In the beginning

I walked through the aisles of my local Target. So many things to buy and bring home. Things I didn’t even know that I needed a few moments before. And yet I manage to fill my cart with these things. Every week.

Somewhere along the way the line between needs and wants was blurred, as I suspect it has been for many of us. I don’t need much, but I want a whole helluva a lot of things. At least in the moment I want them.

And so the day after Christmas as I was pushing my full cart around a store, because I guess an entire month of frantic shopping just wasn’t enough for me, I looked over at the other women who were similarly pushing carts around. One woman held up this tacky decoration to show her friend. “Look at this?” she called out, “It is only $6! Can you believe it?”

Her friend answered, “What are you going to do with that?”

She said, “I don’t know. But it is only $6. Who cares if it is a little damaged.”

I’d like to say that I had an epiphany then and left my cart full of stuff that I didn’t need and went home. But I didn’t. I brought home that 8ft tall pre-lit Christmas tree, a pencil sharpener, a new travel mug, pajamas for my daughter, a pair of sunglasses, coffee, and a plaster cast Santa. And I justified every single one of those purchases in my mind.

55 Responses to “In the beginning”

  1. Nicki Says:

    oooh I can tell already, this is gonna be good!

  2. Elizabeth Says:

    We went in to Target two days after (had avoided going for most of December) - and I truly could not go down the aisles of frenzy this year. I did not need a thing, and just couldn’t handle the vibe of the *must haves* any longer. It’s been a long time coming, and I let the feeling wash over me and carry me out of the store - with only some new clothes (much needed) for the kids. P.S. - I did not share what I experienced (yet) with my husband - as he would derive much too much pleasure from that! HA!

  3. andrea from the fishbowl Says:

    I So know where you’re coming from.
    I have posted about two-month shopping embargo on my own blog. I am challenging myself. And you. And I think I can do it. :)

    I think this is something we all need to do, to buy *less*. This accumulation of things… the want v. need…. I am constantly treading this line. It’s going to take a lot of work to change old habits.

  4. andrea from the fishbowl Says:

    p.s the post is here:

  5. Johnna Says:

    Ohhh, I can tell I’m gonna love this new direction of your blog. I learn a lot from you anyway, but I can’t wait to see what I learn from this journey. And to avoid shopping while still providing for your 7 kids will show me that I can do it and provide for my 3. I will be diligently following your posts.

  6. Diane Says:

    Chris, is this YOUR family that is not shopping for a year?

    Chris says: Yes, it is.

  7. Anna Says:

    I dream of Target…my nearest one is 120 miles away…and I would still rather make that trip then the 7 miles to Walmart. It’s a sickness. I am super excited to see this site is still up and running…Happy New Year!

  8. JO Says:

    Ahh yes I do understand ,,,, altho I’m more likely to be buying more “stuff” at an antique mall or flea market. I rarely go to Target but did a few days ago and bought a wet Swiffer…we’ll see if i use it.

  9. Fairly Odd Mother Says:

    Oooooooo. . . your new banner has me all a-flutter. I’ve heard of some uber-hip family of three in NYC going the non-consumer route for a year, but a family with a gazillion kids?!?!? Yowza! Can’t wait to read more.

    (we had a brand-new Target open less than a mile from my home. I think I should just take a year off from shopping THERE, since I spend way too much every time I walk in those doors!)

  10. Rachel May Says:

    It’s amazing, isn’t it? The things we didn’t know we HAD to have until we saw them sitting there, just waiting for us to drive our red buggy by so they could LEAP into it…

  11. Lazy Organizer Says:

    Wow, I can’t wait to hear more about this. I’m so sick of STUFF and I’m sick of people who waste their money on it! I can see myself living in the same pair of jeans every single day for the next ten years. Oh, I already do that! Sometimes I wash them though.

  12. Natalie Says:

    Here ya go:

    I may not be able to stop shopping completely, but I think I need to find a new way to determine whether something to purchase is really worth the money.

  13. Lisa Says:

    This looks interesting, I’m looking forward to reading more. Having been through a similar experience myself a while back and making the conscious decision to consume less, I’m really curious to know how it works out for you. In the meantime, have you seen this - I found it fascinating. Good luck!

