I recently decided not to buy clothes for one year. You should probably read that post first to get some context for this one. I was quite proud of myself. No clothes for a whole year. Wow, I’m such a noble and self-sacrificing person. How minimalist is that?
I took an inventory of all the clothes I owned. A few people called me out in the comments and basically said:
“Whoa, you have a lot of clothes dude!”
I got a bit defensive and started justifying my possessions, but you know what? They are right. When I thought it through I realized that this is not a challenge at all. I have enough clothes to last me years. Upon further reflection I realized this experiment MIGHT start to get interesting if I carried it out for a decade or so.
It’s kind of like if I had a thousand bottles of wine in my cellar and declared:
“I’m not going to purchase any wine for ONE WHOLE YEAR! Oh, the sacrifice!”
You would all mock me, and rightly so. I’ve decided to up the ante a bit and declare:
I will buy NOTHING for a year.
…within a certain set of parameters of course.
Yeah, I know adding all sorts of exceptions and disclaimers are cheating a bit. I realize way more hardcore people have taken this to the next level, but here is my version. A shout out to Dr. Curious who reminded me of this article, which planted the seed for this modified experiment.
What Does Buy Nothing Mean?
- I will buy myself no “stuff” this year. “Stuff” is a little hard to define, but I loosely define it as permanent durable goods that are not necessary to life. It may be easier to talk about what is allowed.
- Anything consumable or related to hygiene or household products doesn’t count. I am still going to buy food and eat at restaurants. I will buy soap and toothpaste and toilet paper.
- I will maintain or repair what I already own. If I need a battery for my garage door opener, a new chain for my bike or an oil filter for the car this is allowed. Some things require maintenance to operate properly or need to be fixed. If I drop my phone and crack the screen, a new screen doesn’t count as “stuff”.
- Replacement items: If my refrigerator stops working I’m getting a new one. This is allowed. I need a functioning refrigerator. If I want a new fridge because my old one doesn’t have an automatic ice maker this is not allowed.
- Experiences: These don’t count. I will still travel, stay in hotels, buy tickets to events, etc.
- Virtual stuff: This is a gray area. If I purchase a movie that is stored in the cloud is this stuff? A DVD is certainly not allowed, but what about Netflix or eBooks? I do have Netflix and a couple other subscriptions. I won’t count these, but I will disclose any new ones, and I will explain them. You can judge my rationalization and give me a hard time if I’m stretching the rules.
- Gifting: Even though I’m giving them away, it’s still stuff. If I give away something consumable (food, wine) or even flowers this doesn’t really count.
- Greeting cards: This is stuff. I hate them anyways and will never buy one. Don’t worry though, Mrs. Happy Philosopher buys enough for the both of us.
- Borrowing: Allowed. I hope to fill many of my needs by simply borrowing things I will only use temporarily.
- Renting: The only thing I rent with any frequency is cars, but renting tools and other stuff is allowed.
- Animals: What if I buy a cat, or an iguana. Is this stuff? I don’t know, hopefully I will figure this one out.
- Gifts: Not allowed. I can’t figure out why anyone would give me a gift anyways. I will make an exception if it is something like a free tee shirt from a race – but I will eliminate TWO items just like it for every item I take in.
- Home improvement: Another gray area. I would say if it is a necessary repair it’s OK, otherwise it is stuff and is not allowed.
Mrs. Happy Philosopher
I was delighted when I broke the news to Mrs. Happy Philosopher she didn’t throw anything heavy or sharp at me. I was borderline ecstatic when she said she would be willing to participate in the experiment. Although there are no limits to what she can buy, she agreed to document ALL her purchases that do not fall into the above categories. She can buy stuff for her and the kids, but not me.
At the beginning of each year we identify items that we want to buy in the upcoming year and this year was no exception. It’s how we do gifts to each other instead of giving gifts at Christmas. These are a big gray area because although it is stuff, it’s not really all for me. I’m not sure how to handle these because I already told Mrs. Happy Philosopher I was cool with them. There were only three big items we identified:
- New couch: Our old one is 12-13 years old. There is nothing terrible about it, but it is showing wear and we want to replace it. We could certainly keep it another year, but it is probably the one piece of furniture we use the most (besides our beds and kitchen table).
- Area rug: We need a rug in our family room to dampen the acoustics of the windows and hardwood floors, and it provides a warm and comfortable place to sit while fragging people on Call of Duty. Again there is nothing terrible about the old one, but it is getting a little worn and we just want a new one.
- Television: Yeah, start roasting me in the comments. I deserve it. The guy who wrote 2000 words shaming people that watch it. We use the TV for watching occasional movies and playing video games. We have 2 of them, one of which is a 10+ year old plasma, and the other is an ancient DLP television that a friend gave us (which was an upgrade from our even more ancient CRT). It is quirky and seems like it will fail any day. It takes like a minute just to warm up and the picture is marginal. When the kids have friends over and they want to watch a movie, it’s sure nice to have that second TV (which is away from the main rooms of the house). This is pure luxury. We don’t need it. It would be the least important of the three.
I don’t know if we will buy any of those three things on the list, but if we do I will fully disclose…and you can make fun of me for doing so. If you are already crying foul and declare us cheating…you are right, this is cheating, but my marriage and sanity are much more important than this experiment.
As I sit down to write this draft we are 9 days into the New Year, and we have only purchased 2 things which violate the rules above. They were both small gifts my daughter gave to a friend of hers on her birthday. Other than that we have purchased no “stuff”.
Why am I Doing This?
Mindfulness is not something that comes naturally to humans. We stray to habit. We cling to tribalism to look for cues on how to behave. I am no different. My family is no different. We suffer from the same cognitive flaws, the same delusions. Our default is consumption and comfort.
The purpose of this experiment is to interrupt this automatic consumption, this consumerism, and start really being mindful about every purchase. I think I’m better than most, but as I was counting my 80 shirts last week I became less sure. Of those 80 shirts though, I think only 5 were new to my life in the last year – 2 were gifts from being on podcasts, one I bought impulsively and 2 base layer tech shirts I grabbed at Costco (which I love incidentally).
I’m not doing this to save money, although hopefully that will be a side effect.
I will publish an update every month or two so you can follow my progress. Anything that is not clearly food or obvious “grocery store stuff” I will disclose. I will tell you why I got it, why I feel it is or is not justified by one of the above categories, and you can be the judge.
I’m not sure where my/our pain points will be quite honestly, but it will be a fun project. If you want to join me I would love the company. If you have every done anything like this tell me about your experiences in the comments.