The Year That Changed My Life

Author: Naomi Liddell

Happy New Year! 2020 is upon us.  But rather than serve up yet another post about New Years Resolutions, we thought we’d share the deeply inspiring, final instalment of Jess’s No Purchasing Year. Because there’s something wonderfully motivating about reading the story of a person who set a (lofty) goal and stuck to it. I, personally, found this so inspiring. It’s made me reflect on my own habits and how I can improve them going forward. The lessons that Jess has learned are the perfect sentiment for carrying into a fresh new year. If you fancy a recap on Jess’s No Purchasing Year, here’s where to catch her first instalment and second instalment. Without further introduction, I’ll hand you over to Jess


1st October 2019 was the day I changed my life.  I didn’t necessarily know it at the time, I just thought it would be a fun challenge but my year of no purchasing turned into a year of soul-searching, of reconnecting, of appreciation of the things that matter most.

A brief recap for those of you who haven’t been following my story – I decided to try a year of no purchasing because I found myself caught in the web of consumerism and I wanted to step off of the treadmill and pursue less materialism and more meaning. It’s been a whirlwind year.  Here are the major lessons I’ve taken away from this journey:


Stuff doesn’t make you happy

Shopping used to be a hobby and something I considered made me happy.  But once I removed it from my life I realised all it really was is a distraction and something I used to make me feel better when I was unhappy/bored.  It wasn’t the stuff that made me happy, it was the feeling when shopping of having something that might change my life – a book, a new foundation, a new dress (it didn’t).  Once I got past the initial withdrawal stage, I began to feel better about myself and not associate my self-esteem with my stuff.

Stuff costs more than you think

One of the reasons that I justified buying the things that I did was because of the price – it’s on offer, it’s a steal, it’s buy one, get one free, it is in the sale, etc.  However, what I’ve come to realise is that price is just one element of what is paid for everything I purchase. I then have to store it, clean it and maintain it – giving it precious space in my home.  Do I really need more stuff coming into my home? Usually not. And it might just be something small like a mascara but every morning do I need the added mental space that is taken up deciding which mascara I need to wear?  Sounds silly I know but it all adds up – which cleanser, which mascara, which outfit, the skinny jeans or the high waisted jeans? I want less choice, less care about the things that really don’t matter and less concern over storing, tidying up (which becomes infinitely easier during a no-spend year) and maintaining all of the things that I wasted my money on. 


I’ve ALWAYS got something to wear

When I started the process I thought what would I do if I didn’t have something to wear?  Truthfully, I’ve always had something to wear. Apart from the fact that I transitioned from breastfeeding back to normal underwear again, I have not had to go without.  When my beloved jewel-encrusted flats died in the middle of the year (RIP Topshop faves) I replaced them (with some much more sensible, not quite up to the Topshop beauty but infinitely better for my feet Clarks numbers).  And that is how I’ve lived – buying less but buying better. It took me nine months before I needed to buy any skincare because I already had so much, I didn’t realise just how much we can accumulate without even being aware.  On another note – toys. We have a modest selection of toys which is how I like it and in the past, people have commented on my low amount of toys as if my daughters are deprived but what I’ve realised is that we definitely don’t need more toys – I took an entire two bags and put them into the garage and nobody noticed any of them had gone.  We only have three baskets of toys and yet two bags worth made no impact when they disappeared. I think that was an eye-opening moment in lessons of enough-ness. It’s shown me that how many toys you need (or clothes or cleansers) is a personal preference and everybody has a different perspective (and often an opinion). The girls played for three hours the other day with a wooden spoon and a balloon so, they may be deprived of toys but they more than make up for it in imagination.


Relationships are the most important thing

An obvious lesson but nevertheless, one I wanted to share.  In a world where a shop assistant asks you if you would like an eyebrow pencil that will give you an “Insta-brow” (translation: an eyebrow that looks better on social media than in real life – I kid you not), I realised that consumer culture is fueled by the need to always be “on” and selfie-ready.  It’s easy to think that we nurture our friendships because it can feel that way with the likes and comments on social media but authentic connection isn’t something you can achieve via an app. This year has inspired me to spend more time meeting in person with friends, going for swims, long walks, catch-ups in pavement cafes – spending money where I think it matters most – building connection, community and self-care.  Living authentically rather than appearing a certain way.