  14. Denise Says:

    OK errr Chris. TW stumbled into this yesterday and gasped when she realized what you were about to do… or what you’re making it look like you’re about to do. And while I did not gasp, I did almost gasp. WTF are you doing? The insanity you’re about to step into… voluntarily… don’t you have enough of that already????

  15. dcrmom Says:

    I’m intrigued!!! This should be interesting… :-)

  16. jody Says:

    Wow. Now that is going to be hard. I totally get it though. It is just unbelievable how much money is spent every year on just plain crap we don’t need. Just unreal.

    I hope you have all the camping gear you need for next summer! If not, I will shop for you. ;*)

    Good luck!

    Chris says: And thus the line between need and want is blurred ;-) I think we have most of the camping stuff that we need.

  17. Wendy Says:

    I am very intrigued. I think the line between need and want is very blurred.

    I have had to really think about purchases, for the past 5 months, and it is getting easier. Although, I am now questioning getting myself some new clothes. There are things I think I need, but am not sure. It doesn’t help that I am not finding anything I like, but I, also, am not looking forward to spending the money. It is causing some anixety.

    Who is this new person and how do I stop her? :o

  18. Nicole Mc Says:

    Oh my i’m sooooo excited for this. I just recently decided to do something similar after watching The STory of Stuff! Have you seen it?? I think it may have changed my life. Cant wait to read more!!

  19. Karly Says:

    Chris, this is really inspiring to me. I’ve been feeling this way for a long time and not doing anything about it. Do I need all the cute little pretties I buy at Target? No. But, man, its hard to leave without them. Good luck on this. I think its AMAZING that your kids are with you on this and this year is going to be such a good lesson for them. Good for you. Can’t wait to read about how it goes…and hopefully I will be able to follow through with my plan to stop buying the junk that I really don’t need as well!

  20. Kathleen Says:

    A Whole Year??? No new SHOES??? I’ve thought about it…I can’t wait to follow the journey so I don’t have to do it :)….although you may just inspire me!

  21. Wicked Stepmom Says:

    Here you go, inspiring me again.

    So smart. We’ve sort of been forced into this way of thinking off and on the past few years, but as soon as our bank account goes beyond certain dollar amount, I find myself BUYING just BECAUSE I CAN.

    I’m going to enjoy following this effort!

  22. Tiff Says:

    I remember some years ago a photo project in a kids magazine (Ranger Rick??) that showed a family in front of their house with the entire contents of the home. Families from Africa, Russia, the US and a few others. It was very powerful. I still think of those pictures when I start shifting “stuff” in my basement, attic, garage, shed, closets…

  23. Jaye Says:

    I’m intrigued. I tried giving up shopping for Lent last year. I made it 4 weeks before I *had* to buy a new purse. I’ll definitely be checking in often for updates. I suspect giving up shopping is kind of like dieting- if I really think about it before I put it in my mouth/cart, most likely I’ll put it back.

  24. Debby Says:

    I can’t wait to follow your adventure. My family has been doing this for a while, but not in an all-or-nothing sort of way. It’s eye-opening. I actually buy more groceries, just so I’m buying something. Weird, huh?

    Something else we’re doing is letting go of our posessions. Right now I’m giving away one thing a day. Like some lovely flowerpots that my mom always loved. They are now hers.

  25. Cindy Says:

    I’m staying tuned…

  26. Karen Says:


    I will be joining you in spirit and will take a much more serious look on anything we do buy. I have exactly the same experience when I go to our local K Mart (we don’t have a Target here in the sticks). I will go in, planning on picking up this one bar of soap, and come out with $156 worth of things I didn’t need till I saw them.

    This will help our money and my sanity ^^

    Thanks for reminding me of something I know already but tend to forget :D


  27. Lorraine Says:

    This sounds intriguing. I’m trying to cut back on my own clutter, and could totally get on board with a year of only spending on “needs” not “wants”. I think the line between “need” & “want” would be critical for me.

    Obviously we “need” food, and clothing. We “need” to replace the bathroom vanity because of the lack of functionality and the hole in the bottom of the current one. We “need” to get new fixtures for said bathroom because the old ones are rusting out.

    I “want” more digiscrapping kits, even though I have more than enough there is always something uber-cute out there.

