a peek inside the fishbowl

26 Dec, 2007

The Shopping Embargo of 2008

Posted by andrea tomkins in: Shopping Embargo|Yaktivism

Please note, updates are posted in the comments. Feel free to chime in. Let us know how your shopping embargo is going!

Yes. I’m doing it again. It’s a shopping embargo and this time I’m extending it by a month. (!)
The annual
Here’s last year’s post about it. 

This is my promise to myself:

Between January 1 and Feb 29, I will only purchase essential items for myself and for my family. This includes groceries/consumables, gas, basic hygiene (shampoo, soap, not cosmetics), medicine and essential clothing.

I will borrow books and magazines instead of buying them. I will rent movies and games instead of buying them. And because there was some discussion about it last time, I will continue to go on family outings; like ice skating or museums, because those aren’t things that will eventually end up in a landfill and I think they’re worth it.

Why am I doing this? My reasons are twofold: because we need to save some money around here, and the more I think about it the more I realize our perceived need for stuff has gotten way out of hand. Why is it that so many of us head to the malls after Christmas just to buy ourselves more things we don’t really need? It’s become almost automatic. When did shopping become our national pastime? Why do so many people consider it a form of recreation?

I would love it if you (yes you!) took this challenge and made it your own. Can you stop shopping for two months?

Start by saying no to Boxing Day. :)

But if you don’t think you can go cold turkey for two months you could consider making these small changes for the same stretch of time:

1) Consider your purchases carefully. Before you get to the register, slow down and ask yourself:

* Is this something I need?
* Do I already own something that could serve the same purpose?
* Can I borrow one, find one used, or make one instead of buying new?
* Was it made locally?
* Was it made with environmentally preferable materials?
* Was it made with fair labor practices?
* Will it serve more than one purpose?
* Is it made well enough to last a useful length of time?
* Will it be easy and cost-effective to maintain?
* Will using it require excessive energy?
* Does it come in excessive packaging?
* Can I recycle or compost it when I’m done with it?
* If I’m still not sure, can I wait a month be fore deciding to buy it?

(from http://www.newdream.org/walletbuddy.pdf … You can print these out and tuck it into your wallet as well.)

2) Buy second hand.

3) Brown bag your lunch, and use a reusable mug for your daily cup of coffee.

4) Use cloth/reusable grocery bags.

5) Ditch single-use water bottles (the kind you buy at the grocery store, 24 for $3.99) and fill a reusable container at the tap/your Brita-type container instead.

6) Track of your purchases. 

7) Support small business instead of the big box stores.

If you can do any of those things you can consider it a small victory.

Here’s an interesting blog post about controlling impulse spending.

I’ve been thinking a lot about why we shop so often. For many of us it’s because we’re bored or unhappy and we want to reward ourselves. If that’s the case with you, consider doing something else when the urge hits. Call a friend, write a letter, take a bubble bath, do something fun with your kids … anything!

This is what helped me last year, and could help you too:

1) Avoid the malls. Out of sight, out of mind, right?
2) Leave your cash/credit cards at home.
3) Avoid fashion/consumer magazines. Looking at them will suddenly make you want to redecorate your living room or buy a new pair of shoes.
4) Watch less television. Same reason.
5) Switch grocery stores. I often shop at the Superstore, and they sell a lot more than just groceries.

This year’s challenge is also forcing me to consider some issues that (I think!) are worth are worth discussing in more detail. I would love to hear your thoughts.

– I am a big fan of small neighbourhood stores. Here in Westboro we have a lot of really nice little shops, run by some really nice people, and many of them have been part of this community for years. I hate to advocate not shopping in those places. I love them!

– Related: on a larger scale, if everyone stopping buying things, how would that change our economy?

– I’m going to Jamaica in January. If I buy my kid a t-shirt from the Bob Marley museum will that make me a big fat hypocrite?

– I find it hard to be a non-spender when there are other people involved. For example, if Emma or and Sarah are invited to birthday party, obviously, gifts are expected. Will anyone look askance if we show up with a handmade card, a macaroni necklace, and a donation to the humane society? I hate that that bugs me, but it does. I should be stronger than that. Gah. 

– I realized last year that some of my, ahem, desired expenditures were ones that I was just putting off until after my self-imposed deadline. Postponing a purchase is not the answer to the big question – can we consume less – but overall, I know I did consume less. And we saved a lot of cash as well. That’s what matters, right?

So. That’s it. Everything is on the table. Who will join me? And help spread the word? Let me know if you’re playing along. Further discussion/progress will be posted in the comments.

