Nothing New 2020: I’m embarking on a year of secondhand purchases

The goal is to highlight the abundance that already exists around us.

It's been four years since I read about Michelle McGagh's year of no shopping. The British finance journalist embarked on a buy-nothing challenge after realizing she was bad at managing her own money. It turned out to be one of the toughest yet most educational experiences of her life.

In 2017 I came across Toronto artist Sarah Lazarovic's anti-consumer manifesto, “A Bunch of Pretty Things I Did Not Buy.” In it, she illustrated the items she would have bought, had she not been committed to a no-buying year. What she found was that she still enjoyed the items while painting them, without having to own them personally.

Two years later I read about American author Ann Patchett doing a no-shopping year. She wrote about it in the New York Times, describing the rules she laid out for herself that were “not so draconian that I would bail out in February.” Her plan, which was not as extreme as McGagh's, seemed more attainable to me.

As you can see, the stories have been stacking up, along with a fair amount of self-imposed pressure to do something similar. (I've had enough of the no-shampoo challenges.) I've often wished I could summon the fortitude and commitment required to complete a no-shopping challenge, but as someone who already has a very pared-down, minimalist wardrobe, this is daunting: When I need something I usually really need it. I would hate to be in a situation where I cannot replace my single pair of jeans because it has worn out. All of my clothes fit into a four-drawer dresser and a two-foot-long closet rod, so I don't exactly have heaps of clothes to ‘rediscover' or fall back on in emergencies.

So I've come up with a compromise. I will buy no brand-new things for all of 2020. This includes clothing, shoes, bags, purses, jewelry, outerwear, swimwear, gym clothes, and accessories. It will extend to books, gifts, home furnishings and decor, outdoor sporting gear, and technology. (I really hope my 8-year-old MacBook Air survives another year.) The nothing-new challenge will not include underwear and socks, but I will avoid replacing these unless necessary.

I plan to include my children in the challenge as much as possible. I already buy the vast majority of their clothing and toys second-hand, but occasionally they need something urgently that I can't find at the thrift store. In those rare cases I'll have to buy new, but I'll track everything and report back on it.

If I need office supplies, skin and hair care products, basic makeup, or batteries, I will make sure I've used up what I already have before buying new. But because I've done multiple Kondo-inspired household purges over the years, I know I don't have heaps of untouched goods hiding anywhere, as Patchett described:

“My first few months of no shopping were full of gleeful discoveries. I ran out of lip balm early on and before making a decision about whether lip balm constituted a need, I looked in my desk drawers and coat pockets. I found five lip balms. Once I started digging around under the bathroom sink I realized I could probably run this experiment for three more years before using up all the lotion, soap and dental floss.”

Like Patchett, I'll allow myself fresh flowers occasionally and anything from a grocery store (within reason – obviously not the clothes). Food and drink and once-in-a-while travel will be my sources of pleasure, not shopping.

In a way, I don't see this as being a huge challenge. All of my reading material comes from the library already, most of our family's clothing is from the local thrift store, and I live in a small town where there's little temptation to shop. I wouldn't even say I have a shopping habit to break; I suspect I added less than 10 new clothing items to my closet last year. But things change when a rule is suddenly in place. It will be interesting to see how I'll feel when the urge to get something new and pretty kicks in, but I can't indulge it.

Buying gifts will be a challenge, requiring organization and forethought, but there's a surprising amount of new and high-quality stuff at thrift stores, and my extended family is a frugal, understanding bunch. They'll probably get on board with an all-used Christmas next year.

What is the goal? To prove to myself – and to show readers – how much abundance exists in the world around us and that we can meet our individual needs without using more resources. Stay tuned for updates!

The goal is to highlight the abundance that already exists around us.