New doesn’t mean better

Ah, the marketing magic of “new”.  How many times when someone pays us a compliment do we brush it off with “Oh, it’s old” as if new is somehow magically better.  The lure of new is a funny old marketing myth and one I’ve learned holds little weight at all. Now my year has ended I will definitely be buying less and when I DO buy, it won’t be unnecessarily new.


Some questions I have been asked a lot during my year:


What was the hardest part of the year?

The hardest part was probably the January sales.  Due to the way my year ran, I had just passed the three-month mark by this point and the initial excitement about not purchasing had worn off.  I felt tired, crappy (I had just given up dairy and was going through a lot of withdrawal issues) and was sleep-deprived with a six month old. We lost our dear dog in the second week of January and the grief was immense.  I really felt an urge to shop at that time (this was probably the moment that I became acutely aware of how my mood affected my consumption). I got through this by unsubscribing to everything and unfollowing all of the accounts of my favourite brands.  It was a very tough time emotionally and it forced me to sit with the feelings I had around losing Jasper which was ultimately an incredibly important process for healing.


Will I continue it?

No.  Haha, I think people expect me to say I will but in all honesty, I like being able to buy things and I don’t think it’s healthy remaining in either camp of buy-lots or buy-nothing.   I think it’s good to buy nice things occasionally from a place of presence and purpose. But I won’t buy unnecessarily, I’ll never shop for “fun” again and I feel I’ve learned lessons through this experience that have changed my life forever.  


What would I say to anybody considering a spending sabbatical?

Do it.  Don’t worry about failure, you don’t need to tell anybody or go public with the declaration as that just adds pressure.  Just do it for you – I promise it will be one of the best things you’ve ever done. You don’t need to do a year or even put a time limit on it at all, just dive in and give it a go.  You may be surprised what you discover.


What did you miss buying most during the no-purchasing challenge?

Books.  OMG BOOKS – I missed them so much.  But a few months in I joined the library and binged there – I took out like 9 books in one go and read….zero.  I realised that I buy a lot of books but never read them so I would rather purchase less but with intention. For my birthday I was given a voucher for Waterstones and I literally did not know what to do as it wasn’t technically spending to use the voucher but it WAS shopping – so I didn’t use it.  Then in October when my no-spend year was over, I went to Waterstones and spent a few blissful hours browsing (reading lots of back covers and introductions) and then buying one book with my voucher and having a coffee in the café with my new book – it was the best shopping experience I’ve ever had, literally ever.  Quality over quantity.  And I read that entire book.


A word on minimalism

I am really passionate about minimalism as a concept and enjoy reading about minimalist culture.  Although I have taken many lessons from this, I don’t consider myself a minimalist because I’m not aspiring to live a minimal life (eg reduce more until I have less), I am simply aiming for “enough-ness”.  Being happy with what I have – not obsessively counting spoons so I only have two (over-exaggerating but you get the gist). I basically don’t want to be caught in consumerism (buying stuff because of the shiny marketing campaign) but I also don’t want to be following a rigid set of rules (mustn’t buy another jumper as I’m only “allowed” three).  And in all honesty, I’m a little disengaged with the entire social media side of minimalism which often seems to be a buzzword to conceal consumerism behind a carefully crafted on trend concept #gifted


I truly have learned so much during my year of no spending.  It’s made me think about how I purchase, why I purchase and where I purchase.  It’s made me appreciate things that matter a whole lot more and it’s even given me the push I needed to pursue a long held personal dream that was buried beneath all of the belongings.  What I realised is that spending is so often procrastination or distraction in disguise – it’s easier to shop than it is to sit with yourself and do some soul searching but I learned that my power lies in my heart, not in my purse and that if I pursue what I love and what lights me up in life then I will be infinitely richer.  And that’s priceless.

We’ll hopefully be hearing more of Jess on these pages, but in the meantime, you can visit her website and/or follow her on Instagram @theferalwriter .

How do you currently feel about your relationship to shopping?

Do you have any plans to change your habits this year?

