What I Learned From My Failed Month-Long Shopping Ban

My BFF challenged me to a month long shopping hiatus, and I cracked within two days.
Publish date:
February 18, 2014
online shopping, compulsive shopping, shopaholic

I love to shop, but that’s not a crime right? I mean, I don’t shop constantly, and I certainly don’t splurge on expensive items more than a few times each year, but I do have a pretty consistent stream of little cute items drifting into my life. I’m very curated and particular, I take very good care of the items I own, and I donate things to friends, family, and local thrift stores constantly so things don’t get too out of hand. I pay off my Visa bill every month, and generally spend within my limits (most of the time).

I’m totally in control… or at least I thought I was.

The idea of a shopping ban came about a few weeks ago. My BFF Sarah and I had both had a particularly spendy week, and both felt like we were going a bit overboard. For the first time, I had some money left over after Christmas shopping, and I was totally helpless against the super enticing January sales. I started to spiral: there were so many wonderful things everywhere just calling my name! I wanted them all.

On the day the ban was instilled, I had gone to a nearby shop that was having a closing sale and bought an MCMC candle for half price. I was so pleased with my purchase that I rushed home to light the candle up. But after only a few moments, the excitement evaporated into fear and anxiety: why had I only bought one candle? This was the deal of a lifetime and I had only bought one! It was such a cold winter, and I was burning through all my candles, so why had I failed to stock up?

Going against Sarah’s logical advice and my unusually high Visa balance, I called the store in a panic and bought the other candle over the phone. I realized in that moment that maybe I had a bit of a control problem.

We started the shopping ban on January 24th, vowing to avoid buying anything non-essential until February 24th. Even fancy food items like expensive honey or fancy cakes was banned. I lasted till January 26th.

One of my favourite illustrators, Harriet Gray, had a seconds sale on Facebook and all of my willpower evaporated. There were dog nail decals on sale! I argued to myself it was part of my profession to keep up to speed on beauty products, that maybe I could write about these special nail decals, that it was an investment into my career. I bought two packs, almost on autopilot, and immediately felt horrible. What on earth was wrong with me?

Over the next couple weeks Sarah and I would talk a lot about the realizations this ban had induced. She had cracked long before the deadline too, though she was too scared to tell me until a week afterwards. We both failed miserably, and we both felt we weren’t able to help it.

Are we both shopaholics?

My conclusion on the whole matter is no, we’re not shopaholics, but we’ve definitely been put under the consumerism spell of modern times and social media.

The world seems to be spinning faster and faster, and with the increased pace I’ve been finding my needs are more and more extreme. Instead of just doing one task at a time, I need multiple levels of stimulation (knitting/switch to Pinterest/Breaking Bad playing in the background). My appetite for music has grown exponentially with the introduction of playlist generators like Songza, and as a result I feel myself growing tired of songs and albums so much faster than before.

I am working harder than ever before, constantly in a hyperactive busy state that I never thought possible. My desire for actual objects and clothing items has followed suit.

In the past, I wasn’t very internet savvy. I didn’t know what Instagram was, and thought Pinterest was a cork board. I was totally clueless, and in turn my only avenue to shopping was going out into the world and real life shopping in real life stores. My options were limited, and being the picky sort I am, I didn’t often find a lot that I liked. I still shopped, but I didn’t have the constant feeling of wanting weighing me down like I do now.

With the introduction of more social media to my life, I’ve become a lot more consumed by consumerism. I follow like minded people with similar tastes on Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter, and as a result I am constantly thinking to myself, “Oh that’s so cute! Where did she get that!?”

Worse yet, I can easily find out just by asking where the item did actually come from, and pop online from the comfort of my home to order it. The purchase goes on my credit card, and the item shows up neatly wrapped at my door a few days later. It’s all so easy, so satisfying: so why am I not satisfied?

Where I used to be totally elated when I purchased something new, these days I find myself feeling like my friends who smoked pot too much in high school: they need more and more, and the high isn’t nearly as good as it used to be. There are always so many items on my wishlists (I have a realistic and a non-realistic one), so many lovely pictures and pieces of furniture on my Pinterest boards. I love the things I own, but I forget about them in the wake of all the pretty pink things out there screaming my name.

I don’t want things to be this way, I don’t want to constantly want and need and never feel satisfied. I don’t want to use up all of my extra earnings on things instead of building up a savings account. I don’t want to destroy the planet with all the shitty plastic packaging my purchases come wrapped in, creating 600 times my body weight in garbage by the time I die.

I’m still figuring out a plan that works for me, a budgeting strategy I can actually stick to. I hope to start using Mint on my phone and start putting a set amount of my income into savings. Most importantly, I want to challenge myself to only buy 3 non-necessity items a month, and hopefully drive that number down in the future, using my money instead toward new experiences and unfulfilled dreams. I’m not sure I can do it, but I’m positive I can try to at least cut back.

How do you guys keep on top of spending? Do you limit yourself when it comes to shopping? Do you think limiting makes sense even if you have some extra spending money? Tell me your secrets!