Could you stop shopping for a whole year?

Could you stop shopping for a whole year?

The concept of not shopping for a whole year seems impossible, but this is what Cait Flanders tried to do. She documents her experiences in her book: the “Year of Less”.

I stumbled across the book while browsing around my local library recently, and I was immediately intrigued by the concept of a year-long shopping ban. It was definitely a Frugalitude-type topic and I was curious to read about how she went about it, what she learned, and if she succeeded.

It is a very easy-to-read book and I can highly recommend it, but in the spirit of saving you time, let me share with you the key points.


Why did she decide to not shop for a year?

In 2011 Cait realized she was $30,000 in debt, so she devised a plan to pay it off in 3 years. She managed to do it in 2 years. During those same years she stopped drinking, lost weight, and documented it all on her blog. In theory these positive changes should have made her happy. She was healthy, with no debt and earning a good income, but she was struggling to achieve her savings goals. A big reason for this was her shopping habits, and so she decided to experiment with a shopping ban.


How did the shopping ban work?

She set herself some rules. At the start of the year, she listed what she was allowed to buy, the things she was not allowed, as well as an approved shopping list.

However, by January, the seventh month of her ban, some of her things were breaking or wearing out. Instead of replacing them she started to explore repairing, which led her to research simple living, minimalism and self-sufficiency. As a result, she amended some of her shopping rules to allow herself to buy supplies for gardening, or to make more things herself.

Yearlong Shopping Ban: Initial Rules

What I’m allowed to shop for:

  • Groceries and basic kitchen supplies

  • Cosmetics and toiletries (only when I run out)

  • Cleaning products

  • Gifts for others

  • Items on the approved shopping list


What I’m not allowed to shop for:

  • Take-out coffee

  • Clothes, shoes, accessories

  • Books, magazines, notebooks

  • Household items (candles, décor, furniture, etc.)

  • Electronics

Approved shopping list:

  • One outfit for multiple weddings (one dress and a pair of shoes)

  • Replacement for old sweatshirt

  • Replacement workout pants

  • Boots for the winter

  • Replacement bed

  • I can also purchase anything that must be replaced, but the original item has to be tossed or donated.

And I must stay accountable on my blog.

Yearlong Shopping Ban: Updated Rules

What I’m allowed to shop for:

  • Groceries

  • Cosmetics and toiletries (only when I run out)

  • Gifts for others

  • Items on the approved shopping list

  • Gardening supplies

  • Ingredients for making cleaning products/laundry detergent

  • Candle-making supplies

What I’m not allowed to shop for:

  • Take-out coffee

  • Clothes, shoes, accessories

  • Books, magazines, notebooks

  • Household items (candles, décor, furniture, etc.)

  • Electronics

  • Basic kitchen supplies (plastic wrap, tin foil, etc.)

  • Cleaning products/laundry detergent

Did she just focus on the shopping ban during the year?

She started the ban in July 2014, and her book charts her journey and experiences each month of her year-long shopping ban. Interestingly, she started her shopping ban year by decluttering. By combining decluttering and a shopping ban she wanted to understand what she truly needed and actually used. Initially, she reviewed everything she owned and asked herself a two simple questions:

  1. “Have I used this recently?” and

  2. “Do I plan to use it?”.

Some things were easy for her to get rid of: clothes that didn’t fit or didn’t suit her, expired products etc. But other things were harder: books, gifts or the first two CD’s she had ever bought. She ended up purging 43% of her belongings – either donating or selling them. 

She performed a secodary decluttering the following February. This time she purged the things that she had bought for the “Ideal version of herself”. She got rid of:

  • Books for “smart Cait”

  • Outfits for “professional Cait”

  • Projects for “creative Cait”

When she was tempted to buy something she began to ask who she was buying it for: the person she is or the person she wants to be?

By the end of her shopping ban year she had purged 70% of her belongings. The following year she continued to purge, and the total increased to 80%. When asked if she regrets letting go of anything, the answer is no, and she can’t remember most of what she did declutter. 

I found the sections about decluttering to be particularly interesting as it’s something I struggle with – probably like most people! I would love to be able to just ask myself, “Have I used this recently?” and “Do I plan to use it?”, but I’m often held back by the thought that, even though I don’t plan to use it, I might need it in the future. I will continue to search for the solution to this…feel free to give me your advice in the comments below if you have the answer to this!


Did she struggle with the shopping ban?

Yes, the August and September chapters were focused on her shopping habits and detailed her struggles with the ban. She found that she was continuously finding new triggers that caused her to shop:

  • She would hear about a new book and then immediately go online to buy it

  • Or be in a store shopping for something on her approved list and then notice countless other things she “needed”.

  • She noticed ads more, and began to wonder if she should buy what they were promoting.

  • Sometimes it was just habit. She was used to buying whatever she wanted, whenever she wanted.

Each time she was tempted to make a purchase, she stopped and tried to work out what was triggering it, and then reminded herself how much she had already purged and that she had everything she needed. However, it was still a struggle not to shop for unnecessary items.

