September 14, 2012

A Year Without Jam

2011-2012: Our year without jam

Giving things up for a trial period of one year challenges us to overcome habitual, lazy thinking. People often automatically figure that they could never live without a whole range of vitally important 'necessities'. Often a 'year without' project can challenge these ideas.

There are a lot of things that inquisitive people have given up for a year in order to test themselves and their notions of what is really required for a happy, content life. There are thousands of such challenges, including going a year without:
  • paying for groceries
  • heat 
  • Disney 
  • alcohol 
  • plastic
  • TV 
  • shopping, and 
  • buying anything new. 
My favourite is Dilbert comic creator Scott Adams and his year without fear project, or "My Year Of Living Dangerously", as he quipped.

What I have never seen, is anyone that has done a year without jam, something we did over the past slightly less sweet 365 days. "Who would want to do that?" you may ask. It would be like going a year without candy (which has been done). But as crazy as it seems, we did it.

We didn't only go without our own homemade blackberry jam, we didn't buy any jam either. No jam at all.

Last year, after picking several kilograms of blackberries, we decided not to make our usual batch of jam. Wanting to skip the dreaded 4 cups of berries to 7 cups of sugar, we chose to freeze the berries instead (freeze on a cookie tray first, then transfer to a ziplock bag). We used them throughout the year, no sugar added.

Our anti-jam status was partly a result of our urge to simplify things (it is a process to make and can jam), part health consciousness and wanting to avoid the 'white death', and part wanting to see what would happen if we tried to live without our perfect preserves.

All my pampered life I have had jam on toast, peanut butter and jam sandwiches, and biscuits 'n jam. I would have thought that I would have had withdrawal symptoms when we went jamless. Or at least experienced some irritability or anxiety when we didn't get our purple sugar fix. But no - it was wham-bam-forget-the-jam, and on life went. There was no hardship, no drama. It was almost too easy.

It is easy to get used to luxuries, but it is also true that it is easy living without them. If we never try to give up any of what we believe is essential to our happiness, how can we know if they really are essential? What if we are wrong, and life without them is better?

A "year without" project usually ends up teaching us that we can live without most of the stuff we are working so hard to attain. It also shows us that we can be resilient, rise to the challenge, and be a better person going forward.

Scott Adams, after his year without fear, found that he had sustained a few more minor injuries during his project. However, they were all worth it, he said, because he enjoyed being the kind of person that does not hesitate, and says YES to life's opportunities.

During our year without jam we learned a bit more about what is really necessary in life (very little as it turns out). Also, we learned that we like to be the kind of disciplined people that can say no to pathways that do not lead to healthfulness and happiness in the long run.

Our past year may have been slightly less sweet, but it was so much more satisfying.

Emboldened by our no jam success, we now figure that we could live without a lot of other things, too. Toilet paper? Driving? Negativity? Money?

So much to give up, so much to learn, so little time.


  1. I think you may need a new recipe for jam:) 4 cups of berries to 7 cups of sugar sounds terrible! If you go by weight it will sound even worse, since a cup of berries weighs less than a cup of sugar.
    We use 2-3 kilos of berries to one kilo of sugar, so it ends up being only 25-30% sugar by weight. The taste is more tart, which is much better I think :) Some citric acid can be used as an additional preservative. The jam keeps well in our root cellar. We do freeze berries as well.

    1. Vappu, we do need a new recipe for jam. We are relatively new to jam making and have had fairly traditional North American routines and recipes to work from. The recommended high sugar levels come with warnings not to alter sugar levels or the jam might not set. We have used no-sugar pectin recipes and the jam is just fine.

      I agree with Gregg, our year without jam taught us much more than just 'life without jam'. Nothing is a necessity (least of all sugar) and everything is open to change.

      Thank you for your encouragement and suggestion.

  2. Anonymous9/14/2012

    Four years ago I sold my car and gave up driving. To be completely honest; the decision was mostly because of my progressive muscle disease. Nothing big happened to scare me, but little troubles were disconcerting. It was one of the hardest things I've ever done, to hand in that license. We live in a semi rural area, so driving to get to essentials is a must. I couldn't imagine not having that freedom, to go when and where I wanted. Now I can't imagine why I felt the need to be out so often. We've made arrangements for someone to take us once a week or so to the grocery store. Then doctor appointments when needed. Other than that I never leave the house. I'm actually grateful now for the time and space to ponder each day. No more shopping or going out to dinner for "entertainment". I only wish I would have learned this years ago! My ex-husband and I went out every weekend to a mall or dinner and a movie. I hated it, but couldn't seem to buck the system. It's been liberating rather than confining.

    1. We are the same. "Going out" always seems to involve spending money. We like to stay home - walks in our neighbourhood are free and enjoyable.

      I wonder how popular going out would be if there was no profit in it and there wasn't as much pressure to always be somewhere other than where you are.

      We also feel liberated by choosing to live a more focused, local lifestyle. Life is beautiful right here, right now. Why all the rushing around?


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