Seven months ago, I had to pack all my clothes before I made the trip from San Francisco back to Santa Barbara for the beginning of the school year. I spent several hours sorting my clothes into piles, packing them into my suitcase, and trying to fit everything in. After re-packing my suitcase several times, I looked around at my living room, clothing awry, and realized how many items of clothing I actually owned.
I knew I spent way too much money on retail shopping, especially considering how I have inconsistent sources of income, but it didn’t hit me until I realized that I could go for a few months with only the clothes in my suitcase; I ended up leaving 3-4 large boxes of clothes back home.
As my bank account balance got so low that I was afraid to check it, I decided I needed to make a change. I was tired of spending my hard-earned cash on things I didn’t even need and only wanted impulsively. I could tell myself repeatedly that I didn’t want to shop, but when I hit the malls or saw a sale on the Urban Outfitters website, I felt helpless. I knew I needed to take action and go cold turkey on my bad spending habits.
I spent a few months working for my dad and reading his blog posts about quitting bad habits, so I turned to him for help. We came to an agreement about a reasonably difficult challenge. I promised to go 6 months without shopping, with the stipulation that for every piece of clothing I bought during this 6 month period, I would have to go a whole week without watching TV (which is an effective punishment for me; I wrote a post every single day for this blog for weeks because my punishment for not writing was no TV for 3 days). I announced the terms of this challenge to my Facebook friends to keep accountability, and agreed that I’d have to announce every slip-up in the challenge on Facebook too.
At first, the challenge wasn’t particularly difficult. I was fine with the clothes I brought with me to school. But after a while, it got worse. Urban Outfitters (which was my favorite store at the beginning of the challenge) had a 50% off sale on the first week of my challenge; I wanted to die. I started having anxiety dreams about breaking the challenge. For several nights, I dreamt that I was at a department store and was tempted to buy something, even though I knew I shouldn’t. Once I even woke up stressed out because I thought I actually slipped up and bought clothes.
For me, shopping is less of a necessity than an impulse. I know I don’t actually need the clothes I buy, but I see something in the clothes that I think I need. At the onset of the challenge, I had insecurities about my appearance, and I subconsciously thought that the clothes I bought would somehow make me magically prettier. As I went further into this challenge, I began to look more critically at these insecurities. I don’t have the all trendiest clothes and I repeat outfits often. Without new clothes as a crutch, I have to depend on my personality and the way I carry myself to make me feel attractive. It’s a difficult process, but it’s working.
Unfortunately, I broke down a couple times during the challenge and bought a few items of clothing. I felt ashamed when I announced my failure on Facebook, or when my dad sent me sad-faced Snapchats in disappointment. Sometimes I kept the slip-ups to myself and wallowed in self-hate.
But what the failure taught me was that it’s okay to mess up. I saw what I did wrong and I experienced the guilt and humiliation when I had to tell all my friends and family that I messed up. Making these mistakes turned out to be a good learning experience: I know how horrible I felt to fail and do not want to relive it during the rest of the challenge.
A few things that helped me in particular were removing my triggers and having lots of support from others. I made sure to unsubscribe to email offers from my favorite brands (there will always be sales and they’ll always email you about the enticing offers). I also made sure not to follow any clothing brand accounts on Instagram to avoid temptation. I would have slipped up even more on this challenge, despite removing my triggers, if it weren’t for the support I gained from members of my dad’s Sea Change Program, who created a forum where they joined in on my challenge and looked up to me for sticking with it.
This challenge was probably one of the most difficult ones I’ve taken on in my life (and I know how much of a shopaholic that makes me look like). It’s hard to stop shopping, especially in a society that focuses so much on consumerism. If you don’t shop, you aren’t cool, you aren’t successful, and you aren’t like everyone else. If you take on a challenge like this, people will inevitably think you’re crazy. But what’s even crazier is being a slave to the system of consumerism. People refer to shopping as “retail therapy” — think about what that really means. As a society, we shop as a form of catharsis, but when I shop, it only makes me feel like a robot who needs to spend hard-earned money on useless, overpriced pieces of cloth.
Before you shop again, stop and ask yourself: do I really want to spend hours of my life working to make money to buy things I don’t even need? Instead, we can spend our money on what we do need and what will make us happy: going out to eat with friends, traveling, experiences with our families. So let’s put a break on the impulsive shopping, because we’re better than our urges and we’re better than the system.