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Buy Nothing New for a Year: Brilliant or Bonkers?


Minimalism has taken the personal finance world by storm in recent years, with blogs such as The Minimalists and Buy Nothing New for a Year gaining in popularity, as well as documentaries on minimalism making their silver-screen debuts.

But is it really about the things that we do (or don’t) buy – or is it about something bigger?

Stories like that of the West family from Elk Rapids, Michigan show us that the lessons we can learn from minimalism aren’t just about ‘stuff’ – they’re about leading healthy, happy, fulfilling lives filled with intention and gratitude.

Why ‘Buy Nothing New’?

So what does it really mean to buy nothing new for an entire year? According to Buy Nothing New for a Year, there are a variety of reasons that people around the world have accepted the challenge to consume consciously for 365 days, including:

  • Saving money
  • Preserving resources
  • Eliminating waste
  • Managing time
  • Living simply
  • Building a sense of self-worth

If you read through that list carefully, you’ll notice that none of those reasons were directly connected to the purchase (or lack thereof) of material goods. They are all about creating a life that brings us joy and satisfaction, and building a better world for ourselves and others.

As Ryan Nicodemus and Joshua Millburn (AKA The Minimalists) explain, it’s really about freedom: “Freedom from fear. Freedom from worry. Freedom from overwhelm. Freedom from guilt. Freedom from depression. Freedom from the trappings of the consumer culture we’ve built our lives around. Real freedom.”

If It’s Not About Stuff….What’s the Point?

While challenges like buy nothing new for a year may seem extreme, if you dive a little deeper into the minimalism movement, you’ll see that very few people are advocating for you to sell all your worldly possessions and go live out your days on top of a mountain.

No. That would be silly. (Unless you’re into that kinda thing!)

At the end of the day, these conscious consumption challenges are simply encouraging us to lead lives of intention. They encourage us to think carefully about our financial choices, and spend our money wisely with the goal of architecting a happy, healthy life on our terms – not those of the broader society.

“When you are grateful for all that you have, you quickly begin to realize that you don’t need new stuff. Simple as that. It is helpful to make gratitude lists every morning or evening to remind yourself of the abundance in your life.” – Buy Nothing New for a Year

The end goal shouldn’t be about the number of things you buy or the amount of money that you spend in a year. It should be about the incremental value that each spending decision adds to your life. There is absolutely nothing wrong with spending money – it’s about understanding how our choices around money and consumption affect our physical, mental and emotional health.

Commit to Decluttering Your Life

Fact: our financial freedom is deeply intertwined with our personal freedom.

That means that all the things that get in the way of our financial freedom (debt, bad habits, etc) also interfere with our personal freedom and our ability to lead the fulfilling lives that we envision for ourselves.

So just as we take time to pay our bills and set our budgets, it is just as important to take a moment every now and then to reflect and ask ourselves ‘what is getting in the way of my financial freedom?’. Whether it is peer pressure from friends to spend more than you earn, being a slave to stuff, or simply a long commute from work that keeps you from your family – it is essential that we pinpoint the things holding us back from living meaningful lives.

Taking the time to ‘declutter’ our financial lives allows us to determine whether the choices that we are making with our money each and every day are choices that we are willingly making – or decisions that are being forced upon us by external pressures.

Be Your Own Hero

At the end of the day, the only person in charge of your life is you. You are ultimately responsible for creating your own happiness. And whether that happiness comes from living simply off the land, or having a garage full of exotic cars, the important thing is that every single financial decision you make is a conscious one designed to bring you closer to your life’s goals.

We want to know: What do you think of the Buy Nothing New for a Year Challenge? Is it brilliant or bonkers? Sound off in the comments below!

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  • Conscious consumption is my goal. I have not been completely faithful to “buying nothing new” because sometimes new parts are needed for essential equipment or to ensure organic produce. But I like really thinking about whether a purchase is really necessary. Many are not. I am also mindful of using the food in the freezer and the pantry rather than buying new food for convenience. I am saving money as well as feeling good about my spending.

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