Blog, Minimalism

One Empty Shelf’s Year of Buying Nothing – 2012

2012 Part 2

You may have read elsewhere on One Empty Shelf about my year of buying nothing, which I did in 2012 and which was such an adventure. I blogged throughout on the first incarnation of One Empty Shelf, and reading through my old posts has brought back the lessons, the struggles and many more memories. I’m posting my old blogs here as a guide to what I discovered during that year. I’m posting them with no editing or re-writing so excuse any spelling, grammar and general bad writing…! You can read more about life afterwards here and here.

This is Part 2-the last 6 months.


Last night I’d made a decision to quit this experiment. I’d had enough. I know that I don’t need ‘things’ but I sure as hell want those things.

I want a new soft leather journal. Some new jeans. More jumpers as this summer ain’t happening any time soon. Jumpers without holes in, or paint stains down them. Jeans that a) fit and b) aren’t covered in woodstain.

I want to feel confident when I go out.

My black work jumper has got holes in. I split a work skirt the other week. I’m not going to buy any more work clothes because of some other reasons.

Today I was getting up, lifting weights, and then going shopping.

Then I caught myself, just in time. I am writing this as it is a distraction from jumping in the car with my savings and blowing the lot in the house of fraser sale.

Why now? After 6 months of not buying, why is it suddenly all-consuming?

I used to buy things to validate myself. I thought that if I had this certain book, or brand of notebook, or bag, or shoes, or coat…that I could be somebody else. That I could buy into the lifestyle I aspired to, and maybe kid a few people out there that this was who I really was.

That I could kid myself that this was who I really was.

This time round it’s the same premise, different shoes. I’d convinced myself that no, I no longer need the designer stuff. I want to be the ‘real’ me, the person I used to be, the more ‘eclectic’ side. That was what made me happy, I was who I was, and didn’t care. Then my job role slowly became the ruler of my life, and I forgot.

So why this retail breakdown? I think it’s my mind’s way of trying to be the person I was again. I want to buy the things I used to buy, be who I used to be.

Stop. Why do you need all this physical stuff to change back to who you really are? If that’s who you really are, why do you need to change at all?

Will a posh notebook give me less stress? Will a new pair of jeans relax me? Will a cardigan motivate me whilst I’m building up a client base?

Or will they end up back in the cupboard like all the other jeans I used to have? Will my collection of pristine blank notebooks, devoid of inspiration, find their way to the charity shop in hope that they will help someone else utilise the creativity I am sadly lacking at this moment?

I know what I need. It’s a change in mindset. The possibility of, as my husband puts it, that little light. So on that note, yes I’m off, out the house. I need to pop to the post office. Then I’m going to grab myself a giant black coffee from a local coffee shop, sit, and work on changing the things that really matter.


Well, hello month 10 of One Empty Wallet. Nice to meet you.

A bit of background before I start.

Who would have thought that this challenge would become what it has? In January, I was envisaging having so much extra money by this point that I’d be pretty much on my way to a nice 8 bed mansion with a helipad and a lambo.

Instead, 10 months down the line, my dosh has taken on the form of a (admittedly lovely) house, I walked out of my job, and am not eligible for any form of government assistance.

So, in amongst the great guilt of being a leech and impatience at getting my business off the ground, things have come around to some sort of ‘enforced minimalism’.

Minimalism in times of no income.

I have a slight quandary. A few months ago, this challenge was a choice, minimalism was a choice, ‘stuff’ didn’t count if it was digital (no mess), it was a way of being in control, keeping tidy in a house I never saw. To choose to pare down, to choose to jettison unwanted items, to streamline thoughts, feelings and environmental impact. Internet minimalism has a shiny, sleek, wealthy image. To aspire to empty shelves, designer technology, a few crisp white Ralph Lauren shirts hanging in your single expensive wardrobe, fanatically clean, reflective surfaces, a beautiful loft apartment, photogenic friends.

I chose that, to aspire to, to keep me going, to hope that by cutting down on the unnecessary clutter would allow me to buy less, but more ecologically sound, higher quality items.

But now, as I try to launch my business, the message of Minimalism has a different meaning.

Living off my ever-dwindling savings and leaning heavily on my hard-working husband was never, ever part of my life plans.

And emotional struggles aside, it means that the minimalist lifestyle has taken on a whole new shape.

And now I have no choice. My little ‘One Empty Shelf’ giggle at silly old consumerist panic buying has become a kind of imposed prison. It is how I HAVE to live my life. All those ‘treats’ that didn’t count as they are not physical items? My favourite way to spend a lazy morning-Costa Coffee? Starbucks? Browsing iTunes? Loading up my Kindle?

All those excuses for outlets for my ‘minimal spending’ are getting shut off. This is real. No more playing about.