ETA. Some sites worthy of a browse for motivation and inspiration:
The Simple Dollar
Get Rich SlowlyAre you a Shopaholic?
5 steps to taming materialism, from an accidental expert

Who’s in:

The other Andrea
Mad Hatter
Omaha Mama

(Welcome! And please let me know if you’re participating and have written about The Shopping Embargo of 2008 and I’ll add you to the list. The more people that know about it, the better!)

59 Responses to "The Shopping Embargo of 2008"

1 | Kim

December 26th, 2007 at 2:35 pm


I am so excited! I can’t wait!

2 | scatteredmom

December 26th, 2007 at 2:56 pm


Count me in!

I just have a couple of family birthdays in February and January so I’ll have to buy for those, but I can get useable gifts like passes to museums or movies, etc.

I absolutely agree with your comment that our “need for stuff” has gotten way out of hand. It seems like Christmas has become a huge time to just buy for the sake of buying. We don’t do Boxing Day shopping, either. I don’t even want to step into another store! :)

Can I have a button for my blog? I’ll write a post and link to you.

And, for the real reason I dropped in…Merry Christmas from the Cookie Jar!

3 | Sam

December 26th, 2007 at 3:40 pm


Day 1- so far so good. I did not shop. But I am going to buy some yarn at a small independently owned yarn shop in town. Making some “home-made” fingerless mittens for myself. Ok- maybe 2 pair.

But they are homemade and since I do not own my own sheep it is a necessity for this project.


4 | andrea

December 26th, 2007 at 6:19 pm


Yay! Hi Kim, ScatteredMom and Sam. I’m glad you’re in this with me. And yes, please take a graphic if it suits you… there’s a smaller one on the side if that works better.

I realized that I wrote that my shopping moratorium will begin on the 1st, but I’m not planning on doing any shopping this week anyway. So I am considering this to be day one. And so far so good.

Sam: I think you made a good call on the yarn. :)

5 | BeachMama

December 26th, 2007 at 8:28 pm


I have been thinking of this for the last week or so. I don’t know if I will officially sign up or just take it one week at a time.

I really believe we don’t need anymore stuff, but I did want to do some crafts and will need a couple of supplies. At the same time I need to clean out and decide what we have craftwise and make sure there isn’t any duplication. Will have to see how well I can do this one.

6 | scatteredmom

December 26th, 2007 at 11:56 pm


Hey, I’m excited! Then I also saw your snakefest pic, and I just got a sewing machine for Christmas.

I wanna make a snake! Think I can pass off fabric as an essential? (hee hee) Actually we do have a very drafty back door and I think Mr. (or Ms) snake would really come in handy.

7 | porter

December 27th, 2007 at 12:22 am


Hi Andrea,
I’m totally in even for the two months. I will be away until after Jan 1st and won’t have access to the internet so I will catch up when I get back.

PS-I can see myself putting of a purchase until the end of the two months so that made me chuckle! Guess I need to get my head around that.

8 | Cath

December 27th, 2007 at 1:17 pm


I don’t blog but would love to join – it’s a great idea!

9 | Petah

December 28th, 2007 at 9:52 am


I think I would just be making a mental list of all the things I was going to buy in March. When I used to work in retail, we found that by opening the store on an extra day (Sunday), we didn’t do more business but just that it was spread out more evenly over the course of the week. I think the same might apply to buying. Taking myself out of the store isn’t going to make me buy less, it’s just going to make the buying more concentrated from March onwards.

I guess what I’m saying is that I need a change of philosophy to last the whole year, not a change in behaviour to last two months.

When I shop, I typically consider the guidelines outlined in your first point but I’m just not ready to stop the shop altogether.

10 | andrea

December 28th, 2007 at 10:02 am


Hi Petah – I appreciate what you’re saying. I think this exercise will help us think more carefully about the purchases we make, starting with whether we actually need these things or not. If you’re able to change your attitude towards shopping for a two month period, who knows, it might carry over into the rest of the year.

11 | Andrea

December 28th, 2007 at 6:50 pm


I’m in. The post will go up Monday.

12 | andrea

January 3rd, 2008 at 9:05 am


It’s Jan 3 – and I haven’t bought anything.

Seriously, the trick (for me) is to refrain from entering a store. Being housebound works. It’ll get harder when I get more stir-crazy, I’m sure.