In March she found that she was becoming more mindful of her purchases due to her approved shopping list. Since she could only buy one sweatshirt it had to be the perfect sweatshirt and it took her 9 months to find it. She also had to buy a new pair of jeans because her only pair ripped and couldn’t be repaired so it was the first time she could remember buying something because she needed it now, rather than purchasing for a future need: 

“The truth, I was learning, was that we couldn’t actually discover what we needed until we lived without it”.

And by May, 10 months into the ban, shopping triggers no longer bothered her. So it looks like trying to kick a shopping habit takes a lot of time and effort., Don’t despair if you struggle to beat your triggers.

Did she ever break the shopping ban?

She did slip once, in November during the Black Friday sales.. However, when she did slip up, she didn’t let shame or feeling like a failure derail her, like she used to do. She realized that making a mistake didn’t make her a bad person. While she couldn’t change outside influences, like ads or the thoughts and comments of other people about her lifestyle, she could change her reaction to them. 

Her refusal to succumb to shame or to feel like a failure when she slipped up helped her continue to pursue her ultimate goal. I think this is a great lesson: whether it’s a shopping ban or any other habit change, a mistake should not derail us and cause us to totally give up. We’re human and we should just learn from it and continue.


How did a shopping ban impact Christmas?

Since Christmas can be a time of overspending, Cait and her family agreed on a few rules:

  • They could only ask for things they truly needed

  • They would pool the money they would spend

  • Each person could have no more than $100 spent on them

The result was a very stress-free and happy Christmas. How great does that sound?


How did her friends react to her decision to not shop for a whole year?

Unfortunately, she did struggle with some friendships. One friend made fun of her decluttered wardrobe, another kept trying to get her to break the ban to go shopping with her, and other friends told her that she should buy stuff because “she deserved it” and “YOLO” (you only live once). 

She was surprised that, over time, many of her friends would no longer talk to her about their shopping trips and stopped inviting her out to dinner as they assumed if she couldn’t shop she couldn’t eat out. 

Happily, while some friendships faded out many others flourished, but her experiences did make me reflect on times when I’ve been more judgmental than supportive. I may not want to do a shopping ban myself, but I can definitely support my friend as they attempt it.

What were the results of the shopping ban?

After completing her shopping ban year, she shared its positive effects:

  • She managed to save $17,000!

  • She was able to leave her job and go freelance. Not because of her savings, but because she now needed less to live on due to buying less.

  • She moved to a new house, and it was so much easier because she had just 29 items of clothing and, overall 70% less stuff.

  • She was able to do more of what she loved, like travelling.

  • Lastly, although the shopping ban seemed originally about spending and money, over the year she also took more control of her life and began to learn more about her real self.


If I want to do a similar shopping ban, what advice would Cait give me?

Here’s Cait’s 10 step guide to doing a shopping ban yourself:

  1. Declutter your home – get rid of stuff that doesn’t serve a purpose for you. It can open your eyes to how you’ve wasted your money in the past, which can be good motivation for the ban.

  2. Take inventory as it’s easy to forget how much stuff you already have. These will be things that you can’t buy during the ban until you run out of them.

  3. Write 3 lists:

    1. The Essentials List: things you can buy whenever you run out of them

    2. The Nonessentials List: things you are not allowed to buy during your shopping ban.

    3. The Approved Shopping List: specific things you can buy during the ban. Think about “experience” costs (travel, eating out, etc.) and whether you want to include them? Do they make you happier!?

  4. Unsubscribe from all store/coupon newsletters – to remove temptation!

  5. Set up a separate shopping ban savings account to collect all the money you won’t be spending. Other ideas include:

    1. Depositing any money from selling your unwanted stuff into the same account

    2. Put a sticky note on your credit or debit cards asking: “Do I really need it?” or “Is it on your shopping list?”

  6. Tell everyone you know to help keep you accountable.

  7. Replace costly habits with free/cheap alternatives. If you can’t walk around the shopping mall with friends, you could go hiking. Instead of eating out, maybe picnic or host a potluck?

  8. Pay attention to your triggers and change your reactions. If you are tempted to break the ban, try to determine your buying triggers by asking yourself:

    1. How do I feel? Am I having a bad day?

    2. Where am I and what brought me here?

    3. Who am I with?

    4. What justifications for shopping are you telling yourself?

    5. How can I re place these bad habits with good ones?

  9. Learn to live without / become more resourceful. Try to live without something for 30 days and see if you miss it. If it is a huge problem, then replace it. Also try other ways – e.g. fix it or borrow / rent it.

  10. Appreciate what you have. She learned that the success of the ban depends on attitude. If you think “This sucks”, it will. If you say, “This item is great, but I don’t need it” and appreciate what you already have then walking away from it will be much easier.

What do you think? Would you try a shopping ban for a year? What about 6 months or 1 month? What would your rules look like?

Or have you already tried something similar? If so, how did it go? What advice would you give someone who was thinking about trying it?

Mayonnaise Is So "Mayon-easy"!

Mayonnaise Is So "Mayon-easy"!

Making Vanilla Extract - It's Nice, Nice, Baby!

Making Vanilla Extract - It's Nice, Nice, Baby!