Good bye 2023 and welcome to a Buy Nothing year

New Year’s Eve in Canberra

2023 – what a year. And I’m looking forward to 2024.

2023 the year that wasn’t Zen

I’m super late to writing about the New Year. And I’m okay with that. I also failed with my 2023 goals. And I’m also okay with that.

At the beginning of 2023, I declared it would be the Year of Zen. I had in mind spending the year decluttering, having a simple and organised home, meditating often and feeling calm and serene. Plus, getting healthy.

Nope. That didn’t happen. Instead, my year was a blur of doing too much, not sleeping enough, lurching from one thing to the next, and juggling too many things. Sometimes, the juggling act didn’t work too much. I put on weight, our apartment gained clutter rather than lost it, and I was stressed about many things.

Yet, inextricably, it all worked. At the end of the year, I could reflect that I had accomplished some amazing things, including my third book, How to Pay Your Mortgage Off in 10 Years, a new career, and renewed clarity on my commitment to living with and promoting frugality. I also healed some key relationships in a way that I could never have imagined, and also healed myself.

Despite it being an expensive year (COVID-deferred holidays that cost more than the original, orthodontic work for one of my sons, sports commitments for the other son and my stepdaughter’s wedding – plus higher interest rates), our finances are in good shape. In fact, I discovered we had almost doubled our net wealth in the last five years. Despite COVID uncertain times. Awesome!

A lot of the amazing things that happened weren’t planned. I decided to say yes to opportunity and miracles and take a detour. Those COVID quarantine years taught us that life doesn’t always go as planned, so we need to be a bit flexible. 2023 was a good year for that.

2024 is a Buy Nothing year

My main goal for the coming year is to not spend anything. Yep, that’s right. Not just nothing ‘new’, or no new clothes, but nothing.

I was inspired to do this by realising that I have waaayyy too much stuff. I’m often held up as a minimalist, but I’m not. I aspire to be a minimalist, but I am way too human. I usually buy things very cheaply or get things for free. But this has led to a tendency to horde, and it’s a manifestation of a scarcity mindset.

I have also realised (begrudgingly) that I engage in op-shopping as an emotional crutch. There are 3 fabulous op-shops, all within a close walk of my work and several close to my home. When feeling down and blue, I love looking for a bit of sparkle. I can get a pair of amazing earrings for $3, a necklace for $5 or even a new outfit for $10 or less. It’s better (perhaps) than eating chocolate or substance abuse, but perhaps a walk around the block or finding another way emotionally to deal with things would be better. All that shines is not gold, and this bling fetish isn’t doing me any favours.

My op shopping habit isn’t causing us financial problems. I am not spending much money on my opped purchases (i.e. mostly $3 earrings). And secondly, Neil and I have our own ‘gold card’ allowance for personal expenses, and I am well within my limit. Arguably, it’s also not causing an environmental problem as I’m buying second-hand items. But the problem is that I have too much stuff.

The key issue is that it doesn’t fit my values. And the stuff also doesn’t really fit in with our home. We are now at the stage with a tween and a teen that we either need to upsize or downsize stuff. Earrings don’t take up too much space, despite my 6 jewellery boxes, but my clothes do. And I also have a lot of other stuff in general, like 6 teapots (I love them all), 5 aprons, 6 bottles of perfume, 5 candles and more lipsticks than I can count. Many things have been given to me as gifts or for free, but even so, there are only so many things I need, even if I do like them.

Underspent

A huge source of inspiration is Rachel Smith, cycling advocate, transport consultant and author of the book Underspent: How I broke my shopping addiction & buying habit without dramatically changing my life.

I met Rachel through frugal friends and was fortunate to have her as a guest on my podcast. Her story is inspiring and I relate so much to it. Essentially, in 2012, she was in Mumbai for work. While there, she visited the Dharavi Slums. From there, she returned to the UK where she was caught up in the whole pre-Christmas buying spree. Seeing so much consumption when she’d been among people who didn’t have much didn’t sit right with her, so she set out to challenge herself not to buy anything.

Rachel didn’t make the challenge the whole way through in 2012 (although she hung in there longer than many people would have). I think she did amazingly well to get part way through. That could have been the end of the story, but she managed it successfully in 2014.

