Everyone wants to hijack your January. Most people want you to stop drinking for the month, on the premise you’ve been overdoing it over the holidays and need to dry out. Others think it’s time to go vegan. I’m sure someone you know is trying to convince you to go to hot yoga every day of January to sweat out “the toxins”. I am usually opposed to all forms of New Year’s resolutions; Lifehacker’s devoted to making changes every day of the year. But one resolution I’m looking forward to anxiously is my tradition of a Spend-Free January. Hear me out.
Holiday Shopping Is Like Binge Eating
Didn’t you use your multiple Amazon purchases as reason to get all the “Add-On Items” that have been sitting in your cart? Didn’t going to holiday parties at other people’s homes highlight all the things you need in your own house, and didn’t you buy those things on your phone on the way home? Don’t you feel sick of opening parcels?
My holiday shopping tends to follow a “one for you, one for me” pattern. All those gift guides with unique presents from sites I’ve never heard of lead to a lot of “I deserve a little something nice too, don’t I?” to the point where I end up spending two to three times as much as I anticipated. By the end of the month I have a spending hangover.
It’s Not (Just) About Saving Money
Don’t spend any money in January unless it’s on food. See, I’m not suggesting you stay in and sip green tea and read (unless you want to). You can buy groceries. You can go out to eat a few times. But just don’t buy anything else. Keep a list of the things you’re moved to purchase if you think you truly need to get them next month, but stop shopping. Definitely do not buy anything online. Your goal is to have no packages waiting for you on the stoop/in the lobby/at the post office. (You can obviously spend on emergencies, but “cashmere on sale” is not an “emergency”.)
Yes, you’ll save money, which is especially great if you overspent in December. That eensy credit card bill you’ll get at the end of the month feels pretty grand. But the real benefit of not spending in January is the amount of mental space it frees up. It’s not until you stop spending that you realise how much of your time you spend wanting stuff, researching the stuff that you want, wondering where that stuff is, buying or ordering that stuff, waiting for parcels’ arrival, recycling packaging, and so on. It’s a huge relief not to be acquiring things all the time.
Plus, you can feel good that you’re not participating in the sad national pastime of lining Jeff Bezos’ pockets.
What to Do Instead of Shopping
Don’t even browse online. When you think of something you want to buy, which you will, just tell yourself “Next month!” and write it down if you’re worried you’ll forget something essential. That goes for things you think you need (“A ten-pack of sponges is never a frivolous purchase!”) and things you are pretty sure you need (“My snow boots are looking sort of ragged”) and things you definitely don’t need (“I can get doughnuts from Texas delivered?!?”).
I’m not going to tell you to go to the gym or volunteer at the soup kitchen instead of shopping. Instead, shop your house. The cans of soup in the cupboard that you keep around but haven’t eaten—why not have one for lunch? You have books you haven’t read, clothes you’ve barely worn, apps you’ve barely used. And if you’re lucky, you got a few new things for the holidays that should keep you occupied.
A friend recently remarked that for every new thing you buy, it makes everything you already own a little less valuable. This really stuck with me, and helps when I’m tempted to buy something I don’t need. I want, as we all do, to be less attached to things. I’d rather have fewer things that I value, than a load of crap that I only kind of like. This is not a new bit of wisdom, but one that’s worth meditating on a little while you’re not spending. You don’t have to get rid of your actual clutter in your home, but once you start using the things you have, you’ll naturally discover which things you value and which you can let go. More importantly, when you’re not in constant pursuit of the next acquisition, you rid yourself of the exhausting “mental clutter” that attends consumerism.
Planning a Spend-Free January is also a good excuse to get your shopping done before the end of the year—get what you need (within reason!) before the clock strikes 12 on December 31, then go into spending hibernation for the month.