Jan 09

New Experiment: Buy Nothing for 1 Year

buy nothing

New Experiment

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.

 

Exemptions

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:

 

  1. 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).
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

 

Starting Yesterday

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.

 

My Plan:

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.

49 comments

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    • DadsDollarsDebts on January 10, 2018 at 7:29 am
    • Reply

    Ah snap. This just got interesting and I am interested in joining you in the effort…let me talk to the misses tonight. Though I do need a suit- just one for any weddings and business opportunities. And I would be starting from now and not Jan 1 because I bought a bunch of stuff 2 days ago to go to Tahoe (winter pants, gloves, ear muffs…you know cold weather stuff).

    Would you mind if I joined you in the endeavor?

    1. That would be awesome. I’ll link to your stuff if you decide to write about it. Lets get more bloggers doing this and create a movement 🙂

  1. Taking it up a notch, I like it! If you keep going on podcasts you could eventually fill out your whole wardrobe with podcast-swag clothing. Maybe some of the more popular podcasts will start offering free dress-pants or even a jacket for appearing. I mean, Tim Ferriss could probably afford to give his guests a nice suit….

    Good luck, and don’t forget that guitar strings fall clearly in the “maintenance” category.

    1. ^^pod-casters take note…

      I’ve already been thinking about the guitar strings issue. They will not last me a year. I will document their purchase though of course 😉

    • Texancoqui on January 10, 2018 at 8:47 am
    • Reply

    Good luck!

    1. Thanks, I will probably need it!

  2. We’ve been doing this for a while now – more than a year less than two. It’s been wonderful not adding any more ‘stuff’ to our lives. And I strive to only give others financial, consumable, or experience gifts. I’ll work on a write-up.

    1. Excellent. Send me a link when it’s up and I will share it 🙂

    • VagabondMD on January 10, 2018 at 10:50 am
    • Reply

    Oh, the humanity!

    How do you categorize say, a 2013 Brunello, which you intend to consume (or gift) at some point but plan to keep it around for a little while so that it actually tastes great when you do so?

    I think this new experiement is doable, too, and again, I have done similar in the past. However, when everyone else in the house is freely buying what they want, it puts a damper on the effort, just like with minimalism when got rid of junk and created space, and the space was promptly filled with someone else’s junk.

    I am still in for the “no new clothes in 2018” pledge, and while I am not intending to purchase stuff for myself in 2018, I will only pledge that whatever non-consumable that I purchase, something of equal or larger size leaves my house. Except the Brunello. 😉

    1. Totally allowed. Anything consumable (food/drink) is exempt, either as a gift or for later consumption.

      Although I am the only one doing the experiment, I hope to lead by example. It should be enlightening to see what everyone else buys 🙂

  3. I’ve personally never been a fan of this philosophy because to me “mindful spending” makes more sense because of all the exceptions, however, this is not me (I say that strongly because of what I posted on my blog today-lol). I think some people need this the way some people need a diet cleanse to hit their health re-set button. It’s how we all respond to things differently. So I applaud you doing this challenge! Good luck! 🙂

    1. This is not really a philosophy, more an experiment. I think it is easy to say I am being mindful, but another thing entirely to actually do it. For instance, I own 80 shirts…after decluttering…twice.

      Having done 100% alcohol fasts for extended periods of time, I can say having a set of rules and strict restrictions makes the experiment feel much different. I think I will learn something about myself from this experiment in a way I could not otherwise, and you can all watch me struggle 😉

    • mrspickypincher on January 10, 2018 at 1:54 pm
    • Reply

    I’m firmly in the “animals aren’t stuff” camp if you need a vote on that. 🙂 They’re members of the family! 🙂 I’ve seen people do “Buy Nothing” and I agree that it gets a little confusing. I love that you touched on virtual purchases – I’d never even considered that.

    1. Yeah, buy nothing can mean anything. I’m definitely taking a few liberties, but I still think it should be challenging. 🙂

    • Rose on January 10, 2018 at 5:29 pm
    • Reply

    Neat! I commend you on this challenge and how open and honest you are about the caveats. Mrs. Happy Philosopher is such a good sport, you two make a great team!

    1. Thanks! Mrs. Happy Philosopher has to be a good sport to put up with all of my craziness 🙂

    • wendy on January 10, 2018 at 8:01 pm
    • Reply

    At the very least this experiment should bring your purchases into sharper focus… so you’ll be mindful in the moment of purchase vs thinking you’re mindful when you’re really running on automatic pilot…
    Best of luck! Looking forward to watching your progress

    1. Thanks Wendy!

    • The Rhino on January 11, 2018 at 1:31 am
    • Reply

    hmm – there could be opportunity cost issues with not buying anything for a year?

    what about the popular ‘month in quarantine’ approach?

