Why Do You Shop and How Might You Stop? Thoughts on Minimizing and Shopping


Have you ever thought about why you shop? If not, I urge you to give it some thought. 

We all shop for different reasons.  We shop because we need things like food or shelter.  We shop because we want things, like tools to make our lives easier or trendy clothes so we can feel stylish.  We may even shop as a means of coping, what some term “retail therapy.” 

There was a time when I would head  to TJMaxx, Marshalls or Homegoods to celebrate positive happenings in my life. That celebratory shopping was a means of keeping the good feeling going.  Not really needing anything, I would walk through the departments searching for things I thought would make me happy – a colorful pillow, a new mirror for the entry way, a fun rug for the powder room.  I loved the hunt and scoring the great deal.  But more often than not, I didn’t end up loving those items so much when I got home.  As a result, I would end up returning much of what I’d bought.  This cycle continued for years.  Looking back, it was a huge waste of time and effort.  

As we started our process of minimizing, I grew more aware of what was going on.  However, I admit I still found myself making the same rounds in the same stores.  Something was shifting though, because more often than not I would leave empty-handed.   After this happened enough times I began to question the value of even going in the stores and eventually stopped celebration shopping.  It took me a while, but I now truly understood the words of American philosopher Eric Hoffer who said “You can never get enough of what you don’t really need.”    

Stopping shopping is hard.  Our world is dominated by consumerism and driven by wants, with many people shopping for sport more than necessity.  We shop for fun.  We shop for entertainment.  We shop in search of fulfillment.  Our minimizing experiment has made my husband and me keenly aware of this and we have worked to change our shopping behaviors, though we’ve stopped short of actually stopping or banning shopping for anything.  

Over the course of the past few years I’ve read many stories about people like Cait Flanders  and their self-imposed shopping bans.  People’s reasons for banning shopping in their lives vary.  Some use a ban to get out of debt.  Others use it to jump-start a savings plan.  Still others like us, see reducing consumption as part of the commitment to a more minimalistic lifestyle. Though I’ve known for a couple of years that we could benefit from a reduction in shopping, I also knew the time was not right because we were trying to remodel and decorate a house and landscape a yard, all of which involved a lot of shopping.  

I recently read a story in the New York Times that made me realize that 2018 might be the right time to stop at least some types of shopping.  The article, titled My Year of No Shopping  written by author Ann Patchett spoke to me in a way that other articles hadn’t.  Patchett recognized the challenges inherent in declaring a ban on shopping and reminded me that my ban doesn’t have to be an all or nothing endeavor.  I appreciated that Patchett’s established guidelines for her shopping ban were grounded in her personal reality.  For example, she knew that as an author and owner of a bookstore she would need to buy books, so books were excluded from her ban on shopping.  Because my husband wants to complete the decorating process within the next year, it makes sense that furniture and household decorations would be excluded from my shopping ban, at least for for now.  

As I began to craft my personal commitment, I kept coming back to experiences from this past fall when I wanted to buy comfortable walking shoes for a long trip.  At first shopping for the shoes had been fun.  But in time the quest for the perfect pair became sheer drudgery.  In the end I found some that worked, but I’m too embarrassed to share how much time I spent finding them and how many texts and shopping trips friends and family (Thank you Amy, Kathy, Melanie & Mom!) endured during the process.  This experience fresh in my mind, it didn’t take me long to decide my personal ban would mean no shopping for or purchasing clothing, accessories, and especially shoes in 2018.

My shopping ban approach is multi-faceted:

  • As a first step I unsubscribed from clothing retailers’ marketing emails.  I would generally just delete these emails when they dropped in my inbox, that is unless I was bored, or I was procrastinating or the ad touted “Discounts of 50% or more!” in which case I would open them up and do a little looking, which sometimes resulted in a little buying, both of which I define as shopping. Unsubscribing would mean less temptation to shop online. 
  • Another facet of my commitment is staying away from clothing stores, especially my favorite stores like Nordstrom Rack, whose shoe section is an awesome place to score a bargain and J Jill, because I have a particular weakness for their super comfy clothing.  
  • To counter the belief that I have nothing to wear, my plan is to focus on reimagining the clothes I have, which may look like combining pieces in new ways or experimenting with wearing a uniform which I’ve always thought would be fun and oh so blissfully simple!  
  •  I’m really motivated to not shop now, but to help me stay that way I’ll continue to seek inspiring stories of others who have traveled down this path.  As such, if you have a no-shopping story you’d like to share, I’d love to hear it.  
  • A final facet of my approach involves envisioning the future.  As I think forward I smile knowing I’ll likely have better control over shopping urges, have more money in the bank and have a more minimalistic wardrobe because of adhering to the “one out, zero in” rule instead of my typical “one in, one out” rule. 

Let me know if you’d like updates on how my experiment is going.  And, if after reading this you’re interested in experimenting along with me let me know.  It would be awesome to have a no shopping buddy!   


2 Responses to “Why Do You Shop and How Might You Stop? Thoughts on Minimizing and Shopping”

  1. Michelle Bartell January 17, 2018 9:27 pm #

    How about a support group? On Facebook? Or just email or Website? You could head a meeting once a month like Weight Watchers or Alchoholics Anonomyous !

    • Andrea Sharb January 18, 2018 8:25 am #

      These all sound like interesting ideas. Does this mean you’re interested in experimenting along with me, Michelle? : )

Leave a Reply