Around the same time, his good friend Julie Phillips, 29, a communications advisor at the University of Calgary, was about to move into a new apartment when it fell through. “Geoff said, ‘You can move in with me, but I only have a bedroom for you to rent,’” she says. “The rest was packed with his stuff. So I got rid of over 80% of my stuff within three days.” (She was thinking she might move in a year and if so, she’d have to get rid of many of her belongings then.) But then she had a meltdown. “I was like, ‘Oh my god. What did I do?’ And then I was like, ‘Why do I need things anyway?’”
Over their first bottle of wine as roommates, they questioned their need for the objects that had drained their bank accounts, and, on a whim, decided to spend a year not buying anything. The domain name and Twitter handle for the obvious designation, Buy Nothing Year, were available. Julie recalls, “I said to this guy, ‘I can’t believe the name was available,’ and he said, ‘I can! You guys are crazy! Who would do that?’”
Within a week, they became a national news sensation. They suddenly realized that with the country watching, they had to follow through.
Buy Nothing Year roommates Julie Phillips and Geoffrey Szuszkiewicz in front of their aquaponics system (Kevin Jesuino)
They spent the first three months (August through October) phasing out all consumer items, such as household objects, electronics and clothes. Then, they cut out all services, including dining out, salon haircuts, and gas and instead began hosting lots of dinner parties — and biking or walking everywhere, even during Calgary’s long, cold winter. (For his 35-minute walk to work, Geoff would don long johns, winter boots, scarf, mittens and a hat. Though he was already fit when the year began, he lost an additional 10 pounds. When he had to go especially far, he took the bus.) They made their own laundry detergent and surface cleaners, but made a concession for store-bought dish soap, since the homemade version left a gross film on their dishes.
During the last phase, meant to start this July, they intended to stop buying food and grow their own with their aquaponics system and garden, but couldn’t produce enough to feed themselves. (Harvesting season begins in August, and their project ended August 3.) By then, Geoffrey says, “Buy Nothing Year had already accomplished a lot of what we wanted to accomplish, which was to live this downshifted lifestyle.”
They had also saved a lot of money: Geoffrey amassed $42,300 (46,000 CAD) and Julie set aside $13,800 (15,000 CAD). (Julie’s explanation as to why Geoffrey squirreled away so much more: “As much as Geoff saved, I don’t make per year.”) Here’s how they achieved their feat, how the project changed their lives and what habits they’ll retain. Plus, the slide show contains their top tips on having a Buy Nothing Year of your own.