    Could be the best of both worlds?

    1. Yes, most definitely there will be opportunity costs and inconveniences, but hopefully the benefits (of being more mindful will outweigh the negatives).

      What is month in quarantine? Does that mean you can not use something for a month after you buy it, or you have to wait a month to purchase?

        • The Rhino on January 12, 2018 at 1:20 am
        • Reply

        ‘month in quarantine’ is where you put any potential purchase that pops into your head on to a list, wait a month, and if you still want it then you buy it. Can help to avoid rash impulse driven buying?

        Prob with abstention is it avoids rather than tackles the issue. Buying stuff isn’t the problem, its buying junk which is the problem (def of junk here is stuff that makes your life worse rather than better, or has neutral impact). If you just abstain for a year, your not practising not buying junk (sorry double negative) – so you prob won’t get any better at it, or, dare I say it, you may even get worse! Your current skills could atrophy through lack of use ;(

        But for sure, I’d do it anyway as it sounds like a good laugh 😉

        1. I’m good with the big stuff, it’s the little stuff that gets me. I almost never have a big impulsive purchase, so I kinda already do the quarantine. If I can make my readers laugh at me then it will be worth it though 🙂

  4. I like it, I have been trying to stop buying stuff for the last year but didn’t put a hard stop to it. Maybe I will try it.
    You mention gifts, are you saying you won’t accept gifts either?

    1. This is a grey area. I will not refuse gifts, although I have to figure out a way to deal with them. If it’s a free shirt from doing a race or podcast or something, I will accept it, but get rid of two items like it…or maybe I will just put it in storage for a year. I’m not sure yet, but refusing a gift seems quite rude to me. It’s not the gift givers fault I’m doing the experiment. The truth is though, I’m mot in many situations where gifts are exchanged so it shouldn’t be a problem.

  5. Just when I was going to see your clothing ban… you up the ante 😉 This is awesome, HP. Good luck with your year of buying nothing!

    1. Wait until the NEXT post! Hahaha, just kidding, no plans to take this to another level of discomfort 😉

  6. Nice 2018 resolution! Regarding your new couch decision, I would recommend you check out Katy Bowman’s work. She focuses on natural movement (https://nutritiousmovement.com/blog/) and over the years has really reduced the amount of furniture her family owns/uses. Right now there is no way my husband would go along with getting rid of our couch or other chairs), but I’ve enjoyed experimenting with spending less time in furniture and more time on the floor (which has encouraged me to spend more time stretching, which has helped my back!). I found many of her books at our local library, so hopefully yours would as well.

    This year I’ve decided to really focus on a getting closer to a zero waste lifestyle, which I noticed had some similar parameters as your purchase ban. I actually started working on this this at the end of 2017, so I’ve been doing this for a few weeks now. It’s really simplified my grocery shopping and made me value all of the plastic bags I currently have in my life. For example, I’ve started baking my own bread, which works best to let the bread rise in a plastic bag (to keep it from drying out). And since I’m trying to avoid buying anything in plastic, I’ve started to value each and every plastic bag that is already our home.

    I look forward to reading your future updates.

    1. I love the concept of getting as close to zero waste as possible, so I wish you luck on your quest. One of the reasons I want to stop the flow of “stuff” into my life is the sheer wastefulness of it. I don’t think consumption makes up happy on the long run, and part of the experiment is to see how my happiness is affected.

      Movement is important. Many of us cannot even get up off the floor with considerable difficulty. I actually spend a lot of my time sitting on the floor, but there is something about the whole family sprawled out together on a comfortable couch that is awesome. We shall see, maybe the couch can wait until 2019 🙂

  7. Oh, man, I just decided not to buy clothes for a year. Might as well kick it up with not buying anything at all this year right?

    1. Absolutely, join my craziness 🙂

    • Maya on January 12, 2018 at 7:06 am
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    I partly like the idea, so I would be happy to half-join. I would allow myself to buy one item per month – since I usually either don’t buy anything at all or finally go shopping and end up with a few new items, I think that deciding on just one thing per month would be a good experiment – to actually choose wisely and maximize the happiness coming from that item 😀 oh, and I DO need socks. So I’ll let them slide 😉

    1. Awesome! There are no right or wrong ways to do the experiment as long as it adds value to your life. ! item a month sounds interesting, I would love to read about how one makes the decision of what 1 item to buy.

  8. Awesome! As part of our New Years resolutions, my wife and I are doing something similar. We are not spending any money on new clothes. We have a few other “no spend challenges” to flex our frugality and minimalism muscles.

