Why I’m Vowing Not to Buy Anything This Year

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.

RELATED: Clean Room, Clear Mind: How Decluttering Helps You Focus

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:

  1. 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. 
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

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Kayla Voigt hails from the small town of Hopkinton, MA, home of the Boston Marathon. A marketer by day and freelance writer by night, she's a passionate storyteller, reader, hiker, swimmer, runner, and eater. Like what she has to say? Subscribe to her blog or say hello on Twitter.