19 May 2015

Shopping Recasting: A Quick Guide

Personal picture // May 2012

As some of you may know, I have experimented a "shopping fast" for the last six months of 2014. This was a very enriching experience, for consumption habits and beyond, so I thought you might be interested in a short guide to help you get started on your own experiment, if you feel so inclined.

First, why am I calling this a Shopping Recasting rather than a "Fast"? Taking inspiration from Mireille Guiliano's French Women Don't Get Fat book, I believe this experiment is about understanding and adjusting shopping habits (in her case, she writes on food habits), as opposed to a total and complete shopping ban, which often leads to frustration and "lapses", leaving you feeling guilty for "breaking the fast" instead of understand how your mind works.

So, instead of a "diet", or "fast", we'll talk about "recasting" in this post. This may be a simple word play, but I believe this is important to start understanding what this experiment is about, and whether this might be helpful for you as well. Without further ado, here is the quick guide for you.

Step 1: Why?

No matter how short your own shopping recasting will be, the very first question to ask yourself is "why am I committing to this?" Without a strong personal motivation, it is much harder to sustain such an experiment, which requires daily changes in your lifestyle, given how deeply ingrained shopping and material things are in our "Western" lives.

So, before the starting date of your recasting, take some time, a notebook or laptop or whatever works for you, fix yourself a nice cup of tea, and get into the reasons and motives for this experiment. Here are some ideas to help you dig into your own personal motivations:

  • What is my one major motivation for doing this? The thing that makes me consider joining the experiment in the first place? - Write down everything that goes through your head, until something stands out clearly. This is your big motive, the one you go back to when you're struggling with temptation or face a difficult time with your experiment.

  • What are my spending habits today, and what elements of it are unsatisfactory to me? - I'm guessing, if you are interested in an experiment called "shopping recasting", there must be someting you don't like about your current shopping habits. Figuring out these elements will help you set your rules down the line, and know where to focus your growth/learning. 

  • How does it fit in my simplification project ? - Assuming you have one, of course. This step helps giving further meaning to the experiment, to help you go through with it, and where to look for learnings and improvements. Examples: Is it a way to get to know yourself better as a consumer? A way to learn about new brands, to change your everyday shopping routine? Is it a way to learn to cope with your emotions in another way than with shopping? Is it, simply, a way to stop new items incoming while you are editing your collection and figuring out what type of items works best for you? 

  • What am I expecting from this experiment? - A final question for this first step: what are you expecting from this experiment? This question comes last because it should come naturally from the answers to the other questions above - is it to learn to shop less in general? More mindfully? Save money? Have healthier shopping habits? This one is, if you will, the concrete objective of your experiment.

Now that you have your "why" at hand, somewhere on a notebook or file, you can start digging into the concrete part of the experiment. I'd suggest to maybe copy your answers in a clear way after you are done brainstorming, and to keep them at hand, as these are a powerful reminder once you are deep into the experiment, and the harder parts of it.

Step 2: The Rules

The specificity of this shopping recasting is that you are setting your own rules. Since each of you will have different objectives, motivations, and weaknesses, it makes no sense to try and fit into a hard and fast set of rules. Here are some ideas though, as well as a set of basic rules, if it's easier for you to still follow a list as a start - then you can figure out your own as you move on.

These variables are ideas to get you started, you don't have to set a rule for each and every one of them, it depends on what works best for you. You may have a set of 20 specific rules, or a short list of 3-4 loose guidelines.

  • The hard numbers: how much are you allowed to spend? How many items (in general, or by type) are you allowed to buy? How many shopping trips are you allowed to go to (if any at all)? I am not a big fan of hard numbers, but it can be a very effective way to get started.

  • The item rules: which items are you allowed to buy (eg groceries)? Which type of items are completely banned? (say, clothes, if that's the focus of your experiment) From which sources are you allowed, or forbidden, to purchase? (for example you can ban a store you tend to overspend in, or set ethical rules for yourself regarding the choice of vendor). If your shopping recasting is really about material items, consumerism and how to shop less, you may have several rules in this area.

  • The planning rules: Shopping is one thing, planning for purchases is another. Is planning your purchases an area you need to work on? I know I did, as simplifying my life led to spending way too much time (to my taste) around wishlists, finding the perfect piece etc., and I needed to find a way to devote my time and energy to something else. These rules can include how long you can spend on e-shops, whether you allow yourself a wishlist or not, whether you allow yourself "window shopping" or not etc.

  • The non shopping related rules: This also depends on your objectives and motivations, but perhaps your shopping recasting isn't only about shopping. It might be about what to replace shopping with, how else you want to spend your time... You can let the experiment show you what you tend to do with your free time, or you can set rules about this: start a new activity, spend X time doing sports or calling friends, it can also be editing your current item collection or whatever else makes sense for you.

