The Things You Learn When You Stop Shopping for a Month

Leandra Medine | January 30, 2017

The-Things-You-Learn-When-You-Stop-Shopping-for-a-Month-Leandra-Medine-Man-Repeller-Feature-1

My dad always used to tell me that stuff ruins trips. What he meant was that overpacking is the bane of fun. You’re drowning in a sea of your own belongings in a place that is foreign, which completely distracts you from appreciating the distance and discovering where you are. Apparently, I am very good at compartmentalizing advice because I have never, not once, tried to apply this dearly beholden adage (see: my expert ability to fit a week’s worth of stuff into a carry-on suitcase) to my life outside of trips.

The-Things-You-Learn-When-You-Stop-Shopping-for-a-Month-Man-Repeller-1 But guess what? Stuff ruins more than just trips.

At the end of December, I told myself that I would do my best not to spend so much money in January for the simple reason that writing a story called “Why Does Shopping Make Me Feel So Good” helped me realize that I have a lot of stuff and a borderline unhealthy relationship with all of it.

What I did not consider is how stupid imparting such a sanction on oneself can feel in January, particularly because it is exactly when sales both rev up and wind down. Heavily discounted stuff becomes even cheaper as a last-ditch effort to invite purchase before the sale is conclusively terminated. So there you are, filling up shopping carts with stuff you probably (definitely) don’t need, but that you’re sure you’ll use. Silver sandals with a heel short enough to walk in, pony-hair slides for when that heel gives out, a zebra-print top that somehow makes leopard look like the inferior animal…floral boots!

But again, I don’t need any of it, so I put it in my cart as if to declare admiration, and then move on to the big leagues — Miu Miu earrings, a lace skirt that is 0% off, this top. Those ended up in my cart, too.

I rack up thousands of would-be spent dollars that practically feel like newly, hard-earned dollars when the impulse of purchase is not acted upon.

Sure, I can’t afford all of this stuff, but I can afford some of it — enough to make me comfortable with the prospect of acquisition, but also overwhelmed, because, see, if I were to get the floral boots, wouldn’t I then also need the zebra-print blouse to go with them? And that’s a particular kind of shirt. One that very much needs it’s own pair of pants. A pair that I don’t already have, perfect for these loafers and OMG THESE EARRINGS, and thus another search ensues.

Before I know it, the preliminary items that festooned my shopping carts become dated and stale (they’re mine already) and I’m on to the next ones, and then the next ones, and the cycle never ends. It’s madness. Madness, I tell you.

MADNESS!!!

I’m kidding but it can throw you into an anxiety spiral for no good reason at all. At least when you’re consumed by work or a tumultuous relationship or any varying degree of your own emotional psychosis, something less superficial is at stake; you’re fighting the good fight for the betterment of a domino effect that starts with you but ends with humanity.

So here’s where I’m at: I haven’t bought anything new. I don’t applaud myself or think I’m doing important work for the world, but I do feel more grounded, more connected. Originally this felt like connection to clothes I already have because with the prospect of new stuff trapped in an ivory tower, the clothes I already have are all I’ve got. So I appreciate them more, I’m not wasting mental time drilling holes into my closet and then pursuing their fillers. And herein lies the metaphor — physical stuff is always a metaphor for something bigger. Science of happiness lesson #1 states that when you stop focusing on your lack and give gratitude to your gains, you become a real life emoticon (the smiling one). The-Things-You-Learn-When-You-Stop-Shopping-for-a-Month-Man-Repeller-2 Another thing I’ve been thinking: boundaries are different from restriction. Where restrictions might constrain you in a way that makes you resentful, boundaries support you — even protect you — from the draining inundation of insurmountable choice. Setting a boundary (e.g. don’t buy new clothes, only style outfits with clothes you already have; don’t follow so many people on social media, stick to the ones who make you feel good) can actually stimulate you further because you’re still operating freely but within a given frame. Boundaries are kind of like a restaurant menu in that if you didn’t want a “curated edit,” you’d just go to the supermarket. No? Lesson #2: Maybe we don’t need the world to be our oyster. A couple square blocks is ample enough space to impart remarkable change. The-Things-You-Learn-When-You-Stop-Shopping-for-a-Month-Man-Repeller-3 And finally, I feel less like a pig. Not getting more stuff also means not getting rid of more stuff and thus less guilt about my voluptuous carbon footprint. Wearing and re-wearing the same sweater 463824 different ways is satisfying in the same way that it has been to abandon water bottles for a single glass one. There is so much pressure on us to take care of this planet, particularly now, and it may seem small and menial — trivial at best — but it’s better than nothing. So lesson #3: If you have less stuff, you get rid of less stuff, and inadvertently you contribute to eliminating the amount of shit we produce. The-Things-You-Learn-When-You-Stop-Shopping-for-a-Month-Man-Repeller-4 The last thing I’ll say is that I totally understand the allure of a uniform. In the past I have thought that in order to wear one you have to really know yourself, really be at peace with who you are and what tenets you want to espouse day in and out. I’ve never been able to commit to this. I still can’t do it, but man, to be free from choice! If only just once every day! It sounds so delightful, doesn’t it?