That same year, 2014, I did a ‘no new clothes’ challenge as I relocated from Taiwan back to Australia. I thought my challenge was significant, but it pales compared to hers. And during the latter part of my challenge year, I separated from my ex husband. 2015 was a year of some emotionally heavy mediation and court issues. I didn’t feel fab about myself, but to boost that I developed the habit of stopping at an op shop to do some retail therapy. That got me through some difficult times, but I became a bit too hooked on the dopamine effect of op shopping.

What does my challenge year involve?

This year, I will not buy any new items unless they are essential. I’m saying no to all wants but will purchase all needs. Food is essential, and we are continuing with our $100-a-week challenge (basically only spending $100 a week on groceries, cleaning products and toiletries for a family of 4).

To detour for a bit before you think I am starving my kids or that I’m being unnecessarily frugal on the food and groceries front, I do this challenge primarily as a means to reduce what we buy and, therefore, waste. We already have a LOT of food in our home. The fridge is full, the second bar fridge is full of drinks, the freezer has been Tetris-packed, and the cupboards are groaning. Focusing on a dollar amount and buying only what we need is helping us get through the rest. We still waste food, but it has decreased dramatically since we started this challenge.

The things I won’t be spending money on in 2024 are:

  • Clothing
  • Jewellery
  • Makeup and perfume
  • Books
  • Bric a braque
  • Alcohol (it’s okay to make our own)
  • Anything non-essential that isn’t a need

I will still enjoy experiences, dinners out – and holidays.

I have no doubt that it will be challenging. Already, I’m realising just how often I do things like scan the middle aisles of ALDI ‘just in case’ I might need something, whether for myself or someone else. Or going into Big W for one thing and checking to see if we need anything else. I found myself in the ALDI middle aisle this week, stopping to touch the fabric of a cute summer dress even though I knew I already had a wardrobe full at home. Why does the allure of new always seem better? Why am I so addicted to buying bargains?

Buy Nothing and my children

My kids are not part of this challenge. They didn’t sign up for it, and it’s unfair to impose this on them when I’m doing this to curb my own impulse shopping issues.

But my kids are delighted I am doing this. They hate it when I go op shopping. They like to laugh at my hobby, but enjoying op shops has also caused a few family divisions. The year before last, I spent 90 minutes op shopping while on a family beach holiday. I had told hubby I would have a quick look and then meet him and my kids at the beach. I was gone for so long that my Neil worried I had snuck out, gone to the beach and been abducted or drowned. My phone was off, so he couldn’t call me, and I was (unintentionally) hidden in the changing rooms when one of my kids came in and tried to look for me! (Meanwhile, I had no idea time had passed so quickly.)

Since then, my boys have taken to timing when whenever I go into an op shop. They don’t think I can last on this challenge. During the first week of the challenge, we happened to be walking past the new Vinnies Braddon store – it’s such a beautifully appointed shop, just like a boutique and stuffed with colour-arranged bargains. My boys pretended they really wanted to go into the op shop as a joke, a kind of way to test my resolve, and we all laughed.

This year, I will need to spend money on some things for my kids. My youngest will be in his final year of primary school, and they can buy special school uniform shirts to mark their senior year. The seniors love wearing their shirts, which have all of their names on them, and they all sign their friends’ shirts at the end of the year. Maybe it’s not a need, but it carries emotional significance and is part of his rite of passage. My boys also go through shoes quickly (especially my eldest, who needs special shoes due to a disability), and they need some sports equipment (including special clothes and shoes for table tennis).

I’m proud that my boys are growing up with sound money knowledge. I don’t want them to be greedy or entitled. But I also don’t want them to grow up with a scarcity mindset as a result of being deprived of important things like school uniforms, shoes and birthday presents.

But in general, my kids don’t need a lot of things: they never have. We’ve just been shopping for back-to-school items, and they happily sorted through their existing supplies before buying new things. We did buy one new lunch box, but that’s because, after several years of reusing the same old lunch box, it has disappeared. Christmas may be a challenge, but we tend to go light on the presents and focus instead on presence. Christmas 2023 was a trip to the Gold Coast, including theme parks, while Christmas 2022 was on a cruise ship.

Supporting small businesses and creatives

I will likely struggle with not buying things in support of small business owners and creatives. As an author and someone with business interests, I know what it’s like to be. I really want to give back in support. In particular, I want to buy and read books written by authors – especially local authors.

