Meet the woman who got married without buying anything new

A few years ago Alexa Carson decided 2011 would be a Buy Nothing Year. The rules were clear: you could buy used or second-hand items, but you weren't allowed to buy anything new. Then she got engaged. The wedding was set for Thanksgiving... and she pulled it off without buying anything new.
Alexa Carson and her flower girl Elia. Alexa got married without buying anything new. (Tessa Buchan)

On New Year's Eve 2010, Alexa Carson decided to make 2011 a "Buy Nothing Year." Or rather, a "Buy Nothing New Year."

She got the idea while chatting with friends at a cottage, glass of wine in hand.

"We were saying, 'why do we need so much stuff in the world,' and 'we don't necessarily have to have the perfect Ikea houses, and we can't really decide why this stuff has become so important and why it's become such a big part of people's identity.'"

So Carson and two friends decided that for the next year, all purchases had to be second-hand, with the exception of food, toiletries and underwear (if absolutely necessary). Borrowing an item from a family member, friend or colleague was okay, too.

Carson thought it would be easy -- and at first it was. She could find whatever she needed at second hand stores or from people selling used items online.

But then life happened.

2011 became not only Carson's "Buy Nothing Year," but also the year that she got married and had her first baby.

Alexa Carson got married at a YMCA camp on Lake Couchiching, near Orillia, ON. The beach where the ceremony was held was decorated with bunting that Carson's sister-in-law made from second-hand fabric. (Colin O'Connor)

Carson says having a "Buy Nothing Wedding" required flexibility, creativity and craftiness. Fortunately, this matched the rustic feel of her outdoor, autumn ceremony.

Carson's sister-in-law made multi-coloured decorative flags out of second-hand fabric. A friend -- who happened to be taking a pottery class -- made vases for the centrepieces. And since it was a Thanksgiving wedding, pumpkins and squashes served as additional decorations, alongside flowers from Carson's mother's garden.

How do you set a beautiful head table at a wedding without buying anything new? Alexa Carson used homemade bunting made with used fabric, homemade ceramic vases with flowers from her mother's garden, and mason jars filled with tea lights she had lying around the house. (Tessa Buchan)

Her dress came from a non-profit called The Bride Project, which sells gently-used wedding gowns to raise money for cancer charities.

Carson says having a Buy Nothing Baby wasn't as easy as having a Buy Nothing Wedding. It didn't take long to find second-hand cribs and change tables, but the little things a baby needs, like a teensy hair brush and tiny nail clippers, were harder to find. 

"Small things people tend to not bother donating or passing on because they're seen as junk, or garbage," says Carson. It took a lot of time and effort to acquire those smaller items second-hand, but she managed to borrow most of what she needed.

Although it was seven years ago, Carson says the lessons of her Buy Nothing Year have stuck.

"I think one of the biggest things I've integrated into my life on an ongoing basis is a commitment to buying used things whenever possible."

Alexa Carson and her husband Jonathan Ball dancing at their wedding. The reception was held in a hall decorated with twinkle lights borrowed from friends. (Colin O'Connor)

She has two bits of advice for those who are considering a similar project.

"If possible, do it with friends." Carson says having someone to check in with "made it more fun."

And finally, "pick something that fits with who you are and how you see yourself and your understanding of the world...as opposed to fully changing yourself." She believes tweaking or augmenting the best parts of you make for a more successful experience.

Click LISTEN to hear more about the challenges and delights of Alexa Carson's Buy Nothing Year.