I have never had to budget for petrol before. I just filled up, drove lots, filled up again, and never even bothered. Now, I’m trying to make sure I have enough in my account to pay my phone bill whilst worrying if I’ll have a spare £10 to put a little bit of petrol in my car to keep it going. I am terrified, and sad, and determined all at the same time.

Now there is no choice in being minimal, I suppose it feels like a bit of the fun has been taken out of it. Yet this time, there are no shiny worktops at the end of it. There are no designer bags. There is no designer furniture, no iTunes, no 1000 Kindle books. There is nothing to feel boastful or smug about. It is a struggle, everyday. Whilst keeping up appearances on the outside for my business-smart, well-off, successful-in real time, it’s a different story.

Minimalism was a way to reduce the clutter in both my house and my head. Now, after quitting a job that was so stressful it was making me ill, my head has had time to relax. My house is epically organised as I’ve had a lot of free time recently. I no longer have dizziness, palpitations or breathing problems. But I no longer have a million things to do either.

So I’ve taken stock. A big aim for me is to run my business successfully, which, in turn, will allow me to once again be in control of the way I live my life. And potentially, given the sector I work in, be able to afford at least the wheel off that Lamborghini.

True Minimalism is about letting go of the need for flashy items. To ignore advertising, and to make do with the bare essentials for a happy life.

I realise now that was not what I was looking for. I was looking for a way to be able to afford less, but better. To stop my head from imploding with tasks. To spend more time with the people I love. To re-discover who my husband is. To be secure, independent, and in control.

Image is important to me. I can’t change that. In the past, being who I am now had seemed impossible. And shallow as it may seem, success is important to me. Along these terms, I am not a minimalist. I am not even nearly there. To be that would be to change my entire way of thinking. And to WANT to change my entire way of thinking.

This ‘enforced minimalism’ seems to have happened at the right time. And much as I hate it now, I know that as my client numbers grow, I’ll be able to claw my way out.

I’ve not bought any items (apart from for work, consumables and essential toiletries) for just over 9 months now. I will complete my challenge. But it has taught me a lesson I wasn’t expecting. That I am not a minimalist. That I do not want to be a minimalist.

I just wanted peace, love, and security. And I’m on the way there.


So there are 5 weeks left of the one empty shelf/wallet challenge 2012.

Suffice to say, recently it hasn’t been the most fun of times. Enforced minimalism holds no truck with me, my friend.

It’s also been a weird sort of settling down time, getting used to actually living with my other half again, actually seeing him for more than 30 minutes in a 3-day period, doing things together.

And settling into my new mindset too. For the past 2-3 months since leaving my managerial job, I’ve lost it, found it, lost it again, and now am almost emerging out the other side after realising there is a real world out here, full of joy and friends and fun and things to do. I’ve eaten, drank, put on a stone and a bit, socialised, made plans, decorated, crafted, written, played and listened. I’ve become human again, rather than the shell of an existence I had before.

And I’ve done all of that without going shopping. (!)

Now it’s some sort of life/business twilight zone. After a lot of preparation and general living of life, the last week actually saw some decisive action on my part and resulted in a Christmas fayre, a reflexology booking, and a networking meeting. Slowly cranking back into action. Ever forward, hopefully!

This year has been a tumultuous one to say the least. I’ve been so stressed it made me ill, excelled at a management competition, bought a house, moved into that house, been blonde, ginger, and brunette, left my job, put on weight, slowed down, started my own company, been well-off, been flat broke, finished 4 qualifications and am continuing on one more.

2012 has taught me that I am worth something. That things I thought were lost were just buried beneath the surface. That I have more friends than I thought. That I love them. That there is an opportunity in every situation. That the rat race is not the only way.

That you have to scare yourself sometimes to move forward. That stepping out of your comfort zone is not just a cliché.

The ‘not buying anything’ challenge has also opened my eyes, but not in the way I was expecting. I have learned that money isn’t everything, but something I value. That I am more materialistic than even I ever thought I would be. That possessions are important to me. That I prefer quality and personalisation over quantity and mass-produced.

Though it has changed the way I look at the world-I will never again just ‘go shopping’ to make me feel better. Things I look for can be restored, are build and made to last, have hard work and thought put into their design and manufacture. Items that are sustainable and manufactured fairly, that give years of joy and love to their owners. Products with personality.


If you are ever tempted to minimise your possessions, I have one bit of advice for you. DIGITISE YOUR MUSIC COLLECTION EVEN IF YOU THINK YOU WON’T LISTEN TO IT…

I guarantee, 12 months down the line, you’ll be sat in your house, feeling a sense of loss, wishing you still had that obscure King Prawn cd.

2012-One Empty Shelf Update

Well, the year is drawing to a close. 12 months. 365 tumultuous, unbelievable days. And now, the end. What a story.

