But the idea seemed like a gem, especially in our year of buying nothing new.  What could be better than being nice to my husband for a week.  So that was it.  His birthday gift for this year:  a week of extreme nice.

In some ways, it’s a bit sad that I have to purposely try to be nice to my husband for a week.  I know.  But, really, this was not just nice,  it was extreme nice.  So, a week before his birthday, I told Peter that the next week was his week to do whatever he wanted and that no matter what he did (within reason), I was going to be extremely nice about everything.  Here are some highlights from how the week played out.

Sunday morning:  I’m up at 6.30am with our toddler (see photo above), out the door quickly to the dog beach and playground to keep the house quiet so Peter can sleep in until nearly 10am.  I return home with his favorite breakfast, which I’ve arranged as a special favor from the chef at a local café, as they had to lend me their hot pan which contained the baked eggs provencale, served alongside hot fancy coffee, a selection of the morning’s newspapers, and a balance of time cuddling and lounging in bed with breakfast.  Peter says, “Hey honey, I think I’m going to catch up with some friends one night this week for a couple beers.”  I smile extremely nicely and say, “That’s great, honey.  I think it will be really nice for you to do that.”  (While on the one hand I realize how little time we both take for ourselves to do important things like hang out with friends and not have an agenda or event or obligation, a part of me can’t help but feel a bit up tight…I mean, I’d like to get drunk mid-week and forget about taking care of everyone too, dude.  But, hey, that’s why this is not just nice but extreme nice.  No baggage, no reaction, just let him have his fun and give him a smile.  It’s only a week, right?)

Monday:   Part of how I define extreme nice is making the house feel extra nice.  That means I spend a good part of Monday scrubbing the house to make it feel extra clean and just nice.  Homemade dinner, check.  Massage, check.  “Tell me all about your day…(but this time, I was actually really listening and remembering that we’re not only partners but friends.  Two days in, I’m liking ‘extreme nice’ me.  And so is Peter.)

Tuesday:  “Hi, honey.  Oh, you want to go to the gym tonight?  Sure! Dinner will be waiting for you when you get back!”

Wednesday:  Extra trip to the supermarket after a full day at work, with childcare-weary-toddler in hand to pick up ingredients to cook dinner and desert with the kids.  They want to make their Dad a special fish curry.  Yes, it’s all very nice.

Thursday:  Peter comes home for dinner then heads out with the boys for beers.  “Have fun, honey!”  (At least I have a few hours to myself after I put our little one to bed.)

At some point during the week, Peter says, “Hey, this is an awesome week.  I love it.  How are you feeling about it all?”  I realize that it’s terrible to feel so incredibly worn out from making extra effort on top of all the normal effort that goes into a week. Anyway, I think we discovered our family’s newest favorite gift to receive.  I would love a week where dinners were made, house was clean, I could go to the gym, hang out with friends, walk to the beach, go for a run, sleep more, be a bit pampered and have my family and husband smile and support me in enjoying it the whole week or month or year.  And, it did make me realize that (surprise, surprise) Peter likes this too.  So, we could do this a bit more for each other in a way that didn’t also carry any petty resentments or silly emotional baggage.  We all deserve a bit more of extreme nice.

Since I gave this gift, the niceness has left a bit of a residue around the house.  Extra gestures like Peter filling up my petrol (gas) or purposely encouraging me to meet with a friend for dinner on a week night or looking after all the kids on the weekend so I can get some time out has really been nice.  I’ve also been more conscious of being more thoughtful and generous with little gestures and a positive attitude, even if that means a trade-off with time.  But, I think we’re conscious to do nice things in a nicer way more than we were before.  Because making these extra gestures does, in fact, take more conscious thought, time, and effort to not just get everything done but really care for and be attentive and kind and supportive in a way that feels quite nice.  And while all that is nice, it can also be quite exhausting.  So, a bit of extreme nice spread around is good to share without killing the nice by pushing it too far.

So, here’s our bottom line if you’re thinking about a “not new” gift:  Extreme nice costs $0, and while it requires significant creativity, time, and love, it does pay nice dividends.


