Could you go a whole year without buying anything new?

Woman looking at a dress in the store

Over the past few decades, we’ve all become so very good at consuming. Many of us buy new things so often that we barely notice we’re doing it. Over the past 20 years, the rise of fast fashion, discount supermarkets and online shopping have made it easier to justify blindly consuming. It’s no good for the environment and it’s no good for our bank balances.

So how can we break the cycle and stop buying new stuff? And could you take up the challenge of buying nothing new for an entire year? Let’s investigate…

Why do we buy so much stuff?

Consumer spending is on the up once again, after falling over the pandemic. The latest ONS figures show that household spending in the second quarter of 2022, even adjusted for inflation, increased by 0.1% when compared with the first quarter. It was up a staggering 4.3% compared with the same quarter last year. This shows that, despite the cost of living crisis, people are still spending more.

So why are we so obsessed with consuming? One of the primary reasons is that ‘comfort buying’ of items like clothing, makeup and technology can, momentarily, make us feel happier. And, being sad can actually make us spend more. Researchers from four top US universities found that showing sad video clips to consumers resulted in them offering to spend four times as much for a water bottle than those who had been shown a neutral video. Sadness sells, and recently, the pandemic and various socio-economic factors have increased our propensity to spend.

However, the impact on our personal finances can be devastating and learning to make do, mend, or buy second-hand can have a lasting positive impact on quality of life.

Has anyone tried to buy nothing for a year and succeeded??

Incredibly, yes! In recent years, we’ve all become so much more aware of our impact, as individuals, on the planet. Fast fashion, waste and over-production of plastics, for example, are hot topics and many of us would like to reduce our contribution to climate change.

Many people have set themselves and their families the challenge of going an entire year without buying anything new, and most have succeeded. There are even books about how to achieve a no-buying year. These are largely self-help-style books that encourage people to cut back, become self-sufficient or even start trading with neighbours and local businesses in an attempt to avoid actually parting with cash for what they need.

Sounds like a fun challenge – where do I start?

What every feature article, book and vlog, about cutting back on consumption, have in common is that it’s generally an overwhelmingly positive thing to do. A challenge like this can help you to reassess what actually makes you happy, save shed loads of cash and allow you to appreciate the simpler things in life on a whole new level.

With this in mind, we’ve put together a few steps to help you to do your own no-buy year, or just cut down on unnecessary buying:

1. Make your exceptions list

Buying nothing new for an entire year is pretty much impossible without a few exceptions. For example, are you really up for darning the holes in your underwear, or even worse, buying second-hand underwear!? What about food, toiletries, shoes and coats? Have a think about what the deal breakers are for each member of your household and whether you would be willing to have a ‘no new things’ Christmas or birthday celebration.

2. Learn where to shop for second-hand

You may struggle to avoid buying new things unless you get savvy about buying second-hand. Local charity shops can be great, but they can also be pretty awful. Equally, how do you know whether you’re getting a good deal on eBay? Do your research and become a vintage clothing expert.

3. Skill-up

To make-do and mend, certain skills like sewing and DIY might be useful. Youtube courses can be a great help, while advice from a gardening expert might cut the costs involved with keeping your garden in tip-top condition without spending a penny on plants, flowers and supplies.

4. Treat yourself with experiences, not things

Spending and buying seem to become easier when we feel low, or when we’re feeling particularly high. Whether we’re commiserating or celebrating, buying stuff seems to be the natural next step. If you have a special occasion to mark, or you are feeling like you need cheering up, make a list of free or inexpensive activities you can do as a household, to help you avoid making unnecessary purchases.

5. Make sure you know what you already have

This is particularly important when it comes to clothes. Before you embark on a ‘no new stuff’ challenge, go through your wardrobe, wash anything that needs washing, iron things that need ironing and put your clothes in order. If there are any items that are ill-fitting but otherwise fine, book them in to be altered, and if you have a dropping seam or a loose zip, you can patch these up yourself with the help of an online sewing course.

6. Unsubscribe!

There are two parts to this step. The first is to unsubscribe to all those marketing emails from clothing retailers that appear in your inbox on a daily basis, tempting you with pics and offers. Removing temptation is a massive part of a no-buy year and it really is all around us. You might want to opt out of social media during your no-buy year as we all know Insta and Pinterest aren’t particularly conducive to sensible spending habits.

The second part of this step is to get rid of all the subscriptions you’re signed up for. There are probably more than you realise. Consider streaming services, online publications, food service apps, food delivery services, recipe kit subscriptions, audiobooks, paid-for bank accounts and music app subscriptions. If there is fat to be trimmed, do it now and you’ll be surprised how much better off you’ll be each month.

7. Don’t give up

When setting any personal challenge, it’s always tempting to give up entirely if you slip up just once. Whether it’s a healthy eating plan, Sober October or a year without buying anything new, remember to give yourself a break if you slip up. Keeping to your plan the majority of the time is so much better than giving up entirely, so if you need to splurge on something new one day, don’t let it derail all your good work.

Lastly, if you do nothing else from our list, but do want to try to control your consumerism a little, you can try asking yourself some of these questions when you’re queueing up for the tills or about to click ‘add to cart’ on your phone:

  1. Will I use/wear this more than 30 times?
  2. Am I buying this to impress other people?
  3. Do I have something similar at home already?
  4. Am I buying this mindfully?

And this last point is key to making better purchasing decisions. Avoid shopping for leisure, or as therapy. Consider the feelings you get when buying something new and try to think of ways to create this feeling without consumption. Go for a swim, a coffee with a friend, a gym session or just lie on the couch and read a book instead. It will be great for your well-being and your wallet – and the planet will thank you too!

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