I was picking up some groceries at the dreaded Superstore the other day and I had to avert my eyes lest I saw a deal I couldn’t refuse. I can’t miss what I don’t see, right? :)

13 | Cath

January 3rd, 2008 at 10:10 am


I never thought of myself as an emotional shopper but this is proving me wrong — I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time looking at books and yarn on-line given the massive writing deadline I’ve got staring me in the face …

I’m also finding I’m struggling with what’s in and what’s out in my mind — if I go ahead and get pictures printed to satisfy the old Irish aunties who are demanding pictures of my 16 month old daughter, am I breaking the/my rule? If I get the exercise equipment I need to complete the exercise program I’ve committed to, does that count?

This is a a great exercise in want vs need!!

14 | Sage

January 3rd, 2008 at 11:40 am


Hey, I’m in. I’m going try for the whole damn year! My only problem is saying “no” to the kids – they really break my heart with their desires. It’s hard to get them off stuff – it’s like crack. I need to take them to a 12-step program.

On the economy – don’t worry about it. Powers that be will make sure it’s okay – but they care far less for the state of the planet. That’s a job for the little people.

15 | andrea

January 3rd, 2008 at 1:21 pm


Welcome Sage!

The desire for stuff is hard to quench. Good for you to try to do it for a year.

I went to the Bagel Shop today (they sell traditional bagels but it’s also a small high-end grocery store) and all of their Christmas gifts/food/chocolate were marked down 50%. I was almost, almost, taken in by some Lindt snowmen. I told myself that we didn’t need more chocolate, and even if I bought them as a gift I doubted the recipent needed them too. I’d be buying them just because they’re cheap, not because I need them. Hmmm. How often do we do this? Something to think about, anyway.

On my way home I spotted an older lady walking down the street in a VERY shiny purple snowsuit with super bright orange and turquiose striping on the jacket.

Good lord, I thought. Is that ever ugly.

And then I thought better about that thought. Fashionable folks – and by that I mean those who buy into seasonal trends only discard them the following season – are probably among the heaviest consumers out there. And there I was, dissing this lady for her snowsuit. She’s doing her share of the three R’s, isn’t she?

So who really cares what people wear? And why is society so tough on those who aren’t dressing as if they’re part of this decade? It’s so superficial it’s embarrassing.

*hides head*

16 | andrea

January 3rd, 2008 at 1:24 pm


Cath: I think each person needs to draw his or her line in his or her sand.

Personally, I would get the photos but I wouldn’t get the exercise equipment. But I’m not you! :)

Me: I need to renew my membership at the gym. *sigh*

17 | andrea

January 3rd, 2008 at 11:34 pm


Newsflash: I made it through Chapters tonight without buying a single thing. I rock it.

18 | andrea

January 4th, 2008 at 11:02 am


I have just returned from ValVill. I needed various bits of clothing for my upcoming trip, and although essential clothing is on my “okay to buy” list I thought I’d go the second-hand route. And I totally scored! I dound a really cute lightweight jacket (a steal at $7.99) and a couple pairs of jeans for the girls ($1.99 each). I also found a book I’d been looking for, an overdue gift for a little friend. Yay me!

19 | Mad Hatter

January 4th, 2008 at 1:28 pm


I’m in. I’m about to post about it. Thanks for lighting the fire.

20 | Ln

January 4th, 2008 at 8:06 pm


Count me in! Great idea!

21 | Omaha Mama

January 4th, 2008 at 11:38 pm


My hubby and I have already made such a bargain, but I would love to make myself more accountable. We’ve got a home reno project going, but once that’s done – we should be able to go without purchases.

I’m thankful to Mad Hatter for linking me here!

22 | Lorraine

January 5th, 2008 at 9:50 am


I’m in. After the CC bill from December… I could do with two months of no frivolous spending…. maybe more. we shall see how it goes. *S*

23 | andrea

January 5th, 2008 at 9:52 am


Welcome Omaha Mama! I’m so glad you’re joining up.

Hey, did anyone catch yesterday’s Oprah? She did a Go Green show. (Show summary and clips here.

She advocated a lot of things Mark and I already do:

– use cloth napkins
– stop buying bottled water (she had SIGG bottles)
– use CFL bulbs
– use a cloth/reusable shopping bag
– etc.

Interesting, there wasn’t a single word spoken about buying less stuff…. a major ommission if you ask me. I am willing to bet that it was a deliberate one. After all, if it wasn’t for the advertising dollar, there wouldn’t be an Oprah, right?

