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Five Things I Learned from My January No-Buy

So I took the month of January off of shopping.

I think it’s a fairly common thing to do, after our collective Black Friday Bacchanalia and the glut of holiday “special offers” and “last chance savings” emails (Hint: it’s never the actual last chance. Never.) it seems like a good idea to take a month to refresh, recharge, enjoy what you have and take stock.

I was on a total no-buy except for essentials. This meant no beauty/personal care, no home goods and no clothing. Here’s what a month of off shopping taught me.

  1. There’s way more free space inside my head (and my inbox) than there was previously.
    One of the first things I did after the new year was go through my email and unsubscribe from promotional email lists. Every new LAST CHANCE OFFER that arrived in my mailbox got a prompt “unsubscribe” from me. The theory was that the fewer UNMISSABLE SALES I knew about, the more miss-able they’d actually be. And it worked. Without the constant barrage of ever-more frantic missives (GAP, my loves, what is up with you, are you OK) from companies, I just didn’t go looking for bargains. My down time wasn’t spent with one ear tuned to the TV and my eyes glued to a screen, endlessly scrolling through clearance sections and calculating shipping costs and discount codes. I’d like to say that I spent all my new free time reading Noam Chomsky, but it WAS January, so mostly I cooked, played games, binged on TV shows and read way too much news. I also spent a ton of time on Instagram. But in general it was a huge relief not to constantly be thinking about clothing and buying clothing. I have had to replace almost all of my wardrobe in the past year, and though it’s fun it’s also a source of stress (AM I MAKING THE RIGHT DECISION?) It was really good to take a break from that.
  2. I really have a lot more stuff than any one human could every possibly need
    You’d think with a no-buy happening I’d be full-on Gollum-style hoarding all my current possessions around me and snarling at others to stay away—but instead, one of the things I did with my downtime was get organized and get rid of things.

    I cleaned closets, I emptied cabinets, I unpacked drawers. And you know what? I, like most Americans, am absolutely drowning in stuff. I took a month off of buying clothing, and I still have dozens of as-yet-unworn items hanging in my closet. I have a million more possible outfit combinations than I have events to which I am required to wear them. I couldn’t buy makeup, but I have bottles of potions and stacks of palettes that are almost completely unused—things I honestly ENJOY but don’t make use of because I am always questing for The Next Thing. I had so much expired food in my pantry that I was ashamed of myself.I made piles of things to donate. I gave things away on a local no-buy group (it’s so fun to see someone’s joy when you can give them something they will actually use.) I amassed absolute stacks of clothing that I am going to be selling at a plus-size pop-up event this Saturday. I threw away old magazines. I donated books. I gave away 25+ nail polishes in colors I don’t wear and I still probably have a several hundred bottle nail polish collection. Come on. It really made me have an honest look at the mountains of possessions I have, and I felt kind of embarrassed, really. This has led me to really carefully consider anything new I want to add to my life. I am hoping thoughtless purchases are in my past.

  3. You have to know when to make exceptions
    I was really strict with this no buy, and that helped me. There were no exceptions, because my personality is rigid like that, and it works for me to have absolute rules. What’s the point in doing anything if you’re constantly allowing yourself exceptions? However, there is one exception that I wish I had made. There was a gorgeous, perfect, black frame-style bag on sale at ASOS and it really hurt my heart to watch it every day in January and not be able to buy it. I had a similar bag that I bought from Esprit in Amsterdam when I lived there, and I carried it until it literally fell apart. My friend Helen called it my “grandma bag” and mocked me incessantly (it was the early 00s, everyone was carrying weird backpacks, and I had a snappy clutch. Whatever. I have a grandma heart.) It’s my favorite bag style and this one was perfect, and by month end it was sold out. It’s almost three weeks later and I am still full of regrets. I should have made an exception for that bag. Live and learn. The only exception I made was thrift shopping, and you can read about that experience here.
  4. Shopping actually fulfills some of my emotional needs – and that’s OK
    I have known for a long time that shopping fulfills a lot of my otherwise unmet emotional needs. I read somewhere that women, in particular, enjoy shopping because as a rule so much of our lives is out of our control.We aren’t taken seriously, our ideas and wants and needs are dismissed and downplayed. Our desires are generally ignored. Want to walk down a street without being catcalled? Tough, you’re constantly under observation. Want your boss to take you seriously? Tough, he just asked if you were feeling emotional about your bad hair day and gave your promotion to some dude who stole your ideas. Want your partner to be more supportive? He’s out with his friends and you haven’t talked to him in three days. (All hetero-normative here and stereotypical here, but you get I am making a point.)For many women, the day is filled with micro-frustrations. Not being listened to, not being taken seriously, our needs ignored. We don’t have a lot of power. You know what makes us feel better? Having absolute control over a decision, no matter how small. Blue-red or orange-red NARS lipstick?  White skinny jeans, or off-white straight leg? Black heels or brown boots? IT’S ALL UP TO ME. (Insert maniacal laughter here.)

    When shopping, for just that single moment in time, before you lay your cash down, the entire world revolves around you and your purchasing power. People are NICE to you because they want your money. Stores are designed to make you happy, full of tempting displays that cater to your wants and needs. Purchasing power is POWER. That’s one of the reasons shopping is so addictive. It’s not about owning the stuff, it’s about making the decision. The stuff is absolutely secondary. It’s about something, anything, being fully up to you. The more out of control the rest of my life feels, the better shopping is at momentarily relieving that stress. Now that I am back to shopping, I can tell how badly my day is going by how much I’d rather go out shopping. Just having a constant parade of tiny decisions in front of me and TOTAL CONTROL over them is so nice.

    So – shopping is not about stuff. Shopping is about feeling in control. And you know what? Within reasonable budgetary and environmental guidelines, I think that’s a perfectly good weapon in my personal mental health arsenal.

  5. Taking a break from anything is a really good idea.
    Taking a break from shopping allowed me to spend more time organizing. Cleaning, clearing things out. That was the primary benefit, that it allowed me to breathe and to reconsider. I thought about what I wanted and needed, without the immediate ability to fulfill the want or need. When the month was up, did I still want the thing? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. A lack of immediacy can be a benefit because you just have to plan better.I know a lot people do various different no-whatevers in January. Dry January with no drinking. Vegan January. Dine-at-home January. No-Sugar January. Whatever. Any of these things are really useful exercises in just plain old mindfulness. Taking yourself out of your normal routine, and really having a good hard look at whether that routine is working for you. For that reason alone I am happy I did it, and will most definitely do it again next year.

So what about you? Did you do a no-buy or a less-buy or some other form of January re-calibration? How’d it work for you? Let me know in the comments below!

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