joanna irl

Lessons from No-Buy 2019

Oh hey. I still own a blog. (I feel like every fourth post or so is along the lines of “wow, I haven’t written in forever” but grad school and blogging don’t seem to have meshed well.)

I officially finished grad school this weekend (HUZZAH!), though I turned in my final projects several weeks ago, which means I’ve had some time to reset mentally and take a look at some old, lingering projects (and some new ones I’m excited to share).

As I’m writing this, we’re several months into a global pandemic. This post isn’t about that, but I want to acknowledge that anything I write about for the next bit will be at least flavored by that fact. But that being said– I want to share what I learned from spending last year NOT spending money. There was a lot!

Use what you’ve got

The first goal of my No-Buy 2019 project was to use (and appreciate) what I’ve already got in my life. I started off by organizing everything and really exploring what I already had, and then made a point of making everything very accessible and easy to use. I used up several eyeshadow palettes for instance, and didn’t buy any new eye makeup (beyond when my mascara/eyeliner ran out) for the entire year. So far in 2020 I’ve splurged twice on a new thing to try, but I find that it’s much more intentional now.

It’s been interesting to track my own change in spending. I don’t feel the need any more to have the next shiny thing, because I know there will be another one coming right behind it. Instead, I plan out what I’m going to spend much more carefully. I’ve been wearing more of my shoes again, putting new outfits together with existing clothes I already had, and sourced any crafts I wanted to make from what’s in my office. I now check what I already have FIRST before looking online to see what new thing I can find.

A perfect example of this is my Spring Dapper Day outfit from last year– My friends and I went as the three kittens from The Aristocats, but instead of buying a white sundress or something like that for my Marie-inspired look, I used things I already owned to create my outfit. The only purchase for this outfit was the wide pink ribbon that cost less than $5– and by using it for a belt, I was able to turn a tank and skirt into a vintage looking “dress” with enough left over for a huge hair bow!

Another fun thing I did to “use what I’ve got” was digging out a bunch of old puzzles and things that I haven’t done in years. It’s been long enough for all of them that it was like working them for the first time!

Repairing and reusing

Another skill I got much better at in 2019 is repairing random things. I don’t need to be an expert sewer to mend a popped seam, and I don’t need to be a carpenter to fix a coat rack. I spent a lot of time working on these little repair skills over the year to get more life out of things, and honestly at the end of it all I’m floored at how much I was able to fix and keep using.

Reusing things was a big theme of the year, too, and I really did get very good at spray paint refreshes, where I found old things that weren’t quite what I wanted and turned them into something unique and fun. The pineapples and trash can were certainly part of it, but I took pine cones from a friend’s yard and painted them gold in the winter for a centerpiece, and then this spring I painted a couple of plaster rabbits we’ve had for years to make them new again for Easter. I even refreshed some of my kitchen accessories! It’s been fun giving new life to things.

Buying second hand and vintage

I know I posted before about my love of Craigslist Free (and wow I’ve gotten some great things from there over the last few years) but if I couldn’t find what I wanted, either from my own closet or for free online, then my next step was to check thrift stores and the like for second-hand or vintage things.

A perfect example of this is the dining room chairs I got last fall– I found some gorgeous chairs for sale from someone cleaning out storage, less than 5 miles away. Eight chairs for $150. They needed to be recovered but otherwise were in great shape! So, putting my new repair/refresh skills to work, I was able to finally upgrade our dining set!

Intentional Spending

If you read the first post I wrote about my No-Buy 2019, I left myself room for “intentional spending”. This was to cover things like replacing items I needed or finding things I’d been looking for prior to the No-Buy. (Dining room chairs were on the list!) But this also left me space for small splurges, which I found I had more room for in my budget without buying all the random other stuff.

Behold– the red dress! I bought this dress for homecoming after J’s deployment in November. The shoes I’ve had for ages, but the dress was brand new, and exactly what I wanted it to be– a special outfit for a special day. Plus it’s a classic style that won’t age badly and something I can use again (especially for holiday parties).

