Could you go one Year Without Buying Anything New?

vegan minimalist

After connecting with her on Instagram, I knew that we had to have Meghan on Modern Merfolk. She is a compassionate and kind human being who seems to really understand what matters in life: Kindness. Simplicity. Passion. She's a vegan, artist, maker, mother, wife, writer, and successful business owner.  And while I admire her for her many accomplishments, (including running her amazing blog I am most struck by her self-awareness and wisdom. You can connect with Meghan through her website and on Instagram. I asked her to tell me what living a passionate life means to her, and expand on the "hows" and "whys" of why she decided to go without buying new things for an entire year. I hope you enjoy this Inspirational Thursday guest post as much as I did.

Note: This is a 5-7 minute read.

be kind vegan minimalist

About a month ago, I accidentally stumbled into a Santeria shop and met a woman made entirely of charisma.  I just wanted some incense, but instead the powerful priestess whirled around me with her infectious energy, luring me in for the entire afternoon.  She asked me about my goals: Did I crave romance?  Money?  Power? I faltered, and her eyes bored into me as she asked me again what I wanted most from life.

"I want to be kinder today than I was yesterday" I mumbled.

She flashed a brilliant smile and chuckled, pointing her shiny red nail at my chest, "Well, to be kind to others, you must be kind to YOU first...but you know that, right? Stand up straight and believe in you!" 

Everything I do stems from that simple desire to be the kindness the world needs. 

Sometimes, my interests and activities seem disjointed. I've been accused of lacking focus or direction, but, viewed through the lens of compassion, the connections are clear. 

I create happy art to make people smile.  

I mentor indie artisan entrepreneurs to bolster the creative class, and I teach art at the local museum to inspire the next generation of creatives.  

I help international students and refugees with English to foster communication, and I teach gardening to nourish my neighbors.  

In my blog, I try to write positive pieces that inspire readers to practice simple acts of kindness, too.

My vegan diet is simply another expression of kindness.  

If there in argument for veganism, whether it's compassion for animals, the environment, or my own body, I agree with that reason. I think it’s easier and more affordable to eat plants, too. Making simple choices opens time and space for more altruism, so eating vegan just makes sense to me.

I live in Kansas City, a barbecue mecca, and sometimes friends wrinkle their noses and worry about what I eat. They peer nervously over their menus when we go out, wondering what in the world I might order.

Recently, a friend grimaced and remarked to my husband, "I mean, does it gross you out?  Seeing all that weird stuff in your fridge?  What does she even eat anyway?"

My husband laughed, "She eats vegetables.  You've got some on your plate, next to your steak.  She'll eat the same veggies you’re having...just without the meat on the side."

I don't buy fancy vegan products like artisan cashew cheese or fake meats, so our friend can rest assured that he won’t accidentally eat “weird stuff” like a Tofu Pup instead of a hot dog.  I prefer to make my own veggie burgers and nut cheeses because it saves money and these things taste better homemade.  I grow my own vegetables, and I make lots of stuff from scratch.  I want to eat in a way that is mindful and grateful. 

I know where my food comes from, and I took part in growing and creating the things I eat.

At the same time, I’m really relaxed about my diet. I’ve dabbled in vegetarianism and veganism since high school, but there have been times when it didn’t make sense to be super strict. While I was teaching in Thailand, my students would make me delicious, spicy salads with veggies they grew. Almost every salad had a dash of animal product in it, usually fish sauce or dried shrimp. At the time, the kinder choice was to respect my students’ culture and their generous gifts. So, I tried the dishes, and I survived.

Thai Buddhist monks are vegetarian, so I always had filling vegan options, too. I didn’t beat myself up if I tried something someone offered me and was only vegan 95% of the time. I still follow that theme, so I know I eat a bit of butter or some real mayo occasionally.

My goal isn’t to check off the number of days I eat completely plant-based to reach some goal.

Instead, I’m on a journey to eat more plants each day and to act with kindness in any situation. In committing to eating plant based as much as I can, I’ve already reached my goal. A stray shred of cheese in a burrito won’t derail my efforts.

Eating vegan is an easy way for me to be kinder to the environment. In my effort to be a little nicer today than yesterday, I recently decided to step up my efforts to be as compassionate as possible.

vegan and minimalism

For nearly a decade, I had a small maker business, selling clothing and jewelry online and in boutiques. My business grew at a quick clip, and I found myself buying a lot of materials to fill orders. My studio was crammed with spools of thread and jewelry chain, little cellophane packaging sleeves, and piles of fabric.

Between buying materials for my business and the trappings of my modern life, I was always shopping.

When I started my business, I felt like I had created a gentler alternative to made in China fast fashion. As my orders multiplied, I realized I was still a cog in the cycle of overconsumption. I started daydreaming about a more minimalist life, where I shopped as mindfully as I ate.

So, on my birthday, in October 2016, I stopped buying new things for a year. I decided I could buy consumables and used items, but I wanted to give up all the plastic packaged, big box purchased, impulse buys.

I completely restructured my maker business, slashing items from my line and focusing more on custom work and alterations. I started my blog around this time, too, thinking I would have lots of stories to tell about searching out the perfect craigslist sofa or homemade mascara recipe. 

It didn’t take long to realize that not buying new things is a lot like not eating meat. Once I gave up shopping, I didn’t miss it at all.

I never think, “I miss fried chicken so much! I guess I’ll make do with these fake nuggets.” Likewise, I don’t need to rush out to Goodwill to buy a new outfit for every special occasion. I just wear what I have. I can’t remember the last time I went to Target, and I have so much more time and peace. Without the costly materials, my business profits have increased, too. I buy less and work less, and in the end I have more.

Not only do I have enough, I AM enough. Marketing promises us a better life through consumerism, touting a prettier home or a more exciting life through the right rug or pair of boots. 

When I stopped looking for more, I realized I had everything I needed already.

I learned to appreciate the cat scratches on my thrifted sofa and the chipped paint on my porch swing. My worn shoes fit my feet perfectly, and they hold the memories of all the places I’ve been. I set out to help the planet a little more, and wound up doing another kind thing for myself when I stopped buying stuff.

We often consider adventurous, outgoing risk takers the most passionate people. Pushing our limits is the ultimate test of what we can do as humans, and the drive it takes to climb the career ladder or the tallest mountain takes a lot of passion. So, someone like me who cares deeply about kindness, simplicity, and mindfulness might seem to lack confidence or drive.

I’ve had people ask me what’s holding me back and why don’t I demand more from life.

A passionate life for me is exploring every nook of every moment, experiencing each second fully.

Today is the day for me, and whether it’s busy or boring, I want to be present in the wonderful gift of now.

Before I left the Santeria shop, a handful of incense cones tucked in my bag, the priestess leaned in with her clinking bracelets and clicking leopard print heels and laughed, “Remember to take care of you, and the universe will give you what you want.”

I smiled back and quietly said, “Kindness is what I want. It makes me happy. I’m quiet about it, but that doesn’t mean I’m not strong.”

She wrapped me in a hug as she roared, “Quiet IS strong. I already know this…why you tell me what I know? Tell yourself! Believe in your power! Own your passion, and what you want will be true.”

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