October 3, 2012
Kerry Reifel wanted to simplify her life.
She wanted to eliminate clutter. To shrink her “footprint” on the planet. Reduce her contributions to landfills.
So she has committed to buying nothing new for a year, other than food and toiletries.
If something breaks, she fixes it rather than replaces it. Or buys used. She cruises garage sales and second-hand stores, Freecycle.org and eBay.com for clothes, electronics, furniture or whatever she and her family need.
In the process, Kerry said she is learning how much they don’t really need, after all.
Best of all, she’s writing about it all, three days a week, in a candid and entertaining “Simple Year” blog, http://thesimpleyear.com.
Don’t assume Kerry is an Earth Mama vegetarian in hemp clothes with braided daisies in her dreadlocks and a yin-yang tattoo. (Not that there’s anything wrong with Earth Mamas!)
She’s a military wife, a consultant and a soccer mom with two young daughters.
And she is someone who feels guilty about her spending habits.
“I think we are a pretty normal middle-class family,” Kerry said. “There’s just so much excess out there. I started thinking about everything I consume and all the extra stuff we have and I wanted to try to do with less.”
But she struggled with the idea. How would her family fare if she slammed the breaks on the cycle of buying, disposing and buying more?
Isn’t it the American way, after all? Every national holiday has become a national shopping day, leading to that orgy of consumption known as Christmas.
It didn’t help that her husband, Air Force pilot Christopher Reifel, was skeptical of the idea.
“My husband was never fully on board,” she said.
But when he was deployed in April to Afghanistan, Kelly seized the chance to implement her plan, which she calls on her blog: “The Simple Year — Buying nothing new for one full trip around the sun.”
It helped that she and her daughters were relocating to Colorado Springs during his deployment. Moving was a great opportunity to downsize furniture and household items, leaving most behind in Texas.
And with Christopher overseas, Kerry had free rein over family shopping.
“I thought this will be a good time to do this project,” she said. “And it will be a learning experience for my kids.”
I think Kerry has been learning the most of anyone, judging by her blog.
Her writing made me laugh, wince and nod in agreement at times.
Here’s how Kerry describes herself and family in an early blog post:
“If we need something (or want something) we generally have the means to buy it, so we do. We also buy quite a few things we don’t need and didn’t know we wanted. I cannot be the only one that routinely goes to Target for dental floss and a mop and comes home with $135 worth of stuff.”
In her blog, readers tag along as she discovers the joys of thrift stores and the problems with taking a vow not to buy new.
For example, when the garage door opener broke, the repairman insisted it would be easier and cheaper to replace it. But Kerry was determined to stay true to her vow and paid more to get it fixed.
Her lifestyle choice has forced her to be more creative. For example, when the anniversary of her first husband’s death approached, Kerry struggled valiantly to honor her 14-year tradition of sending flowers to his mother.
Similarly, she faces tough choices when confronted with birthdays and school functions and social events that, in the past, would have triggered the reflex to run to the store and pick up something new.
“I’ve learned that if you are patient, often you find the ‘emergency’ passes and you can do without things,” she said. “I’ve learned I’m enjoying it and it’s easier than most people think it would be.”
Another revelation has been the amount of money she has saved by changing her shopping habits.
“We’re spending so much less on things,” she said. We’re saving quite a bit of money.”
I wondered what Kerry will do when her husband returns. After all, she quoted his initial response to her vow as: “I draw the line at used underwear.”
Kerry says she intends to ease up. And she admits it will make life easier.
“Long term, we’ll go back to buying some things new,” she said. “I miss the easy solution. Like the garage door opener. It would have been nice to just go get a new one. Same thing when the computer broke.”
But clearly she’ll never go back to free-wheeling spending.
And, I can assure Kerry, she’s not the only one who always comes home from the store with far more than he intended. I plead guilty!