What 507 Days of No Shopping Can Do

For so long I got by with a minimal wardrobe consisting of basics, all of which could fit into a box. Everything I bought involved a minimum of two-weeks’ meditation where I considered an item’s durability, versatility, and impact on my budget. I can sew, so anything that got a hole or a tear was tended to with some mending, gentle handwashing, and TLC. Life in my 20s was eventful, full of travel and soul-searching adventure–I didn’t need or want a lot of physical baggage to weigh me down or distract me.

RackAs I hit age 30, I went down a different path. Until this day, I’m not entirely sure of the forces that affected me subconsciously, but it was likely a combination of a toxic relationship, major family problems, a lack of ambition, no big goals to save for, greed, and pure vanity–I don’t know why exactly, but I started to shop for clothes at an addictive level. Filling up bags at thrift shops and sales racks was so fun and only put a small dent in my monthly savings; this practice was enough to fuel an insatiable habit that got increasingly worse. Getting compliments on my fashion choices validated my actions and provided me with the justification to keep going, and even attain more expensive pieces. I should also mention that my level of going out for food and drinks was in-step with this out-of-control shopping.

I think at some point everyone gets a wake-up call. My wake-up call was a more of a long, sobering conversation that lasted for a couple of years. There was no question that I had to make some fundamental changes in my life. Every day I woke up feeling this deep, internal groan; I reluctantly plodded along, knowing some much-needed introspection was in order. My wake-up call was also doled out in punishing stages, much like the ancient plagues but on a smaller scale and onto one person. I found myself suddenly single and, for the first time in my working life, in some debt. This new situation was later accompanied by a bed bug invasion, personal tragedies, and chronic back pain that forced me into medical leave. In this succession of messes, I had one thing going for me: my investments were all still in tact and my portfolio was doing well.

During this extensive transition, I started to think about what I really wanted to do for the next phase of my life. I knew that I wanted to be my own boss and I entertained the idea of having my own business. I had the great fortune of meeting an awesome guy, JP, who eventually became my forever man. He too shared an interest in becoming some kind of entrepreneur. Inspired by the new prospect of becoming bar owners, we took courses in business. With my new ambitions, I wanted people to take me seriously. Then I realized I had to take me seriously. I shopped less frequently, but I was still being ridiculous with my money. So I vowed to not shop for clothes, bags, or shoes–not even socks or undies–for a year. In my old life, I had lived simply on much less for so long, that I knew I could do it. My rules still allowed me to receive unsolicited clothing gifts, I just couldn’t buy anything for myself.

Here are some unexpected things that happened the year I didn’t shop:

  • I worked out at the gym more and healed my back
  • I further downsized my wardrobe and belongings
  • Friends who knew about my vow were inspired to downsize too. They gave me their unwanted clothes–next thing you know, we were all clothes-swapping with each other
  • More money in, much less money out
  • I managed to go down to working part-time so that I could focus on learning more about investing and trading stocks
  • At the end of the year, I decided to continue with my vow for another four and a half months (507 days in total) until alas, all my clothing essentials morphed into shapeless mesh
  • I quit my job and had a great semi-retirement party
  • Untethered by work and other obligations, my man and I started to think about moving eastward to a better time zone to trade stocks at a more decent hour

It has been six years since my shopping fast ended. Those urges to shop still come and go, but I can observe these impulses with distance and objectivity. I still have plenty of clothes, but what’s most important is that I’m very content living with what I have. I only get things as I need to or when I really want to, which is a couple of times a year. Now, when I’m in a store I think about how the business is run, how much foot traffic it gets, how they display, price, and merchandise, how well it’s managed, and how happy the employees are. And of course, I exercise my new habit: I check if the store’s company trades on the stock exchanges, and if so, I look up the ticker symbol, the stock price, and how it performs against other retailers in the same sector.