A Year of Buying Used | The Beginning



In November the thought struck me. In December I decided it was possible. I had never heard of anyone doing a challenge like this when I set upon it, but I'm not surprised to have heard of a few since then. In fact, it seems like everyone I follow on Instagram is doing a "buy nothing new" year. Am I just noticing it more now? Did the thought seep into my psyche last fall from outside sources without my knowing it? Either way, it's a fun challenge, and I'll just have to bear the emotional burden of knowing that I'm not the first person to think of this (blame my enneagram 4 wing).

The challenge

Buy only used or preowned items. This does not apply to food, toiletries, body care of any kind, and cleaning products. 

That's basically it.

It's been almost five full months since I started this challenge, and it's not the easiest thing I've ever done. In the beginning it was fun and I was confident. I explored so many new thrift stores all around the Twin Cities. The first week of the new year, I spent eight whole hours traveling around to thrift stores from the city to the suburbs. It was so fun (and such a waste of gas), but I found my favorites and therefore knew where to go when I had an hour to go scavenging for something.

This post has taken me forever to write. I intended for this to be published at the end of January, but I'm still in the midst of processing what this challenge means for me and the environment. I have some problems with the idea of buying only used which I'll explain below. Also, I realized after I took the photos below of all the things I've bought so far (since it's taken me so long to write this, these photos are not quite up to date anymore, by the way) just how much I've actually bought!

With the knowledge that I can't buy anything new, I feel the pressure to buy used things when I see them sometimes "just in case" I need them. My hoarder tendencies are coming out! I look at these photos and think, how did these all accumulate so fast? Did I need all of this? Most of it I'm glad to have, but I don't need them. In terms of living a simple life with simple needs and simple possessions, this challenge has not been great for me. 

On the other hand, it has kept me from buying new things that I've seen and wanted, which were far more expensive than anything found at a thrift store, and that I undoubtedly would have regretted buying soon afterwards. For that reason, this challenge has been wonderful. Not buying new items is simply better for my wallet and saves me from spending good money on things that are trendy and will go out of style in minutes (like last year when I wanted to buy blush pink everything). I was telling my friend that I went into a Home Goods for the first time a few weeks ago when I was wasting time waiting for a bus. I obviously wanted everything. It was the first time I'd gone into a store like that this year - I've had no reason to! The next day I had this realization that all the things I had wanted to buy the night before would have been awful purchases and I was so glad that I hadn't! Shopping is a total disease!

However, at this point in the challenge, I've come to terms with a few big problems I have with the idea of buying only used.

The problems with buying only used

Photo by  Annie Spratt  on  Unsplash

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

First of all, it's not a long-term, sustainable option.

If we are living off of people's trash and discarded items, that means that we are in a society where excess, not using things through the end of their life, and not repairing our possessions is the norm. Anyone concerned with the state of our environment should see the correlation between a consumer culture and the permanent damage done to this planet. 

buying only used items is not a solution to consumer culture. But at the same time, that doesn't make it not valuable.

There's a spiritual value to not needing the latest, greatest technology, outfit, home decor item, or accessory. It's been one of my greatest takeaways from this challenge so far. Sometimes, while at a thrift store, I'll take a picture of something I dramatically want but not buy it. The next day when I see the photo, I'll have realized that that purchase would have been entirely unnecessary and I no longer crave it. Voluntary simplicity is indeed a challenge, but I love that it is helping me become more full - maybe the opposite of what you would think?


The second problem with a challenge like this is that not everyone is able to pick and choose what they buy or where. 

Some people are just trying to survive and cannot care about where there stuff comes from. Some people are shopping from thrift stores because they don't have a choice. I actually think that my "buy only used stuff this year" challenge is a bit of an elitist cause. There are also middle class people who don't have a choice. For example,  in some careers, you are expected to look a certain way and therefore shop in a certain way. Realtors, people in business, finance, sales, and customer service are all shopping to look a specific way for their job. In many instances they are dressing to look wealthy. Why? We are living amongst an economy of consumerism. I can't blame  these people for having to look a certain way at their job, but I believe that consumerism is unjust at its core. 

This challenge is a way of pushing back, observing my own behaviors and patterns of my consumerism, so of course I will continue. 

Not everyone has the privilege to complete a challenge or live a lifestyle like this, but it's my conviction that if we do have the means and the opportunity to do something better, we should do it. If you have the time, the money, and the instinct to do something good with your resources, why not do something with them?

Be compassionate not complacent. 

let's change the whole system

All that to say, even though I've been frequenting thrift stores every week since I began this challenge, and I'm picking out items that are exclusively non-plastic, the thrift store culture is born out of the society that created all of this plastic waste, and I think we should be trying to change culture from the ground up. Instead of focusing on buying as much as we can used, we should be buying goods that are manufactured in an ethical manner and out of responsible materials.

  • Less plastic (yes, even "biodegradable" plastic and bioplastics)
  • More metal and glass (which can be infinitely recycled in a closed-loop system)
  • Sustainable wood and paper options (like bamboo and hemp)
  • Local items that have been sourced and made at least in your own country
  • Handmade items made by one person, not mass-produced

I've actually been mulling over the idea of doing a "buy only handmade" next year. After all the money I've saved this year by buying used, maybe I can afford it! Ha!


Please leave a comment below or email me directly if you want to chat further or have any questions!

Photo by  Brooke Cagle  on  Unsplash

Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash