a peek inside the fishbowl

29 Dec, 2006

Time to get my piggy back

Posted by andrea tomkins in: Challenge me, challenge you|Shopping Embargo

ETA: thank you Andrea … for submitting my site as a December Just Post.



I’m not big on resolutions. First, I hardly keep them. I tell myself that I’m going to exercise, eat right, yadda yadda but I inevitably give up …(although I REALLY do plan to get up off my @ss and do something about that someday. Soon. Really.)

Take back your piggybankBut this time it’s different. I’m promising myself, and you, that I’m not going to buy anything. That’s my goal. I’m not going to shop until February 1, 2007. See the counter on in the righthand sidebar? That’s how long I haven’t spent any money since I started down this particular road.

I love Christmas. Hate Boxing Day … or, as it’s now become known, Boxing Week. YES, it’s great for people who receive money for Christmas and relish standing in line for discontinued electronics. YES, I realize that some people use this opportunity to actually buy Christmas gifts for the following year. YES, I realize there might be people who don’t own a computer or a camera and wait ALL YEAR for this day to arrive because they need one and have to save a few dollars. But overall I see it as a gross spendathon for useless junk that is destined to end up in a landfill sooner than later.

This has always bothered me, but it really hit me while I was doing a small grocery shop at Loblaws on the 26th. Christmas decorations and the perfume/cosmetic gift sets were 40% off. People were filling their carts with huge overpackaged boxes of Shania perfume/bath oil/soap/shower buff sets. It depressed the crap out of me. Who would give something like that as a gift? Who’s receiving it, and more importantly, do they need it? Will they want it?

Every time you spend money you’re casting a vote for the kind of world you want to live in. There is so much that is wrong with perfumed bath sets that measure 2′ x 4′ and are wrapped in a greater amount of cardboard and plastic than the mass of the product within it.
We are all binging on stuff, and this is a problem. There are environmental consequences to overconsumption, and with six billion people on the planet, the onus if on the most affluent “the upper 20% that consumes 80% of the world’s resources“ to begin setting the example. (That last bit is taken from adbusters.org)

I’m not sure what to call this goal of mine: non-spending, anti-consumption, imposing limits?

I’m not buying anything but food and basic necessities for my family. I consider groceries, personal hygiene items and clothes/shoes for the girls to be basic necessities. I will not be buying overpackaged bath sets.

This is the way I plan to do this:

* avoid the malls
* leave my plastic at home

I still have one to finish up my part of the Winter Gift Extravaganza (I promised awhile back so those purchases will not count) but otherwise, we don’t need anything, so why buy anything?

So there it is. My anti-spree. I am going to do my best to avoid shopping until at least February 1, 2007.

I would love it if anyone out there wanted to join me. We could make it a sort of a contest. Who can go the longest? Should we have a prize? Perhaps I could mail some homemade treats to the person who goes the longest without spending. I’ll see who’s interested and maybe we can come up with something.


Yay! We have participants! Those who rose to the challenge officially include:

* Me
* Kim
* Erin
* Miche
* Robert – Thanks for all the links! Does this mean you’re in? :)
* Sue
* Megan
* Patti
* Scattered Mom

Feel free to use the image at the top of this post. I would love it if you could spread the word in your own blogs.

I plan on coming back here and posting my progress in the comments. I would love it if you did too!

60 Responses to "Time to get my piggy back"

1 | DaniGirl

December 29th, 2006 at 11:48 am


Before I’m even in, I’m out. (Imagine me like Kramer from the Seinfeld episode “The Contest”, waltzing in and smacking my money on the counter.)

I just bought two kids’ books for $2.99 each at Chapters. Beloved bought a desktop online on Boxing Day. Now we need to go to Ikea this weekend to get a computer desk to hide the horrific next of cords that are about to invade our dining room.

I could give up a lot of things, but I could never give up consumerism for the sake of consuming. I’m not proud, but I know that much about myself.

All this to say (sincerely) good luck! I’ll be cheering for you…

2 | andrea

December 29th, 2006 at 12:06 pm


Dani: I can totally know that scene with Kramer. Slapping that money down, OMG is it ever funny.

I appreciate your coming out of the consumer closet!

I totally think it’s possible to cut out or cut down on consuming for the sake of consuming. We’ve gotten so used to spending because we can. It’s become a habit for us, but if we stop to think about it most of the stuff we buy we don’t really need.

The other thing about Boxing Day/Week shopping (as Mark pointed out to me this morning) is that the stores get people psyched to spend. Someone might wait in line for a computer but while they’re in the store they somehow end up buying a DVD player and an MP3 player. Heck, why not, right?

