Chloe’s No-Shopping Challenge

Note from Leo: I asked my daughter Chloe to write this post on her no-shopping challenge, which she started about a month ago, because I thought it might be interesting or useful to those who are taking this Debt Reduction/Elimination module and need more help. I hope you enjoy this article!

And now, here’s Chloe:

By Chloe Babauta

About a month ago, I had to pack all my clothes before I made the trip from San Francisco back to Santa Barbara (where I attend a university) for the beginning of the school year. I spent several hours sorting my clothes into piles, rolling them up tightly, 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 clothes 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 in San Francisco.

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 all my hard-earned cash on things I didn’t even need and only wanted impulsively. I could tell myself over and over 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 my blog for several weeks because my punishment for not writing was no TV for 3 days). I announced the terms of this challenge to my 800 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 awhile, it got worse. Urban Outfitters (my absolute favorite store) had a 50% off sale last week and 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 with a friend and I 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. I have insecurities about my appearance, and I subconsciously think that the clothes I buy will somehow make me magically prettier. As I go further into this challenge, I’m beginning to look more critically at these insecurities. I don’t have the all prettiest 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 yesterday and bought a jacket. In my defense, it’s beautiful, warm, and practical, because it’s fall (plus it was on sale). While I got in line to pay for the jacket, I watched my mental process. I bargained with myself, creating excuses for myself and reasons why buying this jacket was essential to my well-being. Then, I felt guilty. I planned to watch American Horror Story with a bunch of different friends over the weekend and I knew I’d let them all down if I bought this jacket and had to face the no-TV consequence. I tried to rationalize my decision, but the whole time I felt horrible. I carried the jacket around for the rest of the day, feeling like a failure. My friend (somewhat jokingly) berated me for slipping up and breaking our plans.

But what the failure also taught me is 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. I have to live through the punishment for a whole week of no TV, although the guilt was probably bad enough to teach me not to slip up again. Making this mistake 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. And at least I got a cute jacket too, albeit at the cost of my honor.

This challenge is 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, 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, travel, 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.

Read more from Chloe on her blog, Lovescrewed.