24 June 2014

Levelled Up Shopping Fast Experiment

Uniqlo le Marais // Personal Picture

Shopping fast experiments can be a good ways to learn more about my shopping habits and how I spend my free time. This isn't the first time I'm trying this, but this time I have decided to share the process and learnings with you, in case it helps with your own simplicity journey.

 Current Situation Analysis

Some people may find it indecent to decide, and write about, stopping to shop when so many people can't afford bare necessities. My personal opinion on that last point is that we children of the first world have been raised to consume, and it is already a big step to try to do something about it (not that I'm congratulating myself here, after all I failed the first time around, I'm just saying a shopping fast can be a good experiment to conduct).

Last year, I started a first shopping fast experiment because I realized I was buying clothes every month, whereas it isn't supposed to be a daily kind of need. I wanted to see if I was capable to spend two months without buying clothes. One year later, despite understanding and adapting to my weaknesses as a consumer, and changing my week-end habits from shopping to other activities, I am still buying clothes, and other types of household items, every month.

Another reason might be that, looking at my budget, I realized I could have offered myself a fantastic week in Morocco with all the money I spent on clothing since the beginning of the year. And that's without counting linen, dishes, home decoration items... As my budget is rather tight here in Paris, I figured it was quite a joke to promote simplicity and favouring experiences over things, yet, in practice, spending more money on material items than travel and other experiences.

All of this lead me to engage in a new shopping fast experiment, broader and longer than last year, to do something about this discrepancy between my wished priorities and the cold hard reality of how I spend my money.

The Levelled Up Shopping Fast Experiment

Last year, the experiment was only on clothing, over two months. The main reasons for this were that I wanted to work on the fact that I was buying clothes every month, and I wanted to see if I was going to compensate with buying from another category of items (hence the fast being limited to clothes).

This year, I would like my experiment to cover all non-daily material items. Here are the reasons why:

  • I want to learn more about myself as a consumer in general (and not only as a clothing consumer)
  • I think I own more than enough and I'd like to prove to myself that I can be content with my current collection of items - focusing on the "use" part of the buy>use>throw consumerist cycle.
  • I have gathered a lot of stock (especially of beauty products, with Sephora 20% off coupons and airport purchases) and I'd like to use what I have before buying new items
  • Some life changes are coming, and I may need the money I will save with that experiment

Another change in the experiment is the length. Instead of two months, my experiment will cover the remainder of 2014, so six months. Yes, that's a lot, and yes, I expect to fail. But I opted for this length because:

  • Two months was a good start, but I realized it was short enough for me to think "I'll hold off and buy it after the end of the experiment", whereas the goal was to consume less, not consume later. With six months, the collections will change and I have to give up on the purchase as it probably won't be on shelves anymore in January 2015

  • Six months is a very long time, but on the other hand, since I simplified my cultural items purchase habits (CD, DVD, video games...) I do spend months, even years, at a time without buying a single Blu-Ray. I'd like to be able to do the same with my current weaknesses: clothes and household items.

  • Six months covers 3 seasons and several pivotal changes - the back to school season, my beloved Autumn... I know these periods make me weak as a consumer, and I'd like to see how I'll deal with them with a shopping fast experiment in mind

  • Six months is a long enough time to make durable habit changes - in replacing shopping with something else, in celebrating seasons with other things than material items, in making the most of what I currently own

The New Shopping Fast Rules

I have decided to post about this shopping fast experiment because it is a way for me to be held accountable. It makes it official, and I can think about you guys next time I'm tempted to make a purchase. It is a simple psychological trick, but it seems to work.

