Simple In Alaska

Today’s guest post is an update written by Kerry, whose family’s “Buy Nothing New Year” was documented during Year One on The Simple Year.  Four years have passed since she began her project.

I was at some team building “mixer” not long ago where you were supposed to write down one interesting fact about yourself. Then everyone was supposed to guess which fact matched which person. I wrote, “I once went an entire year without buying anything new.”

Family photo taken by our friend with matching outfits cobbled together from things we already owned or borrowed.

Family photo taken by our friend with matching outfits cobbled together from things we already owned or borrowed.

And do you know, not a single person in that room guessed it was me? In fact, when it was revealed, it seemed to be met with collective skepticism.

I guess I must look like a pretty big consumer. I fit the role, I suppose. I live in a middle class suburban neighborhood. I have two school-aged children that are involved in a myriad of activities. And, as a family, we are avid bikers, hikers, skiers…and other activities that end in “er.”

Four years ago, during our Buy Nothing New Year, we were living in Colorado in a fairly metropolitan area with myriad of resale options and easy shipping from just about any EBay seller. My husband was deployed to sunny Afghanistan and my kids were in 1st and 4th grade and mostly listened to me.

Things have changed. Now we live in Alaska with both a tween and a teen who rarely listen to me and are convinced I am the most embarrassing human on the planet. And, my husband is at home enjoying his life as the second most embarrassing person in the world.

While we no longer have a strict Buy Nothing New Policy, and I am no longer engaging in “I Love Lucy” worthy stunts to procure used and free school supplies, we still do attempt to keep our consumption to a minimum. But the term “minimum” is relative and seems to be directly influenced by our kid’s ages and our location at the top of the world.

We love the Alaskan lifestyle, the temperate 18-hour summer days, the vast views and vistas. We have always maintained that we are advocates of experiences over stuff. But, in Alaskan, most activities are outdoor adventures that require a certain amount of gear. Even in the summer, the weather is unpredictable so if you are hiking, biking or camping you need layers, boots and rain gear. Most fishing is done in cold rushing rivers so in addition to fishing gear, you need waders and other protective gear. And this is just in the SUMMER.

In the winter, the kids go outside for recess until it’s 20 below Fahrenheit. On any given school day, the bus stop looks like Everest base camp, with numerous bundled up human forms milling around wearing headlamps, backpacks and ice cleats.   (Although, if they are in Jr. High, they might be wearing cargo shorts with the coat that their mother forced them to wear stuffed in their backpack. I think it’s the fire of disdain for their parents that keep them warm).

I scour the local garage sales and online sales groups to find used gear and clothing. But, there are times when I can’t find things like, decent hiking socks, personal locator beacons and a good filet knife previously owned. In these cases, I just buy them and try to make sure they are put to good use. Except for the emergency beacon, I’m totally OK with never using that.

Our kids have now reached the age where their activities are a bit more “serious.” I have one kid that plays soccer and downhill ski races. Our older daughter leans toward more creative and academic pursuits. I have found that there are times when I can’t avoid buying things like team soccer uniforms (every year … but I complain about it … I’m that parent). And, times when I acquiesce and buy my older daughter the fancy “teen” bedding that she has wanted for two years, for her birthday.

I will quote myself four years ago, “We aren’t SUPER consumers like you see on reality TV shows and we aren’t crazy minimalists like you see on reality TV shows.” I still think that is true. But, now I also believe our Simple Year has made us more thoughtful consumers and we consider other options before we rush to spend.

We are by no stretch of the imagination minimalists, but we definitely fill our lives with more experiences than things.

8 Responses to Simple In Alaska

  1. Thanks for the update! I love your style, both of writing and of mindful consuming. Sports does bring on stuff, but it is so worth it.

    • I agree, sports is worth it. Although, I tried to talk both of then into cross country (less stuff), but it was met with disdain. 🙂

    • Thanks, my neighbor took the picture. It was about 40 minutes of intense preparation trying to get everyone out the door and approximately 15 seconds standing on the bridge near out house.

  2. Kerry, it was great to hear from you. Your blog continues to encourage me to,think about consumption of all things. As usual, it appears that you are embracing life where life takes you.

Tell me, tell me...