Sunday, January 1, 2023

Purposeful Purchasing

Is my New Year's Resolution this year, inspired by an essay in one of the books I read recently, Ann Patchett’s These Precious Days, in which she details how she quit buying anything for a year. 

Like Ann Patchett, who heard about this idea and immediately thought: HOW IS THAT EVEN POSSIBLE? But then, another thought: WHY NOT? I too find myself buying things I don't really need, and worrying about the endless pursuit of stuff and what that does to me, to us, to the planet. 

But then, I circled back to the HOW part. Ann Patchett created some exceptions for herself. Buying food, for example, or really, anything you can purchase at a grocery store. Also, she allowed herself to buy books. (She's an author and a bookstore owner. Books, she decided, had to be an exception.)

But I work at a library. And as much as I enjoy buying books, it's pretty clear that I don't really need to. 

Maybe I can actually do this! I explain to my husband my new plan for the year, and he is intrigued, but more interested in the exceptions we'll have to carve out. What if something breaks? (See: refrigerator) or, we need, say, lightbulbs?

Okay, to buying a new appliance. But lightbulbs, we can buy at a grocery store, my one exception. Ditto: stuff like, shampoo. I tell him he can make any exceptions he wants. Tools, for example, and supplies for his woodworking projects. We spend the six-hour car ride to our annual New Year's Eve multi-family/multi-day gathering celebration going over more exceptions. 

Gifts? Sure! Dog toys? (the dog is panting anxiously in the backseat) Okay! 

By the time we arrive at our destination, we have a refined plan. Not No Buying Anything, but something more like a flow chart model of spending that we call "Purposeful Purchasing." 

Before buying anything, we will now ask ourselves:

Do we really want this thing? 

Can we do without it? 

Can we reuse or repair or borrow?

Can we buy this thing locally or at a thrift store?

Do we really really really want this thing? 

I write the Resolution in the New Year's Eve book and it is now official. But first, one pre-exception. 

At the annual Buy Food and Fun Stuff before the New Year's Eve party, I go a little crazy with whatever the opposite of Purposeful Purchasing is, buying copious amounts of junk food, a rice cooker (my son mentioned that he wished he had one) and an absurd candy bouquet located by the check out.

The candy bouquet makes me laugh, later, when I walk by the snack table, all of that junk food and plastic and the silly floppy bow. Don’t need it. Don’t even want it. But the ridiculousness of it gives me great joy. 

The real joy, though, is for this place, the people gathered here with me. My husband, our kids and their significant others, our longtime friends. This is all I want. This is all I need.

Here. Today. The perfect way to ring in the New Year.  


  1. I hope you share more of your "purposeful purchasing" journey this year. It's a fascinating concept.
    Wishing you the best in 2023!

    1. Thank you! I will! And Happy New Year to you, too, Yvonne :)

  2. I am doing great in my “purposeful purchasing” plan so far this year. (I also carved out the grocery store, which, let’s face it, has much more than just “groceries.”) Hope your purposeful purchasing flowchart is serving you well.