Naomi loves daytime baths, learning things and rock music.
(Oh and her kids. She loves them too)
Follow Naomi on Instagram @naomiliddell
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16 thoughts on “The Year That Changed My Life

  1. I enjoyed reading this Jess. I remember reading your initial post but questioning what a no spend actually means. With three under three I need to buy things for them at times like this month it was a new jumper each as the girls only had a wash and a wear that fitted etc. I actually have had to live savvy since we forked out for fertility treatment and I could only go back to work part time earning some months 370 pounds is quite frankly a shocker. Some then think my husband must be doing alright but in fact he has zero spare money each month after bills and fertility paybacks. Thus, things have changed drastically. I still spend but I spend when I need to and I don’t stop myself from getting the odd treat but it’s never that expensive and it’s only when, like you have mentioned before, I have really thought about it. I only buy my clothes from depop and in general only buy preloved for the children. 90% of their toys are second hand. So I suppose I live more sustainably. Congratulations on making it to one year.

    1. Hi Naomi,

      Thank you so much for taking the time to comment, it’s been an insane year! I didn’t include buying for my daughters as part of the ban but like you, I buy mainly second hand and then re-use everything with both of mine and then down to my niece. It sounds like your year has had lots of challenges as well (three under three?!) but you are absolutely right, it’s about living consciously isn’t it and making more sustainable choices. Thank you for commenting and happy new year!

  2. This is such a perfectly timed post as I have decided that my resolution/challenge for this year is to not buy any new clothes or shoes for myself. There may be exceptions throughout the year if a genuine need arises (though other than tights, I can’t think of what that might be as I definitely have enough) but the aim is to not increase the size of my wardrobe at all. I’m doing it partly in a nod to climate change/living more sustainably, partly to stop the feeling of having too many clothes to house yet “nothing to wear” and partly to wean myself off that shopping high. I don’t actually buy myself that much so I’m hoping it won’t be too bad, but a year is a long time so we shall see! I’m very impressed Jess’ ban included all purchasing – mine is much more limited but still seems a challenge!

    1. Hi Katie,

      What a fabulous resolution! I can honestly say this has been the best thing I’ve ever done so although it probably feels a bit overwhelming to you to begin with, I promise it gets easier and you’ll see the benefits. I set a list of what I was allowed up front eg I was breastfeeding when I started so I knew I would allow myself a new bra at the end etc but also, like you – I made exceptions on a basis of once it was gone I could get something eg if a mascara ran out but I had another one, I wasn’t allowed to go and buy a new one but when my only pair of flat shoes died I eventually replaced them for one more pair. I think you’ll be really surprised at how much you learn about yourself and how it feels to step off the consumer treadmill for a bit! Do get in touch on Instagram and I’ll do my best to support you 🙂 Good luck!

  3. I did a no new clothes/shoes year I. 2018 and found it eye opening. 2019 even more so – in some ways I fell right off that bandwagon and probably spent a fortune 😏

    I’m not feeling bad about that as every single piece of clothing I’ve bought over the last year is one that is worn and loved – I’m making better choices. I’ve also become better at recognising my habits, and know that boredom is most likely to prompt a browsing session, which may or may not result in a purchase. So this year I’m being stricter again, to try and find my way to better habits and this time it’s not just clothes that aren’t allowed in the cart, so I don’t just displace by shopping for other things. And hopefully it’ll allow me to do more of the things that I enjoy too, like sitting for half an hour with a book.

    1. Hey Rebecca,

      Thanks for commenting, well done on 2018 and for bringing it back for 2020. It sounds like you’ve learned loads about yourself and for me, that was the best bit, exploring my personal motivations and recognising my spending habits. And yes to sitting with a book, those simple pleasures are the best! I would love to hear how you’re getting on in 2020 so do drop me a line on how your no spend year is going.

  4. This is so inspiring Jess – thanks so much for sharing. Definitely something that I have been thinking about a lot recently. I was also wondering if anyone has any top tips of where to buy pre-loved children’s clothes (my daughter is only 11 months old but am slightly appalled by the clothes that we get through even whilst trying to be very mindful!)? The local charity shop and mum’s facebook groups have been good for particular items like snowsuits but would be good to have a source of more regular used children’s clothes. Thank you!

  5. I have loved your posts and they have helped affirm what I have been feeling about aspects of consumerism and sustainability. I don’t have a lot of spare money to myself so I have to be more careful and savvy, but I make it work as best I can. As a bookworm the library makes me so happy, and who doesn’t love a bargain from Gumtree etc! Thanks for sharing your experience.