“You can’t always get what you want…you get what you need”


That little slice of wisdom, complements of the Rolling Stones, really sums up our challenge.  It’s a great internal anthem to score the exciting hard rubbish finds (trampoline!) and disappointments of not being able to buy something so simple, like crayons.

A few months ago I thought that it would be worth looking into buying a second car seat so that my husband and I don’t have to hassle with undoing, storing, and re-anchoring the car seat each time we share pick-up and drop-off from childcare.  I looked on eBay and Gumtree, and a new website where you can post and find free stuff, Ziilch, but didn’t feel that confident in not being able to know whether they’d be safe or in good condition until we saw it in person.  I also wondered when we would need to look at getting a booster seat, the next stage of car seat, but thought it would probably be after our year is over.


A near-new car set appears a few doors down!

Like magic, a near-new car seat and booster seat arrived a few doors down in the hard rubbish (curbside recycling) pile outside of our neighbor’s house.   Granted, they arrived a few months after I went through the process of feeling we need another car seat, to downgrading that need to a want, looking for them, and settling on letting the idea of them go, as ultimately, we could live without it.


Both the car seat and booster seat in a hard rubbish discovery

I reflected that had we not been doing this challenge, I would have spent a few hundred dollars buying a flashy car seat when I first thought about it. I like to get things off my list of things to do, so I don’t feel overwhelmed.  So when I know we need to find something or get something done, I often just go out to get one of whatever it is that day, get it done.  It’s not just a feeling of relieving the ever-growing list of things to do, but there’s something about trading off cost for convenience and a sense of accomplishment and gratification.  However, our BNNY exercise has forced me to delay instant gratification and to learn to wait.  Knowing we can function with one car seat made it clear that we don’t need a second one.  And if we did want one, we’d have to find it through a second-hand channel.  If I didn’t like any of those or want to do that, well, we’d just go without.

But, this is it.  It felt a bit like poetry that the universe delivered something I had wanted but didn’t need and learned to let go of so that I could receive it.  Silly, I know.  But the appearance of these two near-new car seats made me contemplate if there were other areas of my life where I was impatient with things I wanted and so ended up making trade-offs or paying a higher price than I needed to, especially with things that weren’t necessary or weren’t even necessarily what I wanted.

How many times have I thought, I need to find a career, a house, a boyfriend, a dress, a book, a new look (haircut), new sheets, new lamp, new rug, a new start, a new bill of health (detox, anyone?), fitness, inner peace…?  Yes, this list could be very long.  And how many times when I’ve felt that urge to change something or get something or do something have I just acted on that front-of-mind desire and gone out to get that feeling of instant gratification to let me know that I’m on my way to getting what I want?  How much time, energy, effort did I spend to get it?  And what do I have to show for it now?

Suddenly, I felt this could easily be converted to one of my Dad’s awkward Chinese proverbs.  Like, when I asked him if I could stay home from school when I was nine, and he said, “You know, Erin, there was a boy who left school, and he wrote the first Chinese dictionary!  He became very wealthy!”  I thought, “Cool.  So I can stay home from school?”  My dad:  “No, of course not.  Not everyone is that smart.”  What would he say about the lesson of these magical car seats?  Maybe the next time a grandchild tells him he/she wants to be an astronaut, he may reply:

You know, Andrew, astronauts don’t need two car seats.  And if they do, their spaceship will have it.

When my poor child (or niece or nephew) has to deal with wisdom like this that may one day spill out my own mouth (or god forbid when my brother and sister and I all start to rattle off odd nonsensical or out-of-context ‘proverbs’), I hope the next generation will have their own anthems and coping strategies to take what they want and get what they need.


Dress up for our space trip…

The Holiday Season

Happy Holidays!  Well, we managed to get through the holiday season following through with our ‘buy nothing new’ challenge for the year with some surprising results.


Bruce, Santa’s little helper


Although we managed to pick up some amazing bargains and beautiful experience gifts in addition to second hand items, we still managed to spend as much as we normally would have spent, maybe even more.

We tallied all our spending for a family of 6 (plus dog who also got some doggie treats from Santa), extended family in the US, extended family in Australia, Kris Kringle and Secret Santa gifts from holiday parties and for friends and we managed to spend nearly $1,500!  Yikes!  In total we bought gifts for 25 people (including our own family of 6).