Now, in order to hold myself accountable, but also in case you'd like to try a similar experiment yourself, here are my rules:

  • Start with marking a purchase as the last one before the fast - as a symbolic way to say "here, I'm starting now". In my case the last purchase were two little colourful tops - my yearly summer joy.
  • From that date, until the end of 2014, all material item purchases are forbidden, save for daily items and presents
  • Daily items include: food, cleaning products for the appartment, the replacement of daily beauty products (shampoo...), medicine, replacement of a daily item that breaks (coffee machine...), tools for my activities (example if my violin teacher asks me to buy a new lesson book)
  • No daily item should be purchased until the previous bottle is actually empty, and possible back-up stock is depleted
  • Forbidden items to pay special attention to are: books (go to the library!), items of clothing, accessories, household items such as linens, tea cups etc., beauty and make-up products.
  • It is allowed, and encouraged, to alter existing items - bringing a lesser worn garment to the tailor to give it a second chance...
  • Make a monthly check of the experiment: did I succeed, was I tempted to buy something? Did I give in temptation or not? Why? If I have interesting learnings to share I'll write follow-up posts

Actually, the main reason why I have decided to share this, is that I'm promoting simplicity here and I want to share everything about it: not only the shiny side of everything I have succeeded at simplifying so far, but also my limits, weaknesses and failures. I am but human and I don't want readers to believe I am some sort of perfect minimalist. Believe me, my item consumption in 2014 is not exactly minimalist. This is a journey, that I'd like to share with you, achievements and mistakes alike.

I'm really hoping the documenting of that levelled up shopping fast experiment will be of interest to you - as this is the type of post that is more self-oriented than reader-oriented. As usual, please feel free to send feedback via comments or e-mail, as I want to make sure what I share on this blog is of value to you readers.

37 comments:

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    1. Thanks! Let's wait for a few months and see what happens before calling me "brave" though. Since I failed last time for only 2 months, I don't know about this time...

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  2. Oh wow! Six months... I love it. I do love this post and I'm excited to see how it works out for you. I just know you'll enjoy using your stock of beauty products. I've done it too and it's made every day Spa Day for me.

    I'm curious about your wardrobe - you say you keep an excel sheet now - did you also do a closet purge prior to this? I was just thinking that if you only have good stuff in your closet, maybe the urge to buy new will be less?

    Earlier this year I cancelled a bunch of subscriptions to TV, beauty products, phone, lotteries aso. If freed up a lot of cash that has made it possible to me to make a slight career change that brings down my salary. I've found that making a decision to cut back just feels great, but that others might not be at the same stage (such as my dh). The cancellations also made me reflect on every purchase I've made since then. I can't wait to hear how it will work out for you! Best of wishes for a great six months!

    And thank you so much for linking to me. Suddenly I had a lot of readers:-).

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    1. I'm also looking forward to seeing how this whole thing turns out :) I remember reading about your "Spa Day" thing, it's actually a very good idea, I think I'll take some inspiration here.

      Yes I keep an excel sheet now, but I've had wardrobe lists on a notebook since I first purged my wardrobe 3 years ago. It is very simple, a list per category with (approximate or exact depending on how recent the purchase is) information on when I bought it, how much it cost, and I track everyday what I wear to see how many times I wear each item and calculate its cost per wear. I also have a 2014 list of what I bought and purged.

      Unfortunately I'd love to say that purging the closet and having great items of clothing diminished the wish to buy something new but so far it doesn't work... I have been working on my wardrobe for 3 years, and I think it's been satisfactory since one year and a half, after I really found the style I'm comfortable in and bought some basics and key pieces. Yet I have bought over 20 pieces of clothing in 2013 and 24 (!) since the beginning of 2014. I think we just keep on wanting if we are not careful, because of all the inspiration pictures on blogs, magazines, pinterest etc. Besides, the fact that I refined my style had a bad effect on that: since I'm very confident about the outfits I like, the colours, fit and style I prefer, I can find much more easily than before things I like, and know it will fit me well. So it's harder to stop myself from purchasing something when I know it will make great outfits!

      I hear you on paring back! When I came to Paris I made the choice to rent an appartment close to my work place to avoid spending time in public transport, and as a result the rent was higher, so I also pared down on expenses like you at that time, and it feels very freeing to have less "mandatory" expenses every month :)

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  3. I am impressed with your courage and will to take this on "cold turkey." I am trying to dial my spending back and limit clothing and accessories to 4 a month. With all the items that I put in my shopping carts a few months back and left there I seemed to be doing well. However, those items went on sale and my size was still available making it through the entire season. That is when I ran into trouble. My strategy works to stop compulsive, mindless shopping, but fails to stop the spending bleed. Yes, I have saved money and a lot of time to think about the pieces, but I am still spending.

