ASMALL pile of books, two items of clothing from a charity shop and an Etch-A-Sketch: these are all the non-essential items that Megan Streb has bought this year.

The 26-year-old from Shirley, Southampton pledged to buy nothing new for the whole of 2009 and the upshot is that she’s bought almost nothing.

Her ‘rules’ allow her to buy essential items such as food, toiletries and cleaning products but everything else has to be second hand.

“I’m doing it because I wanted to be able to show people that you can do something like this without ending up wearing a potato sack and really suffering. It’s anti-disposable consumerism.”

Megan is keeping an online diary of her year which also charts other experiments – such as a £2 per day diet eating ethical, organic, local food – and hopes that her example will inspire others to think more about their spending.

“Buying things is so easy that a lot of people don’t think about where it’s come from, how much energy and oil were used to make it, how far it’s come – it’s really easy not to pay attention.”

Really thinking about what she spends her money on has focused Megan’s mind on how much she already has.

“I’d recommend that anyone who wants to cut down on buying things looks at what they already have,” she says.

“I think a lot of people are convinced that they need new things but for the most part they don’t. I’ve gone to second hand shops but for the most part I haven’t bought anything because I just haven’t needed to. I think we’re pretty good at convincing ourselves that we need things when we just want them.”

To anyone who routinely spends their weekends ploughing through the rails of high street shops, buying nothing new for a year could sound like hell. But Megan says it’s been surprisingly easy.

“I thought that I’d want more things that I wouldn’t be able to have than I actually do. I don’t feel like I’m depriving myself. It’s not a case of sacrifice and hardship and not being about to wait until this year is over so I can buy things – it’s been really easy.”

The main benefit that Megan has noticed from her regime is that she has lots more money to do things now that she’s not spending it on ‘stuff’. She estimates that she spends £80 to £100 a month on non-essentials including travel and going out.

Last year she left her well-paid career as a teacher to explore different career options and has been getting by on much less money, doing various temporary jobs but thanks to her experiment she hasn’t had to adjust her lifestyle in accordance with her lower income.

“Even though I’m on a lower salary I’ve still got the lifestyle I had when I was earning more so if I want to go to London for a gig or go to a museum I know I’ve got the money to do that, whereas a lot of my friends complain that they haven’t got any money.”

Megan’s husband is sympathetic to her experiment and although he’s bought the odd new thing – such as a laptop when his stopped working – he’s been happy to put up with such things as a toaster that doesn’t cook both sides at once in support of her efforts.

Megan says that her year of buying nothing new stems from a growing awareness of issues such as global warming and ethical shopping.

“Up until three or so years ago I really wasn’t thinking about fair trade, organic, food miles, oil consumption or energy use. I always thought of myself as being environmentally aware but I don’t think I really was.

“It’s nice because these challenges force you to really look at your lifestyle. It would be interesting to see if someone who is a high consumer would have a lasting lifestyle change if they did a challenge like this, even for a month. Would they say ‘actually, I’d rather have more money in savings’?”

For Megan, disposable consumerism definitely isn’t a path she can see herself walking down again in the future.

“When you see people working incredibly long hours so that they can earn lots of money to buy things, I sort of wonder if they’re happy,” she says.

“It’s quite possible that they are – they work long hours and they get to have really nice stuff and go on expensive holidays.

Every once in a while someone will have something really nice and I think it would be nice to have it but then I think of the freedom I have and I wouldn’t trade it.”

Megan's tips for buying less:

■ Look at what you already have and see if you have an alternative to buying a new item

■ Think about if you need something or just want it

■ Look after your clothes – mend them, don’t just replace them

■ Get your books from the library

■ Try Freecycle to get other people’s unwanted items, such as furniture, for free