The most expensive items were our experience gifts, where we didn’t save any money, as experiences don’t come in the op-shop variety.  So, with feature presents for the kids including a swimming pass for Joey, Cirque du Soleil tickets for Charlie (plus adult), Kayaking experience for the day with Silky, tickets to the Test Cricket for Oscar, a day at the ‘man spa’ for Peter, and a cottage getaway for a weekend for Erin (plus Peter and Joey and Bruce), we managed to spend a good amount of money.

Result #2:  We got great value (or depending on how you look at it, ‘saved’ A LOT)

The total “new” value of all of our Christmas spending ended up at over an estimated $5,000.  Now, if we had been buying new, we would not have spent this much money.  We would have, admittedly, ended up buying less.  So, it doesn’t really feel fair to call this ‘savings’ but more see it as better value for money.

Here are a few examples of how we managed to save a lot of money on second-hand stuff:

Cricket bat for Oscar bought at Sport Replay

Our cost $40                        New cost:  $270

Tricycle, Dress up Table and Chalkboard easel for Joey found in hard rubbish (when people throw out their stuff on the sidewalk)

Our cost:  $0                        New cost: $100+

2 pair of snorkel fins for Charlie (and a friend) bought at Vinnie’s op shop

Our cost:  $6                        New cost:  $100

Pile of brand name clothes for Silk bought at Salvation Army and Vinnie’s op shops

Our cost:  $60                        New cost:  $250+

Homemade gifts (lemon pickles) for family including jars bought at Vinnie’s op shop and spices purchased at Indian grocer

Our cost:  $30                                    New cost:  $40

Homemade lemon pickles in progress...lemons from our tree, spices from the indian grocer, jars from the op shop.  Eat with curry!  (we also customized labels for our family)

Homemade lemon pickles in progress…lemons from our tree, spices from the indian grocer, jars from the op shop. Eat with curry! (we also customized labels for our family)

Christmas tree homemade

Our cost:  $0                                    New cost:  $100

So, even with our excessive spending, we managed to pick up $3,500 in some kind of ‘value’ by going second hand and homemade in many cases.


Happy kids were very happy with what Santa brought


By opting to buy most of our gifts from charitable op shops (thrift stores), namely St. Vincent de Paul’s, the Salvation Army, and Red Cross stores, as well as the extra family donations we made to selected charities, we spent almost $700 of the nearly $1,500 at charitable organizations that donate their proceeds.

We felt a lot better knowing that although our budget blew out a bit, nearly half of this went to charities.  High five for Santa!

Result #4:  Lots of reduced packaging and environmental savings

The most packaging we ended up with was from a few online orders from eBay or mail packaging to our overseas family in the US.  Op shopping and hard rubbish collecting meant we did not accumulate toy packaging, clothes bags (all re-used cloth or plastic bags from shopping), or electronic shrink wrap, boxes, etc.  Our experience gifts came to us digitally and will be enjoyed locally.

Aside from that, our wrapping paper came from leftovers in the garage from last Christmas, re-used wrapping paper from a Christmas party we hosted (where over 20 kids got Kris Kringle gifts and left lots of nice big paper strips), and gifted wrapping paper (i.e. leftover paper left here from my sister-in-law’s Hen’s night, tape included in that donation!).  The grandparents on both sides admittedly heard of the upcoming wrapping paper shortages and gifted me some paper for my birthday and just before Christmas (although my mom’s donation was her spare saved gift bags and ribbons from years’ past with some new tissue paper).  It felt a bit like cheating, but it was a very sweet gesture that we really appreciated.

Santa's handy work with reclaimed wrapping paper, ribbons and gifts

Santa’s handy work with reclaimed wrapping paper, ribbons and gifts

It was also very nice to reflect on our reduced environmental footprint (not to mention the reduction in trips to a very stressful mall or shopping centre in the lead-up; our op-shops were all within very short drives and walking distance to our home).

Result #5:  We are spoiled and we are grateful for the generosity of friends and family

We have to say that although we did not buy anything new, we did receive some new gifts from friends and family, including the most generous gift our family has received:  a pair of new shoes from TOMS shoes, Australia for each family member.

