Week One: "The Rules"

Many of you have been wondering, “What are the rules for this ‘Year Without A Purchase?’”  It is also a question Gabby wanted clarified prior to January 1st.  In fact, we chatted about it in mid-December. Image * A somewhat retouched photo of Gabby and I reading the Sunday paper and ignoring ads of crap we can no longer buy.

“So, are we doing this thing or not?” she prodded.

“Yeah.  Let’s do it.” I replied, flippantly.

“So what are the rules?  I know this was my idea but now I’m getting cold feet.”

I continued to flip channels on our new LED TV, waiting for Gabby to decide, therefore freeing me from any responsibility or accountability.

“Hello!?!?!  You gotta’ engage here, Dannemiller.”

“OK,” I say, not taking my eyes off the TV.  “If you can eat it, you can buy it.”

“What about toilet paper?”

“OK,” still half-awake.  “Food and toilet paper.”

“You’re killing me Dannemiller.”

“OK.  We can buy hygiene products. ”

“What about cleaners?”

This item had slipped my mind, as one only cares about cleaners if one actually cleans on a regular basis.  I think for a minute.

“Didn’t we use vinegar and water as cleaner before?”

“Yes.  That’s an option, but you gotta’ let me know ASAP what’s on the list and what’s not, so I can stock up by the 31st!”  (Gabby’s editorial comment:  she knows that hoarding defeats the purpose of this self-inflicted challenge)

I decided to postpone the “what’s on the list” decision until January 3rd -   the day we embarked on a road trip to visit family in Ohio.  With the kids occupied in the back seat, Gabby and I had plenty of opportunity to chat about it.  I opened the conversation by telling my lovely wife all of the things that should be off-limits for her to purchase, not realizing that we were now confined in a tightly-enclosed space for the next seven hours, and the time for “stocking up” had passed.

Well played.

The result was something like taking a sharp stick and poking a beautiful swan -a swan that likes lots of advance notice.  Initially very pretty to look at, but you don’t want to be around when the feathers get to flying.  In this moment, I learned that when you tell the world via a blog that you and your spouse have committed to something without said spouse knowing what she’s committed to, she might not react with the kind of caring, understanding heart you’ve grown to know and love.  There was a lot of back-and-forth debate.

I started with a question.   “What are the essentials? ”

Gabby answered with the obvious.  “We have to buy groceries.  We can’t live off our summer tomatoes for a year.”

“True.  But what about gifts?  You like to give gifts.”  I hit her where it hurts.  She ruminated for a moment, then came back with an idea.

“Maybe we set aside some money for gifts throughout the year?”

I countered, “No.  We can’t buy gifts.  That’s the point.  We make ‘em instead.”

“But you have to buy stuff to make it with.”

“No you don’t.  You can use stuff you can get for free.”

“What do you mean?”

“Stuff that’s free that’s just lying around.”

“I think they call that garbage.”

“No they don’t.  There’s lots of stuff you can get for nothing.”

“Right.  It’s called garbage.  I haven’t bought Christmas gifts for your niece and nephew yet.  You’re going to make them gifts out of garbage?”

“Maybe they’d like a singing telegram?”

“Great idea.  Every high school and college-aged kid I know loves a singing telegram.”

After some discussion, and the kids wondering “why does daddy look like he might start crying?”, we finally negotiated the terms.   What helped us most was getting clear on why we were doing this in the first place.  Sure, it’s about defining needs vs. wants, but that’s not the main point.  We lived for a year without a washing machine, dishwasher, heat, or clean running water.  We now know that these are not basic human needs.  The only true needs are food, shelter and clothes to keep you warm.

It all came back to our family mission statement (I know – it’s cheesy, but we like it).

To tirelessly seek God’s will by living lives of integrity, owning what we have, growing together in faith, and serving God’s people to build a world without need.

We’ve tried our best to operate under this mound of cheddar for the past 9 years.  The problem is, we recently noticed that we were drifting.  Allowing our posessions to define us.  Buying new stuff instead of owning and appreciating what we have.  And through this, losing an honest connection with people.

Admittedly, this set of rules is not so outrageous.  We know that well over half of the world’s population would consider it a luxury to live like us this year.  We’re no Mother Teresa.  Not even close.  But it’s our plan to try and live in the world and not of the world.  Because we could all try to live exactly like Jesus, but that would require wearing sandals and a tunic everywhere, and learning how to make table and chairs without the aid of power tools.  That’s just plain bananas.

The Rules – Simplified

  1. Don’t buy “stuff”

The Rules - Detailed

  1. We can buy stuff that can be “used up” within a year.  Groceries and gas.
  2. We can’t buy clothes.  We have plenty.  If there truly is a “need” (ex: not a single pair of our kids’ shoes fit without causing irreversible toe damage), we will find hand-me-downs.
  3. We can fix stuff that breaks.
  4. We can use cell phones and internet, since they are both (conveniently) required for our work-from-home jobs.  (There will be a “technology free” challenge at some point during the year.)
  5. Gifts must be in the form of charitable donation or “experience gifts” to build connections and memories (i.e. go to dinner together, visit the zoo, travel to visit friends/family etc.)
  6. Eating out:  still working on this one.  We probably won’t cut it altogether (at least initially), but will limit.

We’re still not sure what we’ll learn from this, but it should be an interesting ride.  Now, do we tell the kids, or just let 'em figure it out?