‘No’ is a complete sentence.

If there’s only room for 3R in your life, make it Refuse, Refuse, Refuse!

REFUSE – Made entirely from single-use plastic, packaging, and disposables at the Sampah Menyampah and FRIENDS’ Earth Weekend event at The School @ Jaya One, Malaysia, on 13-14 April 2019.

Refuse – My favorite R! When you practice Refuse all the time, you would have eliminated 50% of waste coming into your life. Really effective! Moreover, ‘No’ is a complete sentence. You do not need to give any explanation as to why you do not want that plastic straw, that plastic bottle mineral water, that plastic bag, etc. Remember, you are a consumer and you are always right. ‘No’ means no. Period. No demand, no supply.

If only life could be that simple. But hey, practice makes perfect!

Take straw for example, which is one of the most accessible items to refuse. Whenever I order a drink in Malaysia, I would say in Bahasa Malayu, “Tak Nak straw.” which means, “Do not want straw.” Somehow or rather, the straw would make it to my drink due to the server’s habit and standard operation procedure (SOP). Relax. Breathe. If I cannot change the world, one thing I can change for sure is my order. So now I order hot drinks instead. It is improbable to put plastic straws in hot drinks, although it did happen one or two times, and sometimes, I got that white plastic stirrer instead. Rrrr. 

No straw but plastic stirrer made it in one of our hot drinks to differentiate our orders.

Resistance to these single-use plastics and disposables may seem futile at times. The more you say ‘No’ to it, the more you will get it, the more people want to give it to you generously like a reverse psychology reflex. “Take, take, take, it’s free.” “No, I don’t want it.” Sometimes, I had to say: “I am allergic to plastic. Please don’t put plastic in my food and drink.” It worked. If you are not as dramatic as I am, just keep saying “No” will do.

If the response is also a “No”, “No, we cannot accept BYO for whatever reason.” “No, we must only use these plastic disposables.” I will have no other choice but to take my money to another joint who will accept my request. Consumers’ choices. Life goes on.

What else can we refuse other than single-use plastic, packaging, and disposables?

  • Refuse more food when you are already full.
  • Refuse handouts in any form if you know you are not going to read them.
  • Refuse freebies like tote bags, notebooks, and cheap pens if you already have lots of them and know you are not going to use them all.
  • Refuse and return gifts that you know you would never ever use. This is the hardest to refuse but I have done it a few times without breaking any hearts. They are still alive and we are still friends. Tried and tested.

I was given souvenirs like a tote bag that I have heaps of and a fridge magnet with no actual function or meaning to me except to collect dust at the door to my food. And why would I want to display this magnetic piece of memento at my home or have it as part of my life, especially when I have not experienced or traveled to where it came from? It has no significance in my life at all. 

So much time, money, and energy were spent buying souvenirs to give to family and friends who might not even want them in the first place! These souvenirs often get stored somewhere in the house, along with many other stuff, or go straight to the bin. Everyone is too polite to refuse something they don’t want. I was one of them. I will receive the gift with thankfulness, put it somewhere because I don’t know what I’m going to do with it, forget about it, until one fine day when I do spring clean, it will end up in my flea market pile to sell for fun or donation pile to pass on to the needy. Yes, people are in need of souvenirs. It can save lives! Not really.

Childhood toys and snacks from a tourist store in Taiwan. So nostalgic, I didn’t buy any of it.

I stopped this well-meaning meaningless act altogether. We do not need more cheap and cheerful knick-knacks to be produced, purchased, and passed around like unwanted Christmas presents. The time, money, and energy saved from buying souvenirs are well spent at a local cafe, watching people, and the day goes by. Rest and relax, be present, and enjoy the moment. That I cannot refuse. Though people meant well, decline souvenirs politely, especially when you know you have no use for them. Give thanks, return it and allow them to pass the gift on to others instead. 

What about birthday gifts, Christmas presents, surprise gifts?