  • The follow up rules: Finally, the point of the experiment is not only to do it everyday, but also to follow up on how you did, what was easy, hard, that's how you learn about yourself. Set up rules about when you will take some time to recap how you did with the experiment so far, what you can adjust from now on etc. It can be weekly or monthly notes in your notebook or laptop file, it can be some blog posts if you own a blog...

Once you have all these, write them down in a simple and clear way - something easy for you to understand and follow. Once that is done, you are ready to jump in!

If You Don't Know Where to Start...

If it feels too confusing at this point to set your own rules, here is an idea, based on my own experiment, that I would apply to myself if I was to start a new shopping recasting now:

  • 1. Make a 'symbolic' purchase to mark the start of your recasting - something you need and that makes you happy, as a positive start and not as a "last slip before setting things straight". 

  • 2. From that date, for X months (you can start with 2), you are not allowed to make any unessential purchases.

  • 3. Essential purchases are: groceries, presents, replacement of items you use daily and can't substitute with anything else you own, urgent purchases for an upcoming social situation, which you can't borrow (say, a dress for a friend's wedding, sports gear for an upcoming trekking with friends, a lamp for your new appartment that doesn't have ceiling lighting...)

  • 4. As an exception, the purchase of [item type] is allowed (for example, material for a DIY activity you engage in often, or items to plan for a travel taking place in the middle of your fast... Better include them as an exception from the start, if you think they aren't a problem for you as far as purchasing habits go)

  • 5. On the contrary, [item type] is particularly forbidden, and to keep a close eye on (here, it's the items you tend to overspend on - beauty or clothing items, books, magazines, decoration items...)

  • 6. For the duration of the recasting, no wishlists are allowed (otherwise it would just be postponing purchases), and no eshop, lookbook or newsletter browsing to avoid creating unnecessary temptation

  • 7. Each week-end, instead of a shopping trip, try something new to do: visit a new park, meet a long since seen friend for coffee, read a new book, learn a new activity...

  • 8. Each Sunday [it can be once a month instead], write a quick recap of the items you bought, any breach of the fast? If yes, why did you buy it? When, where, how did you feel at the time, etc.? On the contrary, anything went particularly well? Note down anything you think may be noteworthy, and write down 'lessons' to keep in mind for the rest of the experiment (for example: avoid going to the shopping mall right after work when willpower is low, unsubscribe from X's newsletter...)

Step 3: Get Started!

With all this, you should have the necessary tools to get started. If there is one thing to keep in mind, in my opinion, is that it's OK to fail. If you've set up rules and you break the recasting for one reason or another, take this as an opportunity to learn and get back on track! If you blame yourself for "failing", you may end up giving up on the experiment altogether. Failing is part of the experiment, part of the learning process. That's how you find out what works for you.

Another thing that helps a lot, is to take it by steps - for example, consider the upcoming month only, instead of thinking "no purchase fo half a year??". Breaking the challenge into smaller bits makes it sound more achievable.

Finally, a third tip that helped me a lot: find other ways to reward yourself. Of course, this doesn't apply to all of you, but most of us have taken the habit to reward ourselves, find joy in purchasing new items. But there are other ways to enjoy life, and the best way to get through a shopping recasting is to avoid feeling like a "punishment" and find other ways to get happy moments for yourself - a fizzy drink on a terrasse with friends, starting a new book with a cup of tea, tasting new cuisine of the world, whatever you fancy!

I hope this little guide will be of use to you, I'd love to hear from those of you who are currently, or will start, a shopping recasting! If you have any questions, don't hesitate to leave it in comment.


  1. Thanks for this. Very timely as I've been thinking I should start a "no buy" soon.

    1. Thanks! Good luck on your "no buy", I'm sure it will be great :)

  2. Thank you Kali for this post. This is a great guide for beginners ;)
    As I started the same kind of process last I agree with all what you said.
    But now sometimes I feel I'm not anymore in the "mold" when discussing with girlfriends for example. Most of them like to chitchat about their new bags, new shoes, last fancy dinner at the restaurant... It's a bt difficult sometimes to share what I like to do instead shopping or spending money in "unessential" for me ;) (I like to practice yoga and kinomichi and I'm studying Japanese. These are my substitute of shopping and really more enjoyable :) ).
    Did you meet the same kind of problem ? And in this case how do you manage it ? Thank you :)

    1. That's a very good point indeed. I've been meaning to write a post about the evolution of social relations when moving down the road of simplicity but didn't craft the time to finish it yet.
      I have been facing this type of changes these past few years, yes. On many levels. For example, with my colleagues at work, there are many discussion I can't really be a part of because they discuss upcoming or recent shopping, what they will bring in their suitcase for their next holidays etc. and there is just no contribution I can bring to this type of discussion. I've come to discuss popular culture with them - the films and TV series I watch for example. I've had another type of issue of "not feeling in the mold" when discussing with family - they don't understand why I'm still renting, apparently make no move to buy real estate, have no car, don't go to H&M for sales...It's difficult to explain my choices to them without sounding judgmental of their own habits. And like you, it's difficult to talk to them about what I fill my days with - writing, violin, yoga, the TED talks I watch...

