Well, friends, this is it – the final day of my yearlong shopping ban. I’ll be honest and say I feel like I’ve had a touch of writer’s block for the past month, because I’ve been waiting to write this post. Once I hit the 11-month mark, I knew it was going to be smooth sailing to the finish line, and I’ve been so anxious to share everything I’ve done and learned over the past year, as well as some of my plans for the future. Now that the last day is finally here, I think it’s safe to post this…
*Note: I’m going to sprinkle in some of my favourite/most relevant quotes from those of you who responded to my survey a couple weeks ago. I hope they inspire you, the way they’ve inspired me.
July 7, 2014
It all started on my 29th birthday. In the weeks leading up to it, I had been stressing about turning 29, because it meant I would be that much closer to 30. For some reason, I was dreading my 30s, because that’s when I thought I would finally need to “settle down” (i.e. I can’t seem to figure out where I want to live long-term or map out any kind of 5-year plan). It’s the last year of my 20s – I should do something fun/impulsive/[insert more synonyms for spontaneous], right? Maybe I should finally go to Europe; live/work from France for a month; or do the same from Hawaii for three. Omg, I’ll probably settle down, get married, buy a place and have kids in my 30s. Ahhh! Must take advantage of freedom and do all the things NOW!
Instead, I decided to embrace minimalism, put myself on a yearlong shopping ban, try to live on 50% of my income and potentially have the most frugal year of my life.
How did I switch my mindset so quickly and come to those decisions? I wish I had a good answer. I wish I could say there was a catalyst moment in my life that forced me to see that minimalism and a shopping ban were the answers to my problems. Instead, it was a lot of little things that I’d been thinking about for months. First, I was mad at myself for never being able to save more than 10-20% of my income, even though I “wanted” to. (Remember that I used to allocate up to 55% of my income for debt repayment.) Second, I finally acknowledged that I’d let lifestyle inflation creep in after becoming debt-free, and realized nothing I’d been spending money on was bringing me joy. And finally, after searching for and not being able to find the most basic item in my kitchen (a can opener), it became clear that my home was full of stuff I never used but was still buying/holding onto for one reason or another.
I was consuming for the sake of consuming; it was mindless spending and it had to stop.
“Your blog inspired me to challenge myself to spend less, and to stop thinking that I could spend up to (or over) my allotted amounts in each line of my budget. You really got me thinking about how much more I could be saving if I tried to buy less crap and spend less on stuff I don’t need. Thanks! Keep it up, Cait!” – Steph, Canada
All the confusion and guilt that came with the first two points (the financial stuff) lingered for a while, until it eventually surfaced and resulted in this decision – which was actually pretty impulsive. I had no idea if I could do it. Even as I was typing up the rules for the shopping ban, I kept thinking: this is crazy! What am I doing!? I can’t do this! But the fear was outweighed by my gut instinct, which told me I had no choice but to accept this challenge and change my spending habits. I didn’t want to keep wasting money on clutter that would fill my home, especially at the expense of my other life and financial goals.
I wanted to become a more conscious consumer, so I could enjoy what I had, only buy what I absolutely needed and let go of the rest. Saving money would be a bonus.
The rules for the shopping ban were fairly simple. I was allowed to shop for necessities, such as groceries, toiletries, basic cosmetics (like eyeliner and mascara, but only after I ran out), cleaning supplies, gift for others and a few items I identified before I started. On the approved shopping list, as I called it, was a new bed (to finally replace my 13-year-old bed) and a few items of clothing, which I could see would need to be purchased or replaced while I was decluttering. I was NOT allowed to shop for things like clothes, shoes, accessories, nail polish, books/magazines, notebooks, candles, household items, home decor or electronics.
I also added takeout coffee to the list of things I was not allowed to purchase. I’ve been drinking coffee for 15 years and, by the time I started the ban, I was buying $5 lattes at least 4-5 days/week ($80-100/month). That’s not a lot of money, in the grand scheme of things, but it was still money I could’ve done better things with than drink away. Then I started a “Shopping Ban Account”, so I could save all the money I wasn’t spending on coffee as well as the money I got from any items I sold during my declutter. I started by putting $100/month into the account and assumed I’d have $1,200-$1,500 at the end.
“I started with a one month ban of takeout, my biggest trigger. Now I’ll be continuing on for an entire year! I know I’ll have to give myself a couple takeout treats here and there, but overall, your shopping ban definitely proved to me that it’s possible to be strict!” – Stephanie, USA
What I Bought During the Shopping Ban
While the ultimate goal was to buy nothing except for consumable goods and what was on the approved shopping list, I learned on more than one occasion that there are times when you simply have no choice but to make a purchase. For starters, I realized how low the tread was on my car tires and had to replace them. My cell phone also died (as in, wouldn’t turn back on) so I had to replace that, too. And there was no getting around replacing the one and only pair of jeans I owned when they ripped in the inner thigh. (I believe most women can relate to this.) The key word in all of those scenarios, however, was replace. When something you use often needs to be replaced, I consider that a necessary purchase.
Aside from the 5 items included on my approved shopping list, I only purchased those 3 things in the past year. That means I stopped myself from making every single impulse purchase I considered. I didn’t buy a single book for my e-reader or magazine at the airport… nothing. I’m sure it doesn’t need to be said, but I obviously feel as though this challenge was a huge success.
The minute I started telling people the shopping ban was almost over, the #1 question they started asking me was: What are you going to buy when it’s over? Here’s the truth: as of this moment, the answer is nothing. Today is the last day of the ban and I plan on buying nothing tomorrow. My shopping ban wasn’t tempted once this month. I didn’t think about any books or clothes or even takeout coffee – none of it.
There is nothing I need right now that could make my life better than it already is; that’s a great feeling to end this yearlong challenge with.
What’s next? I’m writing a book!
In conducting my shopping ban, it seems I’ve hit a real nerve. I’ve received incredible response from readers and media, and there’s so much more about my personal journey I want to tell you about. I want to offer you both the mindset and tools to rid of you own belongings, and share what I’ve learned from my experiments with consuming less of everything over the years. From giving up alcohol, to becoming a more mindful eater, to spending less time online and even watching fewer hours of television, I’m passionate about constantly improving to be a more conscious consumer, and guiding others to do the same. One thing I know for sure is this: whenever you’re thinking of consuming something more, figure out what part of you or your life feels like it is lacking—and do whatever it takes to fix that instead. The best answer is never to consume more. It’s to simplify, strip things away, and figure out what’s really going on.