The-Things-You-Learn-When-You-Stop-Shopping-for-a-Month-Leandra-Medine-Man-Repeller-3

Brock jeans

Actually, that’s not the last thing I’ll say. Patience is an important part of this too. Just because you can afford something (whether a $9 pair of sunglasses or $300 pair of shoes), does not mean you have to have it. Conversely, too, when we can’t afford things, we tend to instill a sort of holiness in them. Or at least I do, and worshiping what you can’t have is a shitty deal. If not shopping for a month is teaching me anything, it’s something so simple, something that we all know but might have trouble genuinely believing — no single tangible thing will transform any of us.

Except, you know, maybe that zebra-print shirt.

Photos by Emily Zirimis; illustrations by Maria Jia Ling Pitt.

  • Bravo, this is the exact thought that has been circling my mind since I made a (wine-induced) New Year’s resolution to curb my frivolous spending. My vice is the thrift store… hunting for $1 treasures seems harmless until you find yourself a candidate for a “Hoarders” reboot.

    Cheers!
    Gem
    http://www.milkwhitemoon.com

    • Psyche

      Same here. I go to the thrift store to find $1 treasures, and end up spending $50 for nonsense garbage.

  • Just because you can afford something (whether a $9 pair of sunglasses
    or $300 pair of shoes), does not mean you have to have it.

    Yes, yes, yes 🙂

    • Eszter Sólyom

      That is so true, and also so hard to realise when you suddenly have a bit of extra income – as a young adult at my first part-time job I often feel on top of the world adn want to spend all my savings just because I CAN. Even though I understand how dangerous and unhealthy this mindset is, I still can’t help but buy stuff all the time – maybe I should commit to a month free of spending too.

  • Julie Meowmeows

    Leandra, have you been peeking at my phone? I, at this moment, am “curating” shopping carts on American Apparel, Free People and Sam Edelman. It’s all been sitting in the carts for 2 days but I refuse to remove anything.

  • love the restaurant metaphor.
    And I definitely agree with buy-nothing-month ! Tried doing it in January and : 1. it wasn’t that hard (even during the sales, AND living in Paris, AND working rue Saint Honoré) 2. I saved money (or tbh more like my banc account wasn’t overdraft) 3. I felt good 4. I still haven’t watch ‘The True cost’ documentary but I hope that will also be a life changing experience…

    • Ah ah, there is something in the air in Paris right now, same experience on my side, and as I’m feeling good about it, I’ll keep doing it in Feb. I checked my wardrobe, I don’t need anything so in Feb I’ll actually save more money.

  • It’s so great that you have really tried to think about what you want to buy and what kind of things you really need. I probably think about it way too much sometimes and get frustrated because I feel like I have nothing new to wear. It’s important to get something new from time to time and not overthink it though.

    Norina xx

  • Leigh

    Thanks for you wisdom! I am with you! Just watched “The Minimalists” and am reading the “Curated Closet.” It’s important to not feel punished by buying less. Hopefully it can feel freer!