    Stopping weekly manicures and pedicures was one way I have sent messages to myself: cut back. Now, I go once a month to have my nails done and do them myself the weeks between. I am trying to make my splurge drive focus on a new bottle of nail polish, but the rule is I have to use it within the following couple of days.

    I do not think I am a compulsive shopper as I know my style and I am selective. It still adds up as you mentioned and I realized I am spending a lot of money each month on beauty supplies. I have gone through all my "teacher gift" supplies from years past and do not keep much in the way of back-up ---except lipstick and eyeshadow. Mascara always seems to run dry after about 6 weeks.

    Your experiment will test your resolve. It is inspiring and I am thinking of doing something similar, but not as Spartan --allowing some wiggle room for vacation spending and make-up. I will be following your experiment with interest. Wishing you the best.

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    1. Yes, I think it has been the same for me over these past few years. I have never been a compulsive buyer either, and there are very few things I bought on a whim and regretted, because I always thought about my purchases carefully. So like you, thinking about my purchases limited the risk of mindless shopping, but it didn't stop the overall spending bleed as you say.

      I think that's why I have decided to adopt a new strategy this time. It may appear abrupt, and I might very well fail, but in 3 years none of the "limiting" strategies have worked to diminish my overall clothing budget so I figured it was time to try something new. Plus, I want to find out what makes me want to buy new things, what creates the new wish.

      This experiment will definitely test my resolve! I know I should avoid shops when my will is most depleted (so no browsing after work or when I'm feeling a bit down). Thanks for sharing your own point of view, I hope the follow-up posts will help too :)

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  4. Tempted to join you!

    - Oslo

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    1. Great news! Let me know if you do, I'd love to hear about other people's experiments and learnings :)

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    2. I officially joined you today! My last purchase was a silk kimono (a while ago) that I'm looking forward to using for this fall's parties. I'm moving in with my boyfriend in a couple of weeks, and I'll try to be creative and get hand-me-downs rather than buying new stuff. We'll probably survive with a mish-mash of pottery and old linens until our birthdays and christmas - it feels so good to put practical items on my wishlist (which is the way it should be (that past sentence was kind of absurd and embarrassing to write) - instead of fulfilling "needs" throughout the year)! I'll keep you updated. Good luck to both of us!

      -T

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    3. PS: Since you first posted this, I've tried to fool my brain into thinking that buying something is impossible, "NO CHOICE", sort of. It actually feels sort of liberating. Not that I'm a massive consumer now, but a challenge like this helps. Until my willpower is depleted... I recommend this book on that topic: http://www.amazon.com/Willpower-Rediscovering-Greatest-Human-Strength/dp/0143122231. In short, it's about how willpower is actually one muscle, so that if you try to do a lot of things at once, it gets tired.

      T (no longer anonymous)

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    4. Thanks for updating me, it's very inspiring to know that some readers are joining along! I agree that it probably makes things simpler to just say "no purchase at all" rather than making exceptions and bargaining with ourselves everytime we want to buy something. I also find it important to make it hard to shop, and make it easy to do something else instead. Especially when in the middle of a tiring life situation (may it be work stress or other types of things that deplate willpower in the first place), it's best to not overstimate ourselves and just say "no". I already have a few learnings to share by end July for the first month, thanks for your input :)

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    5. Looking forward to reading! :)

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  5. You are entering an admirable venture! The depleting-the-back-up stock is scary to me--but I understand what you mean. In the US it's very easy to get into that hoarding mentality because we have wholesale warehouses like Costco where you can buy jumbo-sized bottles and bags of everything. It IS going to be tough, and I wish you luck!

