On A Year of No Shopping

Apparently this “year of no shopping” thing has been a thing for a while, but I was too busy to notice. Years ago I was too poor to shop, so I didn’t worry about not shopping. Then when I started making some money I got busy making up for years of poverty. Later I think I went shopping when I was filled with some kind of anxiety: maybe I’ll feel thinner with a new shirt or shoes or bag or necklace. Too enmeshed in this kind of magical thinking, I never considered not shopping.

And so now that I have resolved to quit shopping for a year for clothes, bags, jewelry, and shoes, thanks to the piece I read by Ann Patchett, I’m finding lots online. Through all these pieces there is a common thread: it feels better to live with what one already has. And conversely the pursuit of stuff feels like crap.

As Ann Patchett’s wrote:

At the end of 2016, our country had swung in the direction of gold leaf, an ecstatic celebration of unfeeling billionaire-dom that kept me up at night. I couldn’t settle down to read or write, and in my anxiety I found myself mindlessly scrolling through two particular shopping websites, numbing my fears with pictures of shoes, clothes, purses and jewelry. I was trying to distract myself, but the distraction left me feeling worse, the way a late night in a bar smoking Winstons and drinking gin leaves you feeling worse. The unspoken question of shopping is “What do I need?” What I needed was less.

Now I find this piece in Forbes about a Canadian woman named Cait Flanders:

One day, not able to find little things — a can opener, a razor blade — in her one-bedroom apartment, she realized her cupboards were overflowing with junk. “I’m spending $5 here, $10 there … It’s nothing crazy — an extra lotion or shower gel — but then you have eight of them. I was consuming just for the sake of consuming. I thought, ‘I need to stop buying and just use up this stuff I already have.’”

A month later she embarked on her own year of no shopping in which she managed to get rid of 70% of her stuff, “lived on just 51% of her income ($28,000 CAD, $22,000 USD), saved 31% (about $17,000 CAD, $13,500 USD) and traveled on the last 18%, with two trips to New York, one trip to New York, Boston, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., and other trips to Portland, New Orleans, Denver and her hometown Victoria and Toronto several times each (total cost of travel: just under $10,000 CAD; $8,000 USD).”

The psychological benefits are huge, but for the likes of me the financial impetus is even more important. I don’t harbor any fantasies that just not shopping is going to solve all my problems, but I know if I keep shopping I will never ever get out of them.

Alyssa Fischer writes about how she got out of debt with her own year of no shopping.  But I bet her debt was nowhere near mine. Still, she’s got seven helpful tips, including using what is already in your closet really creatively. And borrowing from friends. I could borrow too when I was in my 20s, but I think now I’m going to stick with what’s in my closet.

Other nice blogs on the topic: becoming minimalist, wisdom from Ms. Frugalwoods, a piece by Eden Ashley, The messages of these pieces are great:

  • first, we’ve already got plenty and in fact may need to get ride of some stuff we already have;
  • second, we really don’t need much stuff to make us feel happy, gorgeous, or loved; and
  • third, it feels really good to give up the mindless pursuit of stuff.

I never thought of myself as a big consumer: in my house we are vegetarians, our furnishings are nearly all vintage (okay, some had big price tags but we bought them 20 years ago); and only last year did we get a TV that wasn’t 50 years old. But clearly as evidenced by my insane credit card debt, I too found escape into things. I started my year of no-shopping the day before Christmas, and already I feel more flush and grateful than I have in years.

I must add a caveat: clearly consumerism and attempts to give it up are problems that plague those in advanced, decadent economies. They aren’t third world problems, not primarily. But they are third world and global problems when the sheer amount of stuff become human and environmental catastrophes. I have tried countering this problem by only buying stuff that has good environmental and labor credentials, like all my amazing Eileen Fisher clothes. I have always turned my nose up at fast fashion. No Zara for this girl. No, let’s just put that $300 sweater on my card, thanks. Okay, I’m glad I’ve got all these nice eco-conscious clothes, but I certainly didn’t need all of them. And now I will be wearing the hell out of them for the next 365 days and more. Good thing they are well made.

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