    • Senka

      I have been on a minimalist and curated closet bandwagin for years, yet still manage to fall pray to sales craze. Yes I dress almost the same any given day (gray cashmere sweater and gray coat, and work around it) but I still manage to have too many stuff. Sometimes the excuse may be that I have gone a size up and need new pants, shirts etc. but sometimes there’s no excuse.

  • Thank you for sharing your wise thoughts! I’m planning on not spending anything in february (other than essentials) before I go on holiday and this is really going to help

    – Natalie
    http://www.workovereasy.com

  • Lanatria Brackett Ellis

    After emptying my account to Zara for the past month,I needed to read this.No shopping for a month for me *buys a $10 wig.Ok now I’m good.
    http://www.caribbeancowgirl.weebly.com

    • Senka

      Zara is evil like that, right? I promised my self I wont buy too many things, and then I did, because it’s sale, because those are mostly basic, and I’m tired of my old basics, and for the price I shouldn’t beat my self up about it. Only to end up with a room full of stuff I dont hate, but it still felt wrong and stupid.

  • These are some great thoughts I’ve experienced cutting down on the shopping as well. I’m really trying to just have one good pair of each accessory – sunglasses, one really good evening bag etc. and then not buy a new one before I actually need it – not having 20 different accessories really makes it all so much more easy and satisfying to wear.

  • Sarah

    i’ve been waiting for an article like this from Man Repeller!! Leandra, thank you. In the super cycle of fashion these days, i realized it’s more important for me to PAUSE and be conscious and thoughtful of what i’m purchasing and questioning/reflecting on existing pieces instead of impulsively buying more STUFF. My friends are also saying the same, so i hope there’s a cultural shift brewing.

    • Lenam Mahj

      Yes!!

  • My boyfriend has an obsession with ordering things online, and sometimes I get jealous of all his packages and go online shopping just so I can have some too. I’m trying to break this habit, I know I don’t need to come home to a package to be happy.
    I’ve applied a rule that I only buy something if I can’t stop thinking about it for weeks on end, which means I don’t shop very often and if I do it’s usually just one item.

  • Stefanie

    Hi my name is Stefanie and I am a shopping addict. And working in the fashion industry with the discounts I get it’s hard to justify NOT buying something! But realizing that the clothing industry is the second biggest polluter to this planet really affected me and something just clicked. I will be limiting the items I buy (not the amount of money I spend, as I had done before) each month, which I think will force me to be wiser about my decisions, and hopefully bring a little Kon-Mari clarity to my life as well… fingers crossed.

    • number of items instead of amount of money is excellent perspective, less about pocket and more about reducing waste 🙂

    • Olivia

      Discover my new obsession of a blog 🙂 THEDAILYDEB.fr .. Wont help you with your shopping addiction hahah !!!

      http://thedailydeb.fr

  • Leah

    I know this is opposite point of the article- but can you please tell me who makes the pink sunglasses?

    • hahaha, I love this 🙂

    • Kat Dunnigan

      I love you for asking😄 this!!!!

  • Miss J

    When I can’t afford the things that I really want on yoox.com, I go to the Asian website yesstyle.com and spend DAYS adding stuff into my cart. (Right now I’m at 41 items!) I’ve learned to stop making purchases at night because they are always way too irrational so I wait until morning. If I still want any of the things, I make an order. That way, with $50 spent on cheap accessories and weird gadgets like bear shaped cable holders, frog shaped laundry bags, and bunny shaped travel organizers (they pretty much have anything-shaped everything!), so I can take my mind off the stuff that I really want, like Maison Margiela boots or a Karl Lagerfeld coat.

  • Lucie Evans

    I definitely need to do this. I’m a big online shopper and I hate that guilt I often feel when I receive package after package- even going so far as hiding them so my boyfriend or family doesn’t see which is crazy!

    • Renata

      Me too!

