How To Buy Nothing New For a Year

(Just going to pick up where I left off with this entry and avoid addressing the fact that I’ve let this blog slip by the wayside on a fully undeserved hiatus…)

These days, I’m a pretty moderate shopper. But there was a time in the near past that I would have considered myself a shopaholic. The turning point came in 2013 when I took on a year long quest to “Buy Nothing.” Fueled by a need to better budget my finances, de-clutter, and make use of existing resources, my plan was to avoid buying anything tangible for one year. It was not easy (I even moved to a new house that year!), but it was definitely a worthwhile challenge, and a great exercise in self discipline. When I started, I was coming off a year of excessive shopping — when 2014 rolled around, I no longer had the itch to buy things I didn’t need, and found myself asking “Do I really need it?” before pulling out my wallet. In a way, it’s also made it easier to get rid of things I already own and focus on a more simple, minimalist lifestyle. As 2017 rounds the corner I’m thinking of giving it another go, with more exceptions and leniency. A friend looking to take this on recently asked for tips so I thought I’d review my experience and offer up some advice to anyone else looking to shake up their purchasing habits.

collectmomentsvia Fig and Flora


(*or however long you set aside for this challenge)

1. Set Rules.

This is your challenge, so you can choose to draw lines wherever you want. Obviously you will still need to buy things like gas and food, and I personally allowed non-tangible purchases (like concerts, mp3s, travel expenses, etc.) Some people opt to allow themselves to buy used things (from thrift stores, Craigslist, etc.) or things that are made locally. If de-cluttering is a primary goal, you may decide you do not want to allow these either. Other variations include rewarding yourself by allowing one purchase per month, or allowing purchases when something essential breaks or wears out. Sometimes you’ll have to consider making exceptions… I found myself with a gift card I needed to use by a certain date, and it made sense to make an exception to use it for a purchase, even if it meant breaking my rules. I also decided to allow buying gifts for others, but only for wedding and baby showers. (If I attended a wedding without going to the shower, I gifted cash.) Think about what you are trying to get out of this challenge and make your guidelines fit your goals.

2. Stay Inspired.

Keep reminding yourself why you chose to take on this challenge. Fortunately, minimalism is having a real moment right now and there won’t be a shortage of inspiration. The benefits of buying nothing reach far beyond our personal households and pocketbooks and have real-world impacts in fighting the rampant/excessive materialism of our society.

As a “buy nothing” starter pack, here are some resources to check out:

  • The Buy Nothing Project
  • “Minimalism: A documentary about the important things” which came out earlier this year and is currently streaming on Netflix.
  • did a spectacular series on “slow fashion” earlier this year, focusing on the environmental impact of the fashion industry: Watch Grist explain why your $8 shirt is a huge problem

It can also be helpful to feel like you are part of a community. In my city, we have a minimalism Facebook group where members encourage each other, share tips, and hold meetups. You can also check Meetup to see if there are any in your area, and follow larger Facebook pages like Becoming Minimalist and Minimalist Living for inspiration. (See also: Zero Waste.)

And let’s not forget the splendidness of Pinterest. I created a “Less is More” board to collect quotes and encouraging posts on the topic, which was a great reminder whenever I felt an urge to shop coming on. A search for “Buy Nothing” on Pinterest today yields a gold mine of inspirational typography, capsule wardrobe ideas, and simple living tips (and unfortunately some unrelated babble you just have to ignore.)

3. Avoid Temptation.

For me, this pretty much meant avoiding all non-grocery stores at all costs. (Yes, I’m looking at you Target.)

Obviously you can’t avoid every scenario where you want to buy something, but your challenge may come in handy in those cases. It did give me a good excuse when talking to band I love after a show who otherwise may have guilted me into buying a CD (I bought the digital album instead), or walking through a craft fair where I may have felt a desire to help a small business owner, even if I couldn’t really afford their gorgeous wares. When you are keeping your impulse buys in check, you give yourself time to seriously consider each purchase. I have been admiring the jewelry of this local artisan ever since I saw her beautiful work for sale at a festival I attended this past summer. At the time, I couldn’t justify the cost of buying myself jewelry. Now that time has passed and I still really really want one of her necklaces, I’ll be more comfortable when I make the purchase, knowing that it was something I will truly appreciate. Anything you find yourself wanting during your buy-nothing period can be bought when the period ends, and waiting is a great way to filter out what is and is not important enough to buy.

