University of Calgary

Grads embark on year of buying nothing

UToday HomeAugust 30, 2013

By Julie Phillips, BA’11

Julie Phillips and Geoffrey Szuszkiewicz launched their Buy Nothing Year on Aug. 3. Their lifestyle commitment: if it isn’t food or a necessity — forget it. Photo by  Riley Brandt Julie Phillips and Geoffrey Szuszkiewicz launched their Buy Nothing Year on Aug. 3. Their lifestyle commitment: if it isn’t food or a necessity — forget it. Photo by Riley Brandt Earlier this summer, my friend Geoffrey Szuszkiewicz and I became roommates. We didn’t plan it that way, but when I found out I would be unable to move into a new apartment in Sunnyside due to flooding, Geoffrey kindly offered me a room in his home. Moving from a fully furnished one-bedroom apartment to one bedroom meant I had to get rid of over 80 per cent of my personal belongings in less than 72 hours. It was at once liberating and terrifying, and it caused me to examine my attachment to “stuff” in a new way.

Shortly after moving in with Geoffrey, my friend Crystal and I road-tripped to Portland for World Domination Summit. The conference challenged each of us to decide how we were going to live a “remarkable life in a conventional world.” Upon returning to my new tiny bedroom, in my new home, my new roommate and I talked extensively about “stuff”: our stuff, our infatuation with stuff, my inability to let go of stuff.

We also decided that we both wanted to live our lives more in line with our values of community and sustainability. Geoffrey was inspired by Colin Beavan’s No Impact Man project and we talked about how we would need to do something dramatic in order to change our behaviors. The idea of embarking on a year of buying nothing was born.

We started our Buy Nothing Year on Aug. 3, 2013, Geoff’s 30th birthday. After only a few weeks, I can already tell it’s going to impact more than my hoarding and spending; it’s a lifestyle shift, a change in mindset and in my relationship with money, things and time. It’s causing me to rethink my necessities and realize how much I already have.

When we tell people we are embarking on a year of buying nothing, their first question inevitably concerns the parameters of the experiment. “What about food?” “Toilet paper?” “Shoes?” Geoffrey holds an honours bachelor of arts degree in psychology from the University of Calgary and during his undergrad, he explored behavioural modification theories which have informed the basis of this life experiment. In short, there are three phases to the experiment, each phase increasing in difficulty. We are utilizing acceptance and commitment-based therapy and we can purchase food and essentials as well as rent and utilities.

Next week, as part of the University of Calgary’s Fall Orientation Week, I will be one of the facilitators leading discussions on this year’s Common Reading Program book, No Impact Man. I’m excited to hear what first year students think about this book and to talk about community action, leadership and living by your values.

To follow our Buy Nothing Year journey, visit buynothingyear.com or follow us on Twitter.

Phillips is co-ordinator of research and special projects with the Alumni Relations division of University Relations. Phillips and the Calgary Alumni Association were awarded a TD Fellowship in Advancement earlier this year.

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