ETA: The one thing that struck me on this show was a line about non-toxic household cleaning products - essentially – that we’ve been conditioned to believe that something that’s clean has to smell clean. Truth is, it doesn’t have to have any smell at all. Clean doesn’t have a smell. 

24 | andrea

January 5th, 2008 at 10:13 am


If you haven’t seen this already, know that Chris from In the Trenches of Motherhood is challenging herself to stop shopping for one whole year. And she has seven kids.

25 | a peek inside the fish bowl

January 5th, 2008 at 10:39 am


[…] everything in there. Thanks! » Filed under technical stuff by andrea at 10:39. » Share This back totop […]

26 | Sam

January 5th, 2008 at 3:26 pm


I think that I am doing well on this “adventure”. Couple of times I slipped up- just because I forgot that I was doing this. It is going to take sometime before it becomes more of a “lifestyle” change. Because that is really what I am going for, not just a temporary thing.

27 | mel

January 5th, 2008 at 4:56 pm


A few days late to the party, but I know what you’re saying about the lady in the awful snowsuit. It occurred to me a while ago that the judgement I place on people (particularly older people) who are “out of style” has a whole lot to do with how I’ve bought into the idea that being “cool” (or acceptable) comes from my stuff.

(“Maybe cool,” thought mel, “doesn’t come from a store. Maybe cool, just perhaps, means a little bit more.”)

I’m sure that my grandmother, in her pant suit from 1992, has a whole lot more comfort in who she is than those of us who play the fashion game.

28 | BeachMama

January 5th, 2008 at 10:34 pm


As a non-official participant, can I say that I haven’t bought anything non-essential since Dec.23rd! I am so proud of myself you would not believe :).

29 | porter

January 6th, 2008 at 9:09 pm


I am not doing as well…I bought a pair of heels that I told myself I needed for an upcoming party when I’m sure one of the pairs of shoes I have in the closet would have done just fine…….I did decide to wear a dress I already have. I also bought a sweater because I haven’t got any warm sweaters……I have plenty of clothes so the sweater wasn’t really essential obviously. I will continue trying, after all that’s what it’s all about being more aware and putting forth an effort. I also have to agree that Sam is right, this shouldn’t just be a two month adventure but a lifestyle change. Hmmmm.
Oh and Andrea, I couldn’t agree with you more on the cleaning products. About six months ago I started using a fantastic cloth which eliminated many of my cleaning products (and I had many) and my home smells just as clean…and is just as clean. I have been lazy about composting and even at times recycling so that has been my focus lately as well.

30 | Future Doc Wilson

January 8th, 2008 at 11:17 pm


I have referenced this to my second blog– Inspirations from the Internet. The name of the blog tells you why.

As the teens say in the States, “Goldfish– you rock!”

31 | a peek inside the fish bowl

January 9th, 2008 at 1:41 pm


[…] All of this feeds into the questions brought up by the Shopping Embargo of 2008, about shopping becoming a national pastime, and how spending and buying are increasingly being viewed as recreation. The reality is that excessive/needless shopping is detrimental to our planet and to our wallets … have you read anything lately about how much we, as a society, carry in credit card debt?. […]

32 | Soirenoir

January 11th, 2008 at 10:04 am


… can I join late? I just found your blog, and am enjoying myself. I’ve already started house purging (wow we have a lot of crap in boxes that’s been there a while!) and am working on the consumerism thing. I think the re-wrangling of the piggy is just what I need.

33 | Het

January 11th, 2008 at 5:45 pm


We’re in over at the Doughkids. We started a bit late since we were still on vacation, but we’re going to go into March a bit to make up for it!! Great idea!

34 | andrea

January 11th, 2008 at 6:41 pm


Not too late at all… I’m happy you’re joining!

35 | andrea

January 12th, 2008 at 11:38 am


So I haven’t updated here in awhile. You should interpret the silence as success, because I simply haven’t bought anything. (!)

BUT we did have small wrinkle (or so I thought), but i think we’ve managed to deal with it pretty well.

Sarah has a birthday party to go to tomorrow. Remember, this was one of the worries I outlined in my post. Would the parents think I was a nutbar? Would my child be blacklisted from future birthday parties? It seems silly, I know, but this is something I worried about.

Since I am on friendly terms with this little girl’s father, I sent him an email about our shopping embargo. I asked him what he thought about movie or museum tickets instead of a traditional gift. And guess what, he was cool with the idea. Then I talked to Sarah. She knows we’re not shopping, but I wondered if she’d be upset about a lost opportunity to go to the toy store. But she surprised me. She loved the idea of giving movie tickets instead, so movie tickets it shall be.

