The lessons I learned from my “shopping ban”


Almost a year ago, I decided to stop buying online courses and workshops. 

My fiance and I were looking at making a loss selling our apartment, due to a price drop on the housing market, and already having signed a contract to buy our new house at a fixed price. So we had to save all the money we could. 

It’s not like I bought courses all the time, probably a couple a year, but enough to decide it wasn’t a priority until we’d moved.

That’s where my restrictions began, but as we got closer and closer to moving, they expanded to a shopping ban including clothes, books, eating out and pretty much all things that weren't essential. 

It was a challenge, but it's one I'm grateful for because it taught me a lot.

What my shopping ban looked like

I got much of my inspiration from Cait Flanders’ book The Year of Less, where she goes on a year long shopping ban. I read it last summer, and it made me think of it not only as a necessity but also as an interesting experiment.

A shopping ban is just what it sounds like - you restrict yourself from buying certain things under a chosen period of time.

Apart from the obvious benefit of saving money, it’s a great way to discover your own spending habits and become more mindful about buying things.

I didn’t make any hard rules, but simply tried to not buy anything that weren’t food and other necessities. I made and brought lunch boxes to work almost every day for a couple of months. I tried to be smart about my meals, planning and making sure to eat leftovers. I used a gift card to buy a stack of books that would sustain me. And we didn’t go on any trips last summer.

What I learned from it

1. Courses aren’t the solution, doing the work is

Maybe you’ve also have heard others say this, but it really is true: most help you need can be found in blog posts, podcasts and books.

Buying a course or workshop can feel like solving a problem, but you still have to do the work. How many of us online creatives have bought a course, gone through it halfheartedly and ended up not

Had I not been forced to use what I already had access too, I probably would have waited around for a course. I wouldn’t have taken direction the way I did, identifying what I needed and going out to find the help I needed.

I’m not saying courses are unnecessary. I’ve taken some brilliant ones that have helped me immensely. But they’re not a solution in themselves. It’s always you, doing the work, that will move the needle in the end.

2. Buying slowly helps you make better choices

One of the few things I allowed myself to buy before I went more firmly into my shopping ban was Jessica Rose Williams’ e-book on building a capsule wardrobe.

So it happened that my shopping ban overlapped with starting to plan a capsule wardrobe. I searched for pieces I wanted, and if I hadn't kept myself from buying clothes, I'm 100% certain I would have bought items that I later realised weren't the best choice.

Because the first thing you find probably aren’t the best choice, even if it feels like it in the moment. When you slow down the process of buying, you’ll see what sticks with you over time.


3. Resisting the impulse to buy will show you what you really want

I got a lot of practice resisting the impulse to buy. You know, when you see something that is just perfect, and you get that jab of WANT. Often times, strong as it was, the urge went away quickly.

And the times when it didn't, it ended up being something I actually wanted. I realised that this was a great test to figure out what was just a momentary longing and which were the things that would truly bring me joy.

Shops want you to buy instantly and have all sorts of tricks to make you do so. Why? Because you buy more, and less deliberately. Try to ignore their sales techniques and focus on your own values.

4. Buying things you don’t want or need will only weigh you down

My shopping ban also happened to coincide with me going through the Konmari method, as I wanted to do it before moving. It made me see how many things I've bought over the years that just weighed me down.

To buy feels easy but you have to deal with owning it for maybe a long time, especially if you're bad at getting rid of things. Not to mention the environmental impact of buying things you really don't want or need. Resist it and you’ll save yourself a lot of trouble.

Moving forward, I want to buy with intention

As I move forward and start buying things again, there are a couple of things I want to keep doing.

First of all, I want to make purchasing decisions slowly and intentionally. Not just buy the first good thing, but look at a couple of alternatives and sit with the decision before buying.

Secondly, I want to buy less but in better quality. These items keep longer and there's a higher chance someone else may want it if you decide to pass it on. And it's better for the environment.

Thirdly, when it comes to my creative work, I want to always look at what the problem I want to solve really is, and make sure I’m not just throwing money at the problem hoping it’ll go away by itself. I want to put myself in the drivers seat to do the work, whether that involves buying a course or not.

I’m glad I did this experiment, not just because I saved money. When we get a little room in the budget, it’s easy to spend impulsively and not really the way you truly want. Pausing and considering is always a powerful exercise in a world that wants us to run faster and faster.

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