20 in 2020 update: My Top 5 Purchases of 2020

The year is over-ish and I am seeing many awesome wrap ups of what people bought and loved in 2020. As I look back on what I bought during my low buy (but, ahem, not really low buy in the end because STRESS) challenge it’s fun to see what I ended up getting a ton of use out of this year. Here are my top 5 purchases of 2020!

Top 5 clothing:

The first thing I realized when trying to build this post is that most of the things I remembered buying immediately were not clothing (more on that in a moment). But it also got me thinking, how do we decide what the best items are? The things that felt the most special? The things I wore the most? The things with the lowest cost-per-wear? I decided to go for somewhere in between all those metrics to create a very unscientific list.

1. Black shorts. I really wish my top purchase of the year was exciting, but according to StyleBook the single item I bought and wore the most was a pair of black shorts (I bought them in June and wore them over 20 times!). It makes sense that shorts topped my list because it’s dang hot here and I actually started the summer without a single pair of shorts I felt comfortable in, so once I found a pair I loved that was it for me.

What did I learn? Shorts should have loose legs and I love a flowy fabric. Just because retailers push rigid denim shorts doesn’t mean that’s what I have to wear.

2. A good work bag. I bought this bag as my birthday present in August and I just love it! It gives me that moment of joy whenever I reach for it and I’ve never had a work bag that feels both sturdy AND cute. Can’t wait to carry it onto campus for more than just occasional printing and picking up books in 2021. I thrifted mine and the color is sold out but I linked it anyway in case you are on the Poshmark search for something similar.

3. A bright red shirt. I love a good t shirt but more often than not they let me down. This Tradlands one does not disappoint because it is sturdy and stretchy and feels borderline indestructible.

I think this also represents the big style shift I saw this year (which I imagine I am not alone on) which is that I went from a neutrals lover to wanting to wear some color to add joy to my day. Was it just a 2020 thing? I don’t know, but I do know I reach for this shirt once a week.

4. Stretchy denim. I am just OVER the 90s vintage denim phase at this point because I do not walk around like a street style model I sit at a DESK for EIGHT HOURS A DAY and I do not appreciate waistbands that aggressively poke at me. I bought a pair of extremely stretchy jeans in August and I have worn them weekly ever since. I love the dark wash, they make me feel polished every day, and I do not need to change out of them as I transition into my evening of watching Great British Bake Off.

The stretchy jeans were a good reminder that sometimes you can have a “complete” category of clothing (I have like 6 pairs of jeans in every wash I could want) but if none of those things are comfortable (not than any of my jeans are entirely uncomfortable? They’re just…jeans) they’ll just sit on the shelf.

5. The funfetti sweater. I bought this sweater at a thrift store the week before stay at home orders kicked in. For $1. For that reason I was hesitant to put it on this list but you know what, I reach for it almost every day because it has become the desk sweater! I am very surprised.

I know some people say they really think through things before they buy them to figure out what they will wear most frequently but I have basically learned that I cannot tell what will end up on my MVP list until it’s sitting in my closet and I reach for it or don’t. I don’t know if that’s helpful to anyone but I think it’s worth admitting to myself that for all my careful planning and budgeting no item is perfect and my closet is more haphazard than I realize.

The most surprising thing about making my top buys list was that the first things that came to mind were not at all clothing. So, honorable mention, here are three non-clothing purchases I made that actually changed my life.

1. My car. I knew that I would probably gain some peace of mind upgrading from a 20+ year old car to something newer but I also thought “I’m just not a car person” so maybe a new car wouldn’t do much for me. I was wrong, wrong, wrong. I bought my Subaru in January and I LOVE IT. It has opened up more outdoor adventures for me at a time when I needed them the most. And I feel safer and more confident driving which has made a huge impact on my mental wellbeing.

2. Weights. I know, who am I? I bought these adjustable weights (if you’re in the market for weights know that the prices on this set fluctuate dramatically–I got them for closer to $300) over the summer and Trevor and I have each used them at least once a week ever since. Weightlifting is one of my favorite ways to deal with stress and they’ve really helped me to stop working at 5, do something active for about 45 minutes, and then chill out.

3. A budgeting app. This was my first year budgeting and the overall effects were nothing short of miraculous??? YNAB taught me to automate saving money every month and then to release my guilt about spending money because I already had a plan for my longterm goals. I no longer live in fear of checking my bank account.

I know all three of these purchases mark a huge amount of privilege during a very rough financial year for many people–not everyone could make big purchases and please don’t take my commentary about saving money as a source of guilt if you were not in the position to do that (as a former grad student who used to see people’s “saving money” commentary and suffer a heart attack, I feel this).

Overall what I did realize is that these three purchases came to mind before any clothing I bought, so, while clothes are super fun, I hope I can carry this lesson forward to remember that my clothing purchases are usually not actually the thing that brings me long term happiness (sigh, haha).

What were your best buys this year? If you tried to limit your shopping how did you do? I’ll be honest, I don’t think I’ll do a low buy challenge again because the restriction created more temptation for me than anything. But it was fun to try and I learned some things about myself along the way!

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6 thoughts on “20 in 2020 update: My Top 5 Purchases of 2020”

  1. I have that bag in maroon and I LOVE it. The funfetti cardigan is such a good find! Will be reflecting on my shopping for a post soon, but I think the pandemic helped me keep to my 20in2020 goal. Sadly, I have to count my air purifier as a best buy of the year because wildfires.


  2. This is such an interesting/insightful round up. I agree, it is hard to know what you’re going to love until you’ve actually owned the item for a significant amount of time, and you’ve seen whether you wear it or not. Living through this pandemic has definitely helped me shed my snobbery around stretchy jeans. Love your comment about not having to change out of them at the end of the day. That is a good sign. I bought a pair from Madewell in early summer, and I have worn them multiple times per week ever since. Comfort wins everytime. Also, super love the colors in your Form Bag outfit.


    1. Thanks Andrea! 🙂 It is such a weird realization that I just do not know myself well enough to predict what clothes will be a hit! But I can fully predict that stretchy pants are here to stay in my life hahah.


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