Everything I Acquired in 2011

By Steve Ma, President of Live Green

If you had to publicly post everything you buy or acquire for the next year, would it change what you get? For me, absolutely. And that’s a good thing. One of my 2011 goals was to be more intentional about the material objects I acquire. So I kept track of everything I bought or received in 2011 (not including food or business-related purchases). On the following pages, you’ll see a list along with costs, pictures, and the stories behind each thing I got for an entire year, starting from the most recent purchase.

The main thrust behind this is to be more mindful about the things I buy or get and share any lessons learned with people willing to read about my experience. Check out why I am tracking what I buy or get for more information about this and the 3 other key things I do to green my life.

Next: Everything I Acquired in 2011

Ekotec Replacement Toothbrush heads
November, $5.55

I’ve been using the same toothbrush handle for almost 2 years now. I just pop out the heads when the bristles get worn and pop in a new one. These great little toothbrush heads last a little over two months for me.

Steelers Garb and T-shirt:
October, Free

As noted below, I am a Steelers fan. Have been for 3 decades. However, when you consider the accusations against Ben Roethlisberger, James Harrison’s homophobic remarks, Rashard Mendenhall’s arrogance, and Hines Ward’s DUI, it’s been hard for me to cheer for the Steelers these days. Apparently, my ex feels the same way and decided to give me some of her old Steelers garb, along with a t-shirt from Tabby’s Place, which is an amazing sanctuary for cats (of which we are still both big fans).

White Ribbon
November, Free

A few of my dear friends have been sexually abused. Sexual assault is an issue that resonates deeply with me. Unfortunately, violence against women is so pervasive, in overt and subtle ways, here and throughout the world. On the international day to end violence against women (Nov 25), people are asked to wear a white ribbon to demonstrate the commitment to never commit, condone, or remain silent about violence against women.

Vegan with a Vengeance Cookbook

My fiance bought this used book to give us ideas for our wedding menu. What Einstein did to field of physics, Isa Chandra Moskowitz (the author of this book) is doing to the world of vegan food. Seriously, she is a vegan genius. She’s got books on vegan brunch, cupcakes, cookies, and more. I have been vegan for almost 20 years and the deliciousness has grown exponentially thanks to people like Isa.

Indiana University Flag Football Jersey
September, Free

For about 5 years, I’ve been playing for the Indiana University Alumni Flag Football team which is part of the Capital Alumni Network. This year, we stepped up our game with official jerseys. They were paid for by the Washington Intern housing network.

Tem Blessed Album
September, October, Free

My friend Temistocles Ferreira, aka Tem Blessed gave me a couple of his albums on CD. Tem is an amazing, socially conscious hip hop artist who tackles all sorts of social issues in his music. Check out his green-themed music video, Now is the Time (generation).

September, Free

Here’s another item from my retreat in Vermont, but this one I made myself. The wood is from a birch tree that fell many years ago. From it, the staff at the Center for Whole Communities created a bunch of smaller blocks and then taught us how to carve spoons or spatulas out of them. Who knew this awesome little spatula was underneath that block of wood, just waiting to be whittled into form?

Bandages and Tape
September, Free

During my retreat in Vermont, I decided to run up the side of a mountain as quickly as I could, barefoot. Why you ask? I have no idea. But it left me with a nice sized cut on my big toe. Two bandages and some tape and I was good as new.

Wooden Bowl
September, Free

I was awarded a grant to attend a retreat with other environmental leaders through the Center for Whole Communities. We spent a week in the mountains of Vermont talking about power, privilege, what we long for, what obstacles are standing in our way, and more. The organizers gave us each a bowl to use for the week and then keep as a gift.

Kiss My Face Shampoo
September, $15.59

This is a BIG bottle of shampoo. Since it’s big, it’s far more efficient from a packaging and transport standpoint. It also leads to fewer trips to the market for me. This shampoo is also made with a whole bunch of organic ingredients.

Bike Brakes and Cable
September, $12.59

The brakes on my bike were getting pretty worn and my gear shifter was having some issues. I took my bike to the Bike Rack and they put on new brakes (back wheel only), switched out a cable, and did a couple of adjustments. My bike is rolling great again. And I got a 10% discount on the parts because the Bike Rack is a Live Green Spot. Yay!

September, $5.99

For some reason, I started the year with 3 full tubes of toothpaste. So it wasn’t until 9 month into the year that I had to buy some more. I appreciate that Tom’s of Maine uses organic ingredients, has eco-friendly packaging, avoids animal testing, and powers their factory with 100 percent renewable energy (through Green-e certified RECs). Plus, I really like the wintermint flavor of this toothpaste. Oh, I also got a little mini-tube of toothpaste in June from my dentist which I have yet to use.

