What I Learned From 3 Months of No Shopping

August 7, 2017
What I Learned From 3 Months of No Shopping

On the 25th March of this year, I declared,no more shopping for three months!‘.  I felt guilty and stressed and tired of the seemingly eternal search for that magical item that would ‘complete’ my wardrobe. I was shopped out and I needed a break.

Living, as I do, in the consumer heaven of the western world, I was worried whether I’d actually be able to manage it. This is clearly an utterly outrageous, highly privileged and frankly embarrassing concern. I hadn’t tasked myself with going without food or tightrope walking over the mouth of Mount Vesuvius. No, my challenge was literally: don’t buy any more shit from charity shops for a while. 

Despite fretting that I’d suddenly need a swimsuit three weeks deep into my challenge (and I use the word ‘challenge’ loosely here), I sailed through the three months, completely unburdened by any unexpected clothes buying-based emergencies. Turns out not shopping is a total breeze. I didn’t linger wistfully near shop windows or scroll through Depop with tears of yearning stinging my eyes. In fact, I didn’t miss shopping in any discernible way. It was the most amicable break up I’ve ever been through. 

So, if it was that easy, did I even learn anything? I sure did and, handily, you’ll find it all in list format below:

You Don’t Die When You Stop Shopping
I know this seems obvious, but have you seen advertising lately? It’s all ‘essentials’, ‘need’, ‘immediately’ and ‘must’.  The language used is so imperative that you really could be forgiven for thinking that you might actually expire if you fail to buy something at least once a fortnight. Or, at the very least, lose a limb. But, it’s now almost five months on (sorry I was busy building this website, so I’m a bit late on the follow-up…) and I can safely say that I have a very strong pulse and those closest to me could certainly testify to my ongoing existence. 

You Find Out What You Really Need
When you’re in the habit of casually shopping here and there, it’s easy to convince yourself that you need something. I’ve needed trousers to go with tops and shoes to go with trousers but there is a very large chance that almost every single time I’ve uttered the word ‘need’ in relation to clothes, what I really meant was ‘want’.  I mean, does anyone really need a pair of purple, dogtooth, high waisted 1980s trousers? I definitely told myself I did when I was stuffed into the tiny prison cell-esque fitting room of the vintage shop I bought them from, but it turns out that was actually unadulterated bullshit. I wanted them, so I formulated a need for them. In this case it was to ‘finish’ my wardrobe. 

But, when I wasn’t buying anything/outright lying to myself, it gave me the opportunity to figure out what I really did need and there were only two things: a rain coat and a sun hat. A rain coat because, hi, I live in Manchester and you need your 50m swimming badge just to be allowed to set foot in this city, and a sun hat because I’m frighteningly pale and I burnt my head when I went to the beach

You Realise How Much Public Space is Given To Shops
What do you tend to do when you spend a Saturday in the city or town centre? Walk around the shops, usually. It’s only when you’re not actually going into those shops that you realise just how much public space is given over to them. You realise that our city centres are a shrine to consumerism and that if you choose to opt out of that world, they don’t hold much appeal any longer. 

You Wear What You Have
I work from home, so I don’t tend to go through many outfits per week. On weekdays, I tend to rely on a tight rotation of comfy basics (Levi’s and an oversized t-shirt usually) so I only really wear my proper clothes on weekends. Because of this, I would quite often have something new to wear, leaving the clothes I already had languishing in my wardrobe. But, when there are no new clothes to tempt you, you have no choice but to wear what you already have. Not only does this make you appreciate your wardrobe, but it forces you to get creative if you want a fresh look. You have to rejig layers, pair up unexpected items and explore new proportions. It’s a much more interesting process than just pulling out the thing with the label still attached.

You Take Stock of How Much Money You Usually Spend Without Thinking
Even if you’re shopping in charity and vintage shops, it all starts to add up. In the two weeks leading up to my shopping break, I spent £53 on second hand and vintage clothes. OK, that £53 bought me five items but if I were to splash out that much every fortnight it would add up to over £1,000 a year. That’s a substantial amount given that a camp bed in someone’s leaky, fire damaged shed now costs eight times the average lifetime salary plus the soul of your first born. It certainly wasn’t my motivation for stopping shopping but it’s a pretty solid by-product. 

You’re Much More Careful About What You Buy
When whatever you’re buying is the latest in a long line, the decision whether or not to buy it doesn’t hold much weight. But when it’s the only thing you’re buying that season, it becomes a bigger deal. You want to be sure you’re making the right choice; that you’ll wear it a lot; that it will last; that your money is going to someone who deserves it. My first big purchase after my shopping break was a rain coat. I’d discovered Insane in the Rain a few weeks in and I knew I wanted to buy from them but I didn’t just go ahead and click buy. I shopped around, researched the brand and their ethics and emailed them asking about their factories. I chose carefully, much more carefully than I ever have previously.

Since my shopping break ended on the 25th June, I’ve bought my raincoat, a sun hat and a vintage Levi’s denim jacket (something I’d wanted for years). I can’t think of anything else I want or even need right now and, on top of that, shopping has lost its allure somewhat. I don’t scroll through Depop hoping to spot some vintage gold, or rifle through rails in vintage shops. It all feels a bit futile now and that might be the biggest change; a complete shift in my attitude towards shopping. It’s no longer a pastime or a hobby. I want to shop with a purpose or not shop at all. 

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Erin (garage couture clothes) September 14, 2017 - 6:49 AM

Your list is spot on. You won’t die, you realize what you really need, you wear what you have etc. I stopped “shopping” when I was a teenager. I found other things to do, I realized what clothes I really needed and started revisiting my closet more often. Don’t get me wrong, I like fashion, I like to look stylish and I do buy “things”, just not all the time. Shopping can be an addiction and unfortunately, the fashion world is always there, beckoning you to “buy more”, you need this latest “thing”…and I understand, it can be hard to fight. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve found new items with tags in charity shops. Revisiting your closet and putting together new outfits is key. BTW, I really like your blog post about wearing the same shirt for a week, but styling it differently. That was very inspiring. Now days, since my designs are based around used clothing, I HAVE to go shopping for supplies and sometimes I feel like I can’t breathe, suffocating under all the clothes, the people, the space. Then I must leave and call it quits for the day….kinda funny.

sophiebenson September 14, 2017 - 8:10 AM

Thank you for such a kind comment Erin. I feel the same in that I find the whole shopping experience quite stifling now. It’s funny how your attitude can shift so quickly!


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