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    1. Haha let's see how long it lasts. There are so many temptations out there, and self control supply is limited... In any case I hope to learn more about myself and level up as a result! I think this whols stock thing has accumulated very slowly over 2 years. Compared to US jumbo sized things, my stock will probably appear very small (it fits within a shoebox), but I've had things for over a year without using it, so I think it's time to do something about that (a shoebox takes some space when you have 25m2). Thanks for your encouragements, I'm looking forward to learning more about myself with this :)

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  6. I am so looking forward to your findings! Thanks for another great post Kali

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    1. Thanks! I'm happy to hear it's interesting for you. I'll definitely write some follow-up posts when I start learning things from it :)

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  7. Good for you! I'm currently on my own year-long shopping fast from clothing, shoes, and accessories (two months to go!) and it has been the best thing ever. I had a serious shopping addiction for years, mostly stemming from bad feelings from a bad job, that got me into some serious credit card debt. I, too, wanted my money to go towards more important things like travel and retirement... and I'm not stupid, I knew I was sabotaging myself with every pair of shoes I bought. I just didn't give a f***.

    I tried cutting back on several prior occasions, but find that the cold-turkey-matter-of-factness that "I just can't buy it and that's that" takes up a lot less mental energy than trying to make justifications and rationalizations of why I need one more item of clothing when my closet is already overflowing. And, amazingly, the longer I do it the less I feel like I'm chomping at the bit for the project to be over just so I can buy something. I no longer fear I'm missing out on whatever the latest trend is because I've realized that nobody, at least in my circles, notices anyway. There are still things I want, but I no longer feel the anxiety to have them RIGHT NOW.

    Since I'm going a whole year, I did stock-up on things that were either already worn out or wear out quickly before the fast started. These non-glamorous items included: underwear, bras, sweat socks, and pajamas. Like you, I allowed myself alterations. The only thing I have bought this entire time is a key chain since I actually needed one as a functional item (the keys to my old place were digital and my new ones are analogue). Otherwise I had so many clothes to start with that there hasn't been an occasion where something I didn't already own wouldn't work! There have been a few casualties over the past ten months that I may or may not replace-- goodbye favorite t-shirt with a hole! goodbye beat-up converse! goodbye ugly Christmas sweater and printed jeans!-- but for now it feels nice to know that my usually unworn items are getting some use instead.

    So good luck! I know my clothing shopping ban has helped me cut back my shopping in every area of my life and I'm always excited to read about people going on similar journeys. I'm looking forward to hearing about your success!

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    1. Thanks for sharing your own experience! It's very interesting indeed, as it seems to have put a light on your own addiction and why you purchased things. I'm hoping to discover the same through this experiment: what motivates me to keep wanting and buying things despite having more than enough now?

      And your point about mental energy is interesting as well. It might indeed be easier to dismiss the purchase by thinking 'I just can't buy it.' I didn't stock up on anything prior to starting the experiment though, it's been more of a "wake up one morning and decide to do a fast" operation. Well, if I do have actual needs, of underwear or sportswear, it might teach me how to discern a real need from a want...

      Thanks again for sharing your own story, I'd love to hear about your own learnings :)

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  8. Best of luck and thanks for sharing your journey with us! It's cool to be part of a like-minded community like this via the internet - thanks for working to create that space!

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    1. Thanks for your encouragements! I agree that it's great to be part of a community of like-minded people who understand that kind of experiment, and to share each other's ideas and learn from each other. I admit I haven't told anyone in real life about that, they'd think I'm at best overthinking, at worst crazy :)

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  9. I'm in! Like, right this second! My exceptions are for clothes/shoes/school needs for my rapidly growing children; gifts; and any essential clothes requiring replacement due to weight loss like bras or jeans. (I don't think there will be much of that, but I have lost some weight since the start of the year and I think there are some corduroy pants that may not fit me anymore.) Yes, I am so ready for this. As I take a mentally inventory of my stuff I can't think of a single item of clothing, shoe or accessory that I am lacking for summer or fall. And it will make my Christmas wish list much more exciting, since usually I have to think hard to put something down for our family gift exchange that is within the price limit that I couldn't just buy for myself (and probably already have.)