    Then there are the gray areas. Do I “need” or “want” that under-sink shelf system I saw on The cabinet under my sink is an utter mess, and completely unhelpful. I think the shelves would help. But would they really? is it a want or a need? I’m not sure. Do I “need” or “want” those books? I meaning, reading is awesome, and all…. but is it possible to get them from the library? what if the library does not have the book I want to read? What if it is something I could use over and over again for the kids in our homeschool? hmmm. where is the line?

    Interesting. You’ve definitely gotten me thinking. *S* and that’s always a good thing.

    Chris says: I don’t know. I hope that on this journey I will find some answers to those questions. And maybe make the line clearer.

  28. Mommy mommy Says:

    Wow, this should be good!!!

  29. Jennifer Says:

    What a great challenge! NPR did a story no the SF Compact in 2007…

  30. peepnroosmom Says:

    Wow! Just wow!

  31. dana Says:

    I am DEFINITELY adding this to my bloglines. You are a genius. :) Seriously, I will be following your journey. I sorely need to do the same thing though I know it will be uber painful. In your post, you wrote about the going through target and watching other shoppers load up and yourself too..that is so ME. SO. ME. I spend thousands upon thousands of dollars every year at Walmart just buying “stuff” that I think I need or that advertisers tell me I need.

    Anyway, I commend you for doing this and I look forward to following your journey…and perhaps starting something similar myself.

  32. Annie Says:

    I can’t wait to read more about this! I hope to be inspired to follow your lead. I would love to give up shopping entirely but I have already given up my best friend, Diet Coke. Day 2 without my favorite drink/poison. I miss it! For now I will live vicariously through you!

  33. Annie Says:

    P.S.- Is diet coke a want or a need?!

  34. Karen Says:

    Have been considering this, too. What do you think about gift-giving? Birthday parties, etc?

  35. Lisa Says:

    Can’t wait to hear more. I gave up buying anything but groceries for Lent last year and it was really, really hard. The day after Easter, I went directly into Target and basked in all that had a bullseye on it. Sad, sad, sad.

  36. Sarah @ Ordinary Days Says:

    Oh this is going to be too much fun! I, too, am a Target impulse buyer. More power to you for going for it! I don’t think i could do it.

  37. crockpot lady Says:

    lol, that is just what I do. I walk around and fill carts and then leave them. I say it’s to keep the staff busy, but I truly chicken out.
    My friends don’t actually like shopping with me.

  38. Elizabeth Says:

    OH - need to share this link from LIFE magazine showing (slideshow) what an entire family eats in a week (and looking at some family of 20 - comparitively to a family of four/five in the US, was shockingly eye-opening)…,29307,1626519_1373664,00.html

  39. Elizabeth Says:

    oops-TIME magazine…

  40. Elizabeth Says:

    Yikes - can I clean that up, sorry - thanks:
    OH - need to share this link from TIME magazine showing (slideshow) what an entire family eats in a week (and looking at a family of 20 - comparitively to a family of four/five in the US, was shockingly eye-opening)…,29307,1626519_1373664,00.html

  41. nicole Says:

    hey chris,

    i just read about this on your other blog, and i am very excited! i am a college student who has zero money in real life, yet i guess i don’t know that in my mind because i keep ending up with all kinds of things that i have never needed before, but now are oh-so-important! (or “cheap”…)


  42. Tara Says:

    Wow! What a neat idea. You have me hooked from this post. :-)

    I know I’m definitely guilty of buying things just because the item is on sale. I’m looking forward to reading more.

    Good Luck!

  43. Leeann Says:

    I can already tell this is going to be one of my favorite blogs of the year!
    whoo hoo!

    In the meantime, I am hosting a contest on my blog that is meant to help others through giving to charity.

    Check it out at:


  44. Jane Says:

    I think this is an excellent idea for many reasons; I wish you every success with it. I am looking forward to debates about whether something counts as a ‘want’ or a ‘need’!

    Maybe it would be an idea to divide everything you own into 4 piles, hide 3/4s of it, then in 3 months when everyone wants something new, you could bring a different quarter out and swop it all round. Just like toy rotation but on a larger scale…

    Good luck with it anyway!

