What It’s Like to Shop After Not Shopping for Two Years

What It's Like to Shop After Not Shopping for Two Years

In the first quarter of this year, I did 85 interviews about The Year of Less. By the end of April, that number will have crossed the 100-mark. More than 100 interviews in four months about one book. First, let that sink in for a minute. Take a deep breath and imagine talking to more than 100 people (most of them strangers) about your book and your personal life. How do you think that would feel? Strange, right?

Now, imagine if you were asked the same handful of questions in the majority of those interviews. It’s actually not surprising that it happens! People naturally want to know a few things: What was the hardest part of not shopping for a year? (Changing habits.) What did your family/friends think? (Most people didn’t care.) Did you regret getting rid of anything? (Nope.) And I’ve shared all of that stuff here with you before.

But there’s one question that keeps coming up that I don’t think I’ve written about. It’s asked in a few different ways, but essentially comes back to this: What is it like to shop now, after not shopping for two years?

I almost always start by saying that I hate it. I hate shopping. I don’t like any part of it, even when it’s for something I need. The only thing I like about buying stuff I need is how it feels to actually start using that thing once it’s in my possession. But I don’t like having to physically make the purchase. And that’s not because I hate handing over my money (I don’t mind spending money). It’s because I simply don’t find any joy in shopping.

Before going further, let’s break this down a little and discuss what my definition of “shopping” is. And this is actually fun for me to write about finally, because I’ve also found myself saying another thing over and over again in interviews, which is that I wish I had called the shopping ban something else. If I could rebrand it, I would probably call it a “browsing ban,” because that more accurately describes what it was. The goal of the shopping ban wasn’t to buy nothing and spend no money for a year. It was to stop mindlessly buying things I didn’t actually need and become a more mindful consumer. In order to do that, I had to stop browsing.

Browsing, as an activity, can be done in person or online. It’s easy to describe why I hate in-person browsing so much now: it is physically exhausting. When I enter shopping malls and/or most stores, my senses feel overwhelmed. There are too many lights, too many people, too many smells, and too many sales signs and promotions. It’s simply too much. (Case in point: I nearly had a panic attack at the Toronto Eaton Centre, while trying to find a shirt to wear on TV.) And if I have to spend time trying things on or testing things out, I’m usually ready for a nap after. So, we’re all clear on why I genuinely really dislike browsing in stores now, right?

The feelings I have around online browsing are a little trickier to describe, only because it can sometimes be more difficult to notice that’s what you’re doing. Choosing to not browse stores in person is easy. You literally just don’t go inside. But we are connected to tools at almost all hours of the day that make it so online browsing is always at our fingertips; that makes it a little more difficult to walk away.

I’ll take one step backward and share what online browsing looked like for me before the shopping ban (which began in July 2014). It would usually result from hearing about a book, product, or brand that piqued my interest. From there, I would either click through the links placed in articles I was already reading or do a Google search, then find myself scrolling through a website for the next 10-20 minutes. This almost always resulted in making a purchase (at least, with books). And if I didn’t buy something right away, I often bookmarked it and looked at it a few more times, before finally entering my payment information and clicking “submit order”.

I want to riff off that last sentence and say this is one of the reasons I don’t save bookmarks anymore and it’s also why I don’t use Pinterest: because the more times we look at a product/offer, the more times we think about buying it. And the more we see/hear about something, the more we believe we either really need it or might get value from it, and then we will ultimately make the purchase. (Likewise, the less often we see/hear about something, the less likely it is we will ever think about buying it!) So, no to online bookmarks, too!

Now, I avoid visiting online stores unless I actually need something (and we can talk about what that looks like). I also avoid reading articles that I know are filled with lists (and links) of things I could/should consider buying. Product reviews? No, thanks! Makeup tutorials? Never. Haul videos? I wish these didn’t exist. I won’t even look at lists of which books I should read in a season anymore (but that’s mostly because I have enough at home + more on hold at the library). And that’s not to say any of these things are bad! Every product has a purpose. But if you spend your time learning about the purpose of each object, it’s easier to talk yourself into buying anything.

Unfortunately, even though I avoid visiting online stores, I still see ads all over the internet. The trick is to look past them, and that’s also easy (after lots of practice). I think the one thing that still “gets me” is seeing friends share pictures of the books they read/loved on social media. I always add those to my “want to read” list. But I don’t feel bad about that. As a writer, you should read—A LOT—especially in the same genre you want to write books in. What I have changed is my habit of buying books the minute I hear about them. That doesn’t happen anymore. I only buy a book when I know I’m going to read it right away, and only if my library doesn’t have it. (I’m also really good at decluttering my “want to read” list, which is a lot cheaper when it’s just a title written in a notebook vs. an actual book that I paid money only to let it collect dust on my shelf.)

So, those are some of my general thoughts on what shopping looks/feels like now, nearly four years after I started this journey to become a more mindful consumer. I’ve realized “shopping” could be swapped for the word “browsing,” and removed that from my list of hobbies. I don’t go into physical stores, unless I absolutely have to buy something. And I only visit online stores for the same reason. It’s never to browse. It’s always to buy a specific item. If I could sum up what the shopping ban did for my actual shopping habits, I would say that’s it: it taught me how to take the emotion out of it, so shopping is strictly a transaction now (as it should be).

