I stood in front of my closet at the end of 2019, marveling at how much stuff I could accumulate in one tiny apartment. How many quarter-zips does one person need? After cleaning everything out, I set myself a New Year’s Resolution: stop buying stuff. For one year, I would only purchase experiences, gifts for others, and a few essentials (hey, deodorant is a non-negotiable).
Needless to say, when COVID-19 turned the world upside-down, my no-buy year didn’t go as planned.
Even though I ended up making quite a few purchases this year, I have a much healthier relationship with consumerism than when I started. Here’s what I learned along the way:
It’s not the stuff, it’s the mindset
What I learned from my no-buy year is that money can buy happiness, if you approach it in the right way. I reverse Marie Kondo-d my way to joy, asking myself, does this item in my cart spark joy? The answer, in the case of a popsicle mold, was 1000% yes. I spent all summer experimenting with new flavors, from lemon-thyme to berry-coconut and cherry-mango.
Did I need a popsicle mold? Of course not. But the purchase made summer nights on the porch feel much more magical.
This same question also helped me say “no” to impulse purchases, like lipstick, a tie-dye sweatsuit, new sunglasses, and plenty of candles. There’s a big difference between something sparking joy and buying it to make myself feel better.
Priorities can change
Halfway into the no-buy year, I lost my job. Pivoting to a full-time freelance lifestyle meant a lot of hunched shoulders and hanging out on my couch typing away, and the aches and pains just weren’t worth it. I bought a standing desk not long after, and it made working from home so much easier. Not only does it make me more productive, it’s a much more professional look for Zoom calls than from my bedroom.
Self-care is a non-negotiable
When I lost my job, I also lost access to the office gym. I knew I needed to invest in my workout routine, so I bought weights, bands, and a yoga mat. Now I have no excuses when my alarm goes off and working out is the last thing I want to do. However, it’s important to remember self-care isn’t always a bubble bath and a glass of wine, or something else you can buy. Sometimes it’s the harder things, like waking up at 7 a.m. for a morning run, or adding another helping of broccoli to your plate.
Use purchases to enable experiences
One of my rules going into the no-buy year is that I could buy any experiences I wanted — flights, concert tickets, ceramics classes, wine tastings. That’s because in my head, I thought that I could only experience joy if I was doing something, especially since so many of my physical purchases (hello, a thousand pairs of shoes) go unused.
But certain physical items create experiences, if you actually use them. I kept the spirit of the no-buy year alive by purchasing things like a fire pit that allowed us to roast marshmallows and watch the fireflies dance all summer long. And a board game or two that helped my family unplug after long days of remote work.
It’s okay to buy something nice for yourself
If there’s one thing I learned from my no-buy year, it’s that sometimes it’s nice just to buy something for yourself, for no reason at all. As I bought less, what I did purchase was what I wanted to buy for me, rather than something I felt like I should buy. When the cutest lemon bedding went on sale, I bought it for our bedroom even though we had two sets already. Now I smile every time I wake up, because the bedding is just for me.
The thing to keep in mind? Set yourself some boundaries with spending, whether it’s a separate budget for fun items or a rule like mine — rather than trying to make it a whole year without buying anything, I keep myself to no more than one item a month, if at all.
Originally published on November 30, 2020.