Something's up with buying nothing

A mini-trend has hit, that of buying nothing for a year.  Here I am in Paris, with one window more alluring than the next, and I'm thinking about this, perhaps because of the contrast.

The definition of "nothing" varies from no clothes or accessories and only basic replacements for cosmetics and toiletries, to more rigorous abstention that includes no trips, gifts, takeout coffee; grooming and haircuts strictly DIY.

The approach has been slammed as "poverty tourism", which is unfair, because writers acknowledge that they can pay rent, maintain a car, or take care of emergencies. Cait Flanders' book title reveals the outcome: "The Year of Less: How I Stopped Shopping, Gave Away My Belongings, and Discovered Life is Worth More Than Anything You Can Buy in a Store."

They report annual savings from $US 18, 000 to $35, 000, which means these women were spending at least $1, 500 per month in non-essentials. That sounds like a lot, but $375 a week slips away fast on $15 cocktails and nail salons. Throw in a shoe sale? Done.

Like subsisting on Jenny Craig's packaged meals, you can't live that way for life. (Some women do mount multi-year marathons; Sal, of the blog oneemptyshelf, extended her run into a second year; Flanders' book covers the first year of two.)

The most relatable writers said, in one way or another, "Find what's worth owning, get rid of the rest." Sal spent to rebuild the library of books and CDs which she had given away without digitizing, but as she said, "No more wardrobe full of generic high heels."

I think it's smarter to learn how to manage money, but for those with a big shopping habit, abstinence is sometimes easier than moderation—and going cold turkey might get you a book contract.

The common elements for a long-term moratorium:
1. Take a fearless spending inventory.
Flanders was amazed how much dribbled away on non-essentials. For many women, that step alone incites change.
2. Go public.
Put your commitment on your blog, Facebook page, or in front of your (non-enabling) friends. Get an accountability buddy. Roommates or friends might make a pact and do it together.
3. Set explicit rules.
Will you buy and accept gifts? What about occasions for which you do not have the appropriate clothes?
4. Purge your inbox of all consumption-related e-mails.
Unsubscribe from vendors, flog-blogs, fashion-oriented Instagram accounts. You can't buy what you don't know about.

Cheats and treats

Unalloyed abstention makes dull reading. Falling-off-the-wagon incidents include visits to thrift stores, and hinting so broadly that she really really needed a new bag that the beleaguered partner bought it as a "gift". Ann Patchett allowed herself supermarket flowers.

One woman agonized about whether choosing replacement cosmetics to get a gift-with-purchase was cheating. (She concluded it was, and gave the gift away.) Someone avoided clothing but tumbled for house decor; another bought her sister a birthday spa day for two, knowing she would be the guest.

The author of one book, published over a decade ago, co-owned two houses (a summer and winter residence) and three cars. Needless to say, readers posted acerbic criticism on Amazon.

Age and stage

Moratorium memoirists are mostly in their thirties to early forties. Their wakeup call came from popular minimalism books like "Everything that Remains" by Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, but more often, they were fed up with their credit card bills and decade-old student loans.

By the time we're fifty or older, most women see the folly of overbuying, the flamboyantly fabulous, nearly 97-year old Iris Apfel notwithstanding.

If your parents lived through the Depression, you grew up with the mantra, Borrow, Make, Mend. I've written before about Mom's voice in my head.

Still, our cohort is not immune. At a neighbourhood boutique, a woman around my age was just ahead at the cash, with an impressive stack of clothes that I admired as I fiddled with my three-pack of sneaker socks.

She said as she punched in her Visa card, "You can't take it with you, right?"

I thought, You can't take your clothes, either. But who am I to determine what's right for her? And Iris, who said in her documentary, "More is more, less is a bore", would approve.


Susan said…
Borrow, make, mend is a useful mantra. The buy-nothing trend has been interesting to follow - it seems like there's a cohort of women writing about it for similar reasons. But isn't it a an extreme response to the other extreme of growing up female with shopping reinforced as a default entertainment activity, and endless marketing of makeup, clothes, and later, housewares and furniture? Teaching girls that they're already great the way they are, and that they don't need all the stuff to compensate for imaginary inadequacies, can help them avoid both extremes, build wealth earlier, and shop (or not) because it's right for them.
Jane said…
I have been thinking about this topic a lot, lately. I open a cabinet and pots and pans tumble out. My closets and dresser drawers are overflowing. I have too much stuff!

