What I Learned After My Six-Month Spending Cleanse Crashed and Burned

What I Learned After My Six-Month Spending Cleanse Crashed and Burned

This is a follow-up to Chelsea’s initial post reflecting on her six-month spending cleanse. Based on the title, I can tell you it’s not quite the story you might think it will be. You can read the backstory here.


My first real temptation came six weeks into my six-month shopping cleanse. The first weeks were simple. Smooth sailing. Then came July, and Amazon Prime Day. This was it, I thought. My first test.

In the days leading up to the big day, I ignored the banner ads following me around the internet (damn you, cookies!). On the day itself, I didn’t falter. I didn’t even look at what Amazon was offering. I took advantage of the beautiful weather and took a book up to the rooftop of my co-op. Good job, I thought to myself as I settled into my lounger. Amazon who?

A few minutes later I looked up and—no joke—there was an airplane pulling a flying advert for Amazon Prime Day streaking across the sky. I had never seen that before, and I haven’t seen it since. But I didn’t cave. I laughed, and kept reading.

My next real temptation came in September, when I was back in New York City. I had spent six days in the city in June and departed with my resolve intact. But this September Sunday, I found myself on a subway car completely skinned with Madewell advertising. Madewell—home to my favourite jeans. A U.S.-only retailer that I visit religiously on visits to the States. But I didn’t need to!, I reminded myself. I had resisted in June, and I would resist again today. I stepped off the subway, walked up the stairs to the street, and was immediately confronted by a Madewell store, right in front of me.

Did I go in? Heck no! I marched right past, and carried on with my day in the Big Apple. And then I breezed right through the rest of the summer—no slips, no justifications, no problem. This is easy, I thought and said many times. I got this!

But then winter came.

Months of sunshine, barbecues, camping weekends and road trips behind me, I entered my annual season of hibernation. The Vancouver rains arrived, days got shorter and I found myself spending more time on my couch with my dreaded trifecta of consumerism—Netflix + wine + my computer.

In October, a boy disappointed me. Within an hour, I had ordered myself a shirt from Madewell. Just one! Not the end of the world. I shook it off and kept going. But by November, I’d slipped a couple more times. And on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, it was game over. I bought two white sweaters, and raised the white flag.

I realized that it had been so easy to avoid shopping for those warm, adventurous weeks and months because I was happy, active and fulfilled by my life. There were no holes to try to fill with stuff, no spirits to lift. That, I realized, was the real root cause of my idle online shopping habit, and my occasional junk food habit, and my binge-watching habit, and probably some other habits too. I was using all of them as therapy, but inevitably ending up feeling worse, not better.

I don’t think I’m an addict, but I do know that I’ve continuously, despite my best efforts to change, behaved in a way that’s neither made me happy nor gotten me closer to achieving my goals—not unlike like an addict. And effective addiction treatment addresses not just the problematic habits and behaviours, but the psychological issues underlying them. That’s what I’m doing now, and that’s why I think this time, finally, something’s actually going to change. In fact it already has.

So, given my slip-ups, was my truncated shopping cleanse a failure? Absolutely not. As many people who have done a shopping diet, ban, cleanse—whatever you want to call it—will tell you, it becomes about so much more than money and stuff. Through this challenge I’ve achieved for the first time in a long time a level of genuine clarity about what I really need and want in my life. And guess what? None of it is available on Amazon.

I want less clutter—in my home and in my head. I want to feel in control of my finances, and my career, and my health. I want to feel well and balanced and strong again. I want to take a year-long round-the-world trip. I want to spend less time looking at screens and more time looking at people’s faces. I want to read more books, and finally write my book.

And the best part is that all of that is entirely available to me—not just some day, but by the end of this year, if I keep my eye on the prize. That realization has become a source of inspiration, and—even better—gratitude. I am so very, very, very fortunate to have the life I have, and the opportunities that open up to me on the regular. On January 1, I started a daily practice of writing down at least one thing I’m grateful for: big things, little things, sometimes material but mostly intangible. My promise to myself is that in moments when I feel like there’s a hole that needs filling, or my spirits need lifting, I will refer to my notebook of gratitude, not madewell.com.

Before I Leave You: A Few Pearls of Wisdom

It feels like a flip has been switched for me—something deeper has shifted that I’m confident will curtail some of my less functional habits. But I’m not relying solely on willpower.

Here are some things I’ve learned, and tactics I’ve adopted, to act as back up should my willpower ever falter, or in case I’m ever disappointed by a boy again (I will be).

  • For 2018, I’m no longer banning shopping. But I’m not online shopping for a full year. I’ve decided to make an exception for a few functional items. I had to order a new battery and charger for my camera, and knock-offs on Amazon are way more affordable than going to a camera store. I can buy gifts online. And though I’ve resolved not to buy any more books until I’ve read the stack of unread ones on my bedside table, I’m making the odd exception (like, when your friend Cait writes a book, obviously you’re going to order that). But absolutely no clothes. A big problem in my previous life—you know, way back in 2017—was idle online shopping and ordering clothes that maybe would look good on someone’s body, but definitely not mine. I ended up spending way too much time (and I bill by the hour; time is money!) going to Pacific Centre and to the bricks-and-mortar shops of my favourite online retailers to return clothes, only to end up getting other stuff while I was there. Even worse, for stores like Everlane and Madewell that don’t have locations in Canada, I would convince myself that the clothes were ‘good enough’ and keep them, even though I didn’t particularly like them, just because returning them by mail was a (sometimes expensive) hassle. This year, I can shop for clothes, but only if I go to a store and try them on. Since I despise malls, chances are I will only go when I really need something.
  • Adding to my ability to shop idly was the fact that Google Chrome knows my credit card number and would AutoFill it anytime I wanted to purchase something. I didn’t even have to get up to grab my wallet—a moment that may have shaken me out of my hypnotic consumer state. I’ve removed my credit card number from Google Chrome.
  • But why not go even farther? I’ve used a Chrome extension called StayFocusd to block the sites that are my kryptonite. I literally can’t visit those sites on my Chrome browser. I can visit them on Safari, but having to switch to a browser I never use will definitely serve as a reminder that I’m going out of bounds.
  • I got rid of well over half my wardrobe—another (somewhat counterintuitive) Cait Flanders suggestion that has proven so helpful to me. It’s amazing how much easier it is to get dressed when everything in your wardrobe is something you like, and that fits you.
  • I’ve never been a thrift shop person. I’ve admired other people for their ability to find great things in thrift shops, but I’ve never been so lucky. But consignment stores are a different story. There’s a great consignment store within walking distance from my flat, with a style that’s very aligned with my own. When I wanted something pretty to wear for my Christmas party, I found a sparkly sequined top from Club Monaco (something I would never want to spend CM prices for, given that I do not have a sparkly-sequined-top life 364 days of the year) for $20. And you wouldn’t believe the compliments I got! I told every one of them that it cost twenty bucks, cause that’s just the kind of person I am.

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 home base is Vancouver, but that’s just where she gets her mail. You can read more of her work at chelseaherman.com.

  • Sometimes happens some bad moments during your experiment, but it isn’t been a failure, you understood reason of your shopping and this will help you in the future!!!

  • Is it possible the Amazon Plane was a mirage? LOL. “Netflix + wine + my computer”. Not a bad combination. Netflix has no commercials. Then again for me, the wine would loosen my inhibitions and disaster would strike. I think you did great. To visit NYC and not break (Spend on overpriced items.LOL) is an achievement.

  • It’s great that a supposed “failure” actually brought clarity to the problem. I do think that all behaviors done to extremes – shopping, eating, alcohol, whatever – are really about some missing part of life, and not the actual buying/consuming itself.

  • I really like the idea of a gratitude journal (“a notebook of gratitude”) as a thing to turn to. I do it in my head, but I don’t write things down. I might steal your idea of writing down at least one thing I’m grateful for every day.

  • I love this. Just yesterday I finished reading Cait’s book, and today this post is here and I happened to log into Cait’s blog to see it :) I think the Universe is telling me something… I need to work out the rules for my own shopping ban – and SOON! (3 parcels arrived yesterday and hubby was NOT happy, even though they were small).
    Thanks for the extra nudge!

  • I love this. It really highlights the value of experiments like this. The real success is not not shopping for six months, but what you learn about yourself and the kind of life you want to live. If you’d just managed to hang in there for six months I doubt you would have uncovered the deeper stuff and would be far more likely just to revert to your pre-experiment ways.

  • I can relate so much to the binge eating and watching during the colder months. I too achieve more and feel content in the summer time. I have also started a “grateful” column in my dairy earlier this year, it forces me to think of something nice to say to myself at the end of the day. :) But need to keep the habit going…..

  • I personally think it takes time, i have done so well and then bought a couple of silly things and i was quite upset, the things i really want are a bit pricey, so instead i bought a few little things, but as we all know they add up, i often buy a cheap alternative and then feel unsatisfied, i know i am doing better, but i need to be disciplined and well um…… still a work in progress. Thanks for all the encouragement.
    love Jacqueline

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