She’ll enclose a gift certificate in a handmade card. And when I get back from my trip we’ll all go to the movies and bring her little friend along with us.

So this little hiccup wasn’t much of a hiccup afterall. I think I’ve learned a lesson!

36 | andrea

January 12th, 2008 at 11:40 am


Thanks Caroline I., for the magazines! When I’m done reading them I’m going to pass them along.

37 | Future Doc Wilson

January 12th, 2008 at 9:28 pm


I have also posted the unnecessary Shopping Ban 2008 to my blog.

But I love Boxing Day!


38 | andrea

January 13th, 2008 at 8:46 pm


So I’m leafing through a magazine when BAM – I see this leaner mirror. I love it. I’ve been looking for one exactly like it. It’d be perfect in the hall that leads to our dining room.



39 | andrea

January 14th, 2008 at 9:22 am


So Sarah went to her friend’s birthday party yesterday. I asked her about it.

“What did [the little girl] say when she opened her gift?”
“She said ‘oh’,” said Sarah.
“And what else?”
“Nothing…. OH, and the other kids were yelling out, saying it was a DEBIT card and some said NO it’s a GIFT CARD and I said it was MOVIE TICKETS and then [another little girl] said BUT WHERE’S THE PRESENT?”


Perhaps, as a society, we’re not quite there yet. I know it was just one little kid, but it’s clear that people expect gifts to be given at a birthday. We’ve hosted LOTS of birthday parties, and have been to LOTS, and I’ve never ever seen anyone give a gift of an “experience” i.e. a trip to the movies, tickets to a museum, a promise for lunch or dinner. Have you? It’s strange, because I think the gift of an experience is something that a lot of people (myself included) would really enjoy.

40 | Marla

January 14th, 2008 at 10:54 am


Leaner Mirrors make you look bottom heavy. Just a warning.

We’ve really been great about just sticking to not buying stuff for the sake of buying stuff not because we have an embargo, but because we’re feeling like our cups are runnething over around here.

But yesterday, Steve poked around the VV around the corner, and found someone had dumped their collection of 60’s honky tonk albums. He bought a dozen for $2 each, because we love them and will listen to them. I teased him that he was probably too cheap to buy everything that was there, and I bet him he’ll wish he had. We pulled out the old Goldmine, and( they each have a 10 year old price guide) value of $15-40, and one of $500 (the original Chirping Crickets – Buddy Holly’s first band). So I’m going back for more. How else are we going to put Josie through college?!

41 | andrea

January 15th, 2008 at 2:12 pm


Bought: four long-sleeve t-shirts and a pair of jeans for Emma.(For a total of $20 at Old Navy). Essential? Oh yes.

Bought: bathing suit, pyjamas, socks, a robe for me. (For a total of $117 at Winners.) Essential? Yes. I was seriously lacking each of those items. And they aren’t things I’m willing to buy secondhand.

Things I almost bought but didn’t (deemed them to be nonessential): coverup (for the sun), shoes, slippers, etc. etc. Winners is a deathtrap of useless spending.

Bought: shampoo, hand sanitizer, new toothbrush and other essentials at Shopper’s Drug Mart. (This place is a HUGE temptation for me. I love buying lipglosses and hair products. But I didn’t cave!)

42 | Melissa

January 15th, 2008 at 11:08 pm


aha! this is why I think the shopping embargo is so interesting. Everyone’s definition of essential is different :) You were encouraging me not to get containers for the counter for oatmeal/sugar etc, but for me they lend to my mental sanity. I can’t explain why, but they do.

But buying a robe for me would in no way a necessity. I’d like a robe, and have an old ratty one that’s been hanging on the same hook since we moved here that I’ve _never_ worn because it is too heavy. James tried to buy me one for Christmas but couldn’t decide if I’d want thick, thin, fleece, terrycloth etc, and just suggested yesterday that I should specifically go and try to find one I like to buy, and I figured it could wait for a while.

You suggested I should try to be ok with the mess of the oatmeal falling out of the bag every morning, but I can’t really get to that point, as I suspect you would not be so receptive to a suggestion that you run around in a towel rather than a robe. Although Mark might like it :)

So I like the idea that we all try to do things in our own way, with the recognition that one persons need is another’s luxury.

43 | andrea

January 16th, 2008 at 9:48 am


It goes without saying that everyone’s idea of “essential” is different. I didn’t mean to give another impression.