12 months on from the beginning of a seemingly impossible challenge. The challenge, for a supposed shopaholic, lover of all material objects, admirer of designer, expensive, unnecessary goods.

To not buy anything in 2012.

The small print was limited to food and essential toiletries, and as my job required a certain image, if something was absolutely necessary, I could buy it for work. That was it.

I was sure I was going to fail.

The first month, two months, three months, were not all fun. I wanted shoes. I wanted designer mascara. I needed coats, scarves, jumpers, bags.

But as the year wore on, and winter inched its way into spring, I realised that I didn’t even buy that much before. I bought books, music. The odd pair of shoes. And with that realisation, I could continue in a lot better frame of mind.

May and June were hectic. The rules were relaxed somewhat as I jointly made one, single, massive purchase-our first house. The timing was right, we needed to move, and so my husband and myself dropped our entire savings on a jumbly, friendly, masses-of-potential, bargain of a house. We had lots of plans for it and things were great.

It was around this time things started to happen.  My holiday at work was cancelled again, so I couldn’t help move in. And over the next 2 months, pressure at work built and built to an unprecedented level. With no proper days off, being contactable 24/7 had finally started to take its toll on my health. They cancelled another 8 day holiday I’d had booked for a year, and when I had to fight so hard to finally get 3 days of it I knew something had to change. It was one day that made me realise that I was making myself ill with stress, and this was the time I had to decide what was really important.

It was hard to get through that period of time without that cushion of being able to treat myself, of browsing for a pile of books to escape into, or perking up my mood with some amazing shoes. I had to find other ways of coping, and so, at the end of August, with absolutely no savings, a new house, and a massive mortgage, I quit my job to work for myself.

By this time I didn’t miss buying anything personal at all. I had my final paycheck, and spent it on setting up my new business. By now my jeans are giving way, the zip has broken, my jumpers are bobbly, and I haven’t bought any makeup all year. But getting through the autumn months was taking all of my attention. From being a successful, important management professional to being, in my eyes, a nobody, took all my attention and gave me a new kind of stress. I spent the remainder of my money on coffee and did a lot of thinking. My husband was, and still is, more amazing than anyone. Uncomplainingly shouldering the bills, the mortgage, and a jibbering, unsure, confusion of a wife, he deserves so much of my love and respect and is a model to anyone of an honest to goodness, thoroughly decent human being. I cannot thank him enough.

So now it’s the end of December. A minimal Christmas has passed, full of family, friends, and small, tiny presents. Good food, good cheer, and not much materialism. I got over my leaving work crisis and re-discovered myself. The person I thought was lost under layers of stressful, hardened retail professionalism re-emerged on the other side. I am still terrified, every day. But I can see where my business is going, and introduce myself as a CEO now, not as a nobody, and I enjoy every hour of work I put in to my company.

Minimalism is sometimes a cry for control over your life, a manifestation of a desire for simplicity. Materialism sometimes grows from the same desire. Neither of these extremes provide the answer.

I’ve learnt so much this year. I’ve learnt the most important things are not material objects, or the lack of material objects. I’ve learnt that even if it seems idiotic, your body knows when it’s the right time, and you should listen to it.

That in dark days, the last thing on your mind is buying ‘stuff’.

I found it easier than I thought. I learnt more than I thought. I changed more than I thought. And I realised the people around you, in your life, are so important.

I found that love transcends all else.

I am wary of adverts, of shopping centres, of shop displays. I am cynical when looking out for objects, and look for quality, lasting, well-made, locally sourced items. Which brings me to 2013.

2013 will be a year of growth, opportunities, and going local. In running my business, I have met a lot of local contacts. I am realising how important it is to support and shop in the local community. So that’s the challenge for 2013. ‘Going Local’ is about shopping locally, buying UK produce in season, and growing as much as possible.

If you’re thinking of trying the ‘One Empty Shelf’ buy nothing challenge, you have my full support. You will learn so much, and a lot of it, you won’t even expect. It’s liberating, confusing, awful, and fantastic, all in equal measures. But ultimately, it is so, so rewarding. Rewarding in what ways, I’ll leave for you to discover.

Have a brilliant New Year, and all the best in 2013.

Sal x

You can read the first part of One Empty Shelf’s year of buying nothing here.


Book Shelf Club


6 thoughts on “One Empty Shelf’s Year of Buying Nothing – 2012

  1. Really wonderful insights here. Appreciate your honesty and the story of your ups-and-downs. At times, I find myself drawn strongly by that Ralph Lauren vision of a minimalist life. But your comment “I’ve learnt the most important things are not material objects, or the lack of material objects.” struck me. Its very reminiscent of Paul from Philippians “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” I guess that is the thing, the secret, that we really need to work for – not the latest trend or fad.

  2. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts through this journey! You have inspired me to do the same and discover something new about myself in the process. I wish you and your family all the best!

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