Consumer pressure is supposed to work the other way. Stores are supposed to respond to our desires and stock the stuff we want. Instead, everything has reindeer and pine trees on it by November First at the latest. Apparently they think that if they can stretch Christmas out to at least two months, we’ll respond by buying twice as many gifts. Make every store look like a red and green casino! I deal with this by holing up at home. Christmas music makes me break out in hives, and every winter, as soon as it kicks in, I start crossing retailers off my map. I don’t go to the movies or the mall or the pharmacy. I completely boycott Starbucks for the four weeks after Thanksgiving. No mercy. This is why it’s easy for me to do what I call a buy-nothing.
A buy-nothing means I am on a voluntary moratorium of spending on anything other than true necessities. We pay the rent and utility bills, of course. Otherwise, we plan meals around what’s in the kitchen and hang around at home. No movies, no restaurants, no recreational shopping, not so much as a pair of replacement socks. The point of a buy-nothing is to save money, and that means looking for savings wherever possible.
“Savings” is a poorly understood concept. Most people act in such a way that it seems they think “savings” is actually “spending.” Buying something at a different price than normal is not saving. It’s spending! Maybe, just maybe, it’s bargain hunting. Usually it’s just a way that stores trick us into opening our wallets. They inflate prices temporarily so that we think the “sale” price is some kind of deal. This can be really comical when the item in question is so frivolous that nobody would buy it with full retail markings.
As an organizer, I almost always find that my clients have a habit of buying things and then setting the bag down somewhere in the house, still packed. Not only are the tags still on, but the bag has never been opened, and often the client can’t even remember what was in it. “Oh, I was going to return that.” I don’t care, honey, it’s your home, not mine. If you want to spend your vacation money on bags of stuff that you never use, that’s your business. It’s such a common practice that I see it as an ordinary part of our consumer culture.
The point is to be in a store, churning through consumer goods and engaging in commercial transactions. The point is not our experience of owning these items. The point is not whether they’ll fit in our homes, or whether we can afford them. We go to the temple and we buy. We buy and we buy. We stop for snacks. Then we go home and try to find somewhere to put our shopping bags. It’s not our fault that they aren’t holograms, which they might as well be for all the good they do us.
I do it backwards.
Rather than respond to advertisements and sales, I start with a plan.
I want the experience of living in my home to feel a certain way. I like having all of my flat surfaces free and open for when I want to use them. I like having available space on my closet rods and bookshelves. This is why I only buy and bring home items that I know I will use. I only buy things if I know where I’ll put them and how I’m going to clean them.
I want the experience of being me to work out a certain way. That includes Future Self. I want Future Me to have plenty of money, and maybe even be more financially comfortable than I am today. This means I’m always going to make my savings the priority - priority is singular - and plan my finances before I plan my purchases. If any! Most of the time, I don’t need to buy anything at all. I have all the furniture, housewares, clothes, and entertainment I need. I have plenty of food. Prioritizing money instead of stuff means you’re more likely to have the funds when you need groceries, gas, or anything else.
I want to spend my time doing what I want to do. In our culture, some of us are out of ideas for how to spend our time other than driving around to stores and restaurants, watching TV, or messing around with our phones. It’s pretty common for someone to get drive-thru fast food rather than stop at a grocery store and then cook. Going shopping as a way to spend time is also a way to work in as many fast food stops a week as possible. I prefer my own cooking, or my husband’s, and this makes going out and shopping on weeknights more of an inconvenience. The less we shop, the less we spend.
One secret to a buy-nothing is to avoid knowing that something exists. Since we don’t watch TV, we don’t see TV commercials. Since we listen to playlists instead of the radio, we don’t hear radio commercials. We don’t look at fashion magazines that would mess with our body image. We don’t wander through stores wondering what they might have. We stay out of the naughty aisles at the grocery store. We feel better off not knowing when there’s a new flavor of snack food. A life with less craving is not a life with less passion.
The result of the buy-nothing habit is pretty predictable. I’ve had no consumer debt for over a decade. My husband and I both have credit scores over 800. We know where we are on our path toward eventual retirement. Our minimalist apartment is easy to clean, and we don’t squabble over whose turn it is to do chores. Most importantly, we have fun hanging around and talking to each other or doing projects. We don’t feel deprived when we buy nothing, because it’s our natural state. The feeling of deprivation comes from desire for stuff we can’t afford, and we simply choose not to want anything we don’t want. Financial security, yes, domestic contentment, yes. The endless hamster wheel of consumer desires is not for us.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.