I didn’t start the shopping embargo in order to put down other people’s purchases or make them feel bad. I would like to get people thinking about the purchases they make, and help people realize that the very act of buying stuff has become entrenched into our everyday lives although it doesn’t need to be.

I’m sorry if I offended you about any comments I may have made about your storage containers. I brought it up only because I think it’s a perfect example of the wants v. needs.

Let’s face it, the majority of people in this world make do without storage containers. Storage solutions are the domain of the middle/upper class, are they not?

Someone can say the same about pyjamas, or slippers. Both can be perceived as a luxury. Why not just sleep naked, or just in underwear and an old t-shirt (like I have been doing!) Why not just wear an extra pair of socks if your feet get cold?

This is where the trappings of middle class come in, but, but, but, there is still a line in there somewhere, isn’t there? There’s a difference between having one robe and 20.

I thought long and hard about that robe. I did. I’m still on the edge about it. But I remembered what I wrote in my original post: if I was going to buy something at the very least I was going to stop and consider that purchase very carefully. My thoughts were as follows:

1) I don’t actually own a robe, and until now I hadn’t been able to decide what kind of robe I wanted. 2) This was a good price. 3) It will be suitable for my trip away. 3) It is suitable to wear around the house because I’m a chilly person and every extra layer helps! 4) It lifts my spirits. 5) It will last me a long time. 6) It is not overpackaged. 7) It can be recycled, donated, or repurposed when I’m done with it. 8) This is not something I am comfortable buying second hand.

Of course… We all need to do our personal best when it comes down to it – and this goes for everything. It’s all anyone can ask for.

I will confess:

I compost every scrap but I buy bagged milk.
I recycle everything I can possibly recycle, but I am likely to ignore stray pop cans in the park.
We have a low flow showerhead but use a lot of shampoo.
We use cloth napkins, and paper towels.
We let our grass grow longer in the summer and mow it down with a gas-powered mower.

We do what we can for the environment. And will always try to do more.

All this is a roundabout way of saying … yes Melissa, we should all try to do things in our own way, and yes, I agree, one persons need is another’s luxury. :)

44 | Soirenoir

January 16th, 2008 at 12:11 pm


I’ve finally blogged about this – hurrah for chest infections.

I’m doing well, but we’re broke, and that makes it easier ;)

45 | Mark

January 16th, 2008 at 12:40 pm


Hey wait a minute ! What’s with this “we”…I do not use a lot of shampoo !

46 | Bushidoka

January 17th, 2008 at 9:40 am


I sort of agree with petah that stopping shopping for 2 months doesn’t do much good if it just means you purchase more in the other 10 months. But you are right that it’s good to get people thinking about this stuff. Here are some thoughts on what we do and have done. We are by no means perfect, but we try better every day.

My motto as of recent is “simplify”. It’s so easy to say. Just one word. And the fact that it’s one word describes it’s own meaning. That’s what I really like about it.

We don’t have cell phones. I have no idea why someone would want to be reachable all the time. I certainly don’t want to be. Don’t take this personally anyone, but I always say “those people must think themselves pretty important”. Most people with cell phones buy a new one every couple of years, don’t they? Why?

We went for some 4 years without any TV but connected some rabbit ears during the Sens run last year, and have kept them connected. You could not be more correct that TV programs you to consume. We got rid of TV when our first kid was born, for exactly this reason. Even with rabbit ears we watch next to none, and it really has changed our perspective on things quite dramatically.

For xmas this year all of our presents were either reused, recycled or home made. My parents got a bunch of home canned food that we put down in the fall. The kids got a used xbox that some other kid was going to toss in the trash when they upgraded to a 360. And so on …

Back about October last year we decided to stop buying food except for perishables, because we had overflowing cupboards and freezers, and most of that stuff wasn’t getting used. We sort of stopped that over the holidays but have to pick it back up again. We barely put a dent in our supplies.

You are right about fashion, and people buying clothes for 1 season. Sorry, but that’s pretty bad. I have no use for fashion, and for decades now have always chosen function over fashion, and have always paid more for quality products that will last. And of course Made in Canada when possible.

We’ve been with a CSA for a few years now (changed to a new one started by a buddy of mine this year). We also live next to Parkdale Market and in the fall we go nuts canning as much food as we can. Local food whenever possible.

I did make the mistake of going out to Futureshop and Best Buy on boxing day at 8am. Silly me, I thought it would be a good opportunity to pick up some deals on old Xbox games since I figured they’d be clearing stock for new 360 games. I have to say that was probably the most disgusting display of human hedonism that I’ve ever seen in my life, and I’m completely embarassed to have been a part of it. For blocks in any direction there was a steady stream of people carrying the trinkets and bling. I could not agree more that this seems to be filling some void in people’s lives, which really is a pretty sad comment on society today.