Dani: my challenge to you is this. Buy that desk at Ikea but to leave the store without buying anything else e.g. that pack of 100 tealights, the stuffie or the star-shaped ice cube tray. What do you say? :)

3 | Kim

December 29th, 2006 at 12:10 pm


Hi Andrea, I want to join in and give it a try too! Do you mind if I use your cute graphic too?

Good Luck!!!!


4 | andrea

December 29th, 2006 at 12:18 pm


Kim: you’re in! Go ahead and use the graphic too. :)

5 | andrea

December 29th, 2006 at 12:19 pm


I found what I was looking for. That Seinfeld episode: The Contest (part one). :)

6 | Andrea

December 29th, 2006 at 1:28 pm


This is a great idea. Mind you, I know myself, and I react to restrictive diets by bingeing; so a no-shopping period probably isn’t the best way for me to go about this. (Did you read on Miche’s blog about The Compact people, who didn’t buy any non-necessary items in 2006? Or have you seen “Not Buying It,” a book that came out last year about a woman who didn’t buy anything for a year? Loved both of them–knew right away it was a very bad idea for me.)

I love the unshopping idea, though; and I’m going to try to figure out how I can use it without triggering that bingeing reflex. (And the graphic, too, is very cute.)

7 | andrea

December 29th, 2006 at 1:40 pm


I know what you mean about diets leading to a binge. I know myself. And I know that if I’m on a diet and there’s a bag of chips in the cupboard I am going to eat those chips. But if I don’t have them at home I am not going to pick up and go get them either.

I think I can curb my purchases by avoiding the store. When I was pregnant I avoided the malls because I CRAVED lovely spring tops and skirts but as a preggo nothing would fit. It was disheartening, so I just avoided the mall altogether. And you know what happened? If I didn’t see it, I didn’t want it. So I’m hoping this will work in this case too.

re: the Compact group. I have been reading up on them today… past news articles as well as their blog. I think it’s cool concept, but I’m not sure if I could do it for a full year. That’s just not realistic for 99.9% of us. That being said, I think it’s worth taking a break from shopping. Especially after the flurry of Christmas.

8 | Sarakastic

December 29th, 2006 at 2:50 pm


This is a great idea. There is no way I coudl ever do this, so I really admire you. It did get me thinking about who would want a year old discounted bath products. Thanks for brining some awareness

9 | erin

December 29th, 2006 at 3:13 pm


Here, here! We have two nephews and a neice and I couldn’t bring myself to buy them anything for Christmas this year except a book. Even with my heart open to the enjoyment and silliness of children, I wandered the toy stores and was aghast at all the over-packaged, over-plasticked crap that I would guess they’ll play with for a few hours here and there. We gave their parents some money instead. And you are completely right: for ourselves, what else do we need? We have a house full of stuff, stuff, stuff.

I’m in for the challenge, and based on what I think we need (and not having children), I’m hoping to go longer than February. My exception is a few things for home improvements – I need to buy paint for our walls and wood to build some bookshelves (to store all the stuff, of course!) My husband’s birthday is in January, so I might make a small exception for that but I’m going to try to make him something instead.

Now that I think about it, the challenge my husband and I have is limiting the consumables to a reasonable level. Consumables have the benefit of not adding to landfills directly, but our dinners out, consumption of liquor, expensive groceries, etc depletes our bank account and adds to a culture of consumption. So I’ll add to my challenge to find free and healthy ways to entertain ourselves – now, if we’ll just get some snow!

10 | Claudette

December 29th, 2006 at 5:06 pm


Refreshing! I thought I was a only-lonely one around here that refrains from shopping in this madness! I too have not spent $ since prior to the event, although I picked up groceries today, but apparently that’s allowed (smile!).
Andrea, I meant to mention before that your kids’ artwork is fantastic. I have done much reflecting lately on my own childhood with respect to the art and craft thing, and wrote in my blog about it. Wonder if you’d be interested in making a comment about the prevalant message….the post is called Childhood then and now. Happy New Year!

11 | Miche

December 29th, 2006 at 7:00 pm


I think The Compact folks initially set about to “unshop” for 6 months. And that’s all I agreed to do too. It really wasn’t all that hard.

Here are my results:

February, huh? I’m in.

12 | Robert

December 29th, 2006 at 8:45 pm


Contest!? What do we GET if we win??!!

Great idea Andrea…Just wish more people would take up the challenge. Geesh, 66 square kilometers of Ellsmere Island lost, and the world hardly blinks.

Myself…15 years and counting – because if people don’t act, there won’t be a future for our children.

check out the NewDream.org website,

or, for a more academic approach (sorry, I couldn’t resist):
a bunch of more links can be found here: http://www.icspac.net/sectors/general.aspx

13 | jen

December 30th, 2006 at 2:35 am


The other Andrea nudged me over here and am so glad she did. I completely agree – we vote and choose and direct with our dollars. And how we choose to spend can have tragic consequences for our planets and those forced to produce our never ending whims.

this is a very good idea. thank you for sharing it.

