Week Fifty-Two: What We Learned From Our Year Without A Purchase

Do you have a wall calendar?  You probably do.  It likely has pictures of kittens commemorating each month.  Or mountain scenes.  Or naked firefighters with well-placed hoses.

Ours is a Catholic Saints calendar, bought by a friend at a fundraiser who gave it to us out of pity as our Year Without A Purchase began.  And last week, we turned the final page.  The Year Without A Purchase has officially ended!  Thank Jesus, Mary and Joseph! (who, incidentally, were all beautifully depicted in color for the month of December) 


*Some things do not age well.  Case in point:  Scott's boxer briefs, with perfect eye holes, now make a better creepy Halloween mask than an undergarment.  (Photo credit:  Jake Dannemiller)

We weren’t perfect.  We bought new shoes for Jake.  We bought a vacuum cleaner.  We bought Audrey a pair of swim goggles when she passed her swim test.  A pure guilt purchase, because that’s what we did for Jake the year before and feared it would send her to a psychiatrist years later complaining that mom and dad always loved Jake best. 

And Christmas?  Santa broke the rules and brought three gifts for each kid.  Experience gifts, mostly.  But hey, if three gifts was good enough for Jesus, it’s enough for our little snot factories. 

And speaking of the kids.

Throughout the year, we never told them what we were doing.  Granted, that did not stop them from asking for stuff.  We had our standard replies.

“That’s too expensive.”

“You don’t need another stuffed animal.”

“Buy toys?  At Target?  No.  We’re not allowed to do that.  This is just a toy museum.  Only for looking.”

We were curious to see if they noticed anything different about the year.  Did they feel neglected?  Deprived?   So we scheduled a brief family meeting during lunch yesterday to survey our research subjects.

“So, guys.  Did you notice anything different about last year?”

Audrey chimed in first.  “It was 2013, and now it’s 2014.”

“Good answer.  How about you, Jake?”

Thinking for a moment, Jake went with, “We didn’t watch the BCS Championship game?”

Obviously, not buying stuff left a huge impression on them.

I probed a bit deeper.  “Anything different about our family last year, and what we chose to do? Like, for special occasions?”

“We decided to take a trip on everybody’s birthday.”

“Yes.  Did you notice that we did not buy any “things” the whole year?”


“No, I didn’t.  I mean… wait!” Correcting me now, my seven-year-old launched into a list. “You bought things!  You bought milk!  You bought…”

“You’re right.  We did buy things we need.  Like food, and milk and stuff we could use up.”

“Oh, you mean, like, we didn’t buy anything worthless.”



Gabby asked for clarification.  “Were you sad that you didn’t get any things from us last year?”  Audrey was more than happy to share her answer.

“Well.  I think it’s good.  You know how I get a new stuffed animal, and I change my mind about all the other ones and I don’t play with them anymore?  So that’s kind of a thing that’s worthless that won’t really last a long time.”

We were floored.

Now don’t get me wrong.  The conversation bobbed and weaved, and eventually the kids started talking about things they want for their next birthdays.  They are still kids.  But there was a different tone to their talk.  It was less “I really, really, really want that hockey game for my next birthday!  I can’t live without it!” and more “That hockey game seems really cool.  That might be a fun thing to have in the house.”

It’s a subtle difference.  A huge subtle difference.

One begins with emptiness.  A feeling that something is missing from my life.  A hole that can be filled with $100 and a trip to Costco.

All consuming.

The other begins with appreciation.  Acknowledgement that there are nice things in the world, and we are grateful to have them.

What remains to be seen is if Gabby and I learned the same lesson as our kids.  Sure, we learned a lot from the experience.  But I also learned a lot in studying for my chemistry test as a sophomore at Yukon High School.  And now I couldn’t tell you whether or not a covalent bond has something to do with the periodic table of elements, or something you buy to get out of jail. 

Have we been changed?

I would like to think so.  There were so many lessons.  But three seem to stand out the most.

  1. We have more understanding of things that matter:  It’s all about motivation.  Purchases aren’t bad.  But are we buying things that will honestly make our lives less stressful and more meaningful, or are we buying things because, deep down, we think they will impress others?
  2. We have more energy for things that matter:  Buying and acquiring stuff takes up a lot of time and energy we would rather spend on other people.
  3. We have more money for things that matter:  We were able to invest in the two things research says matters most in creating lasting happiness – developing strong social bonds, and giving time and treasure to charity.

Thanks so much for following our journey and supporting us.  Some of you with kind words.  Others of you with generous loaners of clothes, backpacks, and suitcases.  Indeed, it takes a whole village, and we feel like our village has gotten a lot closer over the past year.  If you’re looking for the complete story, I plan on putting this all in a book, adding new material from the year, as well as revising some of the older blog posts.

In other news…

In 2014, we are kicking it up a notch.  The Year Without A Purchase, based on our rules, wasn’t an impossible task.  Far from it.  But this year, we’re going to try and further strengthen relationships by tackling the Year of No Yelling.  While we know we have too much stuff in our house, the place can overflow with loud voices spiced with a condescending tone.  And we don’t think it does anybody any good.  So, be on the lookout for rules and blog posts. 

Meanwhile, if you want to join us for this new challenge, feel free to sign up for our Facebook group.  The Year Of No Yelling.  We’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas!

Scott, Gabby and the crazies