Montreal-based graphic designer Rachael Seatvet, 26, decided to turn that wish into an experiment, which she dubbed "Nothing New Year." Her goal? Only acquire used or pre-owned items — with the exception of groceries, gas and medication — for all of 2020.
Where did you find the motivation to give up new items for one year?
When Seatvet learned about the concept of minimalism in 2016, she says it changed her way of thinking.
"I started simplifying the things I owned ... Whether or not I would keep it was [based on] if it was adding value to my life," she tells MTL Blog.
"It made every material object I owned have purpose."
Seatvet says she began paying more attention to the companies she was supporting with her purchases, which led her to become more disheartened with the options.
"I wanted to see if I could step out of consumerism for a full year ... that way, I could reassess what I really needed and also it took away the guilt of a new item," she recalls.
"I will say it's a huge privilege to do a project like this ... especially during COVID-19 when so many people don't have a choice but to go without. That even intensifies my reasoning because I have this privilege to be able to choose ... what kind of world I'm voting for with the purchases I make."
What was the hardest part of the experiment?
"The patience and the effort," says Seatvet.
"When you buy stuff used, you can't just walk down the street and go to the dep and get batteries. You have to be really intentional about looking forward and realizing you're going to be out of batteries. Then, you have to go meet someone five metro stops away to get them."
She started her search for postage stamps in January, anticipating the Christmas cards she'd want to send in December — and it's a good thing because it took her 12 months and a two-hour drive to get some.
"Right when I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to send cards this year, I finally found someone selling a full roll of stamps on Facebook Marketplace," Seatvet says.
On her website, Seatvet lists and illustrates all the items she got in 2020.
In the end, she got 151 used items. She also bought two new items, which she says was "a sad failure, but I don't regret it."
One was a book she needed for her book club. The other was a painting from a friend who had started their own business.
"One of the hardest parts of last year was that I couldn't buy locally or I couldn't support businesses that I wanted to be supporting," she says.
That's why Seatvet has opened up her "Nothing New Year" experiment to small and local businesses in 2021. That's right — she's still going strong.
"I don't see why I would do it any other way," she says.
What tips do you have for people wanting to reduce the amount of stuff they buy?
Start small. Seatvet says her experiment was "extreme" and that it was four years in the making. "Don't jump straight into it or it's going to be really hard," she says.
Be more intentional. "When you start being more intentional with your objects, it kind of opens up your whole life. You think, 'Why am I not being more intentional with where I'm living ... with my job ... with my friendships?'"
Reduce & reuse before you recycle. "A lot of the time, we forget about the first two parts of that saying," Seatvet explains.
Get creative with finding solutions. Seatvet says she recently wanted to make tea bags to send home for Christmas, but she couldn't find any that weren't new. A quick Google search showed her she could use coffee filters instead, which she was able to find second-hand.
Get inspired. Seatvet suggests following zero-waste influencers on social media and reading books to find ideas. "The other week, I learned you can freeze tomato paste in ice cubes trays because it always comes in a big can and you end up throwing away what you don't use," she says. "It's a whole world out there that people can get excited about ... We don't live in a society where you grow up with those options."
Get on Bunz. Over 70% of the stuff Seatvet got came from Bunz, an app and online community that facilitates trading used items.
Get something just because it makes you happy. Seatvet says she went out of her way to find second-hand glitter eyeshadow because she needed a pick-me-up during lockdown. And that's OK!
Remember why you're doing this. For Seatvet, that took the form of an empowering quote by Anna Lappé: "Every time you spend money, you're casting a vote for the kind of world you want."
"I'm a normal person. I also get excited about getting new stuff," says Seatvet.
"It's just a different way of going about it."