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    1. Glad to hear it! I hope you'll share your own learnings as the months pass, it'd be interesting to see your own take on this. I hadn't even thought of Christmas wish lists, and I'm looking forward to see how it changes my view on Christmas presents (both in the ones I'll make and the ones I'll receive)

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    2. For the past few years I've been making the Christmas presents I give to others (except for my fiancé), usually something like sugared almonds, toffee and so on. Not only does it save a whole lot of money, but I feel it is so much more meaningful to give my relatives gifts I have made myself. As a student, I can't even use that much money on gifts, so what's the point of buying something cheap and pointless with the little money I have, if I can just make something special myself.

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  10. I might have to participate in this as well!

    I have a little notebook where I've written every single thing I've used money on this year: every time I buy something or pay the bill and so on. What it has tought me, is that only during the months that I buy something extra, such as clothes or cooking books, I spent too much money. At first, I tried to use as little money as possible on food products as well. But when I allowed myself to use money more freely on food, I realised that on those weeks and months that I only buy food, I use very little money. So I've learnt not to be too strict on myself when it comes to food shopping. And by this I mean buying things that are probably everyday essentials for french people but something of a luxury for finnish people (such as artisan bread, gruyère cheese etc.) :)

    I buy clothes quite rarely nowadays. Not because I try to, but because I just don't enjoy going to clothing stores or browsing online. I'm quite happy just wearing black jeans and some sort of black top everyday of the week. I don't use make up on most days so I buy beauty products very rarely. Nonetheless, I feel like I have purchased a little bit too much already this year and I decided go on a shopping fast for the rest of the summer. I'll see after summer how I feel about continuing on. So for the rest of this month + July + August, I will try to only buy essentials. As for the 'last purchase before the fast', I'm waiting for the shops to open so I can go buy some yarn and knitting needles to make a sweater for myself :) Something I've never done before (only woolly socks!) but something I've been wanting to do for a while.

    Good luck on your fast! I'm looking forward to reading your thoughts on it.

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    1. Thanks for sharing your on story! I hope you'll update me on your summer fast and if it has been useful for you.

      Its true that as a French woman I have been taught to never sacrifice food expenses, after all it is about health, and daily pleasure :) I have pared down at some points in my life (when I was a student for example) but it's always been the very last resort :) I see what you mean though, sometimes we don't realize how much it can add up, the little material purchases here and there.

      The other day, I was complaining about not having enough money to go on a proper vacation, then I did the sum of all the clothing I bought since January and I realized I did have enough money to go on vacation. I just spent it on clothes. I think that's one of my main motivations for this shopping fast.

      Good luck on your own fast, it's quite exciting to knit your own sweater ;) Please do update me on your own progress, I'm very interested in that!

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  11. I think this is amazing! I've lived in third world countries (Egypt and Sudan), and I can say that poverty doesn't necessarily make one content with less; it simply forces one to have less. Contentment and simplicity is a lesson that can be learned at all levels of income. (Though please don't misunderstand and think I am judging or lecturing people with little money. I most definitely am not, and their struggle is near and dear to my heart. It is a terrible thing to struggle for daily necessities, and it's something I'm helping to eliminate where I can.)

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    1. Thanks for your input from the eyes of someone who has seen poverty. I have to admit I have never been to third world countries and it feels so far away (for which I'm feeling a bit guilty...). I have to agree though, that simplicity and contentment seem to be a state of mind, rather than something that naturally comes with lower incomes.

      I remember a TV reality show a few years back, which was a sort of "financial coaching", with financial advisors coming to people's houses, asserting their finances and helping them reach a goal (of dissolving their debts for example). I remember being shocked at one of the families, parents with 2 children, the mother was housewive, the father just lost his job. The mission of the "financial advisors" was to help them reorganize their finances so they could keep their house, and help the husband find a new job. They seems so poor (by the first world living standards), said they couldn't afford cheese for example. But there was a TV and a computer in every single room of the house. That's when I learned that lower income doesn't necessarily mean people buy less, or more smartly. They just go into debt...

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  12. I really like these challenges you set up for yourself and have been inspired to begin my own experiment in July. More than just the challenge, I love reading your thoughts and analysis about why you (we) buy what we buy and the marketing behind all of it so that we're more cognizant, smarter consumers. Thanks for these sorts of posts!

