Written in response to an article called “Choosing Simplicity – Imposed Austerity V Chosen Simplicity”, which encouraged readers to think about their own choices.

I was recently at a family friend’s house while visiting my mother. One of the young couples present had a baby and we did the usual oohing-and-ahhing over the sweet little girl. While at the tea-table, in a lull in the conversation, her father introduced a new topic, “I think you might be interested in an experiment that my wife and I have decided to try this year.” They explained that they had seen a blog called The Simple Year, which is about a American mother’s attempt to buy nothing new in a year, with two young children and a husband away at war. This started mid-2012 and I suppose will finish this year, if it doesn’t catch on permanently. She is, of course, buying consumables, like food and toilet paper, but everything else has to be second hand. If something is broken, she repairs it or gets it repaired rather than replace it. It sounds like old-fashioned wisdom and what was commonplace 60 years ago, but today it is quite radical. She explains that she has a very normal middle-class family who just wants to reduce useless junk-buying and reduce its consumer footprint. Likewise, our family friends have a very normal middle-of-the-road life and lifestyle, not ‘hippies’ or ‘greenies’ or anything. We asked if buying baby products was difficult as they change and grow so quickly. They replied that nappies counted as consumables, but they have been given so many gifts and hand-me-downs from their friends and relations, that it is easier than they imagined.

I found the idea and action intriguing. More than what they are doing, I was inspired by who is doing it. This is perhaps a result of collective consciousness, as what were once extremist dreams become realisable for the Mrs or Mr Average. It is like the idea of Pay It Forward – changing the world one incident at a time. Every time we go to buy something new, we can remember the Simple Year and think of alternatives. There is so much on offer today and so many ways of obtaining it. There are the time-sanctioned avenues of Op Shops and garage sales, as well as new possibilities like E-Bay and Gumtree. The internet has great potential for linking willing owners to wanting consumers – and not half way across the world, but within our neighbourhoods. To save transport costs to the environment, we can limit searches to our country or use it to find what Op Shops are available near to us. This computer I type on was a good second-hand model found in Australia on E-Bay, with a few scratches on the surface but eminently functionable operating power inside. There is such a range of clothes available in Op Shops and often I find things that have been rarely worn. Some things, I think, are more difficult, such as shoes, which wear out. But, again, through the internet, it is possible to find where to buy ethical ones that have not been produced in sweatshops or by harming animals. There is still a good-conscience market for new products, however. It is found in the farmer’s markets, homemade stalls, fair trade gifts and local artisan outlets where the skills and talents of artists are rewarded. In the spirit of the Simple Year, creative responses and solutions are called for. But it is an idea that is accessible to all who have the prosperity and education to live a ‘chosen simplicity’. 

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