Five Lessons Catherine learned from a Buy-Nothing year

Stacked empty shopping carts, by Marcus Spiske for Unsplash.

Starting July 1, 2022, I began a half-year commitment to buy-nothing*. What that meant for me was no buying clothing or shoes or accessories, with the following exceptions: 1) I could replace worn out sports clothing items or underwear; 2) I could buy from my favorite consignment shop Wearovers, provided that I brought items to consign at the same time. I then re-upped January 1, 2023, for another half year, until July 1, 2023.

First of all, before the lessons learned, here’s how it went:

July–December 2022 went very well. I accidentally ordered a pair of cute but contraband pajama bottoms to go with the needed replacement underwear, but that was about it. I enjoyed feeling liberated from asking myself time and time again, “do I need that? Do I want that?” It was a relief to have buying clothing off the table as an option.

But as I rang in the New Year, my resolve weakened. I ordered a pair of teal-blue Chaco’s sandals. Why? Because my sister and niece had pairs (purple and tan, respectively) and I really liked them. Sigh. And then I ordered a pair of work shoes– blue suede Dansko patti shoes. In my (feeble) defense, I wanted a more comfortable supportive shoe for teaching, and these fit the bill. But there are still those sandals, purchased in January.

Then as my birthday approached in April, I decided I just wanted some new things. I bought two long-sleeved colorful shirts and a chocolate brown jacket. Then in June I bought a(nother) black jacket for work.

Forgive me, readers, for I have purchased. Not a lot– certainly less than I would have if not for that pesky buy-nothing plan I made ages ago. But I didn’t follow the plan completely.

Still, doing this for a year wasn’t for nothing. I’ve learned some things.

First: I now know I have a more-than-ample supply of clothing for a bunch of occasions; I’ll do Rent the Runway if I have a gala to attend, but otherwise I’m all set. Even after a bit of Marie Kondo’ing, I’ve still got lots of sources of sartorial joy.

Second: I like wearing a smaller number of favorite mix-and-match tops, bottoms, jackets, scarves, etc. Wearing my current favorites slightly more often has not drawn gasps from colleagues or students. Focusing on what I have and how I feel like accessorizing has been kind of fun. I’ve even brought some older favorites back into rotation, which always makes me feel virtuous.

Third: I thought that browsing online would be harmless– an idle pleasure or brief downtime activity that wouldn’t tempt me overmuch. WRONG. This may seem absolutely obvious to all of you, but I thought that the fact of my resolution would shield me from too much exposure to fashion commerce. Browsing is NOT a good idea when one is on a buy-nothing plan.

Fourth: the Internet never forgets you and what clothing or shoes or accessories you once liked or even looked at. You will keep seeing these same items, over and over, while engaging on other online work. For instance, after briefly browsing summer sandals a week ago, I have been besieged with cute summer sandal ads, that keep getting bigger and bigger, even as I was reading a Smithsonian magazine article.

Here are some ads that kept popping up.

Shoe ads: top left includes a pair I bought in person, top right are others I might like, and bottom is a bigger view of the original ad. All obscured my view of the article I was trying to read.

I silently acknowledged the cute sandals, and returned to my reading. But the sandal ad people were having none of it. Their second salvo came across my laptop window:

Three more ads, with as-yet-unseen-by-me cute sandals, throwing in a cream-colored boot and brown suede shoe just for fun.

When I steadfastly refused to click, the advertising bots switched tactics and showed me some sneakers. They are relentless. Moral of the story: when you browse, be prepared to be followed around by those selfsame items, entreating you to buy them.

Five: a buy-nothing plan about anything (clothes, books, home goods, etc.) will likely have some fine print attached, because life is complicated. I’m going to resume my buy-nothing plan for the rest of 2023. What I like best about it is that it provides an occasion– namely the end of the six-month period, which is what I’m doing– to consider if I need or want to replace anything, or if there’s something special I really want to buy. Slowing down the process of purchasing has been great for me and my bank account. For me, it’s not really buy-nothing, but rather buy-slowly. That’s fine with me.

Readers, are any of you doing buy-nothing plans? How are they going? What have you taken away from them? I’d love to hear from you.

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