I couldn’t recognize my apartment.
Piles of clothing — neon athletic shorts, puffy parkas, long cotton tees, floral maxi dresses, and trim pencil skirts — covered every inch of available space. I picked my way gingerly across the floor, hopping from one small opening to another to get back to the source of the storm: My closet.
That was the look of my tiny apartment in the first stages of the Marie Kondo system of tidying up. And that was just my clothes.
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Like everyone else in early 2019, I had read “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” and was determined to eliminate all of the “stuff” that weighed me down. I donated five garbage bags full of clothing, four grocery bags full of books, and threw out many more bags of straight-up trash. I purchased absurdly expensive plastic and felt containers and drawer dividers and hangers. With that, I let out a sigh of relief.
Then, I didn’t give it another thought.
Whenever I wanted something, I bought it. Not quite like Ariana Grande’s “7 Rings,” but if I liked it…I got it. If I saw a dress that I wanted, I wouldn’t think twice about whether or not it fit into my budget. I constantly scrolled through Instagram, unconsciously shopping for new clothes, new shoes, new anything I thought might make me feel good.
Every winter, my husband and I set a budget for the following year. When I actually took a look at my spending habits, I found out for the first time how much I was really buying from those casual additions to our Amazon cart. All that stuff I had gotten rid of in January? It was back, and I had spent almost $2,000 on things I didn’t need — or even really want.
I knew then I needed to break the cycle of “wanting.” I know, theoretically, that six pairs of black athletic tights is enough. But all it takes is a “Sale!” email and suddenly I have seven pairs.
I felt suffocated by the weight of all the physical items I accumulated in a fit of stress or “treating myself.” I spent so much time wanting new things that I couldn’t be grateful for what I had. I just wanted more.
So I’m challenging myself to not buy anything in 2020. Since I crave structure, I put together a few rules for myself for the year ahead:
- The no-buy year only applies to physical items. I can purchase anything experiential, such as dinner out, flights to Spain (!), a yoga class, or a writing workshop. These bring me so much more joy than any physical item, so it’s in the spirit of the no-buy year.
- Gift cards don’t count. I say this partially because I’ve used gift cards to purchase new bowls and serving platters already this year, and partially because it’s truly a gift, and not meant to be wasted.
- I will do my best to make gifts for others — get ready for baked goods, everyone — but since gifts are about showing my love for other people, if there is a particular thing they really want, I will make the purchase.
- Moisturizer is non-negotiable (as is deodorant — you’re welcome). Other beauty products count, though, since when I went through my bathroom, I found not one but five shampoo bottles under the sink. Needless to say I’m ready for a zombie apocalypse and will use what I have before buying new.
- I’ll still purchase books, but I’ll do my best to avoid Amazon. I’m committing to going to the library more and trading books with my friends — but as a last ditch effort, I’ll purchase used books from a book sale, independent bookstore, or Facebook marketplace instead of ordering online.
A month or so in, I can’t say it’s gone perfectly. I’ve bought a candle, a guidebook to Spain, a wine glass, and a face mask. (Hey, a girl’s gotta have a great night in!). But I said no to new yoga pants, new sneakers, and new pillows (I broke out the ‘ol needle and thread to fix them instead!), and I already feel empowered to choose what I really want to spend my energy and money on, rather than what I feel like I should.
Instead of hovering permanently over the “buy now” button, I have the space in my budget to spend more time with the people I love — hosting dinner parties, going to museums, and other outings I would have previously said “no” to because of budget. That’s what matters most.