I like the list you’ve provided of things to consider when buying things. I’ve had a very similar list for years now. But still there always seems to be an awful lot of room for improvement. Really what it comes down to is a change inside your own head. And I think for us that change really came when we turfed the TV. It really and truly does program you to consume. If advertisement didn’t work, companies would not collectively spend billions of dollars a year on it.

Other areas include the houses we live in, and where we build them. Houses are getting bigger and bigger while at the same time familes are getting smaller and smaller. I’m proud to say that our family of 4 lives in a small house just shy of 1000 sq.ft. It’s actually bigger than the house I grew up in my my parents and brother. What the heck do we need these huge houses for? And of course the bigger it is, the more junk you have to buy to fill it up.

And where are we building them? Here in Ottawa we are paving over prime farmland at an alarming rate! In another decade when the cost of shipping food is through the roof, we are going to pay for this in a very severe way. Mark my words.

We’re in pretty rough shape right now – our society. If we keep going down this road to blatant and frivolous consumerism at all cost, then we are going to be in extremely big trouble in a decade or two.

47 | Bushidoka

January 17th, 2008 at 9:53 am


p.s. meant to mention something about containers vs a bag of oats. I dunno about other places, but around here a bag of oats makes pretty good mouse bait. Tight-sealing containers are required so mice can’t smell what’s inside. Even then, they’ve got pretty good noses and have been known to nibble on containers.

48 | Bushidoka

January 17th, 2008 at 4:50 pm


Someone reminded me of this video in another thread on another blog that is related to the state of our environment.


It’s pretty interesting what they say about consumerism about half way through. And how national happiness started plummeting the same time that consumerism started. Definitely worth 20 minutes of your time.

49 | andrea

January 30th, 2008 at 11:24 am


Time to do some catching up on the unshopping. How is everyone doing?

I’ve been away on holiday… and I think I did okay. Outside of food and drink I didn’t actually buy anything for myself. I bought consumables as gifts. My one weak spot was the purchase of two small silver bracelets for the girls. No extra packaging, and not a necessity, but still a worthwhile purchase in my books.

Yesterday I bought a new snowsuit for Sarah. Her old one is fit for the garbage. I wouldn’t even consider donating the thing.

50 | Soirenoir

January 31st, 2008 at 4:24 pm


I shopped. But! It’s a good thing in the long run. We have been discussing / pricing new cars since early November as our car does not quite fit the bill anymore. This week we finalized the purchase of a vehicle. It’s a lower interest rate, and only a slightly higher monthly payment.. it will be worth more at term end than my old car, and the insurance/gas requirements are about the same.

… it’s good, but .. I feel guilty!

51 | andrea

February 11th, 2008 at 9:41 am


I’m having trouble keeping this post updated. What does one say when there is nothing happening? :)

I was racked with guilt re: Sarah’s jacket. (We kept the bottoms because they still fit.) I took a good look at the jacket. The only thing wrong with it was a broken zipper. I didn’t want to donate damaged goods to the SallyAnn, and at the same time I didn’t want to be bothered with having it professionally repaired. And THEN I felt guilty for feeling so lazy about it.

I asked Mark to bring it outside on garbage day. I laid it out over the top of the (closed) garbage can so the broken zipper was clearly visible. And guess what? Someone took it. Yay!

Otherwise, I’m still goin’ strong! I did spend some $$ on a multivitamins for myself, but I see that as a necessary expense. I was at the Superstore yesterday and found myself in the children’s clothing aisle. There was a big markdown in some clothes. I had some things in hand for Emma, but put them back. She doesn’t really need a second light cotton jacket. Nor does Sarah need another t-shirt.

I have learned to recognize that “feeling of want” that drags me to non-grocery areas of the store: ie. cosmetics, sunglasses, children’s stuff. I think the feeling is something akin to boredom. I know how to stave it off: I buy myself something, but it’s edible and healthy. A bit of good cheese, or cheese-stuffed jalapenos, (note the cheese theme) or some blueberries.

I think I’ll do that more often.

Here’s a question: why do I spring for occasional non-healthy treats when I could be springing for healthy ones instead? I think I’ve just added a bag of frozen berries (for smoothies!) to my grocery list.