  • I’m addicted to second hand treasure hunting. “These Louis Vuitton beauty pumps did cost like 2000e in 2010 and now I’m getting them for 300e. What a bargain.”

    Those pink shoes !!!

  • tmm16

    I’m doing this in February. I just bought my last batch of new winter clothes and now I’m like, how many bulky knit sweaters can one have? Geez.

    Imagine all the money you can save! And you can put that money towards vacation, a weekend trip, or you know, spring clothes…and the cycle continues.

  • aj@netaxis.co.uk

    Hey! You’re so right! That said, where are your jeans from? They’re so cool! xx

  • Caitlin Cavagnolo

    What I really need to know is who makes those Jeans and Denim shirt!

    • Leandra Medine

      Ha! Jeans are Brock, denim shirt is Shipley and Halmos, which sadly doesn’t exist anymore 🙁

  • Svenja Katharina Frisch

    I just told my collegue about this article and she claims I am the one who drives her into the online shopping domino effect madness. I am forwarding her the article in one email, in the same one a link to the moda operandi sale. Lets see whether shes strong enough 🙂

  • Lenam Mahj

    I made a pledge to not buy anything new this past month. I also sorted through a closet FULL of stuff I never touch anymore, had a yard Sale, took what didn’t sell to consignment, and the rest to goodwill. I took the couple hundred bucks I made, almost bought a pair of redone jeans, but sent it to ACLU instead. I am planning to go the uniform route. I need less stuff

  • Fran

    I love the phrase “the draining inundation of insurmountable choice”. It can be such a time waster!

    No doubt about it, shopping is a fun distraction that can take over a life. I’ve developed uniforms for myself during all the busiest times of my life; right now I’m in transition, trying a lot of different things, and getting dressed definitely takes more time, while also being a lot more fun. At least I have discovered a few favorite things and am transitioning to more focus on my top layer (coats, jackets and cardigans) and accessories accessories (scarves, necklaces, and belts to change a look entirely).

    One thing I need serious help with is warm-weather bottoms. Skirts are not always practical, because the best ones for me are short. Bicycle short underneath seems fine for others, not appealing to me (no desire to wear two layers there). Most cropped pants are not flattering to my petite self, and fail to show off my great legs. Many are so long that they are no relief from hot weather. Great-looking Bermuda shorts and culottes are the obvious answer, but so, so hard to find good ones. Not sure I’ve ever seen great ones. I guess I will have to take up sewing again.

    • Cynthia Schoonover

      Yes, take up sewing again. That’s why I sew, because I know what I want and it will fit. Plus, the clothes I make last forever. I’m still wearing a top I made 10 years ago.

  • D

    From the girl who just bought her 3rd black moto jacket (with some differences between each – my eyes are rolling as I force myself to look at what I’m typing) – Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. The universe finds ways to send us messages when we need it most.

  • Less stuff. More freedom. Very yogi of you. 😀

  • Katie

    I think this a valuable discussion to be having, but, why no mention of the comped clothing sent to you? You’ve mentioned it before as a financial benefit of working in the industry (and therefore spending less $ on clothes) and the site, as a whole, seems to be pretty up front about it (because why not? no shame) but I’m curious as to why you didn’t talk about it at all in this piece. Does receiving clothes, even if you love them, not illicit the same high that shopping for them does? And if it doesn’t, does receiving those comped clothes actually not make it easier to withstand from shopping for a month, as I’d assumed it would?

  • Nat Ch

    Material things really are the representation of something else. For about two years I restrained myself from buying more than one item per month, I was worried about consumerism and throwing stuff away; I wanted that to be my way of helping the world. I really commited to it but a few months ago I realized I have restrained myself from something that gave me so much joy.

    Styling, creativity, cool findings, colors, textures bring such joy to me and I had given that up for external reasons. I re-considered it and decided to let go a little bit. To allow myself to fall in love with pieces and style projection and everything that goes with the moments of the day in which I step into the happy zone of fashion. I still have a lot of self-control when it comes to buying, but I don’t make myself suffer. Why should I?

