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Why I’ve Chosen to Buy Nothing New for 8 Years

buy nothing new

Guest post from Katy of The Non-Consumer Advocate

I like keeping my family’s expenditures down as much as any reader, so when I read an article in my local newspaper about a group of San Franciscans who’d just completed a “buy-nothing-new” year, I got excited. Their Compact allowed exceptions for a few items such as food (duh!) and safety equipment (whew!).

I wanted in.

My husband thought I was insane to suggest such an extreme challenge, but I felt compelled. “One month,” I explained. “I’ll try not to buy anything brand new for one month.”

That month was January of 2007.

One month turned into two, and before I knew it I’d completed my own “buy-nothing-new” year. And when December rolled around, I saw no reason to stop. Not only had I saved an enormous amount of money, but I’d also put the brakes on the never ending influx of clutter-y stuff that makes housekeeping an un-winnable war.

I began blogging as The Non-Consumer Advocate.

It’s been eight-and-a-half years since I joined The Compact! Yes, there have been times when buying used has been a huge pain in the tuchus, but mostly it’s been a breeze.

My husband thinks that used shoes are disgusting, so he chooses that as an exception. (The Compact is very individualized, as each person decides their own exceptions.)

My exceptions include personal care items, bras, underwear, books written by friends, and harmonicas. Yes, harmonicas . . . think about it.

Here’s how my family makes only buying used a possibility:

We examine wants vs. needs.

So often the urge to buy something new is a fleeting impulse. By having to find a used version, it sets up a built-in lag time that often kills that gotta-have-it-now desire.

We repair instead of replace.

Whether it’s a piece of clothing or a broken household item, we do our best to extend our belongings’ lives.

We borrow and lend.

Whether you call it a sharing economy or simple neighborliness, there’s simply no reason for everyone to buy, store and maintain their own infrequently used household items. (C’mon folks, when was the last time both you and your neighbor needed a post-hole digger at the same time?!)

We shop to thrift stores, garage sales, and consignment shops.

Even my style conscious teenagers go to Buffalo Exchange to satisfy their trendy needs.

We give experiential gifts.

And yes, we even give used stuff as gifts.

We no longer shop as entertainment.

Strolling around the mall or even browsing a street of local shops is an unnecessary temptation.

I also think about the environmental and societal consequences of unnecessarily manufactured goods. I want no part in sweatshop labor!

Of course there have been times when buying used was impossible. But those purchases were few and far between. No one is going to be 100% perfect in anything they do, but if I can avoid 95% of new purchases, I call that a win.

For my wallet, my home, and the environment.

Katy Wolk-Stanley lives in her hometown of Portland, Oregon and both works as a labor and delivery nurse and blogs as The Non-Consumer Advocate and for The Huffington Post. She describes herself as a laundry-hanger-upper, utility bill scholar, library patron, teenage wrangler, nap enthusiast and citizen. She has featured in The NY Times, USA Today, The National Enquirer, The Happiness Project, and The Today Show.

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  • I love love love these ideas! The key really is not to shop for entertainment. This can easily save tons of cash. Very well done, what an inspiration 🙂

  • Kariane says:

    Fantastic! These are great ideas. We implement many of them ourselves. Though we haven’t set up a compact, we rarely buy things new (other than the few exceptions that you mentioned, and hair bands — I can’t stomach used hair bands). I blog about our adventures in simple living over at . I look forward to following your continued adventures on your blog.

  • Very interesting and thought-provoking. (Hey, MSM team, can you fix the grammar in the title? Should be “chosen” as “choosen” is not a word. I know that you always want to be professional!)

  • Ellie says:

    I joined The Compact the same month Katy did. It feels so long ago! I was an avid Compactor for years! I still hold a lot of the same values, but I do buy new items now, but not nearly as much as others I know do. Katy has held steadfast to the Compact and so proud of her!

  • This is really inspiring! I’m not sure I could go that long without buying anything new!

    Love these ideas.

  • Delorise says:

    I enjoy following The Non-Consumer Advocate. She has inspired me to find ways to reuse, reduce and just do without. When a friend asks if I have been shopping lately, I now respond that if I don’t go shopping then I don’t waste money on items that I don’t need. Less is best is now my motto.

  • Kathleen says:

    Katy has a great blog and an active Facebook page. While I have learned many things, the most valuable has been to use things up. Use and enjoy what you have. For example, I have squirreled away some toys and clothes bc they were good deals. However, they were taking up space and not getting used. I am making an effort to use these items before purchasing more.

  • Kristen says:

    Thanks MSM for having Katy from Non-consumer Advocate as a guest today! I’ve read Katy’s blog for many years now and she is a great source of inspiration for those trying to be frugal and non-consumers. Sometimes it’s hard to not be like everyone else who shops at malls and it’s great that Katy provides inspiration and examples from her own life.

  • I love these ideas and inspirations. My kids are into thrifting too – so much so that when (rarely) we need to shop for something new, they are my price-comparison-team! I hear things like “wow, who would ever pay that much for this?” Or “$5! That’s so not worth it.” I love how living frugally has impacted them and given them an appreciation for the value of a dollar and the impact that it CAN have when we are intentional.

