why i quit magazines.

A few months ago, I went through the pile of endless magazine stacks in my office and noticed how few I really read. Thousands of glossy pages went untouched last year, and I can’t bear to think of how many times I walked past that stack and felt guilty, wasteful and uneconomical.

In an effort to streamline my belongings and enter a more “grown-up” phase of my life (sweet Grace wrote a fantastic post about grown-up things a few weeks ago!), I made the decision to cancel all subscriptions, declare magazine bankruptcy and start from scratch.

Since then, I’ve noticed a very subtle shift in a few areas of my life:

To be honest, this has been a small shift, as subscriptions are far cheaper than picking up a monthly copy of your favorite magazine on the newsstand. When I travel, I always stock up on the usual suspects (Real Simple, ReadyMade and Lucky are a few I frequent), and lately I’ve been traveling pretty frequently. But, I’m still saving money, and I’m slowly realizing which magazines I enjoy reading, and which add to the noise. I’ve quickly realized that there are 3-4 select mags that I do actually miss, and plan to subscribe to those next year (rather than the 12 I canceled this year!).

This goes without saying, but having an empty space where endless stacks of magazines once resided was a nice bonus. My mind has been considerably less overwhelmed these past few months as I stare at a [nearly] empty surface on my desk. Look who’s becoming a minimalist? Wow!

I was super surprised by this shift, as I’ve never had much of an issue with body image. With that said, I’ve thought much less about what clothing is “in” this season and much more about what I’m inspired to wear. And because I’m no longer seeing air-brushed beauties on countless covers, I think far less about my abs (which don’t exist, FYI) and far more about cheese. I like that.

I’ve found that the priority of print in my life has shifted. I’m a firm believer that print is not dead, and I like that I have extra pocket change to invest in quality, independent publications (Anthology, Elephant and Uppercase are frequent purchases of mine). I love that I can be committed to the growth of both print and independent ideas. Huge bonus.

Surprisingly, I haven’t been lacking in the inspiration department. Sure, I live a large portion of my life online and see countless inspiring images daily, but I do also love the tangible effect of taping glossy paper to my wall. Luckily, I’ve been high on inspiration with a few (free!) catalogs that come sweeping into my mailbox daily (Anthropologie, Urban Outfitters and Toast are a few that showcase beautiful interiors and style!). Thank you, art directors.

What about you, friends? To subscribe or not to subscribe?

  • Awesome! I quit magazines last year as well, mostly for environmental issues. I was feeling so guilty throwing pounds and pounds of paper into the recycling box…There is so much info and inspiration on the net, I haven’t really missed them too much.

  • you’re so right! i totally didn’t even hit the environmental factor, but that part is suuuuch a bonus for me.

  • i really need to do this. i am swimming in a sea of magazines, ones i’ll never read. i have a dozen subscriptions!
    i want to get back into reading….real books! its time for a classic. any suggestions?

  • oooh, yes! books! you know, it’s far from a classic, but i find anything by sloane crosley always pulls me out of my book-reading slump. ‘i was told there’d be cake’ is a LONG time fave of mine!

  • I’m not a big magazine subscriber either — I used to have a magazine subscription to Vanity Fair, but when it ran out, I didn’t renew. I also had a subscription to Domino, but we know what happened there — they substituted it for Lucky, and I never read it!

    One subscription that I did recently get, and I”m SO glad I did, is the new magazine Anthology. It’s not so much a magazine as a keepsake, seriously. And for someone like you, I think you’d love it.


    I return to it again and again, and proudly display them on my bookshelf. It’s the only subscription I have.

    (I realize this is counter to your intent, and I promise, I’m all about culling the subscriptions. But this new little independent magazine is seriously something. :) )

  • I actually have magazines subscriptions to Real Simple, Time, Lucky, Food and Wine, Bon Appetit, Health, Entertainment Weekly…and they keep me on the elliptical in the morning. And the nice thing is, once I’ve read them, they stay in the gym, keeping other people distracted. I figure it’s a worthwhile investment for my health, although that seems a bit silly…

  • As a magazine writer it feels hypocritical admitting I’ve done the same as you. I gave up fashion magazines long, long ago realizing that trends weren’t for me but I replaced them with industry design mags and home design mags – I gave those up a few years ago too realizing seeing other people’s work can stunt my own progress. I now have a similar buying pattern as you; I keep smaller, independent mags and subscribe to just two, Selvedge because I love reading about the historical significance of textiles as well as current independent designers and, Anorak for my children. I also buy mags and zines from new smaller publishers though not yet through subscription but I will subscribe if I find myself buying repeatedly.
    The biggest bonus has been less clutter of space and mind.

