Photo by londoninflames.

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury: The success or failure of my No New Stuff challenge hinges on a bottle of mousse.

I stood in the hair aisle of the salon for a good five minutes a few weeks ago, holding an intense internal debate. Was I allowed to buy it? Pro: Mousse could technically be considered a toiletry item, therefore exempt under my original No New Stuff terms. Con: I already owned a bottle of a different hair product. Pro: But that stuff doesn’t work. Con: But shouldn’t I finish the bottle — which would take months under my intermittent blow-drying routine — before re-upping?*

Banning new purchases, even if it’s just for a month, certainly brings fresh philosophical questions to the formerly simple act of buying stuff. Do I really need that dress, that toothbrush, that couch pillow? Could I get by instead by repairing something I already own? And if only a new one will do, does it have to be brand-new, or can I save money and materials by picking up a new-to-me item?

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I handled a few key repairs and refurbishments last time around, so it’s time now to consider the secondhand solution. I’m already a huge fan of resale shops and online marketplaces, so I figured that used shopping would be an easy out for my retail desires. That coveted lime-squeezer thingy? That shoe rack I’ve been meaning to buy? Surely Craigslist would have my back.

But, as those of you who also swear by resale shopping already know, I’d ignored the hunter-gatherer problem. Secondhand shopping is fabulous for gathering, or browsing around to discover the bounty of items Lady Luck has brought your way today — as in, “Wow, I never realized how amazing leopard-print salt shakers could look in the kitchen!” But hunting — as in, “I really need size-10 rubber rain boots” — well, sometimes you get lucky, but often, you don’t.

During the past two weeks, I’ve attempted to hunt the following items from Craigslist, Freecycle, and resale shops: shoe rack to declutter the hallway, flower pots for some new herb starts, and throw pillows for our back-aching couch. Along the way, I also tried to gather a desk lamp, a set of cookbooks, and a mini-vacuum. The distinction doesn’t actually matter, because I didn’t get any of them. Either I didn’t find what I needed or I was outbid when I tried to swoop in (the secondhand market around here must be cutthroat).

That’s not to say that I wouldn’t eventually be successful in my secondhand endeavors. My patience may still be rewarded on some fronts, such as with the vacuum or the throw pillows. But for others — well, my fledgling cilantro plant isn’t doing so hot in its stopgap Yoplait container.

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Technically, my No New Stuff challenge ends tomorrow. But after a month, the single most outstanding lesson from the exercise is just how arbitrary it all seems. If I stock up on the things I’ve delayed buying when the calendar flips to June, have I really done myself or the world any good? And on the other hand, does it make any sense to let my scrawny cilantro plant die because I can’t find any secondhand garden pots?

Back to that bottle of mousse: I bought it. A strict constructionist would call my monthlong challenge a failure, and strictly, I suppose they’d be right.

But I prefer to think of that purchase as symbolic of the lasting success of the No New Stuff challenge. In the months to come, I will definitely buy some new stuff. There is no way around purchasing a bridesmaid dress in the next few weeks short of dropping out of a dear friend’s wedding, to start. And the long-term consequences of not buying a few new sports bras are too horrifying to consider. I’m sure there will be more.

I hope I’ll approach every one of them like I approached the decision to buy the mousse: thoughtfully, carefully, even with a bit of agony. Of each one, I’ll ask, “Can I realistically do without this? Is there any way to make do with something I already have? Can I pick one up used?” If I can honestly answer “no” to all of those hurdles, then I can proceed to the cash register guilt-free.

And if not? I’ll see you in the home improvement aisle, or the resale shop, or trolling on Craigslist. Give me a wink if you feel the same way. I’ll be the one fervently searching for a lime-squeezer thingy.

*While it would certainly be admirable for me to give up all styling-related energy and resource use, I still live in a world where professional standards dictate I have to look halfway decent on occasion. For me, that requires a gob of styling product and a steady hand with a blow dryer.

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