August 7, 2011

How To Not Buy Anything

Bend back the bars of consumerism - try not buying anything.
Some people try buying nothing for a day, or for a holiday such as Christmas. Some are not buying anything that they have ever seen advertised, including food. Others try not buying anything (or anything new) for a year.

My partner and I have been enjoying not buying anything (except necessities) as an ongoing lifestyle. It is permanent - we do not plan on going back to a high-consumption way of life. We have discovered how much we already have, and how little we need.

Our move toward buying less was motivated by a desire to reduce our environmental impact, and live more sustainably.

We also wanted to reduce the number of hours of wage labour we needed to engage in so we could enjoy life more, and nurture our priorities.

Along the way we have become better at not buying anything. These are some of the things that have helped us move closer to our goals:

How To Not Buy Anything
  1. The best way to not buy anything is to reduce your desires. Ask yourself if you really need the item in question. Really need. No, really. Keep on asking. Life can be complete, exciting, and rewarding without spending money.
  2. Consider (as much as possible) the full environmental and social consequences of your purchases. That alone will make most stuff less attractive.
  3. Lower your income. The less money you have, the less you will spend. If you like your high income work, save the money you would otherwise let slip through your fingertips. Share it.
  4. Don't pay for anything that you can make or do yourself. This includes cooking, haircuts, riding a bike or walking for transportation, repairs around the house, and growing a garden. The potential list is huge, depending on your skills and how much time you have. Public libraries and the Internet are the go-to places for free resources to learn how to make and do new things. It is fun.
  5. Separate socializing and commerce. This is a hard one since the majority of social outings are based on spending money. Suggest meeting on a bench somewhere, and bring a thermos of hot beverage and a snack from home. Have a picnic in a park. Meet in a public venue with bag lunches. Go for a walk together.
  6. Don't buy anything that is not good for you or for others. Processed foods, snack foods, restaurant food, alcohol, and violent movies are things that probably are not so good for us - why spend money on them? We cut our gas purchases by 50% this year because burning fossil fuels degrades our collective resource - the atmosphere.
  7. Resist the urge to upgrade. Upgrades are expensive and wasteful. Ask yourself if it is really necessary to replace perfectly good devices with ones that are questionably 'better' or 'improved'. When you buy something, try using it until it wears out and dies a natural death. Many things you may never need to buy again.
  8. When you go out take food and water with you. Even crappy fast food and pop or bottled water are temptations when you're thirsty and hungry. We never leave home on longer outings without food and something to drink. This makes spontaneous picnics possible, and we have them frequently. Costs less, and no garbage is generated.
  9. Do not compare yourself to those around you. It does not matter what other people have, or think you should have. It does not matter if those around you go for annual vacations in warm third world destinations. The Joneses lost the house, gave up, and left the neighbourhood years ago.
  10. Make what you already own last as long as possible. Use your things gently, maintain them, keep them clean, and lower your cost per use.
  11. Try not to be guilted into buying things. Reduce the obligations that you do not agree with that make you feel like you 'have to' buy things.
  12. Number 1 is worth repeating. The best way to not buy anything is to reduce your desires.

The antiquated idea of 'the one who dies with the most toys wins' is dead. We have the capacity to be happier with less. The more we live this way, the more we wonder what all the other stuff was for.

The high consumption lifestyles that we are trained to aspire to are looking obscenely wasteful in an increasingly wasted, famine-ridden world.

We hope our tips will help you not buy anything except the necessities - for a day, a Christmas, a whole year, or as an ongoing, low impact, sustainable lifestyle.


    1. Anonymous3:51 PM

      You are such an inspiration. I'm trying very hard to cut back on things we don't need and use up what we have. I have a garden and I'm in a CSA. It's very hard to teach my daughter (14) about what we need vs what we want.

      1. You are teaching you daughter about needs vs wants without saying a thing. The example you are setting by doing things like growing a garden, being in a CSA, and asking questions about what we really need is the most powerful teaching lesson.

        She may resist now, but she will never forget what she observes you doing in your day to day life. One day she will realize you are trying to be part of the solution.

        When she is ready, she will follow your lead because it is the right way to go.

    2. Excellent site! I've added your site to "My Favorites"! I recently completely got rid of my cable and am not missing it one bit! I'm currently working on #6 which sometimes is challenging but I know once I tackle it I will be so much healthier and lighter! Thanks again for your great site!!

      1. Congratulations on ditching the cable. It is amazing how we do not miss things we think we need, but that aren't really required for a happy life.

        Here is to your health and lightness!

        Glad you found us, and like what you see. Welcome to our growing community.