I wouldn’t say I like the idea of using my birthday to manipulate friends to get me what I want and then act all surprised when I get it. It’s a show I do not wish to play in the Broadway musical. But that’s just me. Sure, it’s your special day, and you put up a wish list of things you’ve always wanted so people can get them for you because you deserved it for being you. There is nothing wrong with expressing what you want and giving people the chance to make you happier on your happy birthday. Besides, gifting is one of the 5 languages of love, though not necessary for a hefty price tag. It’s the thought that counts—that sweet gesture of gifting.

Don’t get me wrong, I do love the feeling of receiving gifts, surprises, and all, but I would much rather have less stuff in my life at this juncture. The best gift I got for my birthday was a home-cooked meal by a friend. A friend baked me a cake. A friend got me a piece of cake. A friend offered me a concert ticket. A friend sent a video of her singing the Happy Birthday song. A friend handed me a piece of an item from her wardrobe. A friend surprised me with a boat ride to catch the sunset. Maybe it’s special because it’s more personal, rather than just wanting and asking for stuff in general.

What if someone gave you a birthday gift and you don’t like it at all?

I am so thankful and appreciative of all the gifts I got so far in my life. Some things grew on you even though you might think it’s not very ‘you’ at the very moment you received it. I guess that’s the sentimental part of me talking. I can’t say the same for Christmas presents though, because secret Santa is just so random! From photo frames that’s been passed on for centuries to plush dog door stoppers to pineapples party cups, you name it.

Usually, a budget would be set for everyone to get a generic gift, good for him or her, or anyone in between. This could be anything made in China! Since God created the world and China created everything else. Like buying souvenirs, secret Santa gifts can be a complete waste of time, money, and energy, except it’s funnier. So funny that my friends and I decided not to do secret Santa anymore. We gathered to enjoy good meals and catch up with one another. Besides, the world was given the best gift on this day already; the birth of Christ. Consumerism has successfully taken over its spiritual meaning and kept us ever so busy doing all the last-minute Christmas shopping buying gifts for the sake of giving. This is now heightened by Black Friday, a frenzy shopping day after Thanksgiving in the United States, now around the world of consumerism, where retailers throw in special discounts.

I remember a segment of The True Cost documentary where they showed viewers what Black Friday is like in America. One of the news broadcasters said: “We are once again spending money we don’t have, on things we don’t need, to give to people we don’t like.” Towards the end of that segment (not shown in the youtube link above), you’ll see shoppers rushing into a store from a CCTV camera, screaming and grabbing clothes from the racks. That scene sent chills down my spine. These shoppers look like some kind of lab rats given shots of coke or caffeine. What have we become? Fanatic FOMO shopaholic? 

Deals and past seasons stocks to clear at one of the fast fashion stores in Singapore.

We are so swayed by the notion of not missing out on any good deals and fell into excessive consumerism and modern-day madness! Again, I was one of them. Thinking I’m a really smart shopper by scoring good promotions and package deals. Sure, it’s half price now, and you’ll save 50% when you buy it NOW, and buy 10 of the same thing. Do you know you save 100% when you buy nothing? When you take a good look at your home, kitchen, and wardrobe, you already have more than what you need. Half of which, not utilized. Their role mainly is to collect dust. Use them, or they become useless. If not, pass it on and bless others.

There is nothing wrong with re-gifting things, including presents you have no use for as long as they are still in good condition to be reused by others. The love was well received through that gift and you are free to do what you want with it after. Put it to good use, store it to collect dust, sell it off, donate to charity or pass it on to bless someone else. Spread the love!

I’ve come to a point where I refuse capitalism and consumerism altogether. They make us consume our planet away mindlessly with the latest and greatest stuff that we don’t need, buying with money we don’t have, to impress people we don’t even like. I don’t need any more stuff and trash in my life. I want to be free from it!

What else can we refuse? Let me know by leaving a reply below!

Published by jsmntuan

A self-confessed shopaholic, hoarder, collector and a well organized one, Jasmine Tuan, a designer, a creative brand consultant, co-owned and ran a fashion concept store in Singapore featuring the best of Asia designers, went from having a walk-in wardrobe, downsized to a rack full, to zero shopping on new fashion items in 2018. She also began her zero waste journey the same year, by applying the 5Rs principles in this order: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rot daily. She added 'Rethink' in front of the 5Rs as she believes everything begins from the head.

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