Two Years Without Shopping: What I Bought, Donated and Learned to Be True

Originally published on July 11, 2016.

Last week, I celebrated my 31st birthday. I say “celebrated” somewhat loosely, as it was a pretty quiet day. I had breakfast, coffee and dinner dates with friends, with a nap somewhere in the middle of it all, as well as a bubble bath/book and some work before bed. It was almost like any other day – slow and relaxed, even a little anticlimactic – and that’s the same way I would describe the ending of my two-year shopping ban, which also came and went in silence last week.

If you’ve been reading for a while, you know that my first yearlong shopping ban taught me lessons that changed my life forever. On top of having to break my worst spending habits (books and takeout coffee), the ban forced me to figure out why I always thought consuming something could fix a problem or make life better (it can’t). My goal was to become a more mindful consumer, and I did that. But I decided to extend the ban for one reason: to figure out how much I consume in a year.

The Rules for My Second Yearlong Shopping Ban

The rules for the second year were fairly simple: I was allowed to buy consumable goods, as well as anything essential or that needed to be replaced, and I had to keep track of everything (except for food and gas). Yes, that means I literally kept track of every single toothbrush and tube of toothpaste that I purchased during the last 12 months. If that sounds difficult or time-consuming, I can assure you it was neither – but it did require a system to be put in place, so I wouldn’t forget to track anything.

On top of not being able to buy anything I didn’t need, I took on two more challenges in the second year. First, I wanted to only read the unread books I still owned (that means I made zero trips to the library) and donate many when I was done. Second, I didn’t want the ban to affect my ability to support my friends’ work, so I decided I could purchase things they made but only if I could also afford to donate the same amount I spent to a charity of their choice.

What I Bought From July 7, 2015 – July 6, 2016

After the first year, there was only a short list of things I was able to say I had purchased. From the approved shopping list, I bought: 1 hoodie, 1 pair of workout capris, 1 outfit for weddings, 1 pair of boots and a new bed. I also learned that sometimes you do have to replace things. In my case, those things were: 1 pair of jeans, my car tires and my cell phone. Altogether, that meant I only bought 8 things in a full calendar year… but that’s not accurate, because I hadn’t kept track of toiletries, etc.

When I started the second year, I had no idea how much of any item I consumed in a year. Instead, I had a lot of questions. For example, do we really save money when we buy in bulk? How quickly do we use up those bulk items? If we buy 5 or 10 of something, how many year’s supply is that? (These bulk questions were a bit weird for me, because I almost never buy things in multiples, since I’m single and don’t share with anyone else. But I was curious!) In general, I wanted to answer one question: How much does one woman really need to purchase in a year?

Here’s what I bought:

Toiletries/Cleaning Products

2bottles of shampoo
2bottles of conditioner
2bottles of body wash
3bags of epsom salts
2sticks of deodorant*
4tubes of toothpaste
2electric toothbrush heads
1regular toothbrush (travel)
2refillable travel containers (left my old ones at a hotel in Squamish *tear*)
1travel lotion
4boxes of tampons
1bottle of Advil
2boxes of Tylenol Cold & Sinus
1box of Q-tips
36rolls of toilet paper ($20 at Superstore, good for the year)
1jug of refillable hand soap
2jugs of laundry detergent
2bottles of dish soap

From the list of toiletries I purchased, I would say I was most surprised to see that deodorant lasts for approximately 2.4 months (*I already had 3 sticks of deodorant, so I used 5 in total), and that it takes at least 6 months to go through a single bottle of shampoo or conditioner (only wash my hair every other day). This list also highlights the fact that I love taking epsom salt baths, and I almost never wear makeup anymore (except for a touch of eyeliner and mascara, sometimes).

Stuff for My Car

4litres of oil
2oil filters
1air filter

Since my car is only 7 years old with 80,000km on it, I can knock on wood and say I’m grateful it only needed a little bit of maintenance this year.

Stuff Related to My Surgery

1pack of surgical wipes
2prescriptions for painkillers
4packs of gauze tape (had to keep basically half my leg covered for 10 days)
1shower mat (non-slip)
1bath mat (non-slip)
1pair of shorts*

I underwent hip arthroscopy in February, which came with a few purchases of its own. I was able to save money by borrowing crutches from Paul and physical therapy bands from my mom, but couldn’t avoid the rest of it. (*My physiotherapist asked me to wear shorts so he could work all the way up my leg, but I didn’t own a pair so I bought a pair in March.)

Other Stuff

And finally, if I hadn’t recorded all the rest, here’s the list of things I would’ve said I purchased in 2016:

1pair of TOMS*
1pair of running shoes
2pairs of sandals
1long-sleeved shirt
1tank top
6pairs of socks
1piece of carry-on luggage*

Aside from the items I was allowed to purchase*, I can honestly say that everything else was something I had to replace, and I used the 1-in-1-out rule to do so. My running shoes were two years old, had countless km’s on them and were starting to make my knees hurt. I had to throw out all my sandals at the end of last summer, but waited until the temperatures warmed up this spring to buy more. And after two years, it’s not surprising that some of my tops (formerly all fast fashion) had worn down.

You could look at these seemingly long lists and tell me I failed at the shopping ban, but you would be wrong for one reason: I didn’t buy anything until I absolutely needed it. I waited until I had just a few days’ worth of a toiletry left before buying another. I waited until my t-shirts literally had to be thrown in the garbage before replacing them. And I had to take care of my health/recovery and my car; there’s simply no getting around that.

For two years, I avoided all mindless and impulse spending decisions. But in a two-year period of time, I also learned you are bound to need some stuff – and that’s ok! What I learned from tracking all my purchases this year is that there is a huge difference between talking yourself into thinking you need to buy something and actually needing to buy something. When you really need to buy something, go out and buy it. Do your research, look for quality/good fit and then buy it.

What I Donated This Year

During the first yearlong shopping ban I completed in 2014-15, I also embraced minimalism, decluttered and got rid of a total of 70% of my belongings. This year, I have continued to donate/toss things I no longer need and would guess I’ve gotten rid of another 5-10% of what I once owned; that means I’m left with just 20-25% of my original belongings. But aside from donating physical objects, I also tried to find other ways I could give / give back in 2015-16.

As I mentioned above, I didn’t want the shopping ban to stop me from being able to support my friends’ work. Whenever a friend launched a new product (physical or digital), if I had the money, I bought it and then donated the same amount to a charity of their choice. I purchased a copy of Chris’ book, gave it to a friend and donated to Camp Quality. I took one of Paul and Jason’s courses and donated to the BC SPCA. I donated 50% of my December earnings from Rockstar Finance to Sundara. And I donated 5% of sales of the Mindful Budgeting 2016 Planner to The Hope Effect.

I’m not sharing this to make it sound like I’m the most charitable person out there – so far from it. But I do believe that since all my needs are being met, it’s important to give back as much and as often as I can. I’m still trying to find a charity *I* am truly passionate about. I’ve given lots of time to the Victoria BC SPCA, and the Indigo Love of Reading Foundation is another favourite… but I’m looking for something that empowers girls and women to take control of their lives and become the people they want to be. Are there any charities you think I should know about? :)

What I Learned to Be True This Year

I have to be honest and say I don’t think I had many revelations during the second year – and that’s ok! In fact, I think that means I learned so much in the first year that this is just a lifestyle for me now. It helped that I had eased up on myself about being able to go for the occasional coffee with friends. And I probably would’ve been tempted to buy more books, if Penguin Random House Canada hadn’t hooked me up with so many. But I truly felt confident in myself all year.

One other thing I can contribute that to, however, was my decision to track every purchase I made. Similar to the way tracking my spending helped me become more aware of where my money was going, and tracking how I felt after eating helped me figure out how certain foods affected me, tracking all my purchases was just another way to learn more about myself as a consumer and figure out how much I need every month or year.

Before, I had no idea how much toothpaste I used, or how much deodorant I went through, or how much shampoo, conditioner or lotion I needed. (I haven’t purchased lotion once in two years, because I seem to have had a lifetime supply.) And maybe it doesn’t matter! Maybe we don’t need to know these things about ourselves. But I think NOT knowing is the reason our bathroom cupboards and linen closets are full of bottles, tubes, creams and sprays of every product imaginable. It’s not just because we like all the new scents or want to try all the new colours or it was on sale (though these are part of what we’re sold on, too); it’s because we don’t know how much of it we actually use.

There’s a Maya Angelou quote I’ve kept close to me this year. It’s short and sweet and says it all: We need much less than we think we need.

I certainly need much less than I thought I did – and that knowledge is a powerful tool in my financial wallet. Before, I would’ve seen my shampoo on sale and thought, “I’ll never see it at that price again, I should stock up”. Now, I can think, “I still have at least half a bottle at home, I don’t need to buy more for months,” and walk away. The effect: not only do I save money by buying this stuff less often, I also don’t have a cluttered stockpile of products in my home. How’s that for being a mindful consumer. :)

Aside from the fact that we often need much less than we think we need, the other thing I was reminded of in the second year of the ban is that the only constant in life is change – and a lot can change in two years. Specifically, two years ago, I couldn’t have told you that I would become interested in overnight backpacking. And sometimes when your hobbies change, you need to buy a little bit of stuff to go with them. I am still only in the research stage of buying things I need for my upcoming road trip (leave mid-August!) but the experience of the ban helped because I know I won’t make any quick/mindless purchasing decisions.

The Results Are In: Your Shopping Bans

Before I finish this wrap-up of my own ban, I am so excited to share the results of the survey I sent out last month! In it, I asked anyone who had done a shopping ban in the last year to answer some questions and let us know how the experience was for them. Altogether, 379 people completed the survey (but more than 500 of you opened it, so I have to believe more of you did one!). I’ll let the infographic speak for itself, but want to congratulate the 86% who successfully completed their bans!

Shopping Bans Completed Around the World in 2015-16

What’s Next?

The two questions I’ve been asked most in the past couple of weeks are:

  1. Are you going to do it for a third year? (NO!)
  2. What is the first thing you want to buy? (Camping gear!)

The “no!” was an easy answer, not because I want to go on a shopping spree of any kind, but because this has truly become a lifestyle for me. Now that I know how much I need/use in a year, I can’t ever NOT know that information, which means I have no reason to go back to mindlessly consuming things for the sake of consuming them. But I’m still ready for the “ban” part of this experiment to be over, so I can slowly start to piece together the stuff I need for my trip.

Aside from the road trip, which I’ll talk about more soon, the next thing I want to dive deeper into is the zero waste movement. I’m a rock solid composter + recycler, but I know I can reduce my waste so much further. I don’t have an exact experiment mapped out for this yet, but I’ll probably start by doing what I can to reduce waste while on the road, and then get really serious about it when I come home in late-September. So, we will have lots to talk about this year!