Friday, December 31, 2010

A Salvaged Life

I recently interviewed the talented and wise proprietress of Salvage Life, Beth Giles,
about a challenge that she and her family embarked on: not buying anything new for one year (2010). It's certainly made me think about ways I want to be more thoughtful about spending my money in 2011. I hope it inspires you too!
Challenge: 1 year without buying anything new
With permission to buy the following things:
Health & Safety Items

Note: I did not include my business in the challenge because I don't think I could keep it running without envelopes, packing tape, paper, printer ink, etc., but I did my best to conserve whenever possible.

1. how did you get inspired to do this?/ what gave you the idea?

I've had my business, Salvage Life, for almost four years now and the concept behind it is that you can find used clothes that are just as good if not better than new ones. I want to help people that normally wouldn't be comfortable buying used or vintage, see that it is a fashionable and sustainable way to live. My business and my family have been such a learning experience for me and I am very interested in the psychology behind what and why people buy. A few years ago I read about a group of people who didn't buy anything new for a year and it intrigued me, but I never thought I could do it. Last year, I decided it would be fun to try our own version of this challenge.

8. was it your idea or your husbands? if it was yours, was it hard to convince him?

It was my idea, but everyone who knows us thinks it was my husband's. In college my husband really took to the idea of simplicity and has been living that way ever since. In general he doesn't buy much, so when I told him my idea he thought it was great. It's been funny though because I think it has been just as challenging to him as for me.

4. what were the biggest challenges?/ hardest part of it all?
For me the hardest thing was not being able to buy any new clothes, shoes, accessories. I love vintage, but there is something about going into a store and walking out with a bag full of shiny new things. It makes you feel good! Unfortunately, that feeling does not last and then you need to buy more new things. For my husband it was little things that make life run more smoothly that was irritating, for example a little part that holds the visor in his car broke and since he couldn't replace it, he constantly has to readjust his visor. And for Ruby, at one point she had no shoes that fit so she was wearing shoes that were a size too small. It's hard to find used children's shoes in good condition.

5. did you ever have to cheat?? (buy something new)

The point of this challenge for our family wasn't to just see if we could struggle and survive a year without new things, we wanted to ask the question, "can we live like this all the time?" This whole experience would be pointless to us, if we just bought everything on January 1 that we hadn't bought all year. We began to analyze every potential purchase. Some interesting things came up, such as: what if something is made of recycled materials? or what if you need a new part to keep an old item working? Do plants and cut flowers count? We did "cheat" when it came to our home. We bought a 1920's house and have been fixing it up over the last few years. We figure that because we were able to salvage an entire house, it made sense to buy a few materials that would help us restore it.
12. how have you dealt with giving gifts during this time?
Gifts have been a big challenge, mostly because you have to plan ahead when you are trying to find a used gift. For example, my dad loves Robin Hood, so I bought him a 1920's Robin Hood book on Ebay for Father's Day. When it comes to weddings, it was sad to not be able to buy a gift that would help a friend start their home. I have been thinking that buying new things is good if it will last a long time, I know my mom still uses many things in her kitchen that she got for her wedding 33 years.

3. what have you learned from the experience?

We all make an impact with what and how we buy whether we think about it or not. This challenge has made me think about the motivations behind my buying. At one point I noticed I was buying a lot of used things that I didn't need because I could. Shopping can be a way to distract myself or fill a void. On the positive side, buying things can be a way to bless people, like giving a new toy to Toys for Tots or buying a flower arrangement for a friend who has lost a loved one. I've learned to take time to think about a purchase before making it, which I hope to continue for the rest of my life.

thanks for reading, and thank you Beth for the wonderful interview!


  1. Very interesting! I have just started a similar challenge myself. So far so good but I agree that it can be difficult sometimes (especially at the moment with all those Christmas and New Year sales everywhere!)

  2. Great, though-provoking interview, M, and it's cool to read about this experience from the viewpoint of another vintage seller. Andy and I *basically* live this way--or attempt to. As I've grown older, I've become much more interested in having experiences than having *things*, and I'd gladly forego some new clothes if it means I can take a trip somewhere.

    Congratulations to you, Beth, and your family for taking on this interesting project!

  3. Thanks Maria for sharing this interview! It is such a pleasure to share with your readers about this last year. It has been crazy, but I am so glad we did it. Now the key is to try to keep in mind what I learned last year, I really can live without a lot. :)

    Thank you Karen for your kind comments, I completely agree.

  4. Thanks so much for posting this, I've been planning something similar for myself so it's really inspiring to read how others have fared. Congratulations Beth!

    I do want to point out though, in case anyone else with kids is thinking of trying this, and as someone who's worked in children's footwear for many years - please try to make some kind of exception for kids shoes. The bones in childrens shoes aren't fully formed so shoes that are slightly tight or ill fitting can permanently alter the shape of their foot.

  5. My husband and I did this about 4 years ago, we said if we couldn't eat it we weren't going to buy it. We saved a ton of money that year and since then we have not gone back to our old ways of spending. Thanks for sharing, I hope others will try this, it's transforming!

  6. What a GREAT challenge. I honestly don't think I could do it...maybe for a month. I have a lot of admiration for them.