Other than the dress, I also bought a few things I needed for travel to India, souvenirs from the trip to Europe with my folks in late summer, and art. (Mostly what I bought was art!) Having room in my budget to support some indie artists I follow, and to have a few small souvenirs, made each small thing I did get special.

Would I do a No-Buy again?

I mean, I feel like I would if I needed to at some point. It was a very liberating experience, to be honest– knowing that I “couldn’t” buy anything took away a mental pressure I didn’t even know I had, and allowed me to appreciate things and thenĀ walk away without feeling like I was missing out on anything. It really has changed the way I interact with the way I spend, and how I think about consumer goods.

I’ve also gained a lot of confidence in my skills to make things work as well– I’m more likely to try and repair something myself, or to try and new skill, than to seek a replacement for something. And I’m much more aware of how I spend when I do– and have continued to try and buy second-hand or vintage items as much as possible.

joanna irl

No-Buy 2019: Spray Paint EVERYTHING!

Do you have random things around your home that just aren’t “doing” it for you anymore? Or maybe things that aren’t quite the right color, or that are things you bought a long time ago and still work perfectly well so there’s no justification for getting rid of them but WOW you’re tired of looking at that trashcan you bought when you were 21 and is kind of coffee stained on the lid?

Okay, maybe that last one is specific to me personally, but I’ve got all kinds of things around that are functional (or decorative) but just aren’t *quite* right. Maybe they aren’t exactly my style but they were close enough and served a purpose when I needed them.

Maybe they were things I found and tried to repurpose to save from a landfill. (I’ll get to a specific example, promise!)

Or maybe it’s just that dingy old trashcan that has nothing actually wrong with it, I just don’t LIKE it anymore. And never really did, but when I was 21 I didn’t think about the trashcan I bought being with me for this long.

Where I’m going with this is that I’ve discovered the joys of spray paint and it’s adding all kinds of color to my life! Just in the last month, I’ve had four different projects involving spray paint refreshing, and it’s been like getting four new THINGS without doing any shopping!

Well, I shopped for paint. But paint is cheap and is included in my “repairing” exemption– I’m fixing something instead of buying a new version. Woo hoo!

Project one: Decorative Pineapples!

I will admit that I went a little overboard when I decided to decorate my dining room with some pineapples. “Some” is the operative word here. But when I started, I didn’t know exactly what I wanted, and then I found all of these really modern looking ones on clearance at Home Goods for like $2 each.

And then I realized that what I actually wanted was vintage, more Hollywood Regent style. These wouldn’t work.

I was going to just donate them (being on clearance, they were non-returnable), but then I realized that I’ve also been wanting kind of tiki-style decor for the back patio…..and that pineapples are perfect! Just maybe not in metallic gold and silver.

Break out the spray paint and let’s make it tropical!

It took several coats to get the paint evenly on the metal, but thanks to Rustoleum brand, I was able to get outdoor quality paint for these things, and now they are ready to decorate the patio table for cookouts this summer. Yay!

Project two: Terra Cotta Pots!

I have a whole lot of beautiful Mexican pottery in my back yard full of succulents and other plants. I also have two of the big, cheap, plain terra cotta pots that you can get for really cheap at any garden store. They hold my two aloe plants (Aloe Vera Bradley and Aloe Vera Wang) but they are by nature the color of the red clay in the backyard and also kind of the color of the house and the trim and the patio roof and…. (We live in a dated, neutral-clay color house in southern California. What can I say?) I don’t want to repot the aloe and my goal is to not buy anything….

So I gently covered the aloe plants in packing paper and spray painted those pots to be lovely shades of dark blue and lime green that go with my Mexican pottery! I think they turned out pretty well.

Project three: Decorative Columns!

These columns came with me from Chicago and were rescued from the back alley behind our building. That sounds a little out there if you’ve never lived in a big city, but I can assure you that there are TREASURES to be found if you check beside the dumpsters in the little alleyways behind the buildings.

We had a garage in Chicago (thank goodness) and the dumpster was around the corner, so there was always something interesting back there from people moving in and out. Other alley finds included an antique end table (which I touched up and is the nicest little end table I own), window frames (given away for art), and a trifle bowl.