    Great post, I love the non-consumer mindset.

    • Patti says:

      I put my daughter on a budget for school shopping years ago. She’s now 14 and always shops for her clothes at a trendy used clothing store. Now whenever she goes to the mall she says, “No way! I would never pay that much!!”

  • Very inspiring and very tempting to give it a try. Most of our expenses are on food and shelter. Also, since both husband and I work in a professional environment, it’s very important for us to dress well. So, I cannot go for used clothes (never had success before). But I can definitely implement it for certain categories in the budget. Going to talk about it to husband in our next finance meeting. thanks for the idea.

    • Jessica says:

      You would actually be surprised of the high end clothes that are hardly worn or even have their tags still on them at thrift stores. I pretty much exclusively shop at thrift stores and wear brands I wouldn’t normally spend the money on. I even scored a Michael Kors purse for $25 that ended up having a retail value of over $1000 (I looked it up using the serial number inside). Not all thrift stores are created equal. Some are extremely nice, others are dumps. Don’t let the dumpy ones turn you off.

  • Linda J says:

    Wow. This article amazed me. You may have had a positive effect that you did not consider. You made me feel good about my “forced” lifestyle. I’m a compactor by a necessity. You certainly gave me new perspective. Now I don’t feel *less than* and it feels darn good! As I think about it, I would be a frugal (not cheap) person even if I had a lot of money. Thanks again.

  • Wow, what an incredible experiment and idea! It kind of reminds me of our experience moving lately. Last summer our family joined my husband for an internship a state away and we left all but a very few belongings and 1 week’s worth of clothes. At the end of the summer we felt very little “loss” over not having any of our things and were even a bit overwhelmed by how much stuff we had stored!

  • Ryan says:

    Great Idea and challenge. I think we will try this out.

    Only one other exception and point from a “small town perspective”.

    Sometimes our Walmart has cheaper clearance and sale items on clothes than our goodwill and thrift store does. For instance, our goodwill has clothes for $3-4 with virtually no variation, yet our Walmart will put shirts on sale for like $2.00… cant pass up on that type of deal. 🙂

    • Jessica says:

      If you are from a small town, there probably isn’t much for you to choose from in terms of thrift stores. But I find goodwill to be the most overpriced thrift store there is (I live in California). The ones I shop at, I can get kids shirts for $1 and bottoms from $1.50-2.50 and this is all for name brand stuff – gap, mini boden, jcrew crewcuts, etc.

    • AA says:

      We have the same problem Ryan. What I did was talk to our local goodwill employees to find out when their half price days are and shop then.

    • Diane says:

      But you end up with Walmart clothes! My thrifting allows me to buy Gap, Banana Republic, J.Jill, Lands End etc. For $3 to $5 each sometimes with tags.! Diane

  • Amy says:

    Interesting concept! I’m curious as to some of the very rare items you had to buy new. For someone unfamiliar with this lifestyle, that’s the first question that popped into my mind. What DID she have to buy new?

    • Allison V. says:

      Same here! I want to know what those items are!

    • Items that we’ve bought new have been sports uniforms, gifts for Japanese host families and a single pair of brand new Danskos, as I’m a nurse and am on my feet all day. I guess we’ve also bought brand supplies for upkeep on our 101-year-old house, although I recently replaced the rusted bathroom light fixture with a new looking one from Goodwill!

  • Paulina says:

    I totality get the concept from the clutter and consumerism point of view as well as the sweatshop stands but from the frugal point of view I’ve found that keeping your eyes opened for clearance often times saves you more money than buying at thrift shops. I’ve found brand new clothes for my boys for as low as $1 which were I live is not common at thrift stores! Good concept though!

    • I stay away from malls and stores like Target and Wal-Mart, so I’m not exposed to $1 shirts and such. But I’m very motivated to not support fast fashion due to the environmental and societal downfalls, so I just stick to my guns. I end up buying less, so it only costs me a few extra dollars per year.

      Garage sales might be a good option for super cheap kid clothing for you, Can’t beat stacks of 25¢ garments!

  • Danielle says:

    I find this extremely inspirational. I did the buy no clothes for a year… this might be the new challenge I need!

    I definitely see the benefit in not spending money on things you don’t need. I wrote about it here,

  • Melanie says:

    Our family buys 90% of our clothes at thrift stores. Even as we our renovate our home to sell, we have bought lots of used items such as curtains & borrowed tools, etc. We have never bought a new car or a new cell phone. At times we didn’t have much choice to buy used or borrow, but now I wouldn’t have it any other way.

  • Li says:

    You can totally get food that is “second-hand” as it has been passed over by a chain grocery store and is offered at a discount. Just look up “salvage grocery”, it can be a life-saver if you are on a budget!

  • Becki says:

    What a great idea! We started giving experiential gifts a couple of years ago and I love it! I think it would be hard to go a whole year (or longer) without buying new, but I would really like to try it!

  • Sarah Behm says:

    I put in a request to join her group on Sunday and it’s still pending 😢

    • Jordan says:

      It is the holiday season and the administrator of the group may be spending time with family. If it is still pending after the new year I would try and send a message to check on the status of your request! -Jordan, MSM Team

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