Super Deprive Me: Consumer Experiments With No Shopping and No Garbage

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A young couple in Oregon just went an entire year nearly trash-free: At the end of 12 extremely green months, their household’s only waste that couldn’t be composted or recycled amounted to a mere 3 pounds of garbage—which is less than what the average American generates in a single day. Meanwhile, self-proclaimed fashion junkies are swearing off clothes shopping for a year or limiting themselves to wearing six items of clothing for an entire month. Why all the self-imposed restriction? Think of these experiments as backlash after years of shopping overload and over-consumption.

For some reason, I’m totally fascinated with the Plimpton-esque, self-as-guinea-pig genre, from the hilarious writing of A.J. Jacobs to Julie & Julia, Super Size Me, “performance projects” involving the wearing of a single outfit for a month, and beyond. One slice of this genre, the extreme thriftiness stunt, obviously got my attention, with people living on food budgets of $1 a day or not getting into a car for an entire year.

Sure, since most of the guinea pigs are bloggers, writers, or documentarians, they’re taking on dramatic experiments at least partly because they make for great drama—and juicy material for the book, blog, screenplay, or all of the above. But I also think that the experimenters are genuinely interested in doing some self evaluation, and the experiment gives an opportunity to change their habits, and heck, maybe change the world just a teeny-tiny bit—or at least make people who read their blogs pause for a moment and reconsider their wasteful lifestyles before they order take-out or click over to see what’s being discounted today at Groupon.

One of the latest experiments to catch my eye is the Green Garbage Project, conducted by Amy and Adam Korst. The Oregon couple, which I saw covered in USA Today, recently categorized their trash after 52 weeks of trying to create as little as possible. Included in their small list of items headed to the landfill is a broken Christmas ornament, a burned-out lightbulb, 8 razor blades, a couple of pens, two toothbrush heads, and birth-control pill packaging.

Can you imagine cataloguing your household’s trash for a year, or even a month? Most of us would need football fields to go through it all.

If you’re inspired by the Korsts and want to follow their lead, check out their Trash-Free Tips, a way comprehensive roundup of advice on shopping that yields the least waste and how to maximize recycling and composting.

Congrats on your year guys, way to go. We’ll look forward to the book. (Yes, one is planned.)

Meanwhile, the NY Times reports on the “fashion fast” trend, featuring a group of women I know well: Sally Bjornsen and the rest of the Great American Apparel Dieters, who have agreed to forego clothing shopping for a year—which will end pretty soon come to think of it.

Here’s how the “fashion diet” trend is described in classic big-picture, Times-ian fashion (excuse the pun):

Though their numbers may be small, and their diets extreme, these self-deniers of fashion are representative, in perhaps a notable way, of a broader reckoning of consumers’ spending habits. As the economy begins to improve, shoppers of every income appear to be wrestling with the same questions: Is it safe to go back to our old, pre-recession ways? Or should we? The authors of these diets — including some fashion marketing and advertising executives, interestingly enough — seem to think not.

Another group featured in the story is Six Items or Less. Participants in this experiment agree to go one month wearing (yup) just six items, not including shoes, underwear, or accessories. Participants who play by the rules are supposed to select their six items from among those that they already own. Makes sense: Why would you want to start off an anti-consumer experiment by going on a mini-shopping spree?

As yet another blogger has proved, most people already have more than enough clothing already in their closets—and chances are you don’t wear half of the perfectly good stuff that’s in there right now.

Read This Before You Go Shopping and Come Home with Purchases You Regret