At the end of 2016, novelist Ann Patchett found herself mindlessly scrolling through shopping sites to distract herself from the grim state of the country.
The unspoken question of shopping is “What do I need?”
What I needed was less.
Realizing the state she was in, she tried something a friend has done years before; she embarked on a year of no shopping for clothes, jewelry, electronics, and generally not buying things she needed until she’d actually run out of what she already had. A year later, she wrote My Year of No Shopping for the New York Times.
It is one of the most catalytic pieces we’ve read in the past couple of months, prompting us to deconstruct our own shopping habits and mindset, and unwind the impulse by instituting our own gentle, no-shopping experiment.
Like Patchett, we are surprised how much better it makes us feel. But even better, it makes us feel curiously…rich.
It caused us to take stock of what we already have, which it turns out, is a lot. Like really great clothes that were languishing in the closet because we somehow hadn’t been able to muster the focus to repair a small rip, or hem or make the adjustment they needed to be really useful. So we spent about a week surveying, getting things into shape, having shoes repaired, sprucing things up, figuring out what might go with what in some clever way.
Shopping, we found, can be the easy way out: out of unpleasant emotions and out challenging ourselves to do something clever with what we already have.
We realized that our workspace is packed with interesting papers, pens, card, stationary, art materials, tools, tapes, enough to supply a year of projects. We’ve got plenty of makeup, and toiletries, and essential oils. And we discovered a dirty little secret: old makeup can work just fine.
Once we really started taking stock, like Patchett, we found ourselves living with startling abundance.
My first few months of no shopping were full of gleeful discoveries. I ran out of lip balm early on and before making a decision about whether lip balm constituted a need, I looked in my desk drawers and coat pockets. I found five lip balms. Once I started digging around under the bathroom sink I realized I could probably run this experiment for three more years before using up all the lotion, soap and dental floss. It turns out I hadn’t thrown away the hair products and face creams I’d bought over the years and didn’t like; I’d just tossed them all under the sink…
…Once I stopped looking for things to buy, I became tremendously grateful for the things I received.
Not shopping made us way flusher, with money to prudently bank. But the other really valuable gift not-shopping gives is Time. It saves an astonishing amount of it.
Unhooking from shopping is a practice that sparked us to look more closely at what we really want and need AND have, not only in the way of stuff and food and materials, but our own resourcefulness.
…I came to a better understanding of money as something we earn and spend and save for the things we want and need.
If you’re really jonesing to buy something, Patchett’s mom had a tried-and-true technique:
If you want something, wait awhile. Chances are the feeling will pass.
Read all of My Year of No Shopping, here.
Top image: we applied hipstamatic to Swiss-Miss blogger Tina Roth Eisenberg’s image about Things She Didn’t Buy.