    3. Anonymous1:23 AM

      One thing I struggle with is that I'll meet friends for dinner and end up spending $20-30 at one sitting. This accounts for a lot of spending - more than I care to admit. I enjoy my meal and drinks in that moment, but then feel guilty later.
      All the best - Mindy

      1. Our guilt eventually got the best of us and now we eat out very, very rarely. We prefer to invite people over and cook for them, or have a potluck. Picnics are a favourite, too.

        We just think of the amount of groceries we could buy with the money we would spend going out for food.

    4. This is a great article. I do however take issue with #4 in that we NEED economies. Buying local goods or fairtrade goods that support local economies is a good thing isn't it? Use a local currency if you have one. Trade if you can. But let's not try and do everything ourselves! This is just silly :-)

      1. We can do everything ourselves together.

    5. Anonymous10:48 PM

      After reading this now it reminded me why I can't be asked or influenced to buy anything even if its 50% off or whatever, regardless how hard they try - I've stopped listening. It seemed the more I spent the more those possessions irritated me.

      These days I travel alot less and even then with just a carry-on bag, buy less food and I'm skinnier, drive less, own less. It appears less is more and I feel less encumbered. I feel more liberated.

      Its a strange feeling that not spending makes me feel more liberated. I agree with Weldo to a point, we do need economies but spending should be meaningful. I don't believe spending money today is as meaningful as it was last century.

      I see people in the USA who surround themselves with possessions {appears like piles of junk to me} when filmed at home on Oprah, etc. Even after they lose their homes from forecloser they jam their cars or trailers with junk and live in them. Regardless it will ALWAYS end up in landfill- EVENTUALLY. Think about it. But the kids seem livelier playing outside instead of glued to their gadgets and screens.

      You may say "oh its easy for you to say this all comfy in your apartment".

      I once lived in something you might call a severley delapitated house infested with rats and mice but we kept them under control and lived with the most basic nessecities. Life was better then and happier. We didn't go without either, because we acted and thought locally which had meaning.

      The answer is simplify.

      1. Meaningful spending and simplifying are two solutions you have identified that I wholeheartedly support.

        We will always have local economies, but they will increasingly be centered on providing us with things that we NEED rather than excessive luxuries.

        You have come to the same conclusion I have - not buying stuff is liberating, as is not having to work to get the money to buy the stuff.

      2. Anonymous12:38 AM

        I'm reading this post and responding 2.5 years after it was posted. It really speaks to me, inspires me. So does this comment by "Anonymous", "can't be asked or influenced to buy anything..." "I've stopped listening." is a profoundly empowering statement. I read it over and over again. I wrote it down and will hang it up where I can read it often. We really do have a choice. We can choose to "stop listening."

        "It seemed the more I spent the more those possessions irritated me." What insight.

        Gregg, this entire list is meaningful to me. I like them all. #2 stood out probably because I use that to snap myself back to reality quite a bit, not just with spending. I like your conclusion here in response to Anonymous, "not buying stuff is liberating, as is not having to work to get the money to buy the stuff." I am desperately searching to figure out the work component in all this. It seems the more I work, the more I have to work because the more I work, the more money I need to work. It cost money to work, more than most people are aware of, I suspect. You really loose some freedom when you work, especially full time because the need for more stuff and need for more convenience slides in. Working less is intimately related to spending less and not just because you have less money to spend.

        Thanks so much for this blog.

    6. Terri,

      I am not sure if your awakening is recent or more long term in your life, but you are definitely one of a larger group that is getting this whole thing figured out. It really is a scam that does not benefit most people who choose to participate.

      Once Linda and I sat down and listed all the things we had to buy in order to make our jobs possible. The list included things like a car and all the gas, oil, and maintenance, nice clothes, money for lunches and work-related spending, regular haircuts, and other things we could choose NOT to have if we weren't working those jobs.

      Then there are the taxes that must be paid on your higher earnings. We added up all the expenses incurred by working, then subtracted the expenses from our earnings to see how much money we were really making and banking. It was a much-shrunken total that shocked and dismayed us.

      After that exercise, working for The Man was far less attractive.

      We quit.

      Thank you so much for taking the time to leave your comment here. We would love to hear about how you are working towards more freedom in your life. We will do anything we can to support you in your decision.

      1. Anonymous7:53 PM

        Thanks for your support. Finding our way in life is a bit risky and tricky. I appreciate your blog a lot. I am shy about sharing much in a public forum. Your blog is helpful.

        In my original response to this post, I included a list of "work-related expenses" that I currently do not have (because I am not working full time, but used to.) It included most of what you list. I deleted the list due to length of my comment. I'm in total agreement with the work related expenses you list. I've tried to get some folks around me who are pushing me to get back in a job to understand that I can not live as cheap as I currently do if I get a regular full time job. They apparently do not realize how much it is costing them to work. What I'm doing to survive has a deadline, this won't work forever, so I am thinking of what the next chapter will look like.