The reason I added “as it should be” is because I want to make sure that when we talk about shopping bans, we acknowledge that we still have to buy things sometimes. And that’s ok! We don’t need to add more shame around buying stuff or spending money (there’s enough of that elsewhere in the world—and holy moly has there been a lot of it during this press tour). So, buy your stuff! I don’t care! I want to be really, truly, and crystal clear on this: buying stuff isn’t bad and spending money isn’t bad! So you are allowed to buy stuff and spend your money on whatever you want. I have just learned that it feels so much better to only buy stuff when you’re actually going to use it. Because the value of an object comes out when we actually use it—not simply because we own it. And that is how I shop now.

Since the shopping ban ended in July 2016, I have bought lots of stuff. Are you shocked!? Don’t be. That’s life! I bought some camping gear, a couple backpacks, snowshoes and poles. When I moved, I bought a new couch and rug for my living room (but I’m still living without a coffee table lol). I also bought a coat rack, and then got all the parts and put together an awesome DIY standup desk. I’ve bought lots of books! And I’ve even bought a few candles, along with an essential oil diffuser. The difference between the way I used to shop and the way I shopped for these things is that now I wait until I have genuinely felt the need for it. (And I’m a firm believer that something you want is also a need, if it fits in your budget.) So I have learned to live without things—and then when I’m done “living without it,” I buy it. No questions asked. No shame. I just buy it and start using it.

What does “living without it” look like? Well, sometimes it means living without a couch for three months or a desk for six months, while figuring out what you really need and want. Other times, it means living in a new home for four months, and eventually seeing that it’s not setup to give you easy access to a front closet, but a coat rack would help you get your wet rain jacket off the floor. And I just realized I haven’t said anything about clothing. In the past year, I have bought exactly five pieces of it—and only two were for regular daily life (a sweater + new hiking shoes). The other three were for a wedding + something to wear for TV interviews/book tour stuff. So, to this end, I don’t stockpile or buy multiples of anything. I simply buy what I need, when I need it.

The beautiful thing about the way I shop now is that I genuinely appreciate all of the things I buy. It was really easy for me to write that list of things I’ve purchased since the shopping ban ended, because I can look around my home and see everything—and that’s because I use them regularly, and am grateful for what they do for me/help me do. Old me didn’t appreciate most of the things I bought, because I did so for all the wrong reasons. The most common mistake was that I used to buy things for a more aspirational version of myself, but then never used them because the real me didn’t want to. In waiting to feel the need for an object, I know it’s something worth buying—and when I have the money, the real me buys it and uses it. There are no justifications and no shame. I just buy it and use it. Transaction complete. :)

What’s your relationship with shopping/browsing right now?

  • I love the rebrand to browsing ban, it feels very relatable.

    When I was younger I spent a lot of time hanging out at the mall with friends and constantly buying new clothes. At the time it wasn’t a big deal since I was living at home and had few expenses but those habits carried over. Now I very rarely go to the mall and have been working at limiting my exposure to online shopping sites. It’s made a difference in what I spend money on and I almost always happier with what I do buy.

    • I was the same when I was younger, only I found I spent the majority of my money on CDs and DVDs. Where are they now? Yikes, haha. Thanks for sharing, Sarah!

  • “So I have learned to live without things—and then when I’m done “living without it,” I buy it.” Woah, Cait, that line is super powerful. I’m constantly working to get to a point where shopping is just a transaction and I truly appreciate everything I’ve spent money on/have in my apartment because I use it or enjoy it. I have hope I’ll get there someday, and it’s because of things like this post and your book.

  • This right here is the how we should all look at it, LOVE this post Cait.

    Buying stuff isn’t bad and spending money isn’t bad! So you are allowed to buy stuff and spend your money on whatever you want. I have just learned that it feels so much better to only buy stuff when you’re actually going to use it. Because the value of an object comes out when we actually use it—not simply because we own it. And that is how I shop now.

    As for the 100 interviews…WOW…I can only imagine how you are looking forward to a solo trip and some downtime disconnected.

    • Ha, you know it, friend! Grateful for each one of them, but I am definitely ready to be alone for a while. :)

  • Turning shopping ban into browsing ban makes so much freaking sense! That’s exactly what my shopping habit was – browsing. I’ve always hated shopping in stores (same reasons as you), so my shopping was just scrolling and browsing different websites. Talking about ads – I actually did an experiment where I tracked all the ads I saw (in person and online) for a full 24 hours. It was really interesting to see the kinds of things that were targeted to me, based on the kind of person/consumer I am now (coming to the blog this week!). What I find tricky these days are Instagram ads. People have gotten really good at making them look like normal posts and not like ads at all (not like other online platforms where it’s really obvious). Couple that with the fact that most people are displaying the most aspirational versions of their lives (I’m guilty of this too), it makes it a tricky place to exist and not fall into a consumption trap.