14 | andrea

December 30th, 2006 at 1:31 pm


I just read Beanie/Andrea’s post here:

… and I think she’s on to something. Read the second-last paragraph where she discusses the mechanics of her plan.

We (and by “we” I mean “I” and the few people who are playing along) need to work out some logistics to the unshopping plan.

How about this:

– (similar to The Compact) If you need to buy something, see if you can get it secondhand first, either at a thrift shop or via freecycle or criagslist.
– If you buy something, consider “paying it back” by cleaning out a closet and making a donation to the Salvation Army, St. Vincent de Paul or some other similar organization.

btw, I’m already on the verge of cheating. We were thinking about going to the movies today. Would it be so bad if we went to the movie and skipped the popcorn? That’s where they make the big bucks anyway…

Crap. This is going to be harder than I thought.

15 | Sue

December 30th, 2006 at 2:23 pm


I love this idea Andrea. The rampant consumerism of the holiday season leaves me with a need to go back to a more simple way of existing. For so many weeks before the holiday, I seemed to always have lists of things to buy, even though we try really hard in our family not to over-do it.

Fasting from all but necessary shopping sounds like a really great option.

Count me in.

16 | Robert

December 30th, 2006 at 2:24 pm


February 1st? Gahh! If I buy something not essential before June 1st, it would be a rather notable event (and that’s not just because my wife makes many of the purchases :)).

Suggestion: don’t confine your contest to any time frame – make it an exciting, healthy, innovative, learning, enlightening and challenging journey. Include barter, LETS, freecycle, urban mining (AKA dumpster diving!), libraries, backyard gardens, food coops, and other legally creative ways to acquire essentials to make and do what you (and your families/communities) need for a satifying QoL. The only thing you’re removing is commodified materialsm. Surely everyone is bright enough to think beyond THAT box.

Work the local and informal economies and you’ll have a lot of fun. You appreciate the stuff you really need when it arrives through more socially creative channels, and you witness first hand the energies, trials and tribulations that went into their creation.

But, do you need to ask yourself – isn’t this simply voluntary simplicity? – google it. Oh alright, simpleliving.net – it ain’t frugal living, pioneering, downshifting or poverty. And contrary to what the network would have you believe, you don’t have to buy all their commodified crap to simply live and live simply. (besides, if needed, most of it’s available free elsewhere) Better still:
– Dominguez, Joe and Robin, Vicki, 1992. Your Money or Your Life: Transforming Your Relationship With Money and Achieving Financial Independence, Penguin Books, New York, 1992.
- Burch, 1995. Mark Burch, Simplicity: Notes, Stories and Exercises for Developing Unimaginable Wealth, New Society Publishers, 1995.
- Durning, A., 1992. How Much is Enough? The Consumer Society and the Future of the Earth, Norton, New York, 1992. (oops, that slipped in)
- Elgin, Duane, 1993. Voluntary Simplicity: Toward a Way of Life that is Outwardly Simple, Inwardly Rich, William Morrow and Company, 1993.
- Shi, David, 1985. The Simple Life: Plain Living and High Thinking in American Culture, Oxford University Press, New York, 1985.
- VandenBroeck, Goldian , 1991. Less is more : the art of voluntary poverty : an anthology of ancient and modern voices raised in praise of simplicity, Goldian VandenBroeck ed., Inner Traditions International, Rochester, 1991.

These are all available at the Ottawa (and most other) Public library.

Oh, BTW, keep track of all your expenses. You’ll see some interesting patterns for the future. Damn globalization…full steam ahead.

ps – Andrea – borrow movies from the library. After a few months, it’ll be like new releases that you can enjoy in the company of your own living room with those you invite to create an atmosphere rather distinct from them loud, uncomfortable often obnoxious theatres. (but don’t feel obliged to run out and buy a new surround sound 5000 watt plasma blow your brains (and pocket book) away home theatre system!) It’s going to be easier than you think.

17 | Karrie

December 30th, 2006 at 4:58 pm


I wish my husband would participate. He is a compulsive shopper. It’s terrible. Thankfully, I’m not.

There was a book out last year about a woman who did not buy anything for an entire year–I believe “Not Buying It” is the title. I didn’t buy it because I was too cheap to splurge on hardback. :)

Good luck to all of you who are cutting back!

18 | Leah

December 30th, 2006 at 5:26 pm


DaniGirl, DH and I just hauled our old computer desk out to the curb and stuck a big “FREE!” sign on it. I’m serious. We had to buy new Ikea desks because DH’s new cpu wouldn’t fit under the old one.

I’d like to participate in the anti-shop-a-thon, but can I wait until after we go to Mexico in three weeks? Seriously.

