In my upcoming book, The Year of Less, you’re going to read a lot of stories I’ve never shared before. Stories of how and why I got into the habit of using the wrong things to “fix” my problems. Buying stuff. Eating junk food. Drinking and using drugs. I’ve used it all as coping mechanisms and numbed myself with binges.
Over the years, I’ve changed many of these habits, but the urges still take over from time to time. I’ll be sad and want to feel better, so then I do or pay for something that might help. It tends to work for a few minutes or hours, but it never lasts. And the same was always true of binge eating or getting blackout drunk.
Fortunately, I have some experience with hitting pause on my consumption tendencies and asking myself what I really want. I needed to do that this summer. After losing the girls, I started spending impulsively again and I knew that wasn’t a path I wanted to stay on. I needed to sit with my pain and figure out what was next.
So, I decided to do a 30-day shopping ban.
It wasn’t entirely “successful”, if we look at the list of what I purchased that month. There were a few things I really needed: a travel-size toothpaste + a stick of deodorant when I was in Colorado because I forgot mine at home, and a full tube of toothpaste when I later ran out of that at home too.
And then there were the things that potentially could have waited but I bought because I wanted to finish projects I had started: some fabric to repair an old blanket, and the supplies to (finally, finally, finally) make a top for my DIY standup desk. (After living without a desk all year, it feels so good to have one!)
But the measure of whether or not a shopping ban is successful doesn’t actually have anything to do with whether or not you bought stuff during that time. It’s not about spending no money. It’s about learning how to only spend money on the things that add value to your life. Knowing that, this short ban was a success.
During those 30 days, I had a list of other tasks I wanted to complete, including: decluttering and purging some physical objects in my home, as well as decluttering my digital life. Those were also successful. But the two most important tasks on my list were to do some values + goal-setting exercises.
When I wrote that, I actually had no idea which ones I was going to do. I have a one-page worksheet I created myself, but also assumed I could Google it and find some other exercises. It didn’t exactly work out like that. Instead, a few exercises seemed to magically fall into my lap – and I have my friend Brooke to thank for that.
In this season’s finale of Budgets and Cents, Carrie and I talked at length about why knowing your why is so important. To sum it up: when you have a why, it’s a lot easier to make decisions on a daily basis. Everything from how you spend your time to how you spend your money is a lot more clear when you have a purpose.
I didn’t have a purpose, after the girls died – or at least, that’s how it felt. My purpose for the last two years has been to take care of them whenever my dad was away for work (and he’s gone for half the year). Taking care of them was a huge part of my life, and it became an even bigger job in their senior years when they needed a little more love and attention.
After Molly died, my purpose became taking care of Lexie. I spent literally every minute of her final nine days with us at her side. She came with me everywhere I went. Walks, drives, stores, appointments, etc. We spent countless hours laying on a blanket in the backyard together. And then I woke up one morning and she was just gone and I didn’t know what to do next.
Without the girls, I have truly felt lost. I had been looking ahead and figuring out how I would continue to care for them while living in Squamish. That was a huge factor in whether or not I could even move here. So, the whole year was mapped out. I knew what the plans were, and I was planning the rest of my life around those plans. And then they were gone and all the plans were gone and I didn’t know what to do.
That’s when I listened to the episodes on Brooke’s podcast about how to figure out your “why”. I realized I needed to figure out what my new purpose was. If I wasn’t taking care of the dogs, what was I supposed to do? What did I love and value most? What did I want next? Why was I here? And what did I want to leave behind one day?
I’m going to dedicate an entire blog post to some of these answers when I’m ready, but if you want to look into it further yourself, here are some of the resources that have helped me:
- Listen: Why Start With Why?
- Listen: Your Legacy
- Listen: Your Values
- Listen: Putting It Into Practice
- Read: Destination Simple
It’s still hard for me to write about my new why because I can’t do it without feeling some amount of guilt. I know that’s a normal part of grief: feeling guilty about moving forward without your loved ones who are gone. I would give up everything to have more time with the girls, and I wish all the plans to spend more of this year with them could have been fulfilled. In accepting that can’t happen, I’ve started to make some new plans for myself.
One of those plans is to save up and go to the UK for 4-8 weeks next year. It’s been at the top of my travel list for as long as I can remember, and I’ve made every excuse not to go. Some of those excuses were true: I spent the majority of my 20s in debt and probably could’ve have afforded it. But since being debt-free, I’ve spent a lot of money on a lot of short trips. Next year, I would rather spend that money on one big one.
With this part of my why in place, it’s a lot easier to make decisions about how to spend my money. I don’t want to waste a penny of what I earn. I want to save up an amount that will afford me the trip I’ve always dreamed of. Just thinking about it feels good. And it feels really good to have something to work towards + look forward to.
I’m so glad I can finally share some of this with you! I’ve had writer’s block for a couple weeks because I knew I was going to cry while talking about the girls (and I did). So, thank you for continuing to come back here and holding space for some of my sadness and just being part of this journey with me. I truly appreciate it.
And I’m grateful that something like a 30-day shopping ban could help me get excited about life again. Like I said in an earlier post, the overall action required of a shopping ban is to simply hit pause and check in with yourself. It’s a timeout from consuming so you can figure out what you actually want in your life. That’s it.
I want to see more of the world. I can’t do it today, but I can save for it and do it soon.
“Don’t sacrifice what you want most for what you want now.” – via No Sidebar’s Instagram
What do you want most?
PS – For September’s slow living experiment, I’m doing a 30-day nature challenge where I’m spending at least 30 minutes outside every day and writing about it on Instagram.