Why I Finally Decided to Do a Spending Cleanse

Why I Finally Decided to Do a Spending Cleanse

This is a guest post from my friend Chelsea in Vancouver, BC.

It was the lady at the post office that did it. The packages from my online shopping sprees kept getting diverted to my nearest post office, and I kept having to trudge there, not excited about the package awaiting me but dreading seeing the post office clerk. Idle online shopping had become such a habit that I sometimes lost track of what deliveries I was expecting.

During my last pick-up in May, I had three packages to pick up at once. The clerk fetched them, then said casually, “Lots of new clothes, hey?”

Ugh. I left feeling disgusted with myself. I’m sure she meant no judgment; she was probably just making casual conversation. Much of the judgement I perceived was my own, projected onto her.  

But on the bright side, someone who shops that much must have an expansive and enviable wardrobe, right?


No one who sees me regularly would say that I have a particularly noteworthy wardrobe. I wear the same favourite items over and over and over. I have stacks and rows of clothes I never wear or wear a couple of times before I shrink them, stain them, or grow tired of them. Or they, being poor-quality fast fashion, look terrible after a couple of washes.

Clothes weren’t my only problem. I bought books like crazy – faster than I can read them. Until I was out of bookshelf room (I’d best be getting myself to IKEA to buy some more shelves, I thought) with a solid collection of books I’ve been meaning to read, but haven’t.

I had known for some time that I needed to change. But it was that casual comment from the post office clerk that finally made me do something.

That’s how my spending cleanse began.

The Rules for My Spending Cleanse

It was decided: starting June 1, I wouldn’t shop for six months. It started as three, but I quickly realized that to break my bad habits and recalibrate my relationship with stuff, I needed to make it longer and at least a little uncomfortable.

I’ve long been a reader of this blog, so I knew where to look for tips and tricks. Cait’s shopping ban resources helped me to plan my cleanse. I decided on the following rules:

  • Obviously, I could buy food.
  • I could also replace any health and beauty products that run out – provided that they’re ones I use daily: mascara, under-eye concealer, shampoo, moisturizer. No new nail polish or lipstick or elixirs or balms or anything that isn’t already part of my routine.
  • Per Cait’s practice, I also created a list of allowable items that I knew I would end up needing sooner than later, including a vacuum cleaner, a new sleeping bag (mine had a broken zipper), and a new blazer for my rare but important in-person meetings. The rule for these items was this: I had to do some research and buy quality. Nothing designed to be disposable – think fast fashion or Canadian Tire throwaway camping gear. (If you had told me five years ago that I would buy a $400 vacuum cleaner, I would have called you crazy, but I did and I love it. I’ve bought and discarded three $100 vacuum cleaners, and they suck – or don’t suck, actually.)

The Tricks & Techniques That Have Helped Me

  • I told everyone what I was doing. I wanted my people to keep me accountable – and to risk embarrassment if I slipped up, or (even worse) abandoned the cleanse altogether.
  • I unsubscribed and unfollowed. As I mentioned, my problem wasn’t too many trips to the mall. It was idle online shopping, often while I was at home on a rainy night watching Netflix. I would catch wind of a sale at one of my favourite retailers on Facebook, Instagram, or in my email inbox, and before I knew it I would have $250 of merchandise on its way to me (but it was $350 full price!, I would tell myself). So a big and important trick was to unfollow all retailers on social media, and to unsubscribe from their emails. I didn’t need to know about all the beautiful things they have in stock, or about the opportunities to get my hands on them for less. Goodbye, digital consumerist clutter.
  • I blocked my favourite retailers’ websites. For the companies that most tempt me to part with my hard-earned money – Madewell, Aritzia, JCrew, Everlane – I went a step farther and blocked their websites on my browser with a Chrome Extension called StayFocusd. (This extension also limits my time on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to a cumulative 30 minutes per day – great for a writer who’s prone to procrastination.)
  • I stopped carrying my credit card in my wallet. I still needed it for bigger travel expenses, but on a day-to-day basis it stayed at home, and I used my debit card (AKA money I actually have!).
  • I gave more than half of my clothes away. I can thank Cait for this somewhat counterintuitive tip. It’s a lot easier to feel like you have nothing good to wear when your favourites are hidden amongst a bunch of items you hate/don’t fit/never wear. Get rid of them, or at least store them somewhere you don’t see them every day. My closet is mostly empty now, but I love and regularly wear everything in it.

The Results (So Far)

Now more than halfway into my cleanse, most of the results are spiritual/mental/emotional rather than financial. I’m a freelance writer and consultant, so my income is inconsistent, and I happily slow down in the summer. Plus, summer life is rather pricy. I’ve been on a number of trips, including to the budget nightmare that is New York City – so my bank balance certainly hasn’t climbed to where I would like. This is making me wonder if I should extend my ban through the winter, since those are the months when I’m most tempted to shop.