19 | Mad Hatter

December 30th, 2006 at 9:37 pm


I’m always trying, always trying to curb it. I can’t promise a diet but I can promise that I never have and never will buy a Shania perfume boxed set or any other kind of crap of that nature. Good luck.

20 | Megan MacKay-Barr

December 30th, 2006 at 10:03 pm


Hi Andrea,

I did just this thing in September and lasted until late November. We called it the EMBARGO (we were in a trade embargo with the world) and we could only buy what we totally needed, like food and the like. It went really well for a while (until a big ski sale in London). I plan to join your group and reinstate the embargo as soon as the clock strikes midnight tomorrow.

I found that avoiding Winner’s was the way to go. I do have to say that I LOVE boxing day but only buy Christmas related items.

21 | Dagne

December 31st, 2006 at 11:01 am


Great to see your challenge Andrea. We’re generally “under-consumers”, if there is such a term, but I always think that we can do more (or less, if you see what I mean). We also buy second-hand as much as possible (though it’s not easy to find decent clothes for an eight-year old boy) and recycle things that we don’t need anymore. We focus on outdoor activities, projects and hanging out at home, and libraries and museums for things to do with our kids; we rarely take them shopping and want to limit their exposure to a “shopping world”. (Not watching TV apart from the occasional TVO program helps too – they aren’t surrounded by advertising.)

My greatest frustration is with other people (my brother and his wife like to “go big” – this Xmas we gave their children a book and an article of clothing each, whereas our kids got huge “impressive” plastic toys which they don’t need and have already forgotten), and with manufacturers, who must take final responsibility for their packaging (amongst other things). I recently bought our boys pajamas at The Children’s Place. Lovely, simple cotton pajamas with no logos, cartoon characters or tacky hockey motifs (neither of my kids could give a toss about hockey). These nice pajamas came wrapped in a thick plastic envelope, which I mailed to the company’s headquarters in New Jersey with a note saying “deal with this – it’s your problem”. We should all do this – we need to speak up or else it’s assumed that we approve.

One of the worst developments we’ve seen in recent years is cheap goods manufactured in China sold via our local dollar store (and everywhere else). It’s made many goods more accessible for people with lower incomes (though I know lots of people with more than enough money who love the dollar store), but it has also created a culture in which it’s ok to buy something, use it for five minutes till it breaks, then throw it away and get another one or two or more. The electronics industry has a huge legacy to answer for; planned obsolescence is obscene and unacceptable.

It’s easy to rant about it, but also easy to do stuff about it. I know I’m obsessed with downsizing all around as I recently found and fell in love with this website: http://www.tumbleweedhouses.com/ I’m not sure the rest of my family would be into living in a shed though…

Good luck!

22 | Kim

December 31st, 2006 at 11:25 am


I’m doing good! It’s been 3 days, 10 hours, 21 minutes, and 45 seconds have passed since I bought stuff!!!

Once…no no I should use the word if instead. If I make it to February 1st I plan to go fuirther. It’s a good challenge for me!

Good Luck Everyone!

23 | patti

December 31st, 2006 at 8:06 pm


I’m with you!

24 | andrea

January 1st, 2007 at 9:51 pm


The photo from this entry is of a foamy espresso made with an espresso maker we received at Christmas. Despite the fact that I’m not counting food/groceries into my shopping embargo (Megan – that’s the PERFECT TERM for it) I have a feeling it will go a long way to curbing my latte habit. ;)

re: overall spending.
Over seven days and there has been none! I’ve been doing a lot of reading and we’ve been doing freebie things as a family this week.

I’ve never been a huge shopper. So perhaps this will be easy for me. I should point out why I chose Feb 1 as the target date. I was going to go longer – much longer. In fact, I had my little piggy graphic made up with “100 days of not shopping” at the bottom when Mark reminded me of a rather large – shall we say – expensive event coming up mid-late February. Excepting that, I hope to keep it up as long as I can.

We’ll see how it all goes in week two.

25 | DaniGirl

January 2nd, 2007 at 10:49 am


I’m just back to read all the comments now. WOW! (and I’m laughing that you found the clip on YouTube!!)

Andrea, we never did make it to Ikea but I made it through Canadian Tire with only the thing I came for, which is almost as difficult, right? (Oh, how I love Canadian Tire!) It helped that we had my in-laws and two kidlets along for the ride, but I digress…

I’m tightening my belt in other ways right now, and I know myself well enough to know that much like the Other Andrea posted, if I deny myself I will first obsess and then overcompensate in a binge. Right now, food is my primary issue and finances are a close second.

Thanks for making me think about all this. I’ll be playing along in my own way, wondering if I really “need” something or if I just want it.

26 | Scattered Mom

January 2nd, 2007 at 11:11 pm


I would love to join too! I hate Boxing Day and all the consumerism that goes with it. This is a great idea!

