Could you go for a year “making do” with the material possessions you already have, instead of buying new? Could you patch up worn clothes, repair instead of replace electronics and appliances, and generally avoid impulse purchases?
That’s the mission of Meg Hourihan, Blogger co-founder who is currently taking time off from Internet entrepreneurship to raise her 4-year-old son and 2-year-old daughter.
Hourihan has long been interested in sustainability and self-sufficiency, sewing many of her kids’ clothes and preparing homemade meals from scratch.
“I’ve always been fascinated by ‘Little House on the Prairie,’” she says.
At the end of 2011, the New York City mom began considering what it would be like to remove herself from the normal consumption cycle and not buy stuff for several months. Realizing that avoiding shopping for a few months would simply delay purchases, she decided to take on the challenge for a full year to see what changes and sacrifices she would be forced to make.
To keep herself accountable, she set up a blog to track her efforts and established several guidelines before her Jan. 1 start-date.
She recalled a Depression- and World War II-era expression she had heard growing up in Massachusetts – “Use it up. Wear it out. Make it do. Do without” – and realized it matched nicely to her project.
Making do: the rules
Use it up: Hourihan plans to replace items like food and toiletries only when she has used up ones she already has. If she runs out of a lipstick she uses regularly, for example, she can buy a replacement, but she cannot browse Sephora and buy three new lipsticks.
Hourihan knows she could try making her own soap and toothpaste, rather than purchasing new products, but says she doesn’t want to take the project to that extreme.
“I’m not going off the grid,” she says.
Wear it out: Since Hourihan is already quite the seamstress, she already mends her family’s damaged clothing and only anticipates replacing items she can’t repair or make herself like running shoes.
What happens when her favorite pair of jeans are beyond repair?
“If one pair of jeans wears out, I need to wear out the other two before I can buy a new pair,” she says.
Make it do: This is the heart of Hourihan’s project: to make do with what she already has.
Do without: Hourihan knows she already has a lot of possessions and thinks she can make use of them without feeling like her life is missing something. If she needs an item she doesn’t already have, she will find alternatives to purchasing, such as borrowing books from friends or the library.
A few exceptions: Experiences aren’t off the table, so Hourihan can enjoy dinner with her husband occasionally and vacations with the family, although she can’t purchase stuff on their trips. Though she sews many of her children’s clothes, she will also allow herself to buy new clothes for her fast-growing brood; many of her kids’ new clothes are purchased from her local consignment store anyway, she says.
Obstacles and triumphs so far
Though her “Make It Do” project has only been under way for two months, Hourihan has already run into a few obstacles.
On a weekend trip to Vermont, she realized she forgot her sunglasses and had to buy new ones to prevent her UV ray-caused eye condition, pinguecula, from worsening.
Hourihan also had a “demoralizing moment” when she was brainstorming summer vacation plans, daydreaming about a camping trip across the country with her kids. Then she remembered that the family’s old car might not make the trip: Would they need to buy a new car? Or a used car?
“The things I want to do often require material possessions to execute,” she says, which is disappointing.
But refraining from making purchases is still better than believing you need to buy the latest dress or purse to be happy – a pressure she finds permeating New York City, she says.
But despite these dilemmas, Hourihan has already achieved some small triumphs, discovering delicious new recipes while trying to use up exotic grains in her pantry and weaving a storage basket out of old newspaper instead buying a plastic one at the store.
Hourihan also finds she has more free time, even though she didn’t think she used to fill up her time with shopping in the past.
“If I had 45 minutes until I needed to pick up my daughter, I might wander through a store while waiting [and be tempted to buy things],” she says. “Now I have no reason for doing that. It’s like an alcoholic going into a bar. Now if I have some free time, I read a book or do something different [from shopping].”
And will the year-long challenge save Hourihan’s family money?
Hourihan plans to compare this year’s credit card statements with last year’s throughout the project’s duration, but so far, she hasn’t seen much of a difference.
“It’s just the financial churn of running a household,” she says, including groceries, toiletries and utility and phone bills.
But to Hourihan, the “Make It Do” project is about more than saving money – it’s about living more simply and independently.
“It’s not about money. It’s about realizing I have what I need already and using it,” she says.