    • We also need to talk about how Instagram listens to you! I’ll save that post for later this month, and will absolutely look at yours/reference it!

  • I used to spend a lot of time browsing…even though it was mostly clearance and sale racks but I would still buy things. Mostly I just wanted the items and justified it with the “cheap” price. Recently, I had a forced no shopping ban put on me through circumstances. I don’t think of it as fun anymore. I always think now, Do I already have something like this? WIll I really use it? Where am I going to put it?

    The biggest issue I have is books. I am reading your book now {awesome!!!!!BTW} I have learned to use the library and OVERDRIVE. more. Kindle deals still get me sometimes. I work in education and have found for referencing and use I prefer print books. I did break down and buy two last week.

    So overall, my relationship is better but I am still working on it. Your book is helping me think through some things In my own life I haven’t thought about in a long while.

    • The fact that you know what your weaknesses are is huge, Tammy. Don’t discredit the fact that you’ve paid enough attention to figure that out. That is where all the changes I’ve made started: from paying attention and creating awareness about something. :)

  • This is exactly where I want to get to. I’m getting there, but I have way too much of a tendency to think of “fixes” for things that aren’t really problems (and buying something to solve it). Also I have a fairly small wardrobe (clothes rather than the physical object) and occasionally I think “I should have more!” And try to add clothes but end up getting rid of some and having the original amount again. I’m starting a year’s shopping ban now to hopefully reset my thinking! I think you are totally right about the browsing thing – I don’t buy/keep too much really, it’s the hunting for the perfect Coat/trousers/shoes etc that occupies too much of my time!

    • I can definitely relate re: the tendency to “fix” issues (or non-issues) with purchases. In the book, I shared a few stories about that. For that one, I have had to learn how to listen to the stories I’m telling myself when I’m thinking about buying something. Am I making something up to justify it? Or have I genuinely felt the need for the item? Good luck with your ban!

  • When I wanted to get my finances in order I carefully analyzed my spending and realized where I was going wrong. I was browsing as a pastime and often buying on impulse, which resulted in buying too many things that I either didn’t really need or that didn’t really work for my needs and then having to replace them over and over again. Now I browse and shop intentionally. I think about my needs and carefully consider all the aspects of what I need in said item. Then I browse in a focused manner to see what are my available options. Then I go home and think about it again to be sure I’m not settling for the wrong item just to have something and that I have room in my budget for it. When I am finally ready to buy I look for the best price I can and purchase with no guilt or regrets. Now I have a lot less stuff in my home, but it’s stuff I actually use and appreciate.

  • I really love this article! I wondered the same thing once I finished the book. The one thing that continues to stick out to me as i read this article and as I read your book was about buying things for the aspirational you. I did the same thing…still sometimes do. Like I buy makeup for the Lo that wears eye shadow because its pretty, but i never ever use it. Or I buy a personal planner for the Lo that has everything perfectly organized and written down but I always find it in some old backpack.

    These days I’m doing less of that and taking a few moments, days, weeks before buying something. This way if I’ve thought about it this much in a genuine way and I know Ill actually use it, its worth the purchase.

    Don’t mean to ramble, just resonated a lot with this post!

    • You’re not rambling at all! I think a lot of people (including myself) can relate to the way you used to shop, Lo. Really appreciate you sharing here. :)

  • I’ve spent a lot of time working on this over the last several years. From my mom, I inherited this idea to buy any clothing item that fit or any other item that was on sale, without considering if I needed it. She would also just go to stores for fun with no intention of buying anything for the intention of socializing. We’re struggling with what to replace that together habit with, but eliminating going to a store for fun has been huge for me. I found if I spent time with a sales associate thinking about an item, I was far more likely to buy it, plus I never wanted to walk away from the store and later realize I wanted the item. Additionally, my mom has this idea that if you make/have enough money, you should have multiple of an item. She was really confused why my husband took his one jacket of a particular type a) why he took it in for repair instead of buying a new one and b) why he only had one when he made so much money! My husband and I have gotten rid of so much stuff over the last few years that I’m finally starting to feel like the stuff isn’t continuing to grow and multiply, which has been an incredible feeling! The hardest part about reframing my ideas around shopping and stuff has been how it has shifted my relationship with my mom.

    • That’s interesting Leigh. I find the same thing, and also with alcohol. Some of my social life is built around shopping (usually on my own), or bar/restaurants with friends. The last holiday I planned with my partner I looked at walking routes (v short!), instead of vintage and craft shops. Made for a different type of holiday.
      Have you thought of doing something practical with your mum? A craft project, gardening, free museum?

      • I love this story + suggestion, Victoria! You’re absolutely right: it’s important to swap our social interactions, when trying to change habits, or we could remain in the cycle forever. I like the idea of being a tourist in your town. I’d also suggest something like trying all the different coffee/tea shops (rather than always going to the same one) and then walking around those neighbourhoods. You still spend a few dollars, but you can get a totally different experience at each one. :)

  • You have summed up perfectly some of my experiences with shopping now. Like you, I get exhausted having to shop for something I need now. The first thing that springs to mind is denim jeans. You’d think that would be easy, knowing my size, but NO TWO PAIR FIT THE SAME. They’re all a little different, which has me trying on several pairs of jeans in one shopping session and feeling exhausted by all the rigmarole I go through trying to find that ideal fit. Maybe I’m being a bit picky but knowing how long I can make those jeans last, I don’t want anything less than a comfortable fit and sometimes I’m near tears before I find it (IF I find it – it’s not a guarantee!).