The only thing is that I have a neice whose birthday is Feb 1st. I have to buy her a gift, but besides that, I don’t plan to buy anything else but necessities.

27 | Jill

January 3rd, 2007 at 1:03 pm


This is an excellent idea. I try to restrict my shopping at all times, but I have to say that I did go uncharacteristically berserk this Boxing Week.

I’d love to join in but I had planned to go out today to make a purchase that would reduce my overall consumption — a new travel mug so that I will FINALLY stop buying coffee every day at Second Cup and I can ensure that I at least feed my addiction with the responsibly-grown/harvested/traded beans from my local fair trade store.

I guess that’s still shopping, but I hope that things like that might be taken into consideration (along with the second-hand/freecycle/craigslist allowances).

I’ll be checking in!

28 | CL

January 4th, 2007 at 2:43 pm


Ok, here’s what happend to ME today. I did not shop. But I wanted to, although it was mostly only necessities. Or, sanity savers? Like, that toy he got for Xmas that is supposed to have three C batteries? Of course the the batteries weren’t included, and the toy does work sort of without, but you know, maybe if I get the batteries then I can re-introduce the toy in a new way leaving me a bit of time to do something constructive like leave a comment on a blog. So…my intention was to go do the necessary shopping (kleenex, shampoo) and take the toddler with me to give hubby a few minutes of peace, and what happens? MELTDOWN. (the kid, not the husband). Normally he stops fairly quickly, but this was NO FUN. So I abandoned the batteries in the cart and took the not even two-year old little maniac home for a nap. No kleenex either. The shampoo can wait till next week. So…in some way, I’m in the contest although I haven’t officially joined. But I usually hate shopping …what the heck. I can do without those stupid batteries till Feb 1. Good luck!

29 | andrea

January 5th, 2007 at 3:22 pm


CL: sounds like shopping hell… I wouldn’t wish a toddler meltdown on anyone.

30 | andrea

January 5th, 2007 at 3:23 pm


So we had a $40 take-out sushi dinner last night… it doesn’t happen often. And it was soooo good. I’m not feeling guilty about it, saved me from a grocery shop and the effort of cooking. But it’s worth asking the question: Who’s including take-out food in their unspending?

31 | Ann D

January 5th, 2007 at 3:25 pm


So now that I re-read your post, I found the question that I posted in my blog to you — about the groceries. (I had visions of you living on powdered milk and canned tuna until Feb. 1.)

I’m with you in spirit and in a lot of action, but I’m not officially signing on because I still have to make purchases through my business because my employee relies on some of those purchases to make her livelihood, etc. But I think my net purchases since Christmas consist of something like one marker, 2 Tim Horton’s tea biscuits (total frill), a plumbing bill (necessary, trust me!), feminine hygiene products (non-negotiable), and rewriteable CDs.

32 | andrea

January 5th, 2007 at 3:46 pm


Ann – I would consider all of those things essential items.

This is the way I see it.

These are the things that are okay for me to buy:
Groceries (including occasional healthy takeout… no fast food), personal hygiene, safety items, shoes/clothes for the girls, things we need to run my business, school-related expenses (e.g school trips and pizza days)

I’m avoiding a lot of the “extras,” like:
Books (!), magazines, toys, art supplies, clothing and accessories, electronics, non-essential household items, anything Christmassy like marked down decorations and wrapping paper.

There may be things (from either category) that I’m missing but you get the idea.

I’m heading to the library today to pick up a book I have on reserve. I might do this more often.

33 | Claudette

January 6th, 2007 at 8:27 pm


Found this article in the Saturday Jan 6, 2007 National Post re a bunch of friends who started a similar contest as you did. They’re making it a year-long goal! Encouraging to know that many like-minded people share this view.

Title: Off the consumer grid
by Catherine Elsworth in LA
Weekend Post section, WP8 (page 8)

34 | Claudette

January 7th, 2007 at 11:37 am


THis is the blog of the group of people whom I’ve mentioned in the previous comment. They have some neat ideas, and although most people don’t participate to this extreme, it has some good thought-provoking ideas. This is their mission:

1) to go beyond recycling in trying to counteract the negative global environmental and socioeconomic impacts of U.S. consumer culture, to resist global corporatism, and to support local businesses, farms, etc. — a step, we hope, inherits the revolutionary impulse of the Mayflower Compact;

2) to reduce clutter and waste in our homes (as in trash Compact-er);

3) to simplify our lives (as in Calm-pact)


35 | Lex

January 8th, 2007 at 5:53 pm


GREAT idea! Want to make it an annual so I can join in next year? I would have SO joined this if I had seen it sooner. (Can I blame it on bloglines? I going to anyway. ) But I’m mid-way through birthday season and haven’t made enough gifts to get through it without buying.

When grocery shopping with a friend we used to play “find the most overpackaged goods”. Often the kid’s pre-packed lunches won.

36 | Miche

January 8th, 2007 at 8:52 pm


For anyone finding this challenge too easy, here’s how you can step it up a notch. Can you follow the lead outlined in this article and create no garbage for a week? a day? a month?

37 | andrea

January 9th, 2007 at 11:19 am


Lex: I’m going to make this an annual thing. I’ll remind you next year.

Miche: thanks for posting that article. It’s a real eye-opener. I looked at their blog too. Wow. We’re so used to dealing with our extra stuff by simply dumping it in the garbage…. and then it’s out of sight out of mind.

Like the thing about the fruit stickers. What can we do with those? They mentioned saving them them and using it in a collage for a friend, but I think in that case it’s just postponing the garbage… not saving it from the landfill.

But there were some good examples too i.e. drinks and straws, muffins and napkins. We should just say no to that stuff. Most of it is pretty useless.

38 | andrea

January 9th, 2007 at 11:25 am


I was talking to a friend last night about the unshopping. So far it hasn’t been that tough for me. I haven’t been to the mall, or shopping anywhere for that matter, and I haven’t missed it.

You know when it’s hardest? When there is a great deal to be had. When I’m grocery shopping (we’re often at the superstore) I have to avert my eyes so I’m not tempted.

My friend mentioned a drastically-reduced raincoat she spotted in a shop. She considered buying for her son (who already has a rainsuit). She tussled with the idea of buying it, because it was such a great deal. But she didn’t end up buying it because she decided he didn’t one. (Oooh, but it was a tough decision!)

It’s easy to fall in the “but it’s such a great price” trap. Isn’t it? You think you have to buy it because it’s so cheap. But if you really think about it, it’s likely you don’t actually need it.

39 | a peek inside the fish bowl

January 10th, 2007 at 8:37 am


[…] That other Andrea submitted the Unshopping post as a December Just Post. […]

40 | andrea

January 10th, 2007 at 10:06 am


This somes up nicely what I’ve been thinking about:

“Not purchasing, like not eating (ie. dieting) is anticlimactic. Here I am, not buying anything, which is essentially a non-act. It doesn’t look very much different from sitting and cogitating or simply living my life; reading a book, editing photos, cleaning the kitchen. The real activity is the war raging in my mind. Just like dieting – the constant denial of scratching the itch to eat something gooey and delicious – not consuming is a war waged with self-talk.”

– from http://mycompactyear.blogspot.com/

41 | Jennifer (ponderosa)

January 10th, 2007 at 1:38 pm


Hi Andrea: I didn’t officially do this — that is, I didn’t announce it on my blog — but I’m doing this. January 10, so far so good. I have only been to the grocery store.

Yesterday was my BIL’s birthday and I had planned to buy him something but buying is out this month, right? So my 5-year-old son and I made him a glass-container-full of lucky stars, using the directions that you posted earlier. We used old wrapping paper scraps and a page from the Patagonia catalog (all blue, very pretty) and also cut strips of red from a Pottery Barn catalog.

I was surprised how well my son did. Never underestimate how determined a child can be!

42 | erin

January 10th, 2007 at 2:37 pm


Here’s the update from my neck of the woods. First the list of failures: 1) I bought new workout clothes which technically I did not need. 2) We went to the movies and bought expensive popcorn, most of which we did not eat. 3) My husband is currently researching a new cellphone for me, even though my current one still works. There are justifications and excuses and mitigating circumstances for all of these, but nevertheless I haven’t been exactly rigorous in my embargo. Only 11 days in, and it’s considerably harder than you think. It goes to show you how much of what we consume is completely unconscious and done without even thinking. When you start thinking about it you realize how much you buy without considering it “shopping”.

I’m still on the wagon; a couple failures does not mean it’s worth giving up. To continue the apt dieting comparison above, slipping up and having desert is not a reason to abandon the effort altogether -as tempting as that is!

43 | andrea

January 10th, 2007 at 2:57 pm


It is hard! The other Andrea had a great post about it and I encourage everyone to give it a read:


It does require some thought and effort, doesn’t it? Thinking about it is a big step for some people.

For me it comes down to this question: Is this something I need?

If the answer is no (I hope) I would put it back.

I have a couple of things I would like to hash over:

1) I think paying for experiences or events is okay. We took our kids on a mini-train ride at Upper Canada Village. They loved it. They will always remember it. There was nothing to unwrap or discard. I’m okay with that.

2) What about art? Where does this fit in to all of this? I was looking at the latest at tinyshowcase.com last night. Would it have fit into the unshopping rules or not?

3) What to do about birthday presents? Hmm. Presents are kind of a prerequisite … especially for a child’s birthday!) I liked the idea (above) about the jar with stars. (I’m glad to hear someone put that idea to use!)

