Katy Wolk-Stanley, 44, of the website The Non-Consumer Advocate, is on a mission to live on less — and not define herself by purchases. Here, the Portland, Ore., writer and mother of two shares her thoughts on why she decided to "de-clutter" her life:
I am a woman who hasn’t bought anything new in five years. But it’s actually not as black-and-white an issue as it seems at first. I do buy some things new, including:
- Underwear, socks and bras
- Personal care items (makeup, etc.)
- Harmonicas (I haven’t felt the need to buy one yet, but you never know when the mood might strike!)
It may sound like a pain in the tuchus to stay away from new purchases (an initiative I call “the compact”), but it’s actually turned into an amazing stress reliever. Not because I’ve replaced my new purchases with used stuff, but mostly because I hardly ever buy anything anymore. And when I started to buy less stuff, it made me want less in other areas of my life as well. (It's funny how once you start examining one area of your life, other areas hop along for the ride.)
So out went the boxes, shelves and closets full of stuff we never used, and in came a bit more air to circulate in the spaces left behind. And as a result of our de-cluttering, our home is now easier to keep clean, which translates into less time spent on housework and more time being able to welcome friends and family into our home.
And I began to appreciate life’s bounty a bit more.
Related story: Confessions of a bargain hunter: It's the thrill of the hunt
Of course, I am in a privileged position to be able to voluntarily make these choices. No, I’m not wealthy (as a paramedic and a nurse, my husband and I are both hourly wage workers.) I never worry about how I’ll pay the mortgage or where my next meal is coming from, but that doesn’t mean that my decisions are any less conscious.
The tagline for my website, The Non-Consumer Advocate, is “Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without,” which I take seriously. I try very hard to fix instead of replace, accept that not every one of my possessions has to be the very best, and accept that my family can live without the luxuries than many of our friends take for granted.
At this point you may be saying to yourself “That sounds great in theory, but I could never do that because of A, B, C.”
Yes, your life is different than mine, but that doesn’t mean that what I do doesn’t translate to a variety of lifestyles. There are 10,000 members of "The Compact Yahoo Group"alone, and it’s highly unlikely that we’re all the same.
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It helps that I’m not overly concerned with fashion (note that I left myself a little wiggle room with that statement, as I do enjoy looking cute every now and then) and am satisfied with a relatively small wardrobe. But even if you live and die for fashion, there are a myriad of ways to score amazing fashions without ever stepping into the mall. Consignment shops, girlfriend clothing swap parties, thrift stores and borrowing from friends can all get you that million dollar-look for much less.
The one aspect of only buying used that rarely gets talked about is that when a person chooses to buy secondhand, they’re not supporting questionable manufacturing practices. We live in a world where a large amount of our goods is manufactured overseas in countries without worker protection laws in terms of living wages, environmental protections and worker safety. When I choose to buy a shirt from Goodwill instead of the mall, it doesn’t create an order to manufacture a new one. One peek into any thrift shop will give you a strong conviction that we’re currently manufacturing too much stuff and there’s more than enough to go around.
One criticism that I’ve received through the years is that by buying used, I am not supporting our American economy. To this, I disagree. I mainly shop at Goodwill Industries, whose mission is to “Provide vocational opportunities to people with barriers to employment.” I pay my taxes, send my teenage sons to public schools and am active in my community. If a strong economy can’t survive without its citizens buying endless amounts of unnecessary stuff, then there’s a problem.
"The compact" is about abundance. You already have enough stuff. And if there’s something you want or need, it’s easier than you think to find it used, borrow it from a neighbor or maybe, just maybe simply do without.
It saves money, is a fun challenge and helps to create a mindful life. What have you got lose?
What do you think? Would you ever be able to go a year without shopping?
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