    Also like you, I try to avoid browsing now. I find that it makes what shopping I do much more purposeful. I got into a shopping spree for a time because I made the experience too readily available on my smartphone. I was bombarded by sales notifications from a Kohl’s app and ran the balance up on a credit card quickly because of an Amazon shopping app on my phone. Those apps are now gone from my smartphone and I plan on them staying gone.

    I am currently reading your book and loving it. I really appreciate and relate to your voice and knowing your struggles gives me an incredible amount of insight into how tall of an order this “browsing ban” was for you. Wishing you all the best, Cait. Here’s to continuing to live more purposeful and mindful lives.

    • Thank you for sharing some of your story here with us, S.C. You’re an inspiration for others who might be feeling like they should delete certain apps from their phones. I’m also sitting over here feeling grateful I don’t need to buy new jeans . . . yet lol.

  • I really enjoyed reading this post. I think you bring up some great points – like the feeling of being disoriented and overwhelmed in a shopping mall. Whenever I go shopping with my relatives (which unfortunately seems to be their favorite pastime, so I go mostly to hang out with them), I start feeling tired and just want to go home.

    I also have problems with the online ads following me around! I feel like I’ve just convinced myself not to buy something, but then the ad keeps popping up on Facebook, Instagram, and the blogs I follow :) Maybe I should try surfing the web in incognito or clearing my cookies… it’s good to hear that it’s possible to avoid looking at them with practice.

    • Incognito is a great option, Jess! Highly recommend it. The trickiest platform to avoid seeing ads on now is Instagram . . . I’ll write more about that soon!

  • In general, I know I need to kick my browsing habit. I do really well with spending when I just don’t browse, but I cycle in and out of that mindset. I try to avoid “the browse” at the grocery store too – to keep my from buying treats I don’t need.

    One of my tricks to not buy books is to simply take a picture of it (if I see it while out and about) or save it to a collection (if I see it on Instagram). If I want to read it immediately, I go directly into Overdrive and borrow it to my Kindle or place a hold. If I’m currently reading, I try to add it to my Overdrive “wish list.” Then, the “purchase” is done. The only book I bought last year was the one my friend wrote (and I recommended it to all my libraries too, haha).

    With clothes, I tend to ask myself, “do I want to wear it right now?” And if I don’t, I don’t buy it. Or, if I don’t wear it within a few days, I return it because it was clearly an impulse purchase.

  • “so shopping is strictly a transaction now (as it should be)”

    Awesome, that describes it very well. I feel I’m close to getting to that state, but you’ve aced the game. And all that camping and outdoor gear you bought? Those are actually called investments ;)

  • I’ve been doing a “one clothing/accessory purchase a month” thing for this year, as an attempt to stop doing the browsing thing actually! I used to just pop into stores because I loved shopping and it made me feel good. I still feel this way about thrift and vintage stores, but not so much about any other stores. I have to say – I failed my first two months of the year at only buying one piece of clothing, but March was good! And this month my purchase will be a backpack because mine broke. I feel way more comfortable with it now that I’m actually not even going into stores.

    Also – are you from Toronto? Have you heard of Bunz Trading? I’m obsessed with it!

  • Hi Cait,
    I would say right now I am on a zero waste kick. That is pretty much all I am buying. Swapping out things that will just land up in a landfill (regular sponge for silicone sponge, small cloth bags for produce instead of plastic, metal air filter instead of cardboard, cloth napkins instead of paper towels). This stuff may cost more upfront, but save in the end (or so that’s what I am telling myself). Browsing for these things has become a major time sucker, after reading this I am going to step away from browsing for a week. :)

  • I just finished reading your book. I got the e-version because I am in serious downsizing mode. I am at the other end of the age spectrum from you, 77, and will be moving into an RV with my daughter and son-in-law to travel full time. We will have a storage unit, but only a small one for a minimum amount of things. It has taken me 3 years to move from, “My stuff, how can I live without my stuff?” To, “My stuff I am so ready to live without my stuff.” My kids will be helping me with estates sales and getting my house ready to sell. I tell everyone that they are just doing while I am alive all that they would have to do when I am dead. I listen to horror stories that some people go through when a parent dies. It will still be a long time before I leave this earth plane, but my kids will have a pretty easy time with what I leave behind.

    • Hooray and blessings on you, Carol! Wishing you a continued long and happy uncluttered life on this earth plane…you’ve got it right! :-) At 54, I am much older than many on this list, and am still learning…you are an inspiration! Thank you for your valuable lesson…all that remains.