52 | andrea

February 13th, 2008 at 12:46 pm


Sadly, I have an accidental expenditure to report, AND this is going to reveal what a dork I can be.

I had a $20 gift certificate to spend on Amazon.com. This is not a website I normally visit. I’m a Chapters.ca kinda girl.

Anyway, I thought I could buy the girls a nice book. Swallows and Amazons was recommended to me, so I bought a copy for around $10. And then I had the rest to spend, so I bought a little book of vintage Valentine’s for around $5.00. I clicked through the checkout before I fully realized that S & H was going to cost as much as the two items I bought, bringing me to a grand total of $28.00. Like a big idiot, I didn’t realize I had confirmed the purchase before it was too late. I spent by accident! :(

53 | Soirenoir

February 28th, 2008 at 9:53 am


… I spent on self improvement … with cash found by selling the crap in my basement.

Does that count? I made enuogh to cover a yoga class and a continuance to my swimming lessons, and I’ve still got more to sell..

… I don’t think that counts. :P

54 | andrea

February 29th, 2008 at 10:54 am


Soirenoir – I would say that self-improvement in the form of yoga classes and swimming lessons is definitely okay!

For me, this challenge has been about reducing the amount of *stuff* … especially over-packaged stuff we don’t need!

I think I did pretty good. Remember the book I bought by accident with my gift certificate? Amazon only shipped one of the two, so I was able to cut that extra book out of our order.

How has everyone else done? It’s the last day of the challenge. Time to ‘fess up!

55 | andrea

March 4th, 2008 at 8:58 am


It’s March 4. I gotta say, I could use a display of fireworks and triumphant tooting of a horn.

I think I did good. And although I didn’t intend to I did break the embargo yet, I already have.

Each of the girls had a birthday party this weekend and we were at the mall trying to figure out what to buy. I like to think that the gifts we were choosing were both fun and useful. Nothing was overpackaged. First stop, the bookstore. We bought a couple of really nice books… keeper books, you know what I mean? Some of the books nowadays look like they’re made with paper that’s been recycled 100 times. But these were hardcovers. Emma wrote a message inside the front cover of hers.

(And I promptly bought a book for myself. gah!)

And then we went to Children’s Place to buy some pretty hair accessories. Hair hands were two for eight bucks, so I bought two, one to give away and one to keep. There was a whole big bucket of pretty baubles for kiddie hair, and they were on sale. So I bought two more, just because.

I hadn’t bought anything “just because” in two months. It felt a little strange.

THEN I went to Ikea, with the girls, who picked up every cute stuffie in the store and showed it to me. (“LOOK! A HIPPO!!”) And believe it or not, I got through the whole store (even the linens!) without buying anything.

I have become the kind of person who thinks long and hard about new purchases. Usually it comes down to three questions: Do we need this? Do I love this? Is it well made?

If the answer is no (and it usually is) I put it back.

This didn’t just come from this shopping embargo, but I’ve evolved to become this way over time. I’m pretty proud of how we did, and the lesson we’re teaching our kids.

56 | Cath

March 4th, 2008 at 9:04 am


We actually did really well with this — the biggest challenge was not buying books or the occasional Bridgehead coffee, which we had decided was ‘out’ for our purposes (other than if they were in the context of work meetings – since meeting at Bridgehead is definitely better than inviting people to see the state of my home office!!). Also saying no to shopping trips with my sister (funnily enough, I’ve recently found out she has a staggering amount of consumer debt).

I did buy a birthday present for a friend of B’s, and a few little things (mostly consumable) for P and B on a work trip last week, but other than that, the only non-essential purchase was my husband buying a protective shield for his ipod.

Biggest benefits were: less stuff in the hall, on the dining room table, and on the kitchen island; and the major exercising of our library card.

Biggest take-away was that simplifying and cutting down on consumption is really not that hard – it’s all about being mindful, and being aware of why you want the ‘thing’ in front of you.

Great challenge!

57 | porter

March 4th, 2008 at 12:07 pm


will be back to comment…in some ways i think i did better than i give myself credit for but in many ways i didn’t do well at all……it’s definitely a lifestyle thing, just like recycling and eating well.

58 | Mad Hatter

March 6th, 2008 at 8:30 pm


Hi Andrea,
I just posted my final report. I didn’t do nearly so well as you, alas.

59 | Robert

March 10th, 2008 at 9:07 am


just came across this

which came from another reference from
(watch the movie on line!)

which came referenced from our good friends at SERI

and looks like another film produced in TO we’re running for Earth Day, which can be found here

happy viewing…

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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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