  45. Geri Says:

    this should be good. I will have encouragement, support and have all my thoughts vocalized…

  46. Javamom Says:

    So I have questions, although I don’t know if I’ll get an answer given how many comments you have here already:

    1. Given how many kids’ birthdays you have, do you get them gifts you buy and if yes, will that have to follow the rules? I can’t imagine a 5 year old getting too excited over new underwear…just wondering how this will work.
    2. What about cravings for something? I know you have food allergies, but I myself know that the incessant thought about chocolate on the way home from someplace will have me stop somewhere specifically to pick up the chocolate if there isn’t any at home. So where would I draw the line here? Do I really need the chocolate? Or is this a want? Frankly, if I hadn’t stopped tonight to get the chocolate I may have been a tad irritable, so is prevention of irritability with said chocolate a need or want? Just wondering.
    3. What about other people’s gifts? If you get invited to a wedding, funeral, birthday party, anniversary, will a gift for them follow specific rules?

    I think I’ll stop here. I know you are just embarking on this blog and perhaps some of these questions may get answered as you post your ideas and adventures. So I’ll check in again. I’m not a shopper myself, frankly, I hate it, but I hate stuff, or the accumulation of stuff, as much if not more, so I tend to frequent these types of blogs for inspiration. Good luck!

  47. Ln Says:

    This post and the replies (especially the link to The Story of Stuff) have really got me thinking tonight! I’ll be curious to see how you define want vs need for homeschooling stuff. That’s a major gray area for me.

  48. Angie Says:

    Can’t wait to see this unfold!

    I’m praying for a change in our spending habits this year, although I can’t say that I’ll be going as hard core as you. ;)

  49. shel Says:

    Sounds interesting, and my family of 8 would like to join you in this challenge. I think I get it, but I’m waiting for you to explain the details of how it works.

  50. andrea from the fishbowl Says:

    I had to check in and read the comments you’ve collected so far. Peronally I’m really interested in exploring the margins between need and want. Like the person who was questionning whether she needs (or wants) an under-sink storage system. I am trying my own shopping embargo too, but once we get into home improvement it gets a little more difficult.

    For example. We have a large house plant that we received as a gift about 5 years ago. The pot it was in was horrible - this plastic thing with a tacky basket that was falling apart. I hated that plant. My husband had been asking me to repot it. I did. Earlier this summer I bought a beautiful handpainted ceramic plant pot and a cork mat to put underneath it in case of leakage. It all came to about $45. I repotted the plant, and now I love it.

    Was that pot a want or a need? We probably could have lived without it. It makes me happy looking at it. I guess I could have scoured second-hand stores to find something similar, but I didn’t.

    Gah. For other people the same might apply for shoes/purses/sink storage. It’s a tough call. But perhaps the first step is thinking about those potential purcheses a little more, right?

  51. Mary Says:

    I am intrigued by this. I also have to cut down on my buying-of-worthless-crap this year, but for me it is more of a money issue. When I look at my budget for the year, for many pay periods the amount of money I need to put out is more than I can expect to bring in. And I am aiming to have a credit card-free year this year (since I have quite enough CC debt and need to do something about it). Anyway, I can’t get out of Target without spending $100, mostly on useless stuff or stuff I don’t need. Therefore, I am thinking that I won’t be spending as much time in Target as I like to!

    I will have to spend that time working overtime, instead…

  52. Mayhem Says:

    Great idea. I think our family does okay but not perfectly at avoiding excessive or impulse spending, so I’m interested in reading how it goes for your family, and probably getting new ideas from you.

    I think it’s a little funny how hard people think it will be for you (or would be for them) to not buy things you don’t need. Maybe it won’t be so hard after all!

  53. If you’re like me, | VanderMeander : "something's lost, but something's gained in living every day" Says:

    [...] want to keep an eye on this blog.  What does happen when a family does not shop for a year?!  (This link takes you to her first post on the [...]

  54. Cakes Says:


  55. Jenny Says:

    Our family was just talking about this. I am so glad to happen upon your blog. We will be fallowing you for the year. As I read I am ready to join you in this no shopping for a year. I am already a frugal mom. I do love to shop the thrift store. Recently started teaching my daughters to sew using material from old sheets or other clothing. We are actually getting ready to go through and get rid of all the extra stuff we don’t need it is amazing what we seem to collect then don’t use.

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