But about these columns. They clearly “go” together but aren’t matching, and were plain white and showed all kinds of dirt. They also didn’t stand out against the aforementioned mud color of my house…. so I made them teal!

Project four: TRASH CAN TOUCH UP!

So if you’ve read this far, you know the thing I’m probably most excited about is the trash can. I’ve had this thing for YEARS. It has been BOTHERING me for years. It’s white and shows every single little stain EVER, which when talking about a trash can is a LOT over 15 years. But at the same time, it’s been sturdy, has never broken, and there is zero reason to get rid of it and add more plastic to the waste cycle.

After doing all of this painting in the last few weeks, it suddenly dawned on me…..PAINT would cover all of the stains. PAINT could make it a dark enough color that stains wouldn’t even show. And PAINT would make it easier to clean.

So I grabbed the leftover teal paint from the columns and now the trashcan is a beautiful shade of teal, too!

Basically spray paint is my new favorite thing, and I’m excited to see what else I find to refresh this year with some bright, fun colors!

joanna irl

No Buy 2019: Repairing the Coat Tree

One of the most interesting things about this No Buy challenge is that it’s almost like a switch has flipped in my brain, and the compulsive small-item-purchasing has pretty much stopped. I think going into every situation knowing that I’m not going to buy anything has changed my relationship with impulse buying. I never thought much about the small, random things I might pick up (and window shopping is hard when you *could* just get this *one* thing), but the blanket “I’m not buying ANYTHING” statement is…freeing?

The other thing that’s happened that’s really neat is that I suddenly have the funds to do all of the other little things I’ve been putting off for months. There is flexibility in my budget now for lunch with a friend or getting my hair done or whatever other little thing might have needed better planning. And this is without going beyond my budget, and accounting for savings. So yay!

I want to highlight one of our repairing (rather than replacing) projects that we did a couple of weeks ago. For years I searched for a sturdy wooden coat tree for the front hallway, so when I finally found one a couple of years back, I was super excited! It was a two piece affair, and the base screwed into the top. Unfortunately, I think it was a victim of military moving….

…because a couple of weeks ago it essentially snapped in half.


I think what happened was that with getting disassembled and reassembled in the move a year ago the screw started to strip, and over the course of the last year it worked itself out of groove until it was beyond help.

(pardon the bad photo quality, these are screen grabs from the video I took of this process)

But let me emphasize– it took me YEARS to find a coat tree. The last thing I wanted was to have to find a new one, especially when we had all of the pieces! So in the spirit of repairing-to-not-purchase, Jared and I set about DOING CARPENTRY.

The first matter of business was to find a way to reconnect the pieces, and in our toolbox stash we found small wooden pegs from some previous furniture repair. With the pegs in mind, we made a little template to help us mark out four spots in equal distance from the central screw, and marked them with pencil.

We drilled into the four segments with a bit the right size for the pegs, then set about fitting them into place. With a liberal application of a heavy duty (furniture grade) wood glue, we wiggled the two pieces of coat tree back together, and ta da!

Just 48 hours later (after drying) we had our coat tree back! Total cost: $5 for the wood glue, which we now have for any other project that might come along.

I can’t tell you how relieved I was. It’s so difficult to find a coat tree anymore, which is strange because it seems like such a useful item! And when I posted about this on instagram, I received multiple replies asking where I’d gotten mine. The moral of the story is if you’ve got a coat tree, hang on to it! Oh and I guess also that repairing things isn’t that hard if you take the time to do it.

joanna irl

No-Buy 2019: New (free) Couch!

One of the more interesting aspects of this project is that, even just three weeks in, I’m stretching my creative muscles to figure out ways to make things work. Part of that is being on the lookout for opportunities and being willing to jump at them when they present themselves.

Case in point– our old couch has been needing to be spruced up for a while. I have had the intention of getting it reupholstered at some point, but never got the chance with my furniture place in Chicago. Now that we are in San Diego, I needed to research a new place….and from the estimates I was seeing online it looked like it would be $2000+ to reupholster and repair the couch, as the springs were all but shot. OUCH.

Treasure hunting.