4. Create Accountability.

Telling people about your goal will help solidify it and give you encouragement. I was lucky in the fact that I had some (honestly really great) co-workers who didn’t think it was possible for me to not shop for a year. To give myself additional incentive in proving them wrong, they wagered a bet– If I failed, I owed them lunch. Knowing I had people holding me accountable helped make me even more determined to make it.  If betting on yourself is your thing, a little bet may be the boost you need.

5. Look ahead & Get Creative

The most difficult times to stick to this challenge were when I had a specific event coming up. I have a bad habit of splurging on new clothes before traveling because I love having a new vacation wardrobe, even though realistically I probably have everything I need in my closet already. In 2013 I took a road trip up the Pacific Coast Highway from San Diego to San Francisco. It was my first time visiting California, and I’d just joined Instagram, so I was having a difficult time not buying the entire Urban Outfitters catalog. Instead, I borrowed clothes from my sister, and put my (shabby) sewing skills to work and made myself a new skirt out of an ill-fitting dress from my Goodwill-bound pile.

Which brings me to a very important tip: Utilize your friends! As ladies, we have a terrible habit of buying a new dress for every wedding or other big social occasion which usually only gets worn once. Don’t be afraid to borrow things from your friends/family, and offer your things to borrow in return. You can also consider organizing a clothing swap, where people bring clothes to trade. This way you can get something “new” without actually buying it.

Other than clothes, my biggest shopping category is probably “party decor.” I’ve acquired so much from throwing parties and showers that I actually started a (very small scale) rental company this past year where I rent decor to others for a small price.

If you find yourself needing something in particular for a specific occasion, 1) Ask around to see if anyone has one you can borrow. You may be surprised how many people are willing to share. I’ve made Facebook posts asking to borrow everything from a spare phone to a weed eater and had friends and acquaintances come through. 2) See if you can rent it. Use search engines to find local rental companies in your area, and check Craigslist,  Yerdle, and Rent Llama (the latter is currently only available in my city where it was launched, but they are planning to go nationwide.) Some areas even have a Buy Nothing Facebook group specifically for sharing and trading. Don’t forget that home improvement stores like Lowes and Home Depot also rent tools and cleaning equipment.

6. Trust the Process.

Remember that it gets easier. The first couple of months it may seem daunting. As you move forward, it will begin to seem like the natural state of things, and you’ll adapt.

As with any challenge there is always a risk you may not be 100% successful. Don’t expect failure, but things happen. If you end up buying something before your buy nothing period ends, chuck it up to a fluke and do your best to continue without buying anything else. Whether you succeed or fail, you’ll find yourself learning to appreciate what you already have and becoming more conscious of your purchasing choices.

7. Reap the Benefits.

In our age of commercialism, it’s easy to get carried away by the desire for new things. Our wants are endless. But there is an art to doing without. Anyone reading this likely has spoken to a parent/grandparent/great-grandparent who can tell stories about making clothing from flour sacks and darning socks during wartime or the Great Depression. That resourcefulness is not lost on modern generations– it’s just dormant. In choosing to buy nothing, you can tap into that ingenuity and learn new skills, make something out of nothing, and create less waste. As a byproduct you help the environment, have less “stuff” to deal with (which is pretty huge if you move a lot like I do), and hopefully save some money. It’s a win/win!



Wishing best of luck to anyone attempting a new challenge in 2017!


2 thoughts on “How To Buy Nothing New For a Year

  1. The ‘best’ I’ve done is “no new clothes” for 6 months…I’ve also put the brakes on baking/kitchen supplies until after I graduate (barring anything I really need or is on sale for 1/2 what I was willing to pay for it).

    I look forward to tapping you for inspo when I’m ready for 12 months.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s