People might frown on giving thrifted goods. Ideally, at least for this month, we should not buy new things that come in wrapped in a package. What about donating money in the recipients name to the Humane Society? “Adopting” an animal? Or something else?

I’m not sure how well this would go over with anyone under 18. Gah.

Okay, how about some kind of personal payback system? For every unneccessary item you buy you have to give one away. So, if you bought some new workout clothes (sorry Erin, I don’t mean to pick on you) you could even it out by clearing a couple of things out of your closet and donating them to the Salvation Army or some other similar organization.

We can create a new law of acquisition: for each item that comes in, an equal item must be donated to a charity. Would that work do you think?

I’ve started to edit and purge a bit myself. It feels pretty good.

44 | denguy

January 11th, 2007 at 12:13 am


Awesome post and I agree–I’ve been to a landfill site.

Can I join in? Am I too late? When did you officially start?

I bought boots for my 5-year-old today. Her old size 8s weren’t really fitting her size 11 feet. (Bad Daddy.) And I bought myself a sweater on Dec. 30th (delayed xmas gift–my wife didn’t know which colour to get).

Do these count? Can I join in or what!

45 | Jennifer

January 11th, 2007 at 5:07 pm


Hi Andrea — I actually bought a gift for a child’s birthday but the purchase was dec 30 or 31 (even though it was gifted in jan) so I didn’t count it.

For this particular party the child did a book exchange, where each invitee brought a wrapped book and before leaving, each took a different one. I thought it was brilliant because the parent then didn’t have to buy anything for the guests (which is a crazy expectation anyway) and since the girl’s bday is right after xmas, she didn’t feel shorted.

I think for the under-18 crowd you could give the gift of an experience, like movie tickets or Children’s Museum tickets. It still costs money but like you say, no consumable. What you could also do is (let’s say) give the child a ticket to an event and then offer to watch her siblings so that the child gets an evening with mom & dad all to herself!

46 | andrea

January 11th, 2007 at 8:16 pm


Denguy: you’re in if you’re not shopping:) Mostly everyone started on Nyew Years day, although I actually started a bit before Christmas.

So should we sort out this prize thing? I know there are some people out there who are following along but not posting. On Feb. 1 I’d like to put all the particpants name in a hat and draw for a prize. I’ll mail the winner a homemade treat… made by me! Okay?

47 | andrea

January 11th, 2007 at 8:19 pm


All the posts on this topic are making my head spin. The challenge has proliferated all over the place. Which is great. Who was it, and where was it the commenter was wondering about using plastic bags for doggie do?

They make biodegradable ones! Check it out check it out here.

But technically aren’t you supposed to be flushing it down the toilet?

48 | Miche

January 12th, 2007 at 9:53 am


I’ve got the a dog poop comment:

Send me a working link and I’ll post it in response to her question.

49 | Lee

January 12th, 2007 at 10:50 am


I’ve put together a page of resources for people who are interested in donating or swapping their previously enjoyed items.

and of course there are the second hand stores too

Apologies that it’s Toronto-centric. If you have Ottawa-centric resources for me to add, just let me know!

50 | Miche

January 15th, 2007 at 9:54 am


The Globe and Mail had some great articles about consumerism this weekend.

One about folks who dumpter dive for food because they feel it’s silly to buy food when there’s perfectly good food being thrown away. (Unfortunately, this one requires subscription.)

One about The Compact again. (Unfortunately, this one requires subscription.)

Looks like you’ve got your finger right on the pulse of the nation Andrea!

51 | andrea

January 17th, 2007 at 9:57 am


I saw those Miche… ! Thanks for posting the links. Both were pretty interesting.

Here’s a little something else:

The happiness of making a purchase–a real form of happiness or not?

52 | andrea

January 23rd, 2007 at 9:31 am


So… it’s been nearly a month of unspending. And to tell you the truth at no time was it as tough as it was last night.

Our expenditures this month have been necessary ones. Mostly groceries, but I did have to renew some software for my computer. (Firewall/virus stuff… ya can’t go without that!)
Also, I bought a birthday gift for a little friend of Sarah’s. I know. And I DID consider getting her passes to the Children’s Museum or something, but she’s six. AND I don’t know her well enough to know if her family has passes or whatever.

Anyway, last night I found myself at Staples. I was there to get 200 photocopies of a flyer I’d written up. I had time to kill. And ohhhh, was it tough. I was surrounded by Things I Love. Papers, pens, poster board. I zeroed in on a super new computer keyboard. Black. Ergonomically-correct… with all kinds of bells and whistles. I didn’t buy it. But I will.

Gah. This is hard. I realized that I’m just putting off some purchases. Like the keyboard. I didn’t buy it. But I will. My current keyboard is the pits. I’ve actually worn some letters right off of it.

