Shopping Ban Challenge and Minimalism

Art by Vanja Vukelic and modified by A.W.

“The best way to find out what we really need is to get rid of what we don’t.” -Marie Kondo

For the month of January, I did a shopping ban that allowed me to spend my money on food, necessities and bills only.

No flowers, no new clothes, no books, no movie tickets, no plants, no cook wear, no art supplies, no socks, nada.

I’m not a huge shopper, but I do love presents, fashion, fresh flowers, eating out, books, candles, lotions and potions.

Even though I’m not a huge spender, the days leading up to my ban, I found myself compelled to do some last minute buys before January first. On December 31st, I bought a 3′ Fiddle Leaf Fig, and the week before that, a Christmas Cactus.

While I love having plants, and don’t regret this purchase, I find it really interesting that in preparation for my shopping ban, I felt the need to get one last “hit” before I went cold turkey in January, and it made me realize that I may have been more hooked to excess shopping than I thought. Why else would I need to get one last high?

This ban (which became SO MUCH EASIER after the first week or so) made me realize how often I want to be the rat hitting the button in the lab, AKA making an amazon purchase, or perusing the gorgeous clothes Instagram advertises to me before justifying one into my online shopping cart.

A couple of weeks into the ban, I stopped clicking the links to avoid the temptation, running price tags and justifications by in my mind. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’ll look at the ads, and get inspired and get ideas, but I’m not clicking very often, and entering the internet shopping black hole and by default, I have more free time.

In the last month, I’ve done more writing than I have in my whole life (I have so many posts in the making for you, and an e-book, too!)

I’ve realized how often, when I’m not on a shopping ban, I am compelled to buy something. Before, I justified it with “treat yourself” and “you’ll feel beautiful,” or “it’ll make you happy,” but going a full month without any extras will wake you up to how often you go looking to purchase a thing to lift your spirits.

Whether it’s a cute coffee mug, a fresh t-shirt, or novelty socks, it’s so easy to fork up $10-$50 without thinking, once a week, this adds up quick. A mere $27.39 a day in unnecessary spending adds up to $10,000 in a year. That’s a luxury vacation. That’s paying off an auto loan. That’s re-decorating. That’s a brand new wardrobe.

As a culture, it’s so ingrained in us to equate success and happiness with things, because that is exactly what we hear from the 4,000-10,000 advertisements we see every single day. And we are so used to accepting this is as the norm, and when the people around us do the same, we don’t think to question it.

But are we really buying happiness?

Don’t get me wrong, I can promise I’ll never be a true minimalist because of my affinity for chotskies and fashion do make me happy by giving me a creative outlet I can wear, and surrounding myself with things I find beautiful that uplift and inspire me.

Buying with intention, with deliberation, and with restraint, will make us much happier in the long run than buying to get a quick hit, and then be left with trash to throw out, or something we feel so-so about in a few weeks time, or end up donating (did you know 80% of donated clothes end up in landfills?)

The anticipation and the wanting is often more fun than the getting. How often do you order something online, and fantasize about how good it’s going to feel when you get it? How you’ll feel beautiful, stylish, comfortable, happy, and imagine the ways your life will improve once you have the thing?

We are chasing feelings when we do this, not things, but we attempt to buy feelings and instead we accumulate things. Oftentimes, we end up with houses full of stuff and clutter that make us unhappy, debt that chains us to jobs that make us feel lifeless, and dwindling or non-existent savings accounts that remind us of our neglected passports.

We dream of traveling, but we don’t save any money. We complain that we don’t make enough (and many of us don’t, but a lot of us do…) to save any money, and yet we’re buying new handbags, new cars, morning lattes, and meals out, choosing the quick hit of buy now as opposed to travel later, live debt free, or build our dream home.

Don’t get me wrong, sometimes buying these things and having them feels great, and I believe in treating yourself 100%. I also believe in short term sacrifice for long term benefits, challenging our habits, and trying something new. I believe in discipline.

It won’t hurt you to try something new.

When I was reflecting on my challenge before I began, I actually had to mentally prepare a little bit. Even as someone who does not buy a ton of things, I imagine this challenge could get really prickly for the retail therapy bunch, a group where I know and love many of the participants. We really can get addicted to shopping. 

As I was preparing for my January shopping ban, I realized that if I wanted to feel stylish and fresh, I could go on a treasure hunt in my own closet and re-discover the things I own. Sometimes, we have to re-visit what we already own, do a little fashion show, and see our belongings with a fresh set of eyes. We can pair new items together, rearrange, and play.

Want to feel joy? Connect with a friend, a coworker, your partner, your roommate.

Want to spruce up your house? Make something. Use recycled goods and create something new. Paint a mural in your kitchen. Make a mosaic for your garden. Spray paint and stencil the furniture you already have.

Host a clothing or furniture swap party and invite some friends to bring some treasures they no longer need or use, and trade.

Want to feel connected or inspired? Go out in the world and say yes to invitations. Seek out art shows, events, live music, nature. Go for a walk in nature.

A Clue From the Universe

During my shopping ban, I stumbled upon a documentary on Netflix called Minimalism, which is based off the book by these two formerly corporate thirty somethings who write and travel around the country spreading their message that they found happiness by minimizing their possessions, and saying goodbye to their corporate lifestyles.