  • Leslie

    Aww, what a great post! I ended up doing the same thing this month, and I feel good, too. My tips: Organize your closet/wardrobe first, and wear and re-wear what you love the most. Bonus–it gives you more insight into your own sense of style.

  • Stacey

    Good for you.
    Totally agree with just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

  • Lisa

    listen to nina simone–i ain’t got no…

  • amierocky

    I really like this. I’m going to do it for Feb! Hooray. Will report back.

  • Cynthia Schoonover

    I try to think of things in terms of do I need it? If I need it, does it work with the rest of my wardrobe? If it does, I’ll buy it, if not it stays. While I try to buy things on sale, no bargain is a bargain if I don’t need it. Even though I can afford some things I want, I don’t want to pay the price. I also look at things in terms of quality. I’d rather have fewer quality pieces which will last as opposed to a lot of inexpensive stuff I’m having to constantly replace.

  • Vanessa Valiente

    “Boundaries are kind of like a restaurant menu in that if you didn’t want a ‘curated edit,’ you’d just go to the supermarket.” One of the best sentences I have seen in 86 hours.

  • Hannah Cole

    Love lesson #3.
    Currently trying to wear EVERYTHING in my wardrobe and prove to myself that each piece can have a new life. It’s a tough but interesting and creatively stimulating challenge for the year!

  • Colleen

    I stopped shopping for an entire YEAR and it totally transformed my style. Taking time off to think about what and why I’m buying and how I’m spending my money (and time!) also made me realize how much waste I generate. (Posted the challenge here: http://www.cocobordeaux.com/2016/01/why-i-wont-buy-anything-new-until-2017.html )

    I love that you’re covering this topic here, because I think it’s really hard to resist the urge to buy when you have a constant stream of “inspiration” from social media. (I’m convinced the whole likeittoknowit thing is building the biggest outside sales organization in the world…)

  • Anja Bašnec

    Aaaand also you’re saving little boys and girls that work at the factories in Indonesia, Malaysia, Bangladesh, etc. from getting poisoned from all the dye and chemicals used for making clothes/fabrics (not using masks or any other protection), they are also paid miserably, not to mention the water/river pollution also from dye/chemicals released from factories (and it’s their drinking water), and so on, so on.. And there’s no difference, big brands, small brands, they all get the fabrics from those countries.

  • Meg S

    The one thing that has helped me sort out my finances the most is something my Dad told me. Yes, I’m following my Dad’s advice, despite swearing that I never would. He’s a pretty smart guy.

    He once told me that before buying anything, I should think about how long it would take me to earn it. Whether that’s hours, days, or weeks. I’m also taking a page from my parents book and have started spending money on experiences rather than things. A 2 week overseas vacation with my bestie is much better than clothes that won’t fit in my already full walk in closet.

  • Shanna Thouin

    I have been needing to hear this for a while now. My spending is not out of control but really, it’s not all necessary either. I just LOVE the entire experience of acquiring new stuff. I gotta get better. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this with us. 🙂

  • Amy Grace

    Is it bad that while perusing this article, it actually made me want to start scouring the Internet for things I didn’t even know I wanted? You make excellent points here… and I’m a bad human.

  • Natalie Redman

    Love this post! And you look gorgeous!

    http://www.upyourvlog.com

  • I, too, felt an increasingly unhealthy relationship with shopping and so I decided to stop buying all clothes and accessories for all of 2017! I thought it would be horrible (and it still might be), but for the last 40 days I’ve mostly just felt relieved.

    More time to spend on being productive rather than reflexively checking the “New to Sale” pages on my favorite e-commerce sites! More money with which to travel and eat oysters with friends! More creativity with the clothes that already hang in my closet!

    Here’s a bit more about my feelings on this self-imposed one-year shopping ban: http://www.homemadebanana.com/3-resolutions-for-2017/

  • My girlfriend is giving up sugars for Lent, and while I’m not religious nor do I really follow that stuff, I liked the idea of a personal challenge, so I decided to stop shopping for my “lent”. But all I’ve done is Pinterest my Wishlist ready for a spree on April 13th…