2016: A Year Without Buying Stuff

A couple of years ago, right after the holidays, the idea of buying anything suddenly started to feel really overwhelming. I had just gotten gifts for people and spent more time than I usually do in stores. As a reward, I decided to buy nothing (except food) for a month. That month was one of the best months of my life, and I wrote about it for my business' blog. That entry is still online here. I called the experiment "Luxury Month" because not buying stuff felt like the most relaxing thing in the world.

Last month, December 2015, I tried playing the Minimalist Game with a friend. It was a great exercise in getting rid of stuff I no longer use, and I got rid of more than 500 things during that month. I didn't quite follow all the rules -- I added a personal challenge to throw nothing away, and ended up making a couple of massive donations to Goodwill -- but I stuck with the spirit of the challenge, and it was a great experience.

But.

There are *two* practices that land you in a situation like that, where you need to get rid of a bunch of stuff. The obvious one is that once you have a lot of stuff, you need to up and get rid of the stuff you don't want. (Re-homing stuff is one of the big things I help my Home Harmonizers clients with -- I help sort stuff that's worth keeping out from trash and recyclables, I deliver donations -- and it's really satisfying work.) But learning to get rid of stuff is just one piece of the puzzle.

The other crucial piece of that puzzle is learning not to acquire stuff.

We live in a culture that places an extraordinary value on owning and acquiring stuff. We're bombarded with ads telling us that material possessions are worth having. We're told they make our lives easier, make us look cooler, make our homes more inviting, make us more popular or successful or satisfied. It's pretty clear that the people and companies that sell stuff have a vested interest in making us believe that we need to own and acquire a lot of things to be happy.

But I believe that buying stuff impoverishes us. Both because stuff costs money, and because money is an insidiously one-dimensional way to interact with the world. When we think about our interactions with people and places in terms of dollar value, we miss all the other values that exist in the world. When I did the Luxury Month experiment, one of the things I loved most about it was that it changed how I saw stuff. I could walk through a mall with friends and admire everything honestly, because I knew none of it was going to come home with me. I could look at websites online and come away with some great ideas for how to repurpose stuff I already owned, because I wasn't going to spend money buying something premade online.

I'm a professional organizer. I've seen far too many of my peers, including best-selling author Marie Kondo, indulge in shopping sprees that land them with tons of new stuff all at once. What do you think keeps all of us professional organizers working? The fact that so many people have never learned how to stop buying stuff -- and eventually, when you buy a lot of stuff, it overwhelms you. The single best thing my clients can do for their homes and themselves is take a break from buying stuff. So this year, that's what I'm going to do too.

Here's my goal for 2016: 

I am not going to buy any physical stuff other than food.

A couple of exceptions, because good rules tend to come with those:

  • I will buy toilet paper, unless I come up with a reasonable alternative. (This didn't come up during luxury month.)
  • I may buy shampoo and toothpaste if I run out by the end of the year, or the ingredients to make substitutes
  • I will buy physical things that my car and my bicycle need to work (gas, oil, tires, windshield wipers)
  • If unavoidable business expenses come up that involve buying physical stuff (like shipping materials), I will seek secondhand materials before buying anything new.

What do you expect the biggest challenge will be for me this year? Do you think I'll need to make any more exceptions to my rule? Will you join me in a week, a month, or the full year of buying nothing? I'll keep you posted on how it goes, and share some of my best experiences NOT-buying stuff as the year goes on.

Here's to a Year Without Buying Stuff!