While I get that the message may be a bit frustrating for someone who’s living paycheck-to-paycheck, and doesn’t necessarily have a corporate savings account to fund their new lifestyle, I do think that even people with money can be drowning in debt, and the message is still crystal clear: Stuff doesn’t buy happiness.

I also don’t think minimalism is for everyone, (I love my clothes! I love my clothes, my plants, my crystals, my lipsticks, mascara, my art and my books!) I have noticed that the happiest I’ve ever been is when I have the least stuff.

I think this is because clutter makes us feel stressed out, and subconsciously, seeing it, having it, having even some sort of responsibility for the things we own, takes up all this space in our brain (I should wear that, I should use that, i should donate that, I’ve been meaning to give that to so-and-so, I need to organize that, etc.) and we go through this rumination every time we see certain items. Over time, that’s a lot of brain space.

One thing they touch on in the documentary is the resistance they hear from people:

In one scene, the authors discuss how people read their book and tell them, “I love my books! I have this gorgeous book collection, I love looking at it, smelling the books, touching, them, etc.” and Ryan Nicodemus, co-author of The Minimalists, says to them, “Dude, keep your books. If they bring you that much pleasure, keep them.” I think that’s really valuable, and definitely a part of this de-cluttering momentum that’s happening.

It’s ok to have possessions, but we should really re-think the ones we have, if we use them, and if they bring us joy.

This month has me really inspired to shop less overall, and this shopping ban and documentary has really helped me re-frame my desire to accumulate things. I know I’ll still buy clothes, flowers, plants and books, but those things DO make me happy, though I’m sure there will be a grace period in differentiating value and my long term goals versus a quick dopamine rush.

Beginner Tips to Incorporate Minimalism Into Your Life

Try the shopping ban for one month. The rule is: no buying non necessity items. Food, gas, toiletries, and necessities only, you get the gist. You’ll save money, break a habit, and be forced to figure out ways to feel excited, entertained, connected, stylish, and happy other than clicking “Buy Now,” “Add to Shopping Cart,” “Place Order,” and “Track Package.”

Use What You Have. Get creative. Macgyver that shit. Google “+ DIY” in the search engine is your friend. Try key words like “alternative,” “DIY” and “substitute” instead of automatically running to the store or buying something online.

De-clutter your life. Watch Tidying Up with Marie Kondo on Netflix or read The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up to get inspired. Tackle one room, or even one corner of a room at a time.

Choose quality when you can. Invest in quality goods that will last as opposed to cheap ones you replace every year.

When you get an urge to buy, WALK AWAY. Figure out if you’re bored, lonely, or trying to fulfill something. Figure out what you need and how you can get it without buying something.

Write a list of all the things you wish you had more money for, and use that as a motivation to buy less, and buy more deliberately. I want to travel several times a year, live debt- free, build my dream home on the ocean, and build a killer catio/ cat sanctuary so my kitties can retire in style.

Watch Minimalism on Netflix

Make shit– Make your own kombucha, facial scrub, meals, coffee, etc. Obviously there’s a trade off with time and convenience you need to factor in, but sometimes these simple tasks can become meditative, so make what you can, when you can.

This is your one and only (possibly, probably) life here in this body on this earth! Take the time to nurture yourself with experiences and connection over stuff. Take the time to figure out what you want, and why. As always, be gentle with yourself, and remember, everything in moderation. Even minimalism.

*disclaimer. I did slip up one night when faced with a Jukebox. I can never seem to muster the strength to turn down a jukebox, and I don’t regret it.*

0 thoughts on “Shopping Ban Challenge and Minimalism

  1. I loved your post! We are currently doing a year-long shopping ban as a family, and I just finished getting all the rules/logistics down on paper.

    One month in, the material purchases aren’t that tempting anymore, but I still have to stop myself whenever I get the reflexive urge to buy media like ebooks, games, or in-app purchases. I guess it doesn’t feel like a “real” thing, so I’m not “really” buying it? It’s silly when put into words, but I guess I internalized the feeling and lost track of it until it became a nasty habit.

    Anyway, thank you for writing this. It’s good motivation for the next 11 months.

    1. Daria,

      Thanks for your comment!

      One year is impressive, I’d love to hear how you feel afterwards. I have to say it’s February 1st and I do not have a desire to “binge” in any way.

      That’s funny what you mention about e-books, and so true. I bought one for $20 a month for ten months ($200 e-book!!) and while I love the author and don’t regret it, I know I wouldn’t pay that in store. Definitely something to think about.

      Thanks again for reading and your thoughtful response.

      Best of luck in your ban <3

  2. Glad I stumbled across this, I’ve been on a shopping ban since July 2018 and it can get lonely doing something so different! I’ve been addicted to shopping for years and putting a hard line in the sand was the only way I could find liberation from something I often felt so powerless against. The ban has made me so focused on reducing waste, needing less, and living more.

    1. Thanks for sharing, that’s fantastic! I think the whole Western World needs to do a ban, personally. Even one month really helped curb my impulse buys, and made me realize how none of it makes me really happy/ I have everything I need. Please share and good luck on your journey. Spread the word <3

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