For 2016, my New Year’s resolution was to buy nothing new. This didn’t mean not buying anything, but rather buying things used. Instead of shopping retail, I bought things from thrift stores, used on eBay, and other sources instead.
I had several goals:
- Save money: I’m in grad school, and our budget was limited. I wanted to see if there were better ways to cut back on our spending that didn’t limit our enjoyment of doing things, like travel and going out to eat — the traditional things that people tell you to do in order to cut back on your budget.
- Be a better consumer: It’s important to me to be a conscientious, ethical consumer, and buying secondhand rather than new seemed like a way to make this possible on a budget.
- Become more of a minimalist: If it was harder to find the things I wanted, I figured, it would challenge me to reflect on whether I truly wanted or needed items.
Overall, I succeeded in my goal. There were a few things here and there that I decided were exceptions (food, medicine and toiletries, obviously, as well as printer ink and house paint), but otherwise, I went for an entire year without buying anything from retail stores.
How did I buy nothing new for a whole year, and what did I learn? Read on!
(You might want to start by reading my midyear update – Five Things I Learned in Six Months of Buying Nothing New)
1) There are nearly endless resources for buying things secondhand, thanks to the internet.
At the beginning of the year, I thought most of my shopping would be done at thrift stores, but I slowly discovered that the Internet is a nearly endless source of places where things can be bought secondhand. This includes sites like eBay, Etsy, and Craigslist, and apps like Poshmark. Facebook groups ended up being my main place for buying very specific items, like supplies for Project Life. If you can think of it, someone is probably selling it somewhere on the internet.
2) Community can be a source of what we need.
People are always looking for the things they no longer need to continue to be used and valued, so simply asking friends and family to pass along what you need and they don’t can be a huge resource. I also found some things I needed in my local Buy Nothing group and on Freecycle. Being upfront and honest about your consuming goals can end up being a win all around, because items not donated to thrift stores can help keep an overtaxed system from being further burdened (see the next item).
3) There are far more used goods than can be readily consumed.
My experiences at the Goodwill Outlets attest to the fact that there is far more donated to thrift stores that can readily be sold (and the vast majority of clothing sent to thrift stores ends up in clothing recycling, rather than being reworn). Simply put, thrift shopping helps keep things out of landfills — but so does thoughtful consuming from the get-go. The less we buy needlessly, the less we eventually discard.
4) Minimalism and thrift don’t always go hand in hand.
One of the results I expected from this project was to simply buy less. I also wanted to let go of as much as possible, and pare back what I owned. I dream of being able to fit everything I own in a suitcase, but in the end, that just isn’t me.
Whenever I could make something myself instead of buying it, I did. But DIY projects take a lot of supplies, and for the most part require a more maximalist lifestyle. It also gives me a lot of joy to buy things at the thrift store that others would likely pass over because they need someone to mend or reimagine them. As you can imagine, there are a *lot* of partially completed projects that I started because of all my thrift shopping this year.
5) … but thrifting well takes foresight and planning, which is very compatible with minimalism.
I love the idea of a capsule wardrobe, but never thought I could really achieve one. As I carefully planned out a list of clothing items that I was hunting down at thrift stores, I realized inadvertantly that a capsule wardrobe was exactly what I was creating. I became more of a maximalist in some areas, and more of a minimalist in others.
6) It’s important to know the difference between what we need and what we want.
Sometimes it’s easy to confuse the two, but when it takes more effort to track down and purchase the things you need, it becomes clear that some of those items are merely wants. Living without things I needed until I found them at the thrift store definitely made me a more creative problem solver, and helped me rediscover the utility of what I already owned.
7) If budget is the main concern, buying secondhand isn’t always the best option.
I mentioned this in my midyear post, but the rest of the year continued to drive home the absurdity of this for me. Probably thanks to sites like eBay, a lot of thift stores tend to mark up items that they deem — for whatever reason — to have a higher value, which means that newer items or nicer brands can be shockingly expensive when purchased secondhand. It’s often cheaper, and far easier, to buy something new at Walmart or H&M than it is to buy it thrifted. The ubiquity of fast fashion and budget retailers means that thrift shopping is a choice regardless of your budget, which is a good thing, but it means that at the same time that produciton of new items is soaring, there’s less reason to consume used, meaning more and more stuff in landfills (see #3).
8) There is beauty in what is old, fixed, mended, and remade.
I have always believed this, but find it to be even more true after the past year. When I started thrifting a decade ago, barely worn, high-quality vintage clothing was plentiful and easy to find. Now, thanks to the rise of fast fashion, good quality vintage is harder and harder to come by, and what I do find is often worn or damaged. I’ve come to love these pieces — which were still made far better than their contemporary counterparts, often by union workers in the US — and have upped my game at removing stains and mending small flaws. In 2017 I’d like to get back to sewing, so that I can better reimagine some of these pieces as contemporary garments.
9) The things we want, buy, and discard reflect who we are and how we change as people.
The past year has made me incredibly conscientious of what I consume, both what I’m buying currently and what I’ve purchased in the past. As I try to pare down my belongings, I’ve become keenly aware of what I donate myself to thrift stores, what’s likely to be purchased by someone else, and what will most likely end up in a landfill. But I’ve also started to notice the succession of items I bought through the years, and how they reflect my interests, tastes, and stages of life. I can’t beat myself up for no longer wanting the books or clothes I purchased in my early 20’s, because I’m not the same person anymore.
10) The sum of much of the above: privilege is important.
I spent the past year trying to be a self-reflective as possible about my own economic privilege — even if I don’t have a lot of money in the bank currently, I come from an affluent background that still shapes my consuming practices to a large extent. There were times when what I was doing felt extremely problematic, and I wondered if I should stop.
Was I being disrespectful by thrift shopping by choice, rather than necessity? (No – as long as I’m not creating scarcity, which would be hard to do.)
Is the kind of minimalist lifestyle I covet just another bougie trend? (Yes – but if I truly believe minimalism is a good consumer practice, what can I do to change that?)
Would I already understand much of the above had I come from a less affluent background? (Probably – and that’s why it feels important to be upfront about my privilege.)
These are still questions I’m continually thinking through, and I am completely open to thoughtful critique and conversation.
So what are my plans going forward in 2017?
I’m going to continue to buy secondhand as much as possible, adding into the mix supporting local and independent businesses. My goal is to limit my spending at chains and big box stores as much as I can, and to continue researching how I can be an ethical consumer on a budget. One of my goals for this blog is to do the research to help make ethical consuming available to anyone, on any budget. Look forward to more posts on these topics in the future!