Me + Netflix + a glass or two of wine = unintended shopping sprees.

The main benefits I’m noticing are internal. Shopping hasn’t been something I’ve missed; in fact, not doing it has oddly felt like a relief. I don’t miss that walk of shame to the post office, or the feeling of buyer’s remorse I used to experience sometimes just moments after hitting the ‘Complete Purchase’ button, knowing I’d broken yet another promise to myself. For the last four months, I’ve kept this promise to myself on a daily basis, and it has felt really good.

I’ll be back to write more about this experience in December, when I either finish my cleanse or decide to extend it another three months. The way I’m feeling right now, I think the latter is likely.

In 2015, Chelsea (somewhat impulsively) quit her agency job to be a freelance writer/strategist/digital nomad, and she hasn’t looked back since. Her homebase is Vancouver, but that’s just where she gets her mail. You can read more of her work at Chelsea Tells Stories or chelseaherman.com.
    • Surprisingly there hasn’t been anything noticeably difficult. It’s been remarkably easy. That being said, I had a slip the other day and ordered something (that I’ve since returned). That happened after someone disappointed me and I was feeling sad…so it seems I’m the shopping equivalent of an emotional eater.

      The easiest part is that I feel clearer and less cluttered in all areas of my life since this started. I don’t know how to explain it (yet) but I’m working on figuring it out and will be writing about it as my cleanse comes to an end in a few weeks.

      (Thanks for asking!)

  • I am working on something similar myself. I’ve started a budget through an app called “You Need a Budget” which works by assigning roles to your existing dollars instead of just figuring out what you’d like to spend where based on theoretical ones. When you overspend in one category (or in a noncategory – oops), you borrow from something (ideally discretionary, like clothing). If you don’t have enough non-fixed non-flexible categories to borrow from, you can expect that your credit card bill will be bigger next month.

    I’m finding that my “discretionary” spending — clothing, gas, etc. — is getting gobbled up quickly. I’m down to fixed only spending and it’s only October 4th. I have another 27 days to go! It’ll either be a sharp learning curve or slow going. But as long as I’m moving forward, it’s still progress.

    I have, in the past, done capsule wardrobes and big decluttering projects. It really does help. I have applied gentle brakes lately because I have a postpartum body and am balancing making sure I have things that fit and flatter with not disposing of (via sale, donation, or recycling) items which should work again. Begin pregnant or nursing for ALL but 4 months of the past three years has done a real number on my personal financial house. Working to regain necessary perspective and systems now.

  • Hi, I’m in the same boat. I’m tired of my fast fashion tshirts. I had decided to save up money and buy from Madewell or Everlane. Just because i hear their clothes are more ethical and last longer. I see you banned them. Are they considered fast fashion? Do you know a better brand/website that has real ethical, made to last, 100% cotton stuff? Thank you!

    • No no, not fast fashion at all. They’re two companies that I love and will continue to support once I’m ‘allowed’ to shop again. The reason I blocked them were because I love their stuff so much that I didn’t want the temptation! To me, fast fashion is brands like Joe Fresh and H&M — home of the $10 (or less!) t-shirt.

  • WHOA! You can FIX that sleeping bag and vacuum cleaner for less than $10 TOTAL!!!
    1. sleeping bag – most dry cleaners will replace a zipper for $10 USD, especially if it’s just the toggle that needs replacing.
    2. Cheapo vacuum cleaners – all they need is a little lovin’. Most $100 vacuum cleaners are bagless (bags are inherently better), which means you have to pull out the filters EVERY week and give them 2 minutes of cleaning. There’s the foam filter – you can wash this in the sink, and the accordion paper-like filter, which an old toothbrush can quickly sweep off. If other parts break, you can replace the individual pieces (and replace filters after a few years) for $5-$25 per item.

    • Unfortunately my cheap vacuum cleaner didn’t work from the start. And the cheap sleeping bag was not even close to warm enough. So I invested in quality versions of each, and am so happy I did. I’m sure I’ll have both items for the long haul.

      • Ah, ok, I’m in the south, so the sleeping bag warmth I take for granted. Sounds like worthy spends to me!

  • Rue Lala was my kryptonite for a while. That $9.99 flat shipping for a month had me shopping unnecessarily just to feel like I was using all the shipping I could. There are items I still have yet to wear.

  • It’s always incredible to me the internal results we get when we do purges and cleanses like this. The past year has been tumultuous in my personal life and I’ve been purging things to make for a tidier space and mind. I’ve not done a ban as I’m allowed to buy quality things I need, but things must go before the new may enter. I hope it continues to go well for you and gives you the insight you need right now.

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