    -Evie in NYC

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    1. Thanks! I'm happy if my documenting of these challenges and questions as consumers can help you become a more conscious consumer and jump along with your own experiments. Since my goal with this blog is to "spread the ideas" and help other consumers think about all this, I'm very happy to hear that it works :)

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  13. I find it so easy to fall into the trap of buying things to cheer myself up and am always sucked in by new fabrics. I probably own five of the same dress but in different colours/fabrics! It's pretty ridiculous.

    I currently live and work in a developing country but am based in a tourist-filled area, so am torn between my work life, where I work with/for poorer communities, and my weekend life, where I go shopping in the boutiques & malls of the tourist areas. I think it's all part of being a bit homesick for my life back in Australia - popping to a western shop and buying some new clothes helps to squash the homesickness down inside me for a bit longer. All I end up doing in those cases is buying clothes that are suitable for Australia but not for Indonesia!

    I'm really looking forward to seeing how you go and I'll try to do something similar alongside you. Right now I'm trying out the suggestion you made a while back about putting clean laundry aside and only working with what you have left. I think I could last quite a while like this!

    Bonne chance!!

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    1. Thanks for sharing your experience! It is true that often, in our society, buying things is a symptom of emotional compensation, cheering ourselves up or rewarding ourselves, rather than actually needing what we buy. It is unfortunately how marketing works, as it is deeply linked with psychology and the mechanics of the human brain.

      Being aware of why we buy what we buy is a first step though (at least that's whay I tell myself to keep me motivated to try and level up as a conscious consumer!). I'm hoping your own take on these experiments will help you too :)

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    2. So true, shopping has always been a reward for me. And I'm a really visual person so I think my brain gets a bit overstimulated when I see pretty things and before I know it, I'm on my way home with a ton of shopping bags. But yesterday I went shopping with the goal of some plain white or black tshirts - came home empty handed and despite the sales being on, I just didn't feel like looking at anything else so went home. Slow steps! I think the big test will be when I move back to Australia and realise I have two wardrobes, with all the things I left behind and all the things I've bought/had made! Either I will have enough clothes to last me for the rest of my life, or I will have to start selling them off.

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  14. I am excited to hear about your experiences! I feel like I'm going through a process similar to yours but that I'm about two years behind. I'm trying to curate/simplify my wardrobe (and my home, and it's still expanding to other areas) while defining my own style. So I still buy quite a lot, but it's mainly replacements for 'inadequate' items, like shoes that hurt my feet, clingy t-shirts, pilled sweaters (oh my!). Which is why I won't join you, but am curious to hear about what could become my own experiences when (in hopefully a year or so) I decide that my wardrobe finally IS adequate.

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    1. Ah, that's very interesting to hear! I've gone through a lot of steps these past 3 years, and there is still quite a way ahead of me, and it's really interesting to hear that other people have their own simplicity journey, but that can go through the same kind of steps as mine. I'm hoping my own reflections and thoughts will help you move forward quicker and make less mistakes than I did though!

      I agree with you that, at this stage where you are editing inadequate items, wondering what adequate is for you, in a way finding yourself and your tastes, it is difficult to engage in a shopping fast because your current collection of items isn't adequate just yet. I probably couldn't do a shopping fast 2 years ago either. I hope you'll share your own journey and evolution with me in the future though, it's very interesting :)

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  15. Some years ago I had a friend that was into yoga and meditation. She would look at something that she maybe wanted, then she would say: "Oh! now I remember - I don't need that."
    It was great!
    :-)

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    1. Oh, I think you are on to something here! Meditation is about cultivating mindfulness, and being right here in the present moment. When we are faced with temptation inside the store, we are not really mindful because we tend to forget the good resolutions - the fast, or the budget we set for ourselves - and we let our brain give in to temptation. Maybe, with a training such as meditation, you can make yourself be mindful of the situation, see that you are about to give in to temptation and make tourself say "wait, I don't need this". That's brilliant actually :) My meditation skills are very low, but I might take on the habit during the fast period to see if and how it helps...

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