    1. Hi Claire,

      Thanks so much, I’ve loved writing them. I’ve completely rekindled my love for the library, although I’ll still always have the bookshop as my first love but what I’ve learned is that I don’t need to buy ALL of the books – just enjoying the browsing experience and picking up one book is a wonderful thing to do and beats online shopping and scrolling any day of the week! Thank you so much for taking the time to comment.

      1. I love this post, and have only been buying if I run out of something. I’ve become very aware of how much we all have and don’t need. Getting rid of what I don’t want on eBay or FB marketplace. Lovely to see money from my sales growing 😀 (to be used for a city break with my friend). Memories, not things. I love books, but refuse to buy them, to read once and store in a bookcase, taking up much needed space, so I regularly have a look at new releases at ASDA when I do my weekly shop, make a note of them and hand the list to the lovely ladies at my local library who then order them in for me. Saves me a fortune, and I still get to read them 😀

  6. You’ve inspired me! Thank you. I’ve loved your previous two posts and hearing about how you’re getting on but this came at just the right time. My husband and I are going to challenge ourselves this year – fingers crossed!

    PS hope we do get to hear more from you as I love your style of writing

    1. Ah thank you Sarah, what a lovely comment to receive! I’m so excited for you and your husband to embark on this together, good for you! And thank you – if they’ll continue to have me here then I’ll continue to write for these guys 😉

  7. I’ve done something similar for the last two years. Only bought things if I 100% love it. I don’t wear make up so that was never a big spend but I’d go and buy a pair of new shoes a week for work rather than have them reheeled. Lazy disposable fashion. I never liked the shoes, they were just the cheapest £19.50 LK Bennett style heels from M & S. At one count I had 26 pairs of the same shoe.

    The problem now is that because of the rule, I barely buy anything. We have been looking for a new sofa for 18 months but because I cannot find one I genuinely HEART ADORE I refuse to compromise. So we have an old shit sofa I hate. A lack of time to genuinely explore options is at fault, as well as a combination of needing style, durability and wanting to buy high quality to last over something disposable.

    In terms of impact financially, it’s saved a tonne. We did an exercise where we only used one account, no cash, and then monitored spends on various things working through each line of the statement one at a time. That was EYE OPENING. We ended up saving about £400 month by switching telephone contracts, ending subscriptions we no longer used. Because we didn’t need the money, we’re paying it into a pension and overpaying more on the mortgage. Which is a nice, if not slightly smug, feeling. It only took a few hours of admin to do too.

  8. Lovely piece. Having spent years clearing out the cupboards and houses of various relatives as they either move into care or die there’s been a gleaning process around stuff, life and satisfaction. Relationships we garner between ourselves, belongings and worthiness alongside that of actual life. So much was in fact stored , worried away or left sadly uncelebrated. Insta being a public place where we talk about consumerism, our relationship with it ( whatever that is, explored or not) and it seems wherever we place ourselves on the spectrum of acquisitions to minimalism they are expressions of our disquiet: us, our needs, desires, right to exist. Exploring that , hearing the inner riches dulled by numbing activities, knowing sufficiency is a gift and all will have differing answers. My mother struggled with orthraxia for the longest time that had multiple expressions in her life and yet her house was stuffed with the best food she didn’t eat and anxieties she kept hold of in furniture riddled with woodworm, papers shot through with painful times. My take away, cherishing, sufficiency and balance are where it’s at no need to be drilled with isisms and healthy self knowledge is a grand thing to have packed in your knapsack through life.

  9. My husband is forever going on about doing no spend, zero waste, go veggie all at the same time! Inevitably, his worthy aspirations normally give me more work as they’re the jobs I normally do! I have to point out to him that we already do a lot of “green things” but it doesn’t hurt to re-visit what we’re already doing and seeing how we can do things better. Have to say breastfeeding and reusable nappies were some of the best “green things” I ever did (after initial WTAF am I doing? at the start!)

  10. There’s a Swedish word for the concept of ‘enoughness’ – Lagom. Lagom means ‘just the right amount’ and it’s how I try to live my life. Life is a lot easier if you have exactly what you need, at the right amount.

    I’m making Lagom my word of 2020 – anyone care to join me?

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