Ellen Heyting: my year of trying to buy nothing

From Sunday Morning, 10:28 am on 16 February 2020

For the whole of 2019, Australian teacher Elln Heytin tried not to buy anything apart from vital supplies such as food and toiletries.

In the 12 months, she bought just four things – a new mobile phone, a second-hand bike (after hers was stolen), food containers and a replacement pair of running shoes when her old ones gave up the ghost.

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Photo: Ellen Hayting

Before these purchases, Elln thought hard about how she could make ethical consumer choices.

“I asked myself, do I really need this item, can I do without? And if I decided well, yes, actually in the modern world I do need this item, then I started to think can I repair something I've already got rather than you know, making new demand?”

Elln was on the job when she got the idea for her challenge, she tells Colin Peacock.

“It was good timing more than anything. I’d just started a unit with my Grade 7 students on the costs of progress. So, we did a bit of a historical study of the Industrial Revolution and all the gains we made as societies, but then, of course, all the costs involved with pollution and child labour and things like that.

“Then we sort of flipped and talked about this new industrial revolution we're going through today, with all this new technology and what are some of the costs of progress going to be for us?”

Elln then talked with her class about over-consumption, the climate crisis and the loneliness epidemic.

Currently, Elln is teaching at an international school in Finland which follows the international baccalaureate curriculum.

This system allows teachers a lot of freedom to lead a discussion, she says.

“Really, it's more about conceptual understandings that we have to get through.”

Climate change and ethical consumerism are big topics for Finns, Elln says.

“It's constantly in the news so it feels right to teach that sort of stuff.

“I think Finland is pretty squarely on the page of there is only one version of these events - climate change is real and it's happening and it's something we have to address.”

Some of Elln's students have followed in her footsteps and are doing a no-shop year this year, she says.

In addition to raising awareness over the 12 months, Elln also saved a lot of money - some went on her mortgage and some on nights out with friends.

“More experiences, less stuff,” is her new mantra.