  • I love magazines, and have only in the past few months had a lease for longer than 6 months so I’ve always wished I could subscribe. A friend turned me on to http://maghound.com , which for I think 11 bucks a month I get 8 or 9 magazines a month. Its much cheaper than buying them at the news stand but they only have the big popular magazines and a few of the smaller ones. The nice thing is I can change my magazines every month if I wanted, swap them and even cancel or put my account on hold for a month. I’m in no way affiliated with maghound, but it really has changed my thinking about magazines. Plus as a set designer for movies its cut my magazine buying in half ( I usually get all of those interior design mags). Love your site, I read you every day!

  • Oh Erin! This was such a great post – I am really feeling it.

    When I was a teenager my Aunt and Uncle gave me a subscription to teen magazine which I thought was AWESOME. I loved it. I started to buy others at the grocery store with my own money. Then one day I started to really reflect on how I felt about my constant exposure to these mags over the bulk of my teen years (lets say five years or so I was constantly reading and re-reading those things). I realized that I had to stop buying and reading them. I was constantly feeling bad about not having the latest coolest clothes, and not having a wicked teen experience like the girls in the magazines did.

    So I totally stopped buying those magazines, cancelled my subscriptions to the ones I got in the mail, and stopped re-reading the ones I had at home. It totally changed my self-image. Plus since I was an easily influenced kid too, my values shifted too. It was pretty crazy.

    I still pick up fan stuff every once in a while, or check out stuff while I’m at the library. But then there’s other magazines (like Bust) that I like to get in mail. Or random zines like MixTape.

    Anyway, thanks for posting about this. You really got to the heart of how I feel about those things. So much paper and resources go into those things, and if we’re not getting enjoyment and satisfaction out of them, what’s the point?!

  • It’s worth keeping in mind that magazines rely on subscriber numbers to survive (whether they are funded by advertisers or government funding).

    So if you do enjoy a magazine (particularly the smaller, less commercial magazines, which are often non-profit and with charity status — at least in Canada), do subscribe to show your support and contribute to their viability.


  • i LOVE your thoughts on this, ellen! and oh gosh, my love for mags started young, too. it really does become quite a habit!

  • i don’t drink fancy hot beverages, bottled water, alcohol, etc. or smoke anything, so magazines have been my elixir since i was a kid. i can still remember the cover image of the first seventeen magazine i ever bought. i definitely go through periods where i don’t read that many, but now is not one of them. purging them has become important though because i really don’t have the space or want to use it for old issues i probably won’t look at again. mags from independant publishers (uppercase, anthology, selvedge) are exceptions, but they are accumulating.

    oh, and i usually buy the magazines i read vs. looking at a stack for free while nursing one cup of coffee or whatever for hours, which is kind of like stealing inspiration when it becomes excessive if you think about it.

  • Cindy–I remember my first Seventeen too! Phoebe Cate wearing ice skates :) I too, go through phases, but magazines make me very, very happy. I am inspired by the pure artistic genius of designers, and fascinated by how what they do trickles down to the pencil holder I buy at Paper Source. It’s taken me a long time to lose the shame and admit that I worship at the altar of beauty and genius (in all spheres–not just physical), and magazines definitely represent a large part of the monthly portfolio for both. Having said that, I am a major purger, and do not believe in a cluttered house/office or psyche! And I keep saying that I should transfer my favorite subscriptions to the kindle, but there is something about the printed page. . .

  • I so agree — I can’t for the life of me read a mag on a Kindle. To each their own, I suppose!

    Love your perspective and passion for mags, Jenifer! Yes!

  • Erin – what a great idea. Adam always notices that I get down on myself whenever I pick up a huge stack of fashion magazines – counting up my flaws instead of celebrating my uniqueness.

    On my recent vacation I took ONE magazine… and actually ended up reading it cover to cover. For the record, it was the March ELLE, which had two stories on women moving away from NYC and having happier lives (which I loved and totally related to!).

    Thanks for this post. And… when can I see you soon?! I have a trip to town planned in a couple of weeks! E-mailing you now!

  • As a (print & online) magazine editor, it would probably be a little ironic if I quit magazines altogether, but I have made a substantial change in my subscription habits. While I formerly subscribed to up to 11 monthly magazines, I’m now down to just 2: Vanity Fair and Real Simple, in addition to the weekly Sports Illustrated (all mine–try reading 10,000 word sagas on a screen, no thanks). I actually really can’t wait until my subscription of Real Simple expires, since all of their stuff is online already.

  • oh, and I’ve always read my magazines cover to cover, so even with three subscriptions, I am wayy behind!

  • i LOVE hearing your insights, friends! the important thing is we do what’s right for our own life and are open to change/shift in the future. i mean, gracious. who knows if i’ll be back to 20 next year again! (although i doubt it! — this is kind of awesome right now!)

  • Great post! I am going through the same thing right now. I am ripping them apart and keeping only the articles and images that inspire me. I had stacks and stacks of magazines and now that I am going through them I realize most are from 2006!

  • I love what you said about self-worth. I have been doing a TON of research for upcoming high school senior stuff and have found my self worth being totaled as I sift through magazine after magazine. It’s amazing how we don’t think it affects us but it internalizes somehow. Thanks for sharing!

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