NOTHING NEW: Turning over a green leaf at 40

When you’re young, birthdays are a big deal. As the number of your age gets bigger it means you’re growing, hopefully maturing and usually gaining access to do more things. Starting school, riding a bike across the street, going to the mall or to the movies with a friend, first dates, learning to drive, entering college, your first legal drink, etc.

But by the time you hit 40, birthdays are the time of year to renew your car tag and, well maybe, to ponder what you’ve done with your life.

For me, 40 pretty much came and went in January 2010. I spent the day with my son at Disney’s Animal Kingdom and, after chasing and lifting and negotiating with a 2-year-old for eight hours, I realized that I felt about 50.

The biggest question I was left with at the end of the day was, what was I thinking to start having kids at nearly 40? Oh, yeah, and that I hate Disney and all it stands for (don’t get me started).

As the year edged forward and the Aleve kicked in, I did get a little more philosophical. A non-smoking, caucasian female of my age can expect to live, under optimum conditions — barring freak household accidents — to about age 80. I figure that’s about three years of retirement after we get to quit our jobs as Wal-Mart greeters once the government further bankrupts Social Security and pushes our benefits off to age 77.

So, what has been the general theme of my first 40 years? Like most young people, the skill I’ve probably mastered the most is consuming. Clothes, shoes, furniture, nifty gadgets that no longer work, books (my personal vice), cosmetics, handbags, dishes, collectibles, music CDs, VHS tapes, musical instruments, miscellaneous junk made in China and lots of plastic bins to put it all in.

Some people are pack rats by nature and some are the “gather no moss” type whose homes are clutter free and kitchens don’t brim over with various appliances. I am the former and I come from a long line of pack rats who all left their stuff to me. Nothing of monetary value, but stuff that I know they loved and that I haven’t had the heart to part with.

This realization hit me over Thanksgiving. After being bombarded with emails about Black Friday sales, Cyber Monday sales and seeing news reports about all those idiots camped out to get whatever piece of mass-produced junk was “hot” for Christmas 2010, I reached a level of disgust normally caused only by election season.

I declared on my Facebook page that I was boycotting all after-Thanksgiving shopping, online or in person, and I posted this icon as my Facebook profile picture:

Now this was partially selfish because I hate crowds and I hate to shop. But I’d vowed not to buy anything online either, and instead to spend the weekend with my son doing old-fashioned fun things that don’t cost anything.

We played in the back yard, we blew bubbles off the second-story landing of our apartment, we read lots of books together, we baked cookies, we walked to the corner store for milk (made an exception for milk).

We didn’t even crank up the minivan that weekend, so we used no gasoline. Other than the electricity we used, it was as close to a no-impact experience as we’d probably ever had while not home sick with the flu.

We didn’t feel deprived, quite the reverse actually. It was quite liberating knowing that we hadn’t contributed to the feeding frenzy of consumerism that weekend.

In the process of finding my “no shopping” icon via Google, I stumbled across articles about something called “The Compact.” It was an experiment carried out by some people in California — please, no eye rolls about California — where singles and couples and families took a vow to buy nothing new for one year to reduce their impact on the environment.

I started poking into this more and decided to do it. Well, sort of decided to do it. Then Christmas came and that sealed the deal.

This blog will be about my experience trying to live The Compact and about turning over a new, green leaf for the next (hopefully) 40 years of my life.

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