    We minimize our hygiene and household cleaning product purchases by making our own. My wife makes soap, shampoo out of Castile soap. She makes her own deodorant (I don’t need it). Toothpaste we make from baking soda, coconut oil, xylitol, and peppermint essential oil. And cleaning products we make from dilute alcohol or white vinegar (depending on the surface that needs to be cleaned). Everything is natural and we try to limit harsh chemicals that could potentially be hazardous to our health.

    Our exemptions are baby related stuff (expecting in March). But we are trying to minimize purchases by breastfeeding, making our own baby food, and using washable/reuseable cloth diapers.

    I’ll be following up to see the progress of your challenge goals!

    Cheers!

    1. Great! We also use many simple products for cleaning (vinegar) and although we buy soap,

      I have made my own deodorant. I am actually a huge fan of this, as it works great and seems much less irritating. I am currently using up a stick of purchased deodorant I purchased for travel, but once it is gone I will go back.

      Making baby food is cool as well. Mrs. Happy Philosopher did this with great results. She froze big batches in ice cube trays and heated up cubes in the microwave, so she only had to make it once every couple of weeks.

      1. Btw, over the weekend I talked to my wife about your new experiment. We both agreed to join the challenge! Funny thing is, she was even more excited about it than me. I’ll post a write-up soon 🙂

  9. Just found your blog — I am also buying nothing for the year in 2018. I’ll be following along with your blog and will be posting on my own about it.

    1. Awesome! I will follow along.

  10. Yay minimalism. I view this like budgets. I don’t use one but I’m aware of spending without obsessing and we dont seem to be going broke.

    We’ve moved 6 times in the past 10’years so are decluttered. It’ll be interesting to follow you, but I’m buying a parlor guitar this year after waiting the last 3 years. It’s a self congrats for getting FI and changing jobs. So I won’t be joining you.

    As for strings, try Elixer nanocoated. They last me 2-3 months of playing 3-6 hours per week, sometimes more, with sweaty fingers. They come in 3 packs bonus on amazon for cheap.

    1. I usually put some kind of Elixer strings on and have had good luck. They are getting close…

  11. Sounds like an awesome experiment! My 2018 goal is to have this as a 2019 goal! 😅

    1. Hahaha! Excellent.

    • hatton1 on January 14, 2018 at 6:14 am
    • Reply

    What about plants? I am looking forward to redoing some areas in my yard but will require some new plants and seeds. I think as I get older I require less and less stuff. I especially need less clothing and housewares.

    1. I’m not sure how I would classify plants, maybe as stuff, although if edible they could also serve as food. It’s a gray area and if I purchase I will disclose and let the readers be the judge.

    • Jacq on January 14, 2018 at 6:37 am
    • Reply

    I’d vote skip the new tv and challenge yourself. If your son has friends over can you & your wife cozy around the laptop to watch netflix ? Maybe it means reading a book instead etc.
    I buy very little. I bought a new table and chairs last year. It seems like a small thing, but sitting at the right height to eat is such an improvement! Knowing my body feels better for it, and although I don’t thinking of it every time I sit down, I recognize mentally I am happier, I’m not going to rule out life improving purchases.
    I look forward to watching your experiment!

    1. Yeah, I probably don’t really need it. The big benefit would be that the main part of the house would be quiet. Also sometimes we have a “movie night”, but usually we can’t agree on the same move, so we have two going at the same time.

  12. What is this? First no clothes.. now no anything? Interesting. We’ve toyed with the idea… I like it, hmmm maybe I’ll discuss it and see where that gets me. Hmmm…

    Interesting concept, might be fun. Could get tricky as we have to buy things for the business we own, etc. But, from what I’ve seen, even mentioning that you are attempting something along these lines goes a long way to making you reduce and think about what you are doing before you mindlessly do it.

    1. Join me! It will be fun. Your rules don’t have to be the same as mine, it’s just about learning and the challenge.

    • BD on January 15, 2018 at 10:42 am
    • Reply

    You’ve already totally screwed up my way of thinking, so why not go all in? I’m not sure that my resolve is as strong as yours, but I effectively did this for Christmas and found it incredibly rewarding (though I still couldn’t get people to stop giving me a token item or two). Even if I do fall short, it would seem to be a worthy exercise no matter.

    Though it’s not a necessary item like a refrigerator, how do you feel about things like tubes for the road bike when it comes to replacement items. Where does one balance the $6 purchase of stuff versus peace of mind? It’s definitely stuff, but no one ever bought a bike tube because it was especially meaningful on a standalone basis.

    At least I don’t think that they did…

    1. Disrupting conventional thinking is my super power.

      I consider bike tubes to be maintaining in item, although they must be necessary, not just a replacement because they are a few grams lighter or something silly like that. Likewise if my tires wear out and start looking unsafe I will replace them. I draw the line at replacing /upgrading something that is working fine.

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