Fast forward to last Monday. One of my hobbies is checking the free section on Craigslist once or twice a day. It may sound like a strange habit, but the things people give away are always interesting and sometimes valuable. Monday I saw a sofa pop up that was intriguing– so I sent a message to the poster.

It was an antique reproduction, recently reupholstered in the seat, and it was stylistically similar to much of the rest of our living room furniture (Queen Anne, darker finished wood). The person wrote back that if we could come TODAY we could have the couch. Jared and I hopped in the car and drove right over.

What we discovered was a HUGE golden yellow sofa with carved legs that was NOT going to fit in our car. At all. It had gotten a little damp in some unexpected downpour and one of the legs had come off, but it was solid wood and the springs were perfect. So we decided why not?

It took us over 2 hours of waiting around Home Depot to get a flatbed truck to rent, but before too long we were back to pick up the sofa.

Unexpected kindness.

Challenge: the truck’s bed was full of dirt and we accidentally left our twine in our car, which was back at Home Depot.

And this is where the story turns into a tale of the kindness of strangers. While we were staring at the dirty bed (and look at this couch– if it got muddy there wouldn’t be a way to clean it!), one of the couch owner’s neighbors came outside to work on his car. I asked him if we might borrow a broom. At first he looked a little surprised, but when we explained why, he immediately went and got us one to borrow. Win #1!

The truck was clean (and we borrowed some broken down cardboard boxes to put under the sofa so it wouldn’t rub on the truck itself) but we were still without twine…and needing to go down and back up the valley to get home.

Leaving Jared with the truck and sofa, I walked down the block and saw an upholstery shop. When I went inside, the owner was there working on a chair. “This is kind of a weird request,” I said. “But I feel like you might know where someone locally might sell twine? We are moving a couch.” “How much do you need?” the man replied. “I’ve got this stuff that will last 30 years if you treat it well.” Reader, he unspooled YARDS of this twine and just handed it to me, free of charge. (I took his business card and will happily patronize his shop* in the near future.) More kindness from a stranger. Win #2!

We tied the sofa down, wrapped the cushions to make sure they wouldn’t slip, and drove the sofa home before returning the truck and retrieving our own car.

Add a little elbow grease…

When we got home, we put the sofa in the back yard to dry for a bit. Once the sun set, we brought it inside. We reattached the leg– it was a non-load-bearing leg in the back, and we had extra strength wood glue from another project that weekend, plus tiny tack nails to secure it in place. I attacked the few remaining damp spots with my hair drier, and boom: the sofa is installed.

It’s HUGE. You can stretch out completely on it without banging your head into the arm. But the pillows provide enough support you don’t slump either. It goes with our furniture (other than the coffee table which I’ve been meaning to re-stain anyway) and is in great condition. My friend said it was like finding a unicorn.

Oh, and Caspian thinks it’s his new bed.

joanna irl

Project: No-Buy 2019

*dusts blog*

*wipes away accumulated ads and other garbage*

*shines monitor*

Whew. Is this thing still on?

HELLO. I think the last time you heard from me was at least three months ago. I could check, but…. nah. Let’s just start this fresh.

This year is going to be a big one for me with a lot of moving pieces (thankfully my household is NOT one of those pieces– we’ll be staying put all year, thankyouverymuch!) and while last year was pretty much one long adjustment period (re-settling in San Diego! getting used to school! figuring out school/writing/other balance!), this year is going to be different. Blooming where you are planted means giving yourself ways to grow, right?

And so I’m starting a project. Well, sort of a project. Don’t consider it a new year’s resolution, even though it’s beginning in January. Rather, consider it as Year Two in San Diego.

Some background.

Usually around the time we’ve been in a home for a year, I finally figure out the space well enough that I can organize it and put everything where it ought to have been in the first place. I know that seems like a long time, but the reality is that we move often enough that I have to be very good at just Putting Everything Away so that we can get on with our lives.