The family walking to the park with new TOMS shoes, a $5 trike and a second-had cricket bat to play on Christmas morning

The family walking to the park with new TOMS shoes, a $5 trike and a second-had cricket bat to play on Christmas morning

I happened to be chairing a session on the environment and social enterprise a few weeks ago at a conference and met a very kind and generous man who is starting TOMS shoes Australia.  John and I got to talking over a couple of days, and I discovered he also has a business recycling shoes into composite materials for playgrounds and offices.  I asked John if he knew where our family could find ‘gently used’ running shoes, the kind where people try them once or twice, don’t like them, and return them to be sold at a discount.  It so happens that since my sister suggested that we look for those types of second-hand shoes, I have asked at every running shoe store I’ve seen with no success.  John said they often end up with him, but he recycles them quickly and has put that on hold for now while he launches TOMS.  While he didn’t have an immediate solution for our running shoe dilemma, we talked about ‘buy nothing new year’ and he very generously offered to gift our family each a new pair of TOMS shoes.  After we accepted this generous offer, I looked up the value of the shoes online and found that in total, this equated to $390 worth of shoes for all of us.  We are so incredibly grateful for this very kind gift.  We have talked to the kids about the TOMS one-for-one model of donating a pair of shoes for each pair they sell, and have decided to try to come up with an appropriate donation in honor of John’s generosity.

We were spoiled!  New trampoline from nan an pa with new jumping shoes from TOMS

We were spoiled! New trampoline from nan an pa with new jumping shoes from TOMS

We also were very lucky to receive a trampoline from Nan and Pa for the combined kids’ gift and a mix of new and used items from Grandma and Grandpa for the kids.  Joey was especially excited to receive her crayons (which are very difficult to find second-hand)!  Peter and I also received a couple of packets of AA batteries from a friend, which allows us to use our alarm clocks and rotate them through some of the toys we have, so that was a huge bonus for us!

Aunties, uncles and grandparents also did try to buy gifts in alignment with our buy nothing new challenge, which was beautiful to see.  I received a gift from my secret Santa in the form of a hive of honey bees donated through Heiffer international, which I greatly appreciated and felt was very appropriate.  My parents sent me a beautiful antique compact and upcycled metal bracelet that my mom had bought years ago and was waiting for the right occasion to gift them to me.  The aunties and uncles donated some paypal cash toward swimming lessons and iTunes vouchers.  And, the kids made beautiful homemade cards with heartfelt messages of love and coupons for:  a reading session, doing a puzzle together, cooking a meal, and other beautiful gestures.  They also made some coupons and cards for each other, including my favorite from Silky to Joey offering coupons for things like: 1 play session, + 2 snacks and 2 cuddles.   Beautiful.

Homemade gifts from the kids

Homemade gifts from the kids

All in all, we had a beautiful holiday season including following our Christmas binge with a week of camping near the beach with all the kids and Peter’s closest friends and their children.  We even struck a deal to get the kids to leave their electronic devices in the tents to celebrate New Years with each other and ignore texts, tweets, tumblr and facebook, digital music (Peter’s cousin and friends played guitar and sang), and all the other stuff that distracts us from being present.  There is nothing like living outdoors and spending all day talking, walking, going to the beach, eating, drinking, and hearing live music to replenish your soul.  Included in the festivities was a musical tribute to Daron McFarlane, Peter’s closest friend who passed away over a year ago and was viscerally missed by his wife and kids and some of his oldest and closest friends who spent the week with us and rang in the new year together.

Just the kids at the campsite!

Just the kids at the campsite!

I was reminded of what it is we really value and what makes us feel like this is what it’s all about.  Although this challenge has nothing to do with those moments, it is those moments that remind me how this challenge, in some ways, helps us live in closer alignment with our values, hopefully forcing us to spend more time on the experiences that define the meaning in our lives and leaving behind the clutter and stuff that doesn’t make it into the lyrics of songs or anywhere near our souls.

Happy Holidays…looking forward to our continuing challenge in the new year.

human pyramid!

human pyramid!