  • I can really undertand you because for many years I had impulsive shopping, then I needed to have and follow a budget so I started to understand the difference between NEEDS and WANTS…also if I am debt free I still have a budget to achieve my financial goals and I also have little treat for myself during week to keep myself focused on goals:D

  • In late 2016 I was inspired by your shopping ban and started my own. It lasted about 3-5 months. It felt great to regain that time I spent browsing online and additionally reduced anxiety over trying to make the best purchase. I think I always hope that purchases will fix or make something better. At the beginning of this year I started what I hope to be a year long shopping ban. So far it is going well. I’ve realized how little I really need and how much time I lose to “researching” purchases. I know I’ll need to eventually research and purchase in the future – but I think I’ll be able to do so more mindfully and less frivolously in terms of time, energy, and money.

  • I have a love/hate relationship with shopping. I rarely go shopping or buy things. When I do, it is generally for things I need or was wanting to replace for some reason or another. However when I do go shopping, there is often a lot of guilt associated with it. But did I REALLY, REALLY, REALLY need it? *guiltguiltguilt*. Shopping also frustrates me because buying consciously is not always possible, so then that adds another layer of guilt. And sometimes I don’t need something, but I know I would use it and it would be a lot of fun for me and my family/friends/spouse but then I think about adding it to my house, and the materials it took to make that item etc. and then I am torn between living a little and the high standard of morals I set for myself. Who would’ve thought shopping could be SO confusing and SO hard?

  • Browsing Ban is a fantastic term! Its not the mall that’s so available now its how accessible online browsing is..I listened to your audio book and realized how many ads are on social media, show up in my inbox etc. Thanks for sharing your story, your 100 interviews to promote your book paid off, I hadn’t heard about your blog before listening to Preet Banerjee’s podcast. I thoroughly related to your story, and enjoyed learning from your journey. Still working on deleting incoming ads from my inbox, and other browsing habits. Looking forward to future blog posts! Thanks again for sharing.

  • It’s really true- browsing is the worst! I used to constantly look through online stores for cute clothes and shoes. After downsizing, and deciding to be a more conscious consumer I’ve completely changed my behavior. Since I only buy things made in America or used, I don’t have that many choices so it’s a lot less overwhelming. The only clothes I bought last year were 2 pairs of leggings (my old ones ripped beyond repair) and winter boots (my sole cracked and the fix didn’t take). So I’ve cured one addiction… but books are tougher to kick. I haven’t bought any in the last year and a half, I borrow them from the library or request inter-library loans. When I enter a bookstore, I still covet everything in there so I’ve been avoiding bookstores, which is kind of unfortunate.

  • Thanks for another thoughtful post. I have been working on being a much more mindful consumer, and trying to break the “impulse buying after browsing” habit. I have found some significant benefits after 4 months including; so much more free time (I was an online browser, as I hate in store shopping), less of a “trigger finger” impulse to buy, giving me some much needed “wait and see if I really want it and will use it” time, and time to check my budget and see if the potential purchase aligns with my current values (even if there is $ in the budget, if it doesn’t align, it doesn’t get purchased). I am curious where this path will take me, but I am happy with the unexpected results I have seen thus far (so much more than just the money out/stuff in). Now that the intensity of your book launch is calming down, what are you doing with the time you have gained from not browsing?

  • I have just finished reading your book and have come to check out your website. The book for me was amazing and truly inspiring. While reading it I finally got rid of piles of clothing I had put aside to give away but had done nothing about. I have also overhauled my budget and I am going to try a month of no shopping. More for takeaway coffees and food as I am so bad for that!!! I feel like its a much easier goal to achieve now and I can come back and read your book, blog etc at any time!

  • An interesting topic, Cait – shopping/browsing.

    Like yourself, I hate (shall I say) “tedious shopping”. I’ll explain what I mean by that term in a minute.
    That said though I do get involved in directed physical shopping – in person, never online.
    I do use online facilities but only for browsing, research, etc., never for the actual purchases.
    Why not? Very simply due to security / privacy concerns. Look, whatever you enter online is “potentially” accessible (regardless of what anyone says). More and more we read about hacker exploits and attacks – egs,, Target, Saks, Facebook, not to mention banks (who doing everything to keep things private). It’s scary what info companies have gathered about all of us (and except for fewer and fewer of us most of us are routinely online more or less frequently practically daily). It you want to see what Facebook has on you, just log into Facebook, go to General Account Settings, and then at the bottom of the screen select “Download a copy of your Facebook data”. Happy reading.

    So, for me, no online purchasing if at all possible.

    Online browsing is different. By shopping I don’t just mean buying stuff but also purchasing services. Thus, I search (and routinely) access sites to determine stuff like:
    The best cost effective purchase
    The best choices of trusted reliable contractors to contact (for home / car mtce, for example.)
    This I do privately, thoroughly, at home, at my leisure, with no one to pressure me.
    I research my shopping options. I check for other peoples’ product / service reviews (learn by others’ good/bad experiences, etc).

    To me acquiring stuff also first involves a cost-benefit analysis. Do I really need something? Can I do without it? What are my options on choosing an alternative? etc etc.

    Once I’ve done my “due diligence” (as outlined above), done my research, checked physical store product availability (in stock? where located in the store?) and have made my purchasing decision, I then go to the chosen merchant (or contact the chosen contractor) and physically do a final in-person review before getting out my credit card (not a debit card, in order to have fraud protection and manage my funds more efficiently using payment due date float).

    I keep physical shopping to an absolute minimum in time spent and with minimal crowds around me.
    That’s how I like to shop / browse. No hassle, no regrets later, no buyers remorse,

  • I like the renaming to “browsing ban” – it’s clearer that way. It’s funny how after you stop browsing for a while, it seems a little silly. Things wear out and need replacing, but that’s very different from just going to the store and seeing what’s there. Spend on what’s valuable.

    Books are my nemesis when it comes to shopping. I use Goodreads for that, which is great – any time I’m online and someone I read who I trust recommends a book, I just put it on my list. Periodically I check the library to see if they have it. That way I don’t forget any books that I want to read!

  • Thank you so much Cait for sharing your insights and journey! I just finished reading your your book. I couldn’t put it down and finished it in less than 24 hours. I was sorry I was finished and wanted more, so I immediately looked up your blog.

    I have two children with severe autism, ages 20 and 16. My husband and I suffered caregiver burnout and now both our children are in group homes. I have been going through an identity crisis ever since and have turned to shopping as I have been trying to drown my sorrows, ease my guilt, stay connected to my children, tune out my chronic physical pain, fill the vacuum and recreate myself… Aspirational buying is definitely one of my issues.

    I am joining a new 12 week support group for addictive behaviours that starts in two weeks. Shopping is one of the topics that they will be dealing with. In prep for that I wanted to find some info on shopping addiction and came across your book. I chuckled to myself at the checkout about the irony of running out to buy something to help me stop shopping. Felt guilty about it to, till I read this blog post.

    Remembering that an item’s value is in it’s being used not just being possessed, will help me with my second round of purging and being more mindful about the things I acquire. Thanks for clarifying that shopping/buying is not in of itself “bad” and that we can establish our own boundaries and version of streamlining and simplifying without becoming hardcore minimalists.

    I’m excited to go back and read your previous blogs. Please keep sharing with us! I have found it very empowering.


    • Hi Karen, I too read the book in 24 hours and wanted more. I feel as if Cait is a friend and her words of wisdom and insight are like gem stones. Best of luck on your course. Bankruptcy cleared my compulsive shopping habit and I had considered myself now to be a more discerning shopper but Cait’s words have been like a breath of fresh air. I can honestly say that I felt emotionally lighter (as did my carry on luggage!) for not shopping in London.


  • Cait-
    I love that you addressed the shame that can sometimes creep into buying the things you genuinely need/desire. As a work in progress minimalist, that is also interested in frugality and early retirement, this can really become an emotional trap. Just for clarity, I’m not talking about mindless purchasing. It can become so emotionally taxing to research buying the highest quality thing, at the best price, from the most ethical source, etc. etc. It’s something that I am really working through while also being mindful of the way “browsing/shopping” for that one thing can lead to more if you aren’t paying attention. ‘
    Thanks, as always, for your thought provoking posts.

    • I agree with Susan and so many others above who have commented. The research can be exhausting when needing a new item and wanting to get something that will last. Buying for the “aspirational you and for “fixes” mentioned above are things I’ve also done. I have a minimalist wardrobe and the jean struggle is real! I’ve also noticed that anxiety can be triggered by browsing/shopping and when that started happening I really had to take another look and just stop. I will definitely be doing a browsing ban. Have yet to read the book, but I enjoy reading your blog and you new direction is awesome!

  • 100 interviews?! That’s crazy! Great insight into your shopping ban! I too hate to physically shop (except bookstores and fabric shops ; ) and have always avoided it. I buy the same tees in different colors and sleeve lengths, same yoga pants and Levi’s, same Darn Tough socks, and they last me for years. I wear a lot of black so I can dye them when they start to look dingy. I know this wouldn’t work for everyone but it does for me. My husband LOVES to shop and shops enough for 10 … I see how the ‘addiction’ plays out with finances and the huge time suck. If I want a book I save it to a wish list on Paperbackswap.com. If it’s available second hand anywhere else I save it on a wishlist until I’ve made room in my (paired down from 4 floor to ceiling) two bookcases. I no longer buy books until I’ve read what I have and then recirculate them back on Paperbackswap.com. I also have a subscription to Audible which is a splurge I enjoy. Because I shop mostly online I was able to track my spending habits at the end of the year on a graph the credit card company provided and saw a big spike in summer purchases. This was a trend for years. So now I ban myself from shopping during the 2-3 month spike and it’s cut my spending dramatically! My nemesis has always been books and fabric but I’ve learned to curb that with a ‘one in, one out’ rule.

    Living on the coast, I clean the beach several times a week. I see the waste in so much of what I pick up as trash. Clothes, blankets, towels, shoes, cheap plastic beach toys … you’d be shocked at what is carelessly left behind. It’s really had me shift my consumer mindset.

