Back in 2017, we took on the challenge to buy nothing new for a full calendar year. We wanted to break away from the consumerism that surrounds us on a daily basis. Our hope was that if we could get through an entire year of buying nothing new that it would help us become more intentional with our money.
We came up with five strategies to help us avoid buying new items:
- Wear out - don’t replace items until they no longer perform their function
- Fix - where possible, fix broken/torn items instead of replacing
- Repurpose - do we already have something that can fulfill that item’s usage?
- Self-provision - can we make it ourselves from other materials?
- Buy used - can we find what we need used instead of new
While those strategies were useful, we knew that there were going to be exceptions. Chris and I thought hard and came up with 4 exceptions that we felt were in line with our values:
- Underwear, Socks, and Shoes
- Photo prints (school pictures and for our road trip map)
- Car maintenance parts (we know we need new tires next year)
- Home remodeling (we needed to wrap up current projects)
Chris and I were really optimistic when we started January 1, 2017. We even stayed within the rules! We did buy new carbon monoxide detectors, which weren’t on the exception list. But it was a safety issue for our family and deemed a necessary new purchase. The following two months we stayed focused and never broke our challenge rules. We went into month four thinking this challenge was going to be easy for our minimalist family.
Then my computer’s power cord finally gave out. We debated buying used, but we had already done that and it had not lasted long. So we broke the challenge for a good cause, buying a brand spanking new mac laptop power cord! It was a justified purchase. But that’s the problem right? Once you make one excuse, a few more follow. I bought one of our kids a costume as a birthday present. I told myself it was an experience, but let’s be honest - it was an item! And either way it was new.
The following month I bought some stainless steel straws. I still love them to this day, but it honestly was an impulse purchase. A week later I found myself having a pity party. My clothes all felt worn and frumpy. I felt worn and frumpy. I had errands to run and decided I would just have a look in one of my favorite shops. I walked out with an $80 summer dress from Title Nine. I felt a little guilty, but I came up with an excuse to justify my expensive buy. This is what I said to Chris when I showed him the dress:
“Our buy nothing new challenge is supposed to help us be more intentional with our spending. I want you to know that I very intentionally bought this dress!”
I was really proud of myself for that statement! It was also the downfall of our experiment. The second half of the year was full of new purchases. We had multiple issues with buying second hand clothes for the girls. One was that we would later find holes in unfortunate places - so we gave up on buying used pants. I struggled with Sciatica and purchased a stability ball and foam roller to help. They were more or less impulse purchases that I used to delay going to a doctor. I now visit a chiropractor and don’t use those items.
Buying stuff in the second half of the year felt like binging on food after a miserable diet. In the following months we bought a lot of new items. We continued to try avoiding buying new, but our resolve wasn’t as strong. Buying used takes more time and patience (sifting through thrift stores). We were tired and buying new felt easier at times.
Trying to buy nothing new for a full year was tough. We finished the year with 90 new purchased items. This is far above our goal of zero, but the challenge did have an impact on how much new stuff we bought. In 2016 we had purchased 153 new items. We cut that by 40% in 2017. We also learned a few lessons along the way.
5 Lessons From Our Buy Nothing New Challenge
- There will be unexpected necessary purchases (carbon monoxide detectors)
- You will have a pity party at some point (my $80 dress, that I still love by the way)
- Be diligent when you purchase used (holes in pants we didn’t notice before)
- Don’t use purchases as solutions (stability ball)
- When taking on a new challenge, start small (a full year is a long time, a three month challenge would have been a better first step)
Have you ever taken a buy nothing new challenge? How did it go for you?