NAAAP Lanyard, Distinguished Speaker Award, Macy’s Key Chain and Pen
August, Free

I was invited to speak at the Annual Conference for the National Association of Asian American Professionals (NAAAP). The topic was Asian Leadership in Sustainability. When I showed up, they handed me a bag of various goodies but I didn’t take it. However, I needed to take the lanyard to get into the sessions and after my panel, they gave me an award and gift from Macy’s. It didn’t feel right to refuse them. I made a gift of the key chain but kept the pen which is not working so well these days.

Djembe Key Chain, WAMU Bag and T-shirt
August, Free

I was honored to be a part of an incredible 8-day retreat for DC youth called Fly By Light which was put on by One Common Unity (where I serve on the board). We worked with 14 youth ambassadors and focused on social and emotional learning, non-violent communication, and expressing oneself through art and music. As a thank you for my participation, I was given this key chain, a WAMU bag, and a Common Folk t-shirt.

Medical Supplies
July, August

This entry is not easy for me to write. My dog Shumai had a problem with her leg that turned out to be cancer. Her treatment included surgery which required one of those dog-lamp shades, various bandages, medicines, and other supplies. Unfortunately, her condition degraded rapidly and we had to put her down in August. Shumai was a dear companion, loving soul, and fixture in the Live Green office. RIP sweet Shumai. You are dearly missed.

Ecover Dishwashing Liquid
July, $2.79

Ecover is a very cool company (and a Live Green Spot) with state-of-the-art eco-friendly factories. I also like their 100 percent plant-based bottles which are renewable and recyclable. And this soap cleans my dishes and makes them smell nice too.

July, $13.99 NZD

Warning: this story involves tales of vomit. When visiting my fiancé in New Zealand, we hopped on a ferry to go from the Wellington to Picton. First, it was freezing cold and rainy. Then, as the ferry swayed to and fro on the extremely choppy waters, a scene reminiscent of the barf-o-rama from the movie Stand By Me ensued. It was 4-hours of cold, stinky, nauseating torture. We bought this tube of Sealegs in an effort to prevent a repeat performance. While the medication made me silly drowsy for about a day and a half, the ride back was incredibly smooth and quite enjoyable.

New Hard Drive
June, Free

I am definitely a PC-guy. Mostly because they are cheaper and I really like to right-click. However, my loyalty was tested when my relatively new computer had a variety of annoying issues. In the end, Dell replaced my hard drive and motherboard for free and now everything is working great, knock on wood.

Tennis Balls
June, Free

As a kid, tennis often involved me hitting balls over the fence and then running around retrieving them. Since then, I got really good at ping pong which I think has lead to vastly improved tennis skills (tennis is just like ping pong except the table is huge and you stand on it). I got these balls from a friend that I started playing with semi-regularly.

7th Generation Laundry Detergent
June, $17.99

Got this big ole box of laundry detergent from my local Yes! Market. It’s biodegradable, fragrance-free, phosphate-free, and as the box says, tough on dirt and stains!

Hand-me-down clothing
May, Free

A relative hooked me up with some clothes. Not including the shoes I got in January from Goodwill, this picture represents the sum total of all of the clothes I have bought or acquired so far this year.

April, Free

I usually have a pen or two in my backpack but one day, I looked, and there were none there. I think pens are like the toys in Toy Story. When we are not looking, they get up and walk around. However, they are not good at getting back to the spot you left them. I picked up this black pen off the ground while I was walking and I got the other pen from my friend Ron at Clean Currents.

AU Cube
April, Free

I got this cube as a thank you gift from American University for helping them with their success this year (I teach a class on social change there). When I got it, I immediately thought, “What a waste of resources.” It’s basically a cube that folds and unfolds, revealing various pictures related to AU. I showed it to people in my office to describe how useless it was, but they all thought it was cool and began playing with it. I guess utility is in the eye of the beholder.

Eye Drops (3 bottles)
April, July, Nov, $10.17

My friends tell me that if they slept with their contacts in, their eyes would be glued shut when they wake up. Thankfully I don’t seem to have that problem. I sleep with my contacts in and 2 drops of this stuff in the morning has me seeing clearly again. And don’t tell my eye doctor, but I leave my “monthly” contacts in for at least two months at a time.

Dishwasher Gel
April, June

A study at the University of Bonn in Germany says that dishwashers are better for the environment than hand-washing. I am very thankful for that because I am not a big fan of washing dishes. Thankfully, my energy star dishwasher helps to keep my sink from being a mold and stink factory. This gel is chlorine-free, phosphate-free, and biodegradable.

Valacyclovir (prescription medicine)
March, No cost

The day after I flew back from New Zealand, I noticed a couple of little bumps on my abdomen. After they got worse, I decided to go to my doctor to check them out. She told me I had shingles. Shingles?? How the heck did I get shingles? Apparently, shingles is the same virus as chicken pox. If you’ve had chicken pox at some point in your life, shingles can rear its ugly head at some point. It’s not all that common and usually happens to older people but alas, I got it and then got some anti-viral medication to treat it. Thankfully, the insurance plan I have through Live Green (which was quite affordable for us) covered 100% of the cost for this medication.