    Thanks so much for sharing your experiences Cait … your insights and observations are so valuable and have me think about how I want to live my life more simply. xxoo

  • Growing up in an Ireland of high unemployment and low incomes coupled with massive emigration gave us a mindset of looking after everything so it lasted. Things were rarely disposed of and as for clothes they were handed down from child to child to cousin to friend and this went on into teenager years. So can you imagine when we came out from under the oppression of austerity and had wealth for the first time with the Celtic Tiger…we spent money like it grew on trees. Things were bought for the sake of it and the best bit was buying it because “you couldn’t leave it as it was such a bargain…” regardless of whether we needed it or even wanted it. Our levels of compulsive consumerism soared and ultimately caused the country’s collapse as not only were our banks bankrupt, but the level of personal debt from loans and credit cards was incomprehensible. I fell into this category and the “shopping ban” was a prerequisite to surviving rather than a choice. Now things are different and I have a good disposable income again but a sense of perspective as well. I am a late bloomer to your blog but having read your fantastic book while I was away with family in London last weekend I empathised completely with your sentiments. And YES browsing is my greatest weakness. I didn’t browse the whole weekend til getting to the airport and guess what; I did purchase but only about 10% of what my traditional haul would have been. I so appreciate your insight and you have been inspirational. Your tenacity in all your endeavours is a remarkable trait. Congratulations and thank you.

  • Hi Cait,
    Thanks for this post.

    I feel the same way about browsing/shopping as you do. The experience of going into the mall feels overwhelming for me.
    I find walking through a mall really tiring as well. Outside, I can walk for a long time and enjoy the experience. But in a mall, ugh… Though, if it is really rainy out, my husband and I walk thru Metrotown mid-morning on Sundays just for some movement. But we time our visit to be leaving as the stores are opening.
    I am grateful that I don’t like browsing because it helps me save money.

    Really enjoyed your book also.

  • I went through the downsizing, donating and buying for several months/ years, because I’m on a fixed income. I found out I would use a deep dish stoneware pie plate. I became more mindful about my purchase, because I didn’t want to part with it. I waited six months to buy that pie plate!

    As for clothing, the same thing. I had doubles of scrubs that I donated. I retired and only have a navy lab coat, should I need clinical atire. I have six dresses that fit well and I can rotate the wearing during my volunteer work.

    My travel bag is needing another organization, it’s my regular daily wear, because I live and care for a parent. I’m hot natured, so I wear tank tops year round and jeans or shorts. I do have a skirt and two dress blouses. I really only need walking shoes, as I spend too much time time barefooted. Thank you for all your tip and helping us all be more mindful.

  • LOVE the phrase “ browsing ban”. It actually goes back to square one. No browsing = no shopping. So simple. Why didn’t I see this before??😊

    I have realized how much shopping I was doing through the FB adds that advertise to me exactly what I was looking at on line, brings it up to me again. I’d resisted the first time, but the second time?? Third time?? It just gets harder.

    So I’m taking a break from FB. I know I’m missing out on some things…. but not the adds!!😉

  • I purchased your book (kindle version) and after reading it, I’m now following in your foots steps…I’m decluttering items that know longer make me happy…I’m paying off my dept…Given myself a 6 month shopping ban and I’m exited…each day I will plan to do something that pleases me and doesn’t cost the earth…I’ve set myself small achievable goals…I feel good…thank you so much x

  • Really good post, Cait. I find many of the same things you have said to be true with respect to Pinterest, Facebook and physical stores. Just this week I needed a rather expensive item for work and was able to find it on sale locally and was able to combine my stop at that store with another appointment in the same area. No fuel wasted. I’ve been doing some of these things for so long that they are second nature. Hope you get some rest after your tour. Thanks for your good work.

  • I started a shopping ban this year and I am now well over three months into it. I have been allowing myself to go into stores and browse and even try things on, but never buy them. When done in person, I am almost always disappointed at the quality of merchandise around the fast fashion stores and I noticed that I started to pay attention to what’s actually being offered. Most of the styles are not innovative at all: I still own them because the items I purchased a few years ago are basically what’s in fashion now. Which is an interesting observation.

    Browsing online is a whole different story. It is very difficult to separate it from seemingly a mindful activity: surely, if I take the time to look at the brand’s website and consider product reviews, I must be making a mindful purchase? Bust most of the time, I end up on the website because of someone else’s product review, a link for IG store, or IG ads. Ans that is extremely disturbing to me: does this mean that my awareness of what’s out there and what I consider my mindful online research around products is entirely determined by what the internet advertisers send my way as I am in their target audience? Can I ever make decisions around purchases that are truly my own?

    My goal for the rest of the year, is to really pay attention to the browsing behaviour and make changes around that. I also love your suggestion about living without things for a while to see what your relationship to them is really like.

    Thanks for the great post!

  • Hi Cait, I took a short brake from reading your book, THE YEAR OF LESS, to tell you how much I am enjoying it. It also sent me to see Brene Brown’s TED talk.
    I will write again after turning the last page. I don’t quite care for “when I finish the book” as if it was a task to be done with. I enjoy reading and that is all there is to it.
    Until soon, have a good weekend,

  • A few years ago, my then 16 year old stepdaughter came to live with my husband and me. The next August, she wanted (and needed) to go shopping before the school year started. She was quite surprised when I asked her to go through her wardrobe and stock of school and art supplies to get rid of things that were no longer useful, and to make lists of what she needed for school. She had never done any thinking/planning before shopping.(Her list also had many items on it that we could supply without buying, just raiding the household supply of pens, paper, pencils, etc.) For me, that has always been essential, if only to minimize the time I spend shopping, since it has never been an activity I enjoy. She had always gone shopping with no plan, and just bought whatever appealed to her. It was a “light bulb” moment for me. My dislike of shopping had made it easy for me to stay within a budget, and avoid accumulating things that brought no satisfaction or joy.

  • Dear Cait, as I wrote in my last post, I am coming back, since a few minutes ago I turned over the last page of your book. So…you write…”The success of your shopping ban will depend on the stories you tell yourself throughout it.” I would like to add my two cents worth and say that the success of most new endeavours depends on what stories we tell ourselves. I also plan to look into some of the resources you recommend.
    What is next for Cait Flanders?
    Wishing you well,

  • I use Goodreads to learn about books and track my reading. Being a Canadian living in the UK, I see books from North America that I wouldn’t see in the UK shops. It provides useful reviews so I don’t just buy based on the title and covers. My “want to read” shelf are the books I own. My “want to buy” shelf are the books I don’t own. My husband and family frequently pick books off my “want to buy” shelf for presents to me so everyone wins: I get a book I want (luxury if you ask me!) and they give an inexpensive present that won’t end up on the shelf unread or in the bin. We have also agreed that second hand is just fine!

  • I am a fan of your blog and book, THE YEAR OF LESS. While I am already quite frugal and am a practicing Buddhist (have been for 24 years), I still need to work a lot on being more mindful about spending. I am also facing an upcoming medical leave for cancer treatment so I have decided to join that with more mindful approaches to my finances and refrain from shopping as much as possible. One thing I plan to do is to refrain from buying anything nonperishable/nonconsumable (ie, vegetables/dairy, soap, shampoo, and such are OK to buy if I run out, but nothing else) until after my cancer treatment is done. This will be challenging since I have kids, but I think I can make a big impact nonetheless. I am trying to use up as much of my existing in-house stashes as possible and also Use It Up, Wear It Out, Make It Do or Do Without via use of repairs/repurposing as much as possible.

  • I just finished your book (in less than 24 hours) and it really resonated with me. I am mom to a 3 1/2 year old and a 5 week old, and I do NOT want to pass my habit of collecting things just because we might eventually need them. Our apartment has so much STUFF in it that I literally don’t even know what 90% of it is— maybe even more than that. The clutter is causing me severe anxiety and your book has really inspired me to make some big changes. I’ve wanted to for a long time, but your book gave me reason behind the desire to declutter. Thank you!! :-)

  • Rebranding the shopping ban as a “browsing ban” totally just flipped a switch in my mind. I’ve been contemplating a shopping ban since reading your book and have been researching different budgeting and savings paradigms to direct the resulting saved money intentionally. But I couldn’t quite mentally shift into “go time.” The difference between browsing and shopping (and viewing shopping as a transaction, versus the “experience” of browsing) makes it crystal clear. THANK YOU! My husband will thank you, too. ;)

  • I am with you in that I dislike having to shop / browse. If I need something I usually know exactly what kind/size/color etc that I want and I don’t enjoy having to browse in order to find it – especially because that can take such a long time! I can’t really shop physically anymore either because I have an autoimmune disease that causes me a lot of fatigue and pain. If only I could have a personal assistant to shop for me – ha!

  • I just finished your book this morning..what an inspiration! I got out of bed and started a closet purge, which lasted for four hours – and I’m only halfway through. I absolutely know how I got to this point; I have always said, “ I’m not a shopper, I’m a buyer”, meaning that I don’t browse but instead go into a store and buy whatever catches my eye I now realize that this is nothing to brag about. I can only hope that this first stage helps me understand what a drag this mentality is on not only my pocketbook but also my emotions. Thank you for opening up my eyes and resetting my priorities.

  • Hi! I just finished listening to your book on Hoopla (you kept me company on my commute all week). I’m a working mom of 4 and I”ve been decluttering and donating all of our stuff like mad this past year. The benefits of less are amazing for us all. I am now implementing a shopping/browsing ban as I feel we have more than enough, and we need to save our money for the things we truly need and want. Thank you for being an inspiration!

    I am also posting here to chime in wearing my work hat — I am a librarian. Most librarians are very happy to take your requests and order the books that you’re itching to read. It might not be instant gratification as ordering and processing takes a month or so, but it’s free! And your librarian would be happy to recommend a similar book or just another great book for you to read in the meantime. Some librarians even receive advanced reader copies of books that they might just personally loan out/pass on to you! So I guess what I’m trying to say is…if you are reader, make friends with your local librarians and you’ll reap the benefits! :-)

  • Hey Cait- it’s Sarah from ACP. I listened to the young house love podcast and it was so great to hear what you have been up to. I remember you having debt when we were at school! Inspiring to see what you have done – and now you know that you were listened to in Zimbabwe. :)

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