Passage des Perles feels like conversation among friends. Other blogs are more like thinly veiled advertisements for consuming more. I canceled all of my magazine subscriptions. The light bulb moment came when I found myself making a list of everything wrong with my house.
If you aren't as prosperous as those buy-nothing writers, you may find yourself with too much stuff - in modern industrial societies, that syndrome is not confined to the wealthy. The tenants' association here I worked for some years ago had to help more than one tenant purge hoards; often they were on disability or old age pensions. But in such cases (and less extreme ones) some replacement purchases may be necessary, and learning or relearning how to plan to buy decent-quality clothing that will last longer.

I remember that being how one learned to shop in different European countries, but alas they have also fallen for "instant fashion" that soon becomes instant rubbish.

Hope you are enjoying your stay in the 5e and elsewhere in Paris. Have you taken the tram around the city's edge?
Oops, left out "still"! You may still find yourself with too much stuff.
Jean Shaw said…
Or as a family friend used to say, "Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without!"

Beth said…
$18,000 minimum in savings??? Wow. I'm speechless. These women are living on another planet.
Jean said…
These don’t buy anything people want us to buy their book to find out how great it is not to buy things? No thanks, I’ll start my year of savings by avoiding their books. Bam! Just saved $20.
I've looked at some of the sites, and some of the things the blogger had to "renew" were things a huge swath of the population, even in industrialised countries, had often done without.

That said, I don't want to be too hard on them, as I think they life in milieux where superfluous status purchases count for very much, and it is a good thing for anyone to reduce his or her environmental footprint.

I love getting a little roast chicken when in Paris, to nosh on with some salad and a baguette. Two sites indicate this Portuguese place (shades of Montréal) as the best in the 5th, though the other one indicated a slightly higher price for a chicken and two sides (much as I hate that description for essential vegetables
Leslie Milligan said…
The change in seasons always prompts a closet purge, but I haven’t done the honest inventory. I’ll start there. This is a wise and wonderful post, but I know you know this is also the Kojima sale. Why are you trying to hurt me? 😃
fmcgmccllc said…
I am now in the I really need or really love this to buy something. However I recently drove my mom home from Florida and had to stop at a Starbucks. I never go to coffee places and was immediately aware of the seductive nature of this place. My God, I could buy lunch, the papers, the coffee, the breakfast and be in a wonderful, comforting, beautiful place. For $50.00 a day. No wonder all these people are broke. Moderation is the key.
As one commentator noted - it often seems to be a case of one extreme or another. And I cannot even imagine spending the amount of money that these women have - especially on clothes and shoes! Yes, I know that it's possible if making expensive purchases, but in many cases it seemed to be a case of cheap fashion overload. I do understand why hey might find this sudden urge to purge - and it has sometimes made for interesting reading. However, I do think that moderation is the key.
A more limited income and not enough room for my sweater collection has made me take a serious look at my purchases. But it's also because of a change in lifestyle and wanting to develop a more uniform look just to simplify things a bit for me personally.

If I need new underwear or socks or a new white t-shir then I'll buy it. If I see yet another cardigan in a really, really pretty new shade of blue I'll have to pass - I discovered that I already own two when I started my closet switch over yesterday. I don't tend to buy "cheap fashion" - I've always tended to buy one good outfit over three cheap ones so my things last. But yes, it's nice to buy something new now and again but I think that these days those purchases will be a nice scarf or pair of earrings.

I do think that people should read "The High Cost of Cheap Fashion" and watch related videos - it is truly shocking. I know that some women, Like Iris, truly love fashion and good luck to them (it has become her life and she understands the history of fashion & materials and teaches them as well) but when shopping for clothing is your only way of socializing, or is a way of filling a void then perhaps a bit of self-examination is in order.

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