Lessons from a Year of Buying Nothing New

Last December I wanted to make a real resolution for 2011. My usual half-hearted goals to get in better shape or spend less would often falter and die off by February. So I decided to buy nothing new for the entire year.
What possessed me to do this? I have traveled to remote places where people don’t consume (or throw away) as much as we do in the West. That has challenged me on a fundamental level and I try to be aware of how I value and perceive my stuff.  That is, I try not to value it at all. When I’m driving my 10-year-old Camry, I repeat the mantra “my car is not a symbol of who I am.” When someone says, “I like that” about something in my house, I have been known to give it to him or her. But that wasn’t really walking the talk. It also wasn’t reducing my carbon or water footprint.

(c) china.org.cn
When I first made the decision to buy nothing new, I thought my biggest challenge (besides convincing my six-year-old that this was a good idea) would be buying clothes for myself. I’ve tried at different times in my life to buy stuff at Goodwill, but I was never very successful or committed to it. Now, nearing the end of 2011, I can say that I don’t think I will ever buy new clothing again.
I have scored some incredible, practically new pieces at garage sales, clothing swaps and second-hand stores this year. So I offer you some tips I’ve picked up on how to shop for used clothing:

  • Find a good used clothing store and go regularly. I’m lucky. I have a fantastic Value Village just 10 minutes from my house. I swear, the neighborhood must be filled with cool, young hipsters who regularly purge their closets. I find practically new and great clothing all the time. But I go often…usually once or twice a week.


  • Only buy it if you love it. It doesn’t matter if it’s a Diane von Fürstenberg dress for $9.99…if you don’t feel good it in it, you won’t wear it. That’s the tough part about second-hand clothing. You find a ton of amazing stuff that you would love if it fit or if it was a different color. It’s hard to resist the deal.

  • Inspect before purchasing. People donate anything…and in any condition. So be sure to check closely that your find doesn’t have tears, stains, missing buttons or b.o. (Yes, check the pits, residual body odor is gross and not easily removed.)


  • Try it on. I hate trying on clothes. Often because my impatient daughter is with me. When I shop, I want to get in and out as fast as possible. But, with used clothes, you really have no idea how something is going to fit until you try it on. And second-hand stores tend to have a very limited (if any) exchange and return policy.


  • Pay no attention to size. Another reason I have to try stuff on is that each manufacturer and designer seem to have their own sizing thing going on. This makes the labels “S”, “XL”, 6 or 28 a rough guideline at best.  This has actually really helped me not care so much about what size I am.