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How to Buy Nothing For A Year

It's actually possible to buy nothing for a year. Here are 20 ways to live sustainably buy limiting your purchasing.

Written by
Brightly Staff

There are lots of challenges popping up on social media, particularly as we enter a new decade and sustainability becomes a major cultural focus. 

We’ve got loads of actionable tips for you about how to choose a challenge, have fun with it, and complete it successfully. 

Challenges for Every Style

Whether you want to buy less clothing (most of it ends up in a landfill anyway), reduce your waste, or buy absolutely nothing all year, there’s a challenge out there for you. Here are some of the most popular:  

20 in 2020

This challenge is meant to reduce the number of items you buy in a specific category. For example, the avid bibliophile reader commits to buying 20 or fewer books in a year. Or the fast fashion fashionista switches to buying only 20 high-quality pieces instead of a mountain of 10-dollar t-shirts. 

You can apply this to any category, of course! There’s definitely somewhere you can reduce your excess spending and therefore reduce your waste. 

Capsule Wardrobe Challenges

A capsule wardrobe is a small selection of clothing, curated to your tastes and the season. You decide what you truly enjoy wearing from your closet, and you donate or put away the rest. These challenges focus on a specific number of clothing items to stick to for a defined period. Whether it’s 10 or 30, just for a quarter or for an entire year, it can inspire you to think critically about what you truly need. 

If you need help creating the looks you want, search for capsule wardrobe guides or blog posts. A personal stylist is also an excellent investment if your budget allows. They can help you mix and match pieces to create lots of beautiful, functional outfits.  

Zero Waste

Perhaps the most challenging type of all, zero waste challenges focus on not buying anything that comes in nonrecyclable packaging or that cannot be composted. Zero wasters purchase food in bulk with their own containers, don’t buy clothes with tags attached, and try to make overall sustainable choices in every aspect of their lives. Other strategies include not buying groceries the last week of every month or making your own cleaning products. 

No matter what you choose, challenges like these can reduce your thoughtless spending on new items and help you enjoy what you already have. Keeping more stuff out of landfills and embracing the idea of thoughtfully using what we have means more mental clarity and a cleaner space. 

Challenge Goals

Each challenge has a different guiding goal behind it. We found that some are focused on saving money, while others are all about the mental freedom of less clutter. Others want to reduce the environmental impact of their lives. Figuring out which goal you align with best will make it easier to choose. 

Pare Down On Extra Stuff

Laura had her own experience ruthlessly reducing what she owned. She had just moved to the Bay Area with her husband and dog. With the cost of living being so high, they could afford a 500 sq. ft. apartment. 

They cut down to the bare minimum and still had to get a storage unit for some of their hobby items. Throughout the next year, they didn’t use the stuff in the storage unit much. It was a lesson in letting go of what they didn’t use and appreciating what they used every day. 

It’s also okay to not fill an entire space, especially if you’ve moved to a bigger home. Don’t feel like your home has to be jam-packed with stuff. If you’re moving, take your time to decide what furniture will work for you and what decorations will reflect your personal style without cluttering the space.

Reduce Decision Fatigue

Another goal that comes up in these challenges is the idea of reducing the number of decisions you have to make each day. Decision fatigue can cause negative outcomes in everything from court cases to how many times you eat fast food each week. 

One way to reduce decision fatigue is by culling your closet. That’s why CEOs like Steve Jobs, Donna Karan, and Mark Zuckerberg have all had a signature look. By reducing the amount and types of clothing in their closet, they took away the daily decision of what to wear and saved their decision-making muscle for the tough stuff at work.   

Take a Stand

Lastly, advocating for a better planet is a big goal in these minimalist challenges. By choosing not to buy fast fashion, committing to repairing the clothes you own, and/or only buying ethically-produced pieces, you’re showing your friends and family how to live more sustainably. 

Tips for a Successful Challenge

Join a Community or Pair Up With a Friend

Connecting with others who are completing the same challenge is so much fun! You can meet people local to you or around the world who are working towards the same goals. 

To find them, check the relevant hashtags for the challenge on Instagram. You can also check for threads on Reddit or groups on Facebook for challenge groups. Best of all, find an accountability buddy to participate with you! Find a friend who wants to make these changes too, and you’ll be even more successful

Journal About Your Goal

Taking the time to write your goal down increases the chance of you actually complete it! It’s a great way to hold yourself accountable. Liza likes to use The Five Minute Journal to write about her goals and gratitude. 

Define Your Exceptions Ahead of Time

Before you start, take the time to consider in what situations you will be willing to make an exception. For example, if you commit to buy nothing for a year, what will you do if your child needs a costume for the school play? Will you take the time to sew it? Will you thrift it? Will you buy it new? Give yourself enough wiggle room so that the challenge is still a lifestyle change, but a doable one. Progress is better than perfection. 

Start With Where You Are

Take stock of your life as it is. If you’re doing a clothing challenge, look at thredUP’s Fashion Footprint Calculator. If you’re doing a food waste or zero waste challenge, write down everything you buy for a week and collect the wasteful components so you can visually see how much waste you’re producing.

Repair and Repurpose What You Have

While going through the challenge, focus on repairing what you do have so that it can continue to serve you. Before you buy a new item, think about if you already have something that can be used in the way you want. 

Buy Second-Hand or Swap with a Friend

Sometimes you won’t be able to avoid buying something. For example, your phone might reach the end of its life this year. If your phone can’t be repaired, you can try to find a new-to-you phone second-hand through sites like E-Bay, Craigslist, or Next Door. 

For clothes, places like Crossroads, Buffalo Exchange, Goodwill or your local thrift store are treasure troves of clothing and goods that can be repurposed in your home.

Another great idea is to host a swap meet with friends. You’ll get new-to-you items, and none of it will end up in a landfill. You just might find what you’ve been looking for without having to buy it new!

Are you participating in a challenge to reduce your spending or waste this year? Do you have questions about how to do the best you can on your challenge? Make sure to leave us a comment below, join the Good Together Facebook group, or slide into our DMs on Instagram. We can’t wait to cheer you on!