        Apparently my comment was too long, so I am splitting it. Terri

      2. Anonymous8:00 PM

        Here are a few more work-related expenses that commonly get overlooked.

        One thing that lots of folks leave out is additional medical care and mental health care needed when you work full time in stressful jobs.

        I had a lot of doctors and appointments when I worked, many more than I currently have. When I have less stress, the time to cook, eat well and get outside regularly and when I have the time to research any physical problems that come up and use more natural ways to handle them, I stay healthier. When working there was no time to adequately care for myself, no time to research or to give my body a chance to deal with it, so I ran to the doctor for a lot of things. You have to in order to keep showing up to work. There just isn't time to manage your health and cook all your food, get enough restful sleep, etc. So more medical attention is needed. In the U.S. there are expenses involved with going to the dr no matter what they say, "Your insurance covers this," I always got bills in the mail for what was not covered. Amazing how much better I can care for myself and how much cheaper it is to live while doing so. I mean amazing. Listing this out would make an accountant's head spin.

        Since not working full time, I see a doctor on average of once every 3 or so years. It is simple. I get in and out, and get the information I need. I'm very careful to get the slightest care I need and extremely alert to not getting sucked into the endless medical vortex or daily required medications. I know that some folks absolutely NEED to be on daily medication, so I am not knocking that. Not at all. I'm very thankful for care that people really need or if I am in need of such care. Just that I was put in the herd of patients, routinely prescribed medication and told to take things I really didn't need and was better off not taking.

        How many folks are on psychiatric medication and seeing therapists when they would not need to if they didn't have abnormal jobs?? Talk about expensive! Therapy is about $500+ a month, medication and doctor visits are whatever insurance doesn't cover. How about all that stress and time-eating managing all those appointments and astronomical expenses.

        MANY people require much more medical and mental assistance in order to work. My theory is that people are having a normal reaction to an abnormal environment (= corp. work environment) and much additional support is required to just keep showing up every day with the expected smiley detached-from-madness-all-around-you attitude. So many jobs require an unnatural disposition that many folks need medical support to pull off. Astounding how many people who look like they are handling their jobs well are on medication to do so.

        When I had a full time job, it got so stressful that I hired a personal assistant 10 hours a week for the last 3 years I worked. She did grocery shopping, cooked a couple of meals a week, took care of my cats, ran errands, did the laundry, light housekeeping, and otherwise helped me manage my life. I was a single person and had no children at home. It was a crazy situation to be in surely. To be fair, there were a few extenuating circumstances that made my need for support greater. But still. I am certain that lots of people have a housekeeper who otherwise would not have one when they are working full time.

        I know you and Linda know this conversation could go on for days. It really is considerably cheaper to live when you are not working a corp full time job. We are just talking about some of the main expenses, I am sure there are many more. That's my 2 cents! Cheers to both of you! And thanks!

        PS, Almost forgot, my awakening is more of a long term one. It's going slow. Took me a long time (4 or 5 years to recover enough to begin thinking of what I might do next. I'm operating solo, no local support, no like-mind people around me that I have been able to find. I'll check back. Terri

      3. Terri,

        This Krishnamurti quote is one of my favourites, and relates directly to this discussion - “It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.”

        Linda and I have also been working toward our ideal simple life for years. When we quit our full time jobs for good it marked a profound shift in how we viewed life and the part we played. We both felt more in control of our destiny than ever before.

        Right now we are also looking at the next chapter in the evolution of our project. Some major shifts are in store for us over the next few weeks as we make moves to secure a more suitable situation for ourselves. Scary and exciting at the same time.

        One thing I have noticed about people doing what we are is that it is usually accompanied by a feeling of isolation since simple living folks are still in the minority in consumer nations. There is very little support for going your own way and reducing work and possessions.

        Most people consider anyone that doesn't want more money and more stuff to be a dangerous radical, or mentally imbalanced, or both. Not us. We think people making the decision to live more simply to be profoundly sane and a rational response to a sick society.

        But there are more of us than the powers that be are willing to admit. Eventually everyone will have to join us since there is no other viable solution to our pressing problems. Until then, you can find support and like-minded people right here on NBA.

        Thank you for sharing so generously, and good luck moving forward.

      4. Anonymous1:35 AM

        Gregg, I'm excited to hear about the next chapter. I've very much enjoyed this conversation though I don't feel it is finished. You've made some thought-provoking comments here. I've gotten quite busy with an odd job, a rather large project for me. I am not online much for next so many weeks. I'll keep reading posts and comment when I can. Best to you and Linda on the major shifts you are making. Terri


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