It takes about a year to learn exactly how much space is in the spare closet, no I don’t like having my “pantry” on the bottom section of the cabinets, and I can’t reach the shoes in this closet if they are stacked that high. So a year into each place, I pull things out room by room and essentially re-move-in. (This is often accompanied by rearranging the furniture, which Jared has gotten so used to he doesn’t even question anymore why the entire living room set is piled in the middle of the floor at 10pm. This is just life.)

The one-year mark in this house happened to correspond with late December, so it gave me extra incentive to really think about the STUFF we have, and what we need, and how best to organize it. (No, I haven’t been watching that Tidying Up show on Netflix. Everyone asks, and I’m sure the show is helpful for folks, but this isn’t that.)

The Project.

Around that time I also decided that I wanted to try a new approach to my spending habits– and so the idea for a No-Buy 2019 was born.

The usual goal of a “no-buy challenge” is to not spend *anything* for a set amount of time, usually a month. Since I want to last a whole year, I had to make some adjustments. My goal isn’t to stop spending quality time with people or to miss all of the movies coming out this year (or otherwise make myself miserable)– my goal is to stop buying random crap at Target. Yeah, “it’s just $5” or “well, it’s on sale for $7.99” or whatever doesn’t sound like much, but that stuff adds up quickly!

My secondary goal is to really understand (and appreciate!) what I already have. And not only that– to USE what I already have! If I have something in excess (or in sufficient amount even), then I should use that thing and not purchase another one. Yes. Good.

Example: I have STACKS of shoes. (Literally stacks– I stacked them!) But when I have an event to go to or need to dress up, I spend forever fishing through my closet because I can’t find a pair to go with whatever I’m wearing. This is patently absurd. The problem isn’t that I don’t have the right shoes– it’s that I can’t FIND them!

Solution: I pulled every pair of shoes out of my closet (they are all in their original boxes, which helps tremendously) and organized them by type before stacking them back in the closet– in columns. Now when I want a pair of ballet flats? I go to the column of ballet flats and choose a pair! Need some pumps? There’s a column of them! Sneakers? Right here with all of the other athletic/outdoor shoes!

And here’s the magic part: I found shoes in the closet that I forgot I even owned. Shoes that I was so excited about when I bought them, but then forgot. It was like going shopping without spending money!

I’ve gone through my makeup, through my jewelry, through my books and movies, through EVERYTHING and organized it. I’ve even taken a sharpie and written on the boxes when they weren’t clearly labeled (see on the shoes?) to make SURE I know what I have. I want to USE this stuff!

I’ve rambled enough about the Purpose Of This Project. Now how about some nitty gritty?

Here are my No-Buy 2019 guidelines:

  • Purchase nothing on impulse.
  • Use (and use up) what is already here. Clean things out completely.
  • It’s okay to replace consumables. (Mascara runs out. Eyeshadow? I’ve got a drawer full.)
  • No shoes, no clothes.
    • Exemption: if I get a job (volunteer or otherwise) that requires, say, a uniform shirt.
  • Exceptions for:
    • Gifts for others (like the first birthday gift I will send in March to a friend’s kiddo)
    • Tickets to movies/shows/events under $50 (again– the goal isn’t to not DO anything, but to not buy excessive STUFF)
    • Pre-meditated purchases*
    • Organizational tools (like small shelves for the pantry)
    • Tools for repurposing old items (like paint to spiff up an old chair)
    • Haircuts and similar
    • Travel expenses**

That exceptions list is pretty important. I needed to be specific with myself and lay out ground rules, but I also needed to allow myself to function for the year. I don’t want to make myself frustrated after all! I want to be able to maintain this all year, and part of that is leaving room for fun things. The tickets exemption, for instance, is so I can still do fun things, but with a price limit so that I maintain balance.

And that’s it!

Why am I sharing this level of detail? Well, I thought it might be fun to document the year here with you all. I hope you enjoy coming along for this project with me. I’ve already had a couple of adventures, but I’ll save those stories for the next few posts.

Happy 2019!


*Pre-meditated purchases include things that I’m looking for long term but waiting for the right specific item– an example would be that I need a new jacket, but I want to get one that I like and that will last for several years. I’ll know it when I see it.
**I am planning some travel this year (more about it later) and would like to be able to bring back a souvenir without guilt.