2 plastic bags
March, DecFree

I visited an incredible bird sanctuary called Tiritiri Matangi Island in New Zealand. In the 1900s, farmers cut down 94 percent of the trees to make room for grazing cattle. But in the 1980s, volunteers planted nearly 300,000 native trees and shrubs from1984 to 1994 and today, the island is lush with plant life and birds. Visitors to the island have to put their stuff into plastic bags for fear of accidentally bringing mice or other critters to the island. I also got a plastic bag in December after speaking at a Howard University NAACP meeting (there was a backpack and notebook inside which I donated to Live Green). Rather than show you a boring picture of plastic bags, here’s a picture of what the island looks like now.

March $6.99
April $42.89
May $19.52
July, Free (gift)
Nov, $42.89
Dec, $21.56

As a vegan, the only key nutrient that is hard for me to get through my diet is vitamin B-12. Although I eat a whole lot of delicious nutritional yeast which is fortified with B vitamins, I take a multi-vitamin everyday just to make sure I am getting the vitamins I need. And despite the fact that I walk to work and love playing outside in the sun, I am slightly low on vitamin D. So I take a supplement for that as well. This vitamin bottle pictured is 100 percent biodegradable.

Pounamu necklace

As part of our engagement process, my fiancé gave me this pounamu necklace. Pounamu is a type of green stone from New Zealand that plays an important role in Maori culture. This twisted shape symbolizes the joining together of two people and eternity.

Engagement Ring

This ring is made from recycled metals and the gem is a fair trade sapphire. The gem was mined from the Chimwadzulu Hill which protects wildlife, habitats, streams, watersheds, and groundwater by operating only during the dry season from April to October. The mining operation is also kept modest in scope to improve future reclamation efforts after the projected 20-year lifespan of the mine.

The mine pays above-average wages and offers health benefits to all workers. The sapphires are cut and polished at a factory that pays workers three times the minimum wage and offers comprehensive employee benefits.

Modem and Ethernet cable

I made the switch from Earthlink to Comcast and the difference is amazing. I went from slow Internet service that dropped every 10 minutes or so, to speedy fast Internet that is quite stable. Before deciding on Comcast, I looked into RCN and Clear but neither of them offer service to my home. I had an old cable modem that I was hoping Comcast could use but alas, it didn’t work. So the tech set me up with a new modem for which I pay $5 each month.

Kitty Litter
Fresh Step, 6 bags, March, May, July $32.94

Arm and Hammer Super Scoop, 2 boxes, Free
Arm and Hammer Essentials Natural Clumping, 2 bags, $12.49

I have yet to teach my kitty Samantha to use a toilet so in the meantime, she uses kitty litter. For much of the year, I used Fresh Step clay litter. Then my landlady had some extra Arm and Hammer clumping litter she gave to me. By the end of the year, I switched to Arm and Hammer essentials. It’s a clumping litter made from corn fibers and sprinkled with baking soda. I love this stuff!

Street Sense

I have avoided getting any newspapers so far this year except for this Street Sense. I enjoy the poetry and stories in Street Sense and appreciate that it reminds us about the challenges of homelessness. Plus, I knew the particular vendor who sold this to me. Some of his work was in this issue so I felt compelled to pull out a dollar and buy this.

Random Pieces of paper (receipts, business cards, napkins)

Every now and again, somebody hands me some sort of paper. Mostly it’s receipts from purchases I make for food but I’ve also picked up other things including a brochure for a bird sanctuary I visited, a program for a conference on social entrepreneurship I spoke at, a booklet from the Center for Whole Communities, and a bunch of business cards from people I’ve met. I also got a program for an event at the White House that I attended. It was an event honoring the winners of the national arts and humanities awards and I got to shake hands with President Obama and Michelle Obama. This picture was taken from my seat — quite a view!

Incoming Mail
No cost

I hadn’t even considered junk mail when first thinking about all of the things I buy or get in the year. But even though I don’t want it, it’s addressed to me and definitely has an impact on the planet. I probably get less junk mail than the average since I avoid getting on many mailing lists and do not get any catalogs, but it still adds up. I need to sign up on a stop-junk-mail service but haven’t gotten around to it just yet. I also get some “real mail” sent to me every now and again. I’ve gotten two New Zealand postcards from my fiancee Elli, alumni magazines from Rutgers University and the PIRGs (where I used to work), a few bills that don’t have online billing options, and some important tax documents.

