A Year of Buying Nothing: 12 Bloggers Who Took the Challenge—And What They Learned

What gives life meaning? The answer is rarely “more stuff.” These 12 families took that response to heart and embarked on a yearlong spending freeze. Was it painful, or was it life-changing? Read on.

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The Happy Philosopher

The Happy Philosopher pledged that 2018 would be the year that he went without buying anything new—although his wife and kids weren’t ready to commit to the challenge. Nine days in, he had already cheated by buying small gifts for his daughter’s friends, and after six months he’d given up the challenge entirely. His reasons for throwing in the towel were various, but one of his complaints was that his sacrificial gesture felt artificial because his wife was free to buy anything that he actually wanted or needed.

Dr. McFrugal

Inspired by The Happy Philosopher, this anesthesiologist, husband, and father also pledged to buy no unnecessary “stuff” for a year, and his wife was on board for the experience. He blogged about the challenge, noting how important it is to approach spending (and not spending) with the right mind-set. He and his wife treated the experiment as a “fun game” and stuck with the plan—even when it meant not exchanging gifts on their third anniversary. There were some months when  they gave away more than they bought (hello, decluttering!), and others when they bought more than they planned (darn those Black Friday sales). All in all, the family learned to find joy in the experience of buying less.

Dads Dollars Debts

In the wake of the October 2017 Tubbs fire in California, which destroyed his family’s home and possessions, EJ, a cardiologist, took up the challenge of “playing with minimalism and living intentionally.” Although he hit some bumps along the way, like a clothes-buying spree in November, by year’s end he felt that he’d achieved his true goal—to change his relationship with buying. By training himself not to give in to every fleeting urge to purchase something, he learned to make more thoughtful purchases and to borrow what he doesn’t need to own.

Related: 14 Ways to Cut Costs in Every Corner of Your Home

Countdown to Tranquility

For BusyMom (her internet alias), a commitment to curb consumption for a year was cut short by some serious wear-and-tear to her wardrobe—and a new office job. She learned that it’s fine to make course corrections (like buying replacement clothes) while sticking to this mantra: “I am not going to buy everything I see just because ‘I can.’”

Related: The Worst Money Mistakes Homeowners Ever Make

Life Zemplified

Amy’s blog celebrates her passion for well-being and simplicity. She joined up with the “buy nothing” tribe “not only [from] a ‘less stuff’ point of view, but also from a ‘less waste’ perspective.” Early on in the challenge, she bought a few items that would help cut down on waste in the long run, such as a reusable coffee filter for her Keurig, and reusable produce bags. Plus, her goal of producing less waste encouraged her to get creative—for instance, using reclaimed wood for a new kitchen island countertop.

Related: 22 Effortless Ways to Make Less Trash

Buy Nothing 2018

Kari, who blogs at Buy Nothing 2018, is disarmingly honest about her anxiety as a young mother, the way buying things masks her fears, and her sense that her “desire to buy clothes often comes from a feeling of inadequacy.” Although she reveals how easy it is to break your own rules, she also discovered that a slip-up doesn’t have to mean that all is lost. For instance, one month she picked up 10 pairs of shoes on an eBay buying binge, but she then decided to resell seven pairs to recoup some of the money and keep her closet less cluttered. 

The Smart FI

Written by a nurse, husband, and father of two, the Smart FI documents the blogger’s journey toward financial independence. Aware that he and his family live in a McMansion stuffed with stuff, he decided it was time to fight back and cut out his discretionary spending for a year. In the process, he chose to focus on life goals, because “purpose makes me a happier person.”

Related: 12 Ways Your Home Can Save You Money This Year

A Year Without a Purchase

Get off the hamster wheel! This is Scott Dannemiller’s rallying cry. In his book, A Year Without a Purchase
, he writes about his family’s quest to shop less and live more. Along the way, they go without new clothes, toys, books, and other nonessentials. In an interview on the Today Show, the couple explained the true meaning of stuff: “How can I use this to do some good in the world?” According to the blogger, even the ad revenue from his site is donated to charity. 

A Super Frugal Year

For the year leading up to her 30th birthday, Emily Hedlund decided to break the habit of everyday spending and the “discontentment” fostered by advertising. Her husband joined in, and together they learned about the dark side of the clothes industry, including pollution, excessive waste, and unsafe working conditions. One of the personal lessons learned? It was helpful to think of the spending fast as simply postponing purchases, because it’s easier “to delay purchases than it is to never buy something,” she writes.

My Make Do and Mend Life

The mindful consumption movement has global implications. In the U.K., Jen Gale is helping people eco-charge their lives, certain that “one person’s actions really do count.” During her Make Do and Mend Year, during which she and her family resolved to buy nothing new, she sought out alternatives to retail stores, such as Freecycle and repair cafés, where people get together and help repair broken items.

Related: 9 Things to Repair in Your Home Before It’s Too Late

One Empty Shelf

Sal, another blogger from the U.K., has documented several years of buying nothing. On One Empty Shelf, she shares her personal lessons, including “an intense mistrust of advertising and consumer culture.” That said, she knows how easy it is to fall back into “that consumer void,” especially since buying can help feed “a need to feel in control of something in life” when one is feeling down. Today, Sal continues to challenge herself to stay grounded and buy local.

Related: 30 Things You Never Buy at the Grocery Store—But Should

Buy Nothing Project

After a trip abroad opened Liesl Clark’s family’s eyes to the radical power of a gift economy, where every community member is both giver and recipient, she teamed up with Rebecca Rockefeller to launch a Facebook group in 2014. Since its humble origins, the Buy Nothing Project has grown to over 25,000 participants and spans four countries (the United States, U.K., Canada, and Australia). As one Facebook member writes: “Happiness is in the giving.”

A Frugal Resolution

Could you go a whole year without purchasing one new thing?