How do the Compact people do it for a full year?

53 | Miche

January 27th, 2007 at 10:10 am


Andrea, congratulations on your excellent progress! I think from The Compact perspective, there are two possibilities. One – you find a second-hand keyboard that meets your needs. (Although, between you and me, I’ve always taken apart and cleaned each and every key on second-hand keyboards before they get used in my space!) Two – if it’s ‘for your job’ it’s ok to buy.

54 | Robert

January 28th, 2007 at 7:07 pm


er…about that prize thingy…


Yes, what you (we) are doing can be difficult.

[Excerpt: “such practices expose much of today’s mainstream environmentalism as a form of consumerism… that despite the genuine accomplishments of groups such as the Sierra Club, “Environmentalism, like corporate capitalism, increasingly is forced to pitch its messages in consumerist terms to win any widespread popular support.””]

I didn’t participate here expecting the possibility of a prize. Isn’t that defeatist and counter- pardon the pun – productive?

For an interesting article on consumer freedom of choice…check out Tom Princens paper linked from here (more academic)


seen this? Living Green Below Your Means

ps. Andrea, I couldn’t get your link to biodegradable pooper bags to work

55 | andrea

January 29th, 2007 at 10:24 am


Whoops! For biodegradable dog-do bags click this link.

Technically (and very few people actually do this) you’re supposed to stoop, scoop, and flush the poop … and not toss that bag in the garbage can to end up in the landfill. I wonder if you can flush the biodegradable ones down the toilet?

Thanks for the links Robert. I will check them out.

p.s. the prize was going to be a small (reusable!) container of my famous spicy almonds. But if you would like to bow out of the draw for environmental reasons, I won’t be offended. :)

56 | andrea

February 1st, 2007 at 9:21 am


The shopping embargo is officially over. Is anyone still with me? :)

So how did it go? Was it easy? Hard? Impossible?
Shall we do a round-up?

Me: This has really forced me to examine my spending habits. I’m not a huge shopper (although I kind of already knew that). I’m not the kind of person who owns 200 pairs of shoes or a closet-full of purses.

I did slip up. The other day I was waiting in line at the grocery store, flipping through an interior-design mag. I tossed it in the cart without any thought whatsoever. It wasn’t until I had paid for my groceries that I realized that the magazine isn’t on my list of things I’m allowed to buy. In fact, consumer magazines are the worst culprit in the chain of consumerism – they show you what you’re missing, and make you want it. I honestly considered returning the magazine, but then I changed my mind. As far as slip-ups go it wasn’t a big one. And I fully intend to recycle it or give it away when I’m done with it! :)

I like to think I buy what I need, although I know this isn’t necessarily true 100% all the time. I’m bad at the impulse “toss it in the cart” kind of puchase.

I do like to get my shopping fix, and often I do it by shopping for thifted goods and giving things a second life. This, to me, is the ultimate shopping challenge.

57 | Sue

February 1st, 2007 at 11:04 am


I feel quite sheepish about the whole thing. I lasted about two weeks and then succumbed to a dashing pair of winter boots that were 70% off. I was in the store for perfectly legit reasons (paying my tab for some Christmas purchases), and the boots just called out to me.

I tried to get back on the unspending spree after that and actually didn’t do too badly. A few minor slips since then, but nothing much.

The best part was that I noticed what I was spending, and I intentionally paused before buying every item except the groceries. It was a good exercise. Thanks!

58 | Miche

February 1st, 2007 at 6:53 pm


I’ve posted the sordid details of my experience.

Over-all, I think we did pretty well. We’re not huge shoppers to begin with, so perhaps we had an unfair advantage. (Now, getting me to cut back on my comfort foods…. that’s another story!)

Sad to say, however, I don’t think I’d qualify for the prize draw!

59 | erin

February 2nd, 2007 at 9:49 am


I’ve posted a bit about my results here.

In summary, I managed ok, but was certainly not perfect. I think, like Andrea, that it is hardest for me to avoid items when I’m just passing by and can throw it in the cart. If I can avoid the stores, I can avoid the unnecessary purchases. The one major problem with that plan is the grocery store; one has to eat. One thing that helps me is shopping at specialty stores (Herb and Spice, Butchery, Produce Depot) rather than the big box stores. Those stores rarely carry those extra tea-towels, on-sale DVDs, or magazines that are so tempting.

This is valuable activity. I’m going to continue into February as I don’t think January was difficult enough for me to really make me think about it enough. Thanks for the spark Andrea, this was a great idea!

60 | a peek inside the fish bowl

December 26th, 2007 at 10:51 am


[…] Here’s last year’s post about it. […]

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My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark and our dog Piper who is kind of a big deal on Instagram. We also have two human offspring: Emma (24) and Sarah (22). During the day I work as a writer at the Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999. The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

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