2011 was a full year for me but one thing it was not full of was "stuff"… things… material goods. I started the year off with a resolution to be much more mindful of all of the things I acquired. The creation, use, and disposal of material goods can cause a wide variety of serious problems: resources are used up faster than they are replaced, factories constantly spew out dangerous pollution into our air and water, and manufacturers often exploit their workers. I decided to publicly post a list of every material thing I acquired for an entire year as a way of drawing attention to my own role in this, and to be more mindful of the things I bought or received.
At the end of the year, here’s how it broke down:
I acquired 126 things, many of which were gifts/free, but for the things I did buy, I spent $913 (plus the cost of an engagement ring which I am not disclosing). The things included some hand me down clothes, a bunch of toiletries and cleaning supplies, vitamins, 4 books, medical supplies, a few music CDs, and some tennis balls. When you take out personal hygiene products, health/medical supplies, some telecommunications items, and things like mail and paper receipts, I only got 60 things – just five a month -- and spent less than $275 (again, not including the engagement ring I bought).
I didn’t make much money in 2011 (about the median income in the US), so keeping my costs low on purchasing material goods freed up a good amount of money to spend on things that are in line with my values. I donated more than $1,500 to various non-profits, bought carbon offsets for all of my home energy use and travel, invested some money in Café Green (my favorite restaurant in DC), and put money into Live Green which is currently employing almost 20 people.
Despite the small number of things I acquired, 2011 was an incredibly jam-packed year for me. After two and a half years of learning, growing and sharing happiness, my love and I got engaged in March. Over the summer, I worked with 14 DC youth and they have been inspiring me ever since. In August, my dear canine companion passed away after a short battle with cancer. In September, I went on a retreat that helped me to hone my life’s purpose. And throughout the year, the Live Green team and I grew our membership from 1,300 to more than 4,500. I also ate at amazing restaurants, made new friends, hosted a Superbowl party and a few community potlucks, traveled to New Zealand, mentored a community organizer, taught a course, spoke at a number of conferences and events, performed a spoken word piece at an open mic for the first time, and played lots and lots of football.
In the end, this little experiment was not only about minimizing my negative impact but maximizing my positive impact. I proactively spent money on things in which I deeply believe. And the time I didn’t spend on shopping for stuff I don’t need, I spent playing sports, volunteering with non-profits, and connecting with people who are dear to me. Living into my values has helped me live a life that is profoundly fulfilling and joyful.
If you'd like to join in on the fun, be a part of Live Green's 2012 Track Your Stuff Challenge.
Click here to see Steve's full list of stuff
Click here to read why Steve went on this endeavor