Week Eighteen: "Haters Anonymous"

Hey there readers!  Looking for an inexpensive diversion this weekend?  Here’s a three-step process sure to make you feel as self-conscious as a bikini-clad supermodel who just polished off an entire brick of Velveeta cheese dip. 

Step 1: Record a video of your family trying to see if it’s possible to be happy without “stuff”

Step 2: Post the video to YouTube

Step 3:  Watch the comments roll in!

Earlier this week, we posted Lindsay Ferrier’s video interview with our family.  When Gabby and I first saw the video, I felt like I looked nervous due to some serious sweat beading on my upper lip.  Gabby thought she had “crazy eyes” and she was doing something weird with her neck.  She then asked me if I agreed her eyes looked crazy and her neck looked funky.  Little did I know, this question comes from the same kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, and species as “Am I turning into my mother?” and “Do these sleeves make my arms look like flabby old lady arms?”

“Gabby, I think I have to go pee.  Be right back.”

Once we got past all of our goofy superficial hang-ups, we agreed Lindsay’s interview captured the essence of what our Year Without A Purchase is all about. Would Lindsay’s blog readers agree? 

Our new friend Chrissie writes: 


We were really disappointed in her comment.  She didn’t even notice sweaty lips or crazy eyes.  Was she not paying attention? 

We scrolled down to hear a shout-out from our newest fan club member, momaof8?


She’s right.  The Great Mooch is really catchy!  Much better than the Year Without A Purchase.  What do you think, Melissa?


I agree, Melissa.  I, too, would be very impressed to see my wife butchering chickens and churning butter.  The truth is, we have been composting since last year, so we tried to reuse egg cartons and old pots to grow tomatoes and cantaloupes from seed.  It was a fun experiment that began 45 days ago.  We planted 12 plants.  Here are the results. 


Yes.  Two of the plants are weeds.  The rest are on life support.  We’re now looking up recipes for clover and dandelions.

As the comments continued, some said that we’re going about it all wrong because we’re not saving a ton of money.  Still more suggested we simply go a year without buying anything “new.”  But the most frequent comment was that what we were doing is no big deal. 

And I agree with them all.  Every.  Single.  One.

Could we buy more thrift store items?  Yes.  But we’re trying not to buy “stuff.”  And stuff from a thrift store is still “stuff.”

Could we save more money?  Yes.  Instead, we’re choosing to spend time with far-scattered friends and relatives we haven’t seen in a long time. Celebrating joys and sharing sorrows. 

Is this challenge a big deal?

No.  There are plenty of people who spend every waking moment trying to provide food and shelter for their own children.  Over 3 billion people, to be imprecise. 

Back in 2003, we quit our jobs, sold our house, moved to Guatemala and spent a year living with a beautiful, generous family just like this.  Our work paid us $260 per month.  We walked everywhere.  If we couldn’t walk, we rode a bus with people and livestock.  We ate loads of rice and beans.  We pooped in a hole in the ground.  Bathed in a bucket.  Washed clothes by hand a giant concrete sink.  And this experience showed us that we could be happy without having things that most Americans consider needs.   

And it was hard.  Really hard.

But coming home was much harder.  Because the advertising noise and consumer excess in the United States told a story in a voice much louder than the heart beating in my chest.  Everywhere we turned, we were being told that happiness and stuff are the same thing.  The message was inescapable.  It groped you at the grocery store.  It shouted at you from the car radio.  It exploded from billboards on the roadside.  Fulfillment is only a purchase away.

And we knew it was a huge lie.

But if you are told a lie long enough, you start to believe it.  After Guatemala, Gabby and I found ourselves slowly working our way back into society, and working ourselves out of the mindset that taught us to relish the simple beauty of a hot shower and a flushing toilet. 

So this challenge is not about saving money.  It’s not about living off the grid.  It’s all about bringing us back into balance.  Being “in” the world but not “of” it. It’s our way to remind ourselves that true fulfillment doesn’t come from a store. It comes from within – from the knowledge that no gadget in the world can change the fact that something larger is in control.  It also comes from the outside – from seeing God in the eyes of others as you move beyond a chat about the weather into a real conversation that’s alive and vulnerable.  

Because too many of us spend today lamenting about the things we don’t have, making a down payment on the stress of tomorrow.  We nurture that stress.  Invest in it.  Grow it into a monster.

And it’s eating us alive.

So today, this challenge is for us.  Me and my family. 

But it’s also for the guy who feels trapped in a job that brings him sheer misery.  A misery he shares with his family. With snapping, shouting, and emails until 2am.  A misery he endures so his family can maintain a standard of living that none of them have the time or energy to enjoy.

It’s for the mom that is burdened by guilt, desperately wanting her kids to fit in and get by.  Trying to save their beloved child some heartache with the right pair of jeans or the perfect cell phone.   A short-term fix with a long term penalty.  Perpetuating the lie that “you are what you own.”

It’s for all of us, myself included.  Those of us who can’t see that it’s not the object we desire, but the reaction we can get when people know we have it.  So we spend money we don’t have on things we don’t need to impress people who are too wrapped up in their own lives to care.

It’s about bringing value to life.  And we won’t be perfect. 

But I truly believe we’ll be better off for trying.