Nothing New Challenge

Does anyone else start their New Years’ resolutions on their birthday instead of in January? I mean I guess if you were born on January 1st you don’t have to make that choice – and my OCPD heart must say I am jealous of the cleanliness of your annual existence – but the rest of us have to think about what truly constitutes a “new” year for our lives. Does our new start align with the world perception – or in the moment of our own milestone?


For me, I usually choose my own birthday as the best point for a resolution or change. Usually on January 1st I forget that I was supposed to find a resolution, then I think of about five things I want to do that I’ve already screwed up in in the first few days of the month, and I think “why bother, I’ve already failed.” If I make my birthday the resolution day, though, then all that “failure” functions as a test run of what I think I want to do without committing to the guilt.


In 2018 I spent a lot of time thinking about my impact on the world, as well as what I could do to improve my own day to day life and experience. As the end of my 20s and the destruction of the world looms ever and ever closer it feels imperative to focus my energy more and make wiser choices. I’m by no means ready to jump headfirst into something – the biggest risk I’ve ever taken is deciding to eat an egg one day after expiration – but I feel the need for some sort of change. One of my coworkers gave me an idea of something small I could do that would make a big difference not only in my daily life, but also on my impact on the world. This is an idea that has been floating around the internet for awhile, but I think I can spin it into something uniquely my own – and get more ideas for this lovely neglected blog.


The Nothing New Challenge is by no means an original idea. Depending on who you ask, the idea was started by two friends on an island in Wisconsin in July of 2013, or by some smart Aussies in Melbourne around 2011. I think both can be true – it’s not that complex an idea – but I like the Australian website better so I’m going to be citing that here for my info.


The basic idea is to not buy anything new. No new jeans, no new bags, no new lamps, no new plastic puppy sculpture you absolutely need for your bedroom corner, nothing. Of course some things don’t work within this schema – you have to buy new food, toiletries, and other essentials – but if you don’t need it, or you can get a version of it second-hand, you can’t buy it new. This doesn’t mean you have to completely avow all possessions – The Australian website has lots of great tips and ideas on how to make this feasible without quickly becoming a complete ascetic, such as swapping clothes with friends, upcycling or recycling things you already have, or using online marketplaces to find local items for sale.


This is all part of the “voting with your dollar” idea, and actively helps you cut down on your wasteful consumption and carbon footprint. Plus, if you’ve jumped on the Maire Kondo train like everyone else recently, it will definitely help keep your home simple and full of joy. For me, however, there’s an extra element that I think will help not just my wallet and the creeping guilt of being part of humanity, but also my hobbies and passions. I’m instituting some new rules that basically mean if you can make it (even from new materials), or if you can buy a local craftsperson’s version of it, that’s fair game. I’ll not only be finding new projects to make and write about, but will also be supporting the local maker economy and finding new and cool people to connect with. Taking on this challenge isn’t just self-esteem building, its community building.


So with all that exposition out of the way, here are my rules for the Nothing New Challenge:


  1. Don’t buy any new commercialized or corporate goods.


  1. The only items you can buy new are life necessities like food and toiletries. That being said, processed food or unnecessary toiletry goods are out. Try to make the ethical choice whenever possible with food and personal items, and try to choose small brands with good business practices.


  1. If you want something for your home, or a piece of clothing, make it yourself or find it at a local thrift shop or secondhand. The only exception for this, at least for me, is going to be stuff like shoes and bras where a bad purchase can seriously ruin your back, but in those cases strictly follow the one in one out rule – for every new pair of shoes you buy, for example, you have to donate or get rid of one pair you already own. Remember that shipping has a huge carbon footprint, so online shopping is out, even if the items are second-hand. I’m looking at you eBay.


  1. You can also buy new items from small local craftspeople and brands. It’s important to support business at the community level and encourage small economy, and I don’t want this challenge to affect that, hence this exception. Plus, if you’re a maker like me, it’s a great way to meet more people in your working community. Items like this tend to be more expensive, so you won’t be able to buy lots of unnecessary junk, plus you’ll begin to amass a collection of beautiful, special items. Talk about sparking joy!


  1. Finally, allow yourself one vice, within reason. If Oreo cookies are the only thing that bring you joy on a bad day, giving them up isn’t worth it. We all have something like this, but do try to limit it to the things you know you truly can’t find joy without. Would the organizers of this idea agree with this rule? Probably not. But people are human, and I don’t know about you but I do a lot better at following rules if there’s a little leeway. That way you don’t get that “well I screwed up once, might as well give up entirely” mentality, and you’re more likely to follow through on the whole.



Those are the rules I’ll be following, but if you want to do this you should feel free to draft rules that make sense for you. There’s a lot of pressure nowadays to be a perfect citizen – have no carbon footprint, only eat raw vegan foods, cancel anyone who does anything even slightly problematic, include every possible person in every possible event in every possible way, etc etc. And while I think all of this is very important, for a lot of us those goals are unattainable, at least when considered all at once. Choosing not to beat myself up over screwing up a resolution before January 5th has helped me set new guidelines for my goals that have allowed me to do more and actually move forward with most of them. In the same way, if you are able to do even a little bit to improve yourself and your impact, even if you can’t do everything, you are moving in the right direction. Some of us take great leaps, some of us take baby steps, and that’s nothing to feel guilty about, so don’t let other people bring you down for improving at your own pace. You’re a human being, you aren’t Superman, and you’re doing just fine.


I hope some of you join me on this journey in your own way, and I’ll be posting ideas for how to use making and clever thrifting to help you on the journey. I might even highlight some local makers and vendors if I can get over the crippling social anxiety.


Remember to find your joy today guys, and keep conquering your own windmill.