My 30 day challenge: Buy nothing

Last week I wrote about how to successfully complete a 30 day challenge. Today I’m sharing my own experience of completing a 30 day challenge: How I prepared, my diary entries from during the challenge and the impact it had on me.

How I prepared

  • I chose a challenge that would help me to reach a goal I’ve struggled with for a long time: Free myself from mindless consumption and emotional spending.
  • I chose one action to focus on, one habit I wanted to change that would support my long term goal, so the challenge became “Buy nothing for 30 days”.
  • I specified how long the challenge would run for: From 10th January to 8th February.
  • I got specific on the ‘why’ of my challenge – why it mattered to me to do this.
  • I learned about consumerism, causes of emotional spending and how to resist it.
  • I considered what temptations could come up and decided what I’d do in those situations. To resist charity shopping (not knowing what I’ll find is a big temptation to me) I wouldn’t go into a charity shop. To resist online shopping I’d write what I wanted on a list along with the price and put it aside.

During the challenge

10th January 2022

My aim is to buy no actual stuff for 30 days between 10th January and 8th February. Exceptions are: Groceries, travel, postage and meals/drinks. I’ve included meals and drinks as exceptions as they’re linked to experiences I enjoy, rather than acquiring more stuff, like lunch with a friend or a weekend away with my husband.

My motivation for this challenge is partly financial (it would be nice to save more money for big things like holidays rather than frittering it away) but the main part of it is wanting to have a simpler, more sustainable lifestyle. Last year I did a massive amount of decluttering – and I still have a house full of more clothes, books, craft materials and nick knacks than I can use. I’ve realised that I buy things for emotional reasons, like to cheer myself up, or because I’m bored and I want to break that connection and consume less.

To stick to my commitment to buy nothing for 30 days I’ll be marking every successful day with a big X in my diary, as I know I’ll see these build up and not want to break the chain. I’ll also add anything I want to buy to a list, rather than buying it. At the end of the challenge I’ll reflect on how it feels to have not bought them; will I have any regrets or will I have forgotten I wanted them in the first place?

18th January 2022

Nine days in and it’s going smoothly. Although I did accidentally buy an ebook on Amazon, which I immediately returned. I thought I was adding a hard copy to my basket to look at later but was actually in the Kindle store and I realised as soon as I did it that I’d pressed ‘Buy it now’. I was kicking myself! But I found out you can get refunds on ebooks – but Amazon hide that option very well. And that got me thinking again about how if you want to cut down on buying you’re up against some cunning tricks from marketers and sellers, like making it so easy to buy something you can even do it by mistake.

It’s a bit like fruit machines: They’re designed carefully with psychology in mind to keep you playing. Shopping sites are the same, designed to combine easy purchasing with high temptation, pumping up our learned need to get what we want right now. Just 9 days of buying nothing has put me in touch with the brattier side of my inner child – the ‘I want now’ side, spoilt by instant gratification.

Photo by Amit Lahav on Unsplash
25th January 2022

Two weeks in and going well. The only thing I’ve been itching to buy is craft supplies! But to take the edge of I’ve been making some quick projects with fabric and yarn I already have, which is clearing some space in my craft room. I’ve made cotton hankies, two reusable compost caddy liners and some reusable gift bags, the idea being to rely less on single use disposable items this year. Having made things with old fabric I already owned (the caddy liners are made from an old shirt and a worn out pillow case) I’ve killed two birds with one stone.

7th February 2022

I had to make some purchases on Saturday, which was disappointing but necessary. One was medication so was unavoidable, the other was hair dye. As you can see I have blue hair…

…but I have to confess that it’s not my natural colour and it’s faded to a weak greenish tint. I’m meeting my new team at work soon and decided I’d need to get my dye on order so I can smarten myself up! Other than that I’ve bought no actual stuff, just spent money on public transport, food, drink and groceries.

8th February 2022 – Last day of the challenge

Something that’s worked well for me is writing anything I wanted to buy on a list, along with the date I added it and the price. I think this worked because it stood in for buying something on a whim or just in case. Once it was on the list I knew I wouldn’t forget about it if it was essential – though only the two items I mentioned on 7th February were in the end. Everything else was something I wanted at the time as a distraction, a novelty.

The 30 day challenge to buy nothing has fit well with my aim to change to more sustainable ways in 2022. I ended up making some things I would have otherwise bought, using what I already have, or finding things at home that could be adapted to make them suitable. I enjoyed playing around with my clothes and accessories rather than buying new ones, and I started a new quilt based on material I already had.

A bonus is that at the end of January I was able to move more to my savings than usual, and that brought home to me how much I fritter away on small, forgettable things that don’t really bring me joy. It felt good to be able to put extra into my holiday savings, knowing it will pay for a fun trip away.

After the challenge

In my article about how to do a 30 day challenge I included some end of challenge questions, so I’ll answer them here:

  • What worked well? Being specific about why I was doing this challenge (reduce emotional spending rather than not spending anything at all – more for my wellbeing than my finances); planning ahead for obstacles; crossing off successful days in my diary; being realistic about exceptions I had to make; writing things down that I wanted to buy then putting the list away.
  • What didn’t work so well? Not buying craft materials was a really hard! I managed it, and it made me aware of how much I already have but I missed the ‘hit’ of buying something new for a project.
  • What might you do differently? Look ahead to any consumables I get through regularly that I’m likely to need (like medication and hair dye) and either make sure I have enough already or make an exception for it.
  • What will you keep on doing? I’m going to keep on trying to not buy things as I don’t think I’ve broken the habit, just lessened it’s hold on me. I’ll maintain my list of things I want to buy, crossing them off when the desire for them passes or finding an alternative I already own or can make. I’ll keep on adding an X to my diary for days when I don’t buy anything and aim not to break the chain on a whim, only for pre-planned purchases.

Buying actual stuff no longer feels like a normal, day to day activity to me; it’s already changed to being an occasional treat to enjoy or for buying necessities, not something to do when I’m bored or feeling low.

It’s going to take longer to break the habit of most of a lifetime; I know that if I lifted all the little rules I’ve made for myself over the last 30 days I’d quickly fall back into the habit of buying little things as and when I thought of them. But I’m really pleased at the progress I’ve made and I can feel myself becoming less attached to consumption as entertainment.

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