What If You Didn’t Buy New Things?

For the next eight Sundays, I will be posting about various ways to reduce waste. This is the first in that series. I was fortunate to hear Katy Wolk-Stanley speak for our local Portland Minimalist group about non-consumerism. Here are some of the highlights and lessons from that talk. 

Katy began her non-consumerism focus when she heard about a San Francisco group who had pledged to not buy anything new back in 2006. She took on the individual goal to not buy anything new for one month while not insisting her husband or 2nd and 4th grader join her. As is often the case, this way of life has extended beyond the month’s experiment, and is now a ten year habit.

This lifestyle was not prompted by the money per se, but more to honor our resources and allow choice in what she purchased versus doing what the ad agencies want us to do. It has encouraged her to create a “pause point” before buying and to identify the difference between a want and a need.


She began shopping at Goodwill, Village Merchants, and other second hand stores. She also uses Buy Nothing Project to give away and request items from people in her part of town. Katy has even rallied with neighbors to share her wheel barrow, share trash services and to borrow silverware at Thanksgiving.

In 2008 she began her blog The Non-Consumer Advocate who’s tagline is “Use it up, Wear it out, Make do or Do without” which summarizes her approach to purchases. She joined a Yahoo group of Non-consumers and did some writing in her blog and for the Huffington Post which ended up in an invitation to be on the Today Show.


Non-consumerism ties in with minimalism in that it encourages one to be frugal, to not waste, to be generous, get to debt-free and to live within (or below) your means. This lifestyle gives Katy the freedom to walk past the clearance bins at Target, to not define herself by her purchases and to make huge changes in tiny bits. It also aligns with her values and bigger picture goals of putting her kids through college.

She does buy items like shampoo, socks, underwear and consumables such as food, toilet paper and cleaning products. She always brings her lunch and drinks the free coffee at work as she says “work is where I go to make money, not spend it!” Katy does allow some splurges or exceptions such as buying art supplies for her kids from the local Muse Art Supply.


“work is where I go to make money, not spend it!”

Katy feels we do ourselves a disservice when we don’t talk about money. So many people who appear to live “the rich life” are sometimes deeper in debt than we might imagine. The Atlantic Monthly recently had an excellent article about this topic in which they stated that the majority of American’s don’t have $400 for a small emergency. She even has a theory that there is an inverse relationship between how expensive people’s kitchens are and how often they cook.

Katy will frequently write about “Five Frugal Things” in her blog giving tips for ways to save money and put more mindfulness into our decisions around purchases and lifestyle. We often spend money to modulate our emotional states or to be social when there are alternatives, such as inviting a friend over for tea or a walk instead of going to a coffee house.


Some of Katy’s tips are to buy quality items that can be repaired (as in not IKEA), to search on YouTube for “how to fix __” and do her own repairs when possible, to use tool libraries, our local libraries for the huge amount of things they offer beside books and to use consignment shops.

She and her husband got down to one car and they tried that for a while, only to realize, it just wasn’t working. They work alternate shifts so they can be home with the kids, and each of them getting to work was challenging with one car. But, rather than go out and buy that new car today, they contacted their local mechanic and asked him to be on the lookout for a good used car, while being patient to make the right purchase. They were able to procure a used Prius with some dents in it. This made the price lower while not impacting the functionality of the vehicle.


One other thing that came up (that my Master Recycling brain took note of) was that Goodwill is actually not able to sell all the items they receive. The volume is just too large. Many items will be transferred to free bins or sent overseas. Katy encourages us to get receipts from our donations and to be specific on what was donated such as 3 men’s shirts, 1 evening gown, 1 toaster, etc. You can then use Turbo Tax or other charity calculators to get some pretty good write offs.


A few tips from guests at this talk were:

  1. Make a list of the money you are saving by not buying new.
  2. If you need an item once, don’t buy it, but if you need it three times, then figure out a way to get that item (preferably used when possible).
  3. Look for Portland’s “Free Benches” similar to our “Our Little Free Libraries.” If anyone finds out more about this, please let me know and I’ll update where to find them. One is at SE 28th and Taylor. Rules are posted for dropping off free items for others.

Katy Wolk-Stanley Photo

Katy works part-time as a nurse. She also buys and resales items and is a freelance writer. She has learned to notice if she is “rationalizing” about a purchase, and to probably not buy when this is happening, or at least delay the purchase and work it through a bit more. She also runs a Facebook group for non consumers.

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  1. Gina says:

    Katy is the best!


  2. Kelvin says:

    Great post Kathy!
    I enjoyed the quotes and tips. It was very practical and inspirational.


  3. Carrie Willard says:

    “there is an inverse relationship between how expensive people’s kitchens are and how often they cook”
    OMG yes! I have 7 kids and cook, literally 3 meals a day, yet have no fancy gadgets in my kitchen and am quite minimalist in my cookware. And my walls and cabinets are always needing cleaning. But people I know with super fancy spotless kitchens never cook.

    Interestingly, I have also read there is also an inverse relationship between the size of an engagement ring and the length of the marriage.


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