Gel Caps
February, Free

My home Internet is a DSL service provided by Earthlink (yes they still exist!). The service is very spotty and after spending what felt like days with technicians on the phone, we determined that the problem is in the wiring at my home. I had a service person come in to look at everything but in the end, we determined that the problem is in the inside wiring of my home, which he did not fix. He did however, remove some old “gel caps” on our outside wiring and put on some new ones. The Internet still doesn’t work though and I think it’s time to turn to another provider. A cable modem will probably show up on this list soon enough.

Vacuum cleaner bags

I have a dog and a cat. Needless to say, pet fur makes it to every corner of my home and makes up a significant percentage of the stuff my vacuum sucks up. I got the vacuum used on Craigslist but I don’t think there is a big market for used vacuum bags.

2 $50 Caf Green/Java Green gift cards
Less than $100*

These gift cards were bought as prizes for a Superbowl party I threw. Yes, that’s right, I offer some serious prizes to my Superbowl parties. We played a version of Superbowl bingo that I made up and a game involving who won the MVP award of the Superbowl. The winners of those games walked away with these gift cards. It’s my little way of combining football, growing the green economy, and increasing the consumption of vegan food.

*DJ, the owner of Café Green, gave me a discount on the cards

Toilet Paper
January, May, and November $34.95

Since I don’t have access to palm leaves to use for wiping, this seemed like a pretty essential purchase. This toilet paper is 100% recycled (50% post consumer) and chlorine-free. And in case you are wondering — no, post-consumer recycled toilet paper does not come from used toilet paper. Yuck!

Big Plastic Bag

My girlfriend Elli got a Fulbright grant to do research on race relations in New Zealand for a year. On January 24th, her departure date, we went to Dulles Airport with three giant suitcases of her belongings. As we walked in, a United represented told us that suitcases weighing more than 50 pounds would each cost $200 more. We weighed the first one – 62 pounds. We weighed the second one – 63 pounds. Then the third one – 60 pounds. Ahhh!

The Great Suitcase Reshuffle of 2011 was soon underway. We grabbed this big ole plastic bag provided by United and started tossing things in. Yoga mat – 3 pounds – not going to make the trip, boots – 1.5 pounds not going – stapler, jeans, throw blanket – all coming home with me. Knowing that I would have to put this bag on this Stuff List, I was reluctant to get it. But we saved $600 and there was no good way for me to hold 35 pounds worth of Elli’s non-essentials without it. Anybody have ideas on how I can reuse it?


I bought these at Goodwill. For the past 20 years, nearly 100% of my wardrobe has come from Goodwill or some other second hand source. I think I’ve been able to get by pretty well on Goodwill clothes but my girlfriend has stepped up my fashion game by getting me to go to more places like Crossroads and Buffalo Exchange. Still, I found it hard to resist the lure of the wicked cheap prices, charitable mission, and down-to-earth feel of Goodwill.

Steelers Flag

Years ago, I infected my ex-wife with the Steelers Virus and now she bleeds black and yellow like me. There is no cure. Every now and again, we still get together to watch some games including this year’s playoff run. She won this flag at some contest at her workplace and gave it to me as we watched the Steelers make their way to another Superbowl. I wore it as a cape at my Superbowl party and despite as much wild cheering as a person can muster in good company, my beloved Steelers were not able to come away with a victory. You can bet this flag will be out in force as the Steelers pursue their 7th title.

Note: While gasoline, jet fuel, and electricity are not really material goods, I thought I would mention that I did indeed fly, drive, and heat and cool my home this year. I flew to New Zealand (to get engaged) and San Francisco a couple of times. I rented cars and filled up with gasoline 6 times. And although I heated and cooled my home, I bought carbon offsets through Clean Currents equivalent to 4 times my home energy use.

For more information about Steve Ma’s project, read Steve’s “Why I’m Tracking Everything I Buy or Get”

5 Resolutions for a Healthier and Greener 2012
200 Ways to Reuse 10 Items


Michele Wilkinson

After deciding that I have way too much "stuff", I cleared out my wardrobe and cupboards. Lots of clothing was donated to charity shops benefitting both people and animals, Ornaments, kitchen utensils that I had lying unused in months were taken out and inspected. If they were in good repair they too were donated, if not, they were recycled. None of what was donated or recycled was replaced.
The result is a feeling of having more room to breathe, more cupboard and wardrobe space, and far less clutter around.

Cheesecake H.
Cheesecake H.6 years ago

Fascinating, thank you.

Bridget M.
Past Member 6 years ago


Holly Lawrence
Holly L6 years ago

Less is more.. yes

Robert Hardy
Robert Hardy6 years ago

The real truth... less is more.

Ernie Miller
william M6 years ago


Douglas S.
Douglas S6 years ago


Robert O.
Robert O6 years ago


Irene S.
Irene S6 years ago

Pretty impressive. I think that was a good idea, tracking what you recieve every year, especially if you want to cut the clutter.

KARLOLINA G6 years ago

I can really learn from this article. Thank you.