This post is already weird for me to write. I hadn’t expected anything to be dramatically different after Day 30 of my shopping ban. You get into a routine of not-buying, and then you just stay with it. I really thought every day after the first month would be routine. But I felt differently in month 2, in spite of myself. Before we get into that, I do want to get one thing out of the way:
I did break the shopping ban once in September. After a particularly stressful day at work, I caved and bought the year subscription to Headspace, the guided meditation app I’ve been using for a few weeks. It was $100, which is not cheap, but I was about to run out of my 10-day trial and not entirely certain I could go back to my regular life without it. I never thought I was the type of person that would be able to do, let alone enjoy, meditation but it’s become a daily necessity. I am sorry-not-sorry. If it’s any consolation I missed 2 of the weekly drinks & dinner get togethers with my MBA classmates this past month, so that spared me some cash.
Other than that, the month was a huge success, and had bigger impact on my perspectives of spending and materialism than I expected.
I don’t want anything anymore.
In a 30-day shopping ban, most of your efforts are devoted to postponing purchases. Even if you’re only a week in, if you see something nice in a store, you tell yourself “I’ll just come back in 3 weeks”. Everything gets added to a mental list so you can go on a spree once your ban is over, and there you can feel both proud that you curbed your spending for a month AND still managed to get everything you wanted.
In 90-day shopping ban, the term is too long to delay purchases. Any piece of clothing or decor I want will likely be gone in 3 months, so there’s no use putting it on a to-buy list. Even the items that won’t be gone — like songs to download from iTunes — 3 months is long enough to forget about them entirely. There were a lot of items I was thinking I would buy when my shopping ban was over, but I can’t remember them now. It just wasn’t worth the mental energy to anguish over when I could buy random knick-knacks again. Better to forget about it entirely and just enjoy what I have.
This all I have, and this is enough.
I’ve spent a significant amount of time during my shopping ban simply pondering the need and use for material things. Our apartment is sparsely furnished. There’s virtually no decor hung on the walls. I’ve been saying I would get a rug for the living room for more than 6 months. But — game changing thought here — what if we never bought more? What if home always looked a tad empty? What’s the worst that would happen? The answer is obvious but it surprises you anyway: nothing.
Absolutely nothing would happen.
And that’s what makes you wonder why you cared so much about collecting things to make your home or your wardrobe or your life look a certain way — the impact of these objects is as superficial as they are.
The game has changed.
Last month, I said I kept playing a game with myself, imagining what I would have if I had only a certain amount of money. The game has changed from “what would I buy with $X?” to
“what if I could never buy anything ever again?”
This is powerful mind exercise. Think about it: if you could never buy anything ever again, how much would you value what you currently have? How carefully would you treat your possessions? Would you be happy, or would you waste time pining over things you could never get your hands on? These questions took me out of my own head. I’ve been guilty for as long as I can remember of working to afford certain objects and status symbols, of playing that game of “I won’t need anything once I get XYZ” — a list that got progressively longer the more I learned was there to want. But now I tell myself that I’m already at my destination, that I already have acquired everything I’ve ever wanted.
I even broke the Starbucks habit I swore I would never get over. Turns out I don’t need a 2pm coffee, I just need a 2pm break. If I get up from my desk and take a stroll around the block, I feel refreshed enough to tackle the rest of the day without a dose of caffeine. This is not to say I’ll never set foot in a Starbucks again (hello? Pumpkin Spice lattes are coming back!) but daily? Never. Weekly? Doubtful. Who even am I anymore? I don’t recognize myself!
I don’t care about the money.
I was never in the shopping ban for the money. Many people don’t get that, since it seems the token tactic for shopaholic rehab. People told me to “save all the money” I didn’t spend and put it in a designated account to treat myself at the end of the shopping ban. I hate this idea, because it still operates from the perspective of deprivation. Just so we’re perfectly clear: I am not depriving myself by refraining from non-essential spending for 3 months (and you wouldn’t be either, if you dared try it).
It’s hard to wrap your head around this because we’re all stuck on the dopamine drip that comes from spending absolutely everything they earn. I get it. The high you receive from hitting “buy” on your online shopping cart or coming home from the mall with another bag is one of my favorite personal playgrounds. It’s hard to get off that hamster wheel, because in order to do so, we have to acknowledge is money has absolutely no power unless you spend it. If you don’t trade it for goods or services, it doesn’t do anything. It doesn’t matter if you put it in an investment account and it quadruples, that’s just more of nothing unless you trade it for something else. That’s money’s whole power. So when you choose not to spend it, you take away its power.
Did you ever think you could get to a place where you take away the power of money? I didn’t, and yet here we are. I can no sit in my bare apartment in my ratty old clothes without my Starbucks and think, “I don’t need you money!” and I am suddenly in the most powerful position I’ve ever been. Because I know if I can go months without spending on wants, then I only need to worry about my needs — and my needs are small.
And lastly, but still very importantly, I can’t sit here and tell you to give up extraneous spending in order to pay off your debt or save 30%+ of your income if I’m not willing to do it myself. My income and lack of debt are a distraction, they makes people think I have it “easier”, especially if they don’t poke around in the archives and see my hard years. I do have it easier, because it is always easier to make the choice to go without something than it is to be forced into doing so. My shopping ban is self-imposed, and that is a tremendous privilege. But I still feel an obligation to practice what I preach. If I’m going to ask you to go three months without buying new clothes so you can make an extra debt payment, then I should be ready, willing, and able to do the same. I am, I can, and I do.
I still have a lot more to share about the shopping ban, but this post is already 1,300 words (thanks for listening!) so I’ll save it for another post. In the meantime, I encourage you to consider giving a shopping ban a go. You never know what you’ll find out about yourself, and your relationship with spending and stuff.