I tend to already get given a lot of books for free. As a podcaster, I’m often given things to review. And then there’s the library, all the books I already have, the library at work, the informal library in our division, and local street libraries. I’m not starved of books to read.

But I do want to be able to support local authors. So if I feel like supporting a book launch, a creative project or just because, I will purchase something as a gift to someone else. I know I can still borrow things at libraries (and authors do get some compensation through the Australian Lending Rights Scheme), but it’s not quite the same as supporting an author through buying a signed copy. Where I choose not to buy a book, I can still create positive karma by suggesting that my library purchases the book – or review it on my podcast.

My 3 wants or needs

Going into 2024, I had 3 things that I wanted to buy – and I wasn’t sure how to deal with any of them.

  1. A 2024 diary. Every year, I put a lot of effort into finding and purchasing the ‘right’ diary. I use my diary nearly every day. I put positive affirmations in it and use it to write down the tasks I will accomplish. I set out in the first week of January to buy a diary in my lunch break. But most at the store I went to had already sold out.

    But then I thought about it a bit more and realised it was a want rather than a need. I have an online project management system that I use for my home business activities and another spreadsheet I use at work. This sets out the broader vision, plus odd tasks and bits and pieces I want to remember.

    I then extract my ‘to-do’ list from these systems – adding extra things to do. And here’s the thing: I use a sheet of paper rather than a diary when I’m seriously stressed (which is more often than I want to admit). Sometimes, it feels just too final or perfect to use a diary. I often find that using the back of an envelope, letter, or flyer is somehow less stressful. It must fit with my frugal/imperfect values or something.

    And then I realised how much I hate to throw out old diaries. They are often beautiful – sometimes even with faux leather covers – and it seems a shame to waste them out. But I can’t reuse them, even though I’ve thought about it; they aren’t designed to be reused or recycled.

    Accordingly, the diary is a want rather than a need, and I won’t buy one.
  2. Compost bin. We’ve recently started doing some vegetable gardening in our apartment’s courtyard. While we have worm farms on our balcony, we still had more scraps than ther worms could eat. Plus, some food scraps aren’t quite right for the worm farm.

    Early in the new year, I decided that we would go to Bunnings to buy a compost bin. It’s good for the environment, so why not? But before I did, I put a call Big Ask Little Ask callout in my Buy Nothing Project group.

    The idea of the Big Ask, Little Ask challenge is to encourage your community to get comfortable asking. Often, people are comfortable giving items or asking to be selected for an item that is already listed. But we often go to the shops to buy something before we ask. I’m one of the admins of my local Buy Nothing Project group, so I asked people to list one impossible big thing they would like and another smaller thing. I asked for a compost bin (big ask) and a 2024 diary (small ask).

    Well, I didn’t have any luck with a 2024 diary. I was surprised by that as I thought that maybe people might want to offload unwanted Christmas presents, although, as detailed above, it was probably a blessing. But I was even more surprised when a lovely lady who lived across the road offered me a brand-new compost bin. The bin retails for almost $100 at Bunnings. Winner, winner, chicken dinner! I saved money, but it was also a win for the environment.

    Accordingly, this was a want/need that was satisfied through my community, and I didn’t need to go and buy it.
  3. Comfortable walking shoes. While on holiday, my sturdy leather sandals died. I have fat feet with high arches; basically, it’s hard to find comfortable shoes. I walk to work most days and am doing the challenge of walking 10,000 steps a day. We also have a trip to Italy and Greece planned for September, and I know we will do a lot of walking. I therefore consider this a want.

    But looking through my existing shoes, I have a lot. Maybe I don’t have the same sort of sturdy sandals, but I do have some shoes comfortable enough for walking.

    As my health and well-being are important, I categorise comfortable shoes as a need. But before I rush out to buy a new pair of shoes, I will use what I have. Once my comfortable-enough shoes reach the end of life, I will treat myself to a custom-fit pair of quality sandals ahead of my trip. I might even allocate some birthday money towards it, as I really need it.

An ambitious goal

Can I do it? I don’t honestly know. I’m going to try up until Easter. So far, a few weeks in, so good. It’s been interesting to observe how often (even as someone who is inherently frugal) I shop just for the pleasure of it.

Have you ever done a buy nothing, or buy nothing new challenge? If so, I would love to hear about it!

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