      As for my close friends, it's a bit different because the ones that have stayed over the past few years have a number of common points with me - either the geek/video game/board games side of things,or the personal projects/environmental engagement part of things, so we do manage to have conversations without my feeling out of the loop. However, I have to say that my friendships have evolved since I came back from Japan and started this whole simplification thing. It may be that the friends I used to feel out of place with aren't as close to me anymore, but this process takes years. To answer your question, maybe you can find other common interests to talk with your friends about, other than shopping? Maybe some of them go to the movies often, or like reading, or music?

      One last thing about it, is that I noticed I connected with new people since I started simplifiying my life. And I mean, not only people I meet through the blog or at a yoga class. But people from my regular social circles. One discussion leading to another, and we're talking about consumerism and alternative consumption and self confidence, and suddenly I realize this discrete colleague really shares some of these views of mine, that we just don't usually advertise out loud. So, bringing the conversation to your subjects may lead you to meet like minds in unexpected places?

  3. Earlier this year when you announced this post, I felt far from ready to do my own shopping recasting. I thought I needed at least one more year to ‘finish’ revamping my wardrobe before I could even consider taking a break from shopping. However, I’ve made much more progress than I expected in the minimalist department and as a result I’ve redefined what a ‘need’ is and what ‘enough’ is . So I’m glad to say I will be doing a shopping recasting. It will be challenging though, as I’m also moving (in three weeks) and my husband and me have been planning certain changes to our interior for ages so we will definitely be doing some shopping. So I’ve molded the rules to this situation. At the end of my four month recast, I hope to place less importance on material objects as representations of my identity, to stop using shopping as a distraction strategy, and to be more mindful of the things I do buy (in terms of necessity, quality, ethics etc.).
    My rules (in short):
    Buy only replacements (after careful consideration whether replacement is truly necessary) and practical, needed items in which case my ever-critical husband must agree that they are so (like sunscreen, or a coat hanger). For every purchase I will choose mindfully and with a strong preference for durable, sustainably produced items. As an exception I can (but don’t have to) bring home two souvenirs from my upcoming trip to Bali – under the condition that they support a Balinese small business and/or craft.
    I will take a break from Pinterest as well, as it feeds my feelings of discontent with what I have. I can only keep a written wishlist of items that I don’t need urgently but think would be really practical for considering after the shopping recast (e.g. extra top for working out). I cannot start exploring concrete options for these items yet.
    I will reflect on difficult moments or even lapses in my journal. I will celebrate success in new ways like outings, or allowing myself to bake a huge batch of cookies.
    I will start on the first of June, when we get the keys to our new place . I’m curious whether the move will make it easier or harder…

    1. There seem to be a lot of people moving around me, online and offline - or maybe I'm just noticing it because I just moved and had my head wrapped around it for weeks. Good luck on your move by the way :)

      I'd love to hear the effect the move had on your recasting! I'm no longer on shopping recasting myself, but I'm still monitoring my shopping habits, and I have seen a drastic reduction just before and during all the move - probably because my head was busy. However, moving leads to many annoyances and obligations and tiring stuff, and I realized I had a renewed want for material items just after I finished moving. As if I needed to reward myself on the good job we did during the move (a want for new decoration items, specifically). Maybe it's also a way to make the new place mine. On the other hand, all the daily habits still seem new, as the appartment is till new. So daily things like the morning coffee, the late dinners, long baths, afternoons of gaming and all, feel new, exciting, so the want of new things has faded, as if I was too busy enjoying the new place to feel any need for new stuff around.

      I think the annoyance of moving all the stuff has been sobering as well. All the books, DVD, clothes piled up, having to haul them from one place to another. It makes you reconsider the "need" for a new item after moving all that stuff around. I had some ideas in mind that I have crossed off my purchase lists after that. I even got rid of quite a few things, and already have a bag of stuff to donate or sell.

      Anyway, we are all different, so I'm eager to see what the move will do for your shopping habits and wants :)

    2. You make some good points. I was thinking more along the lines of:
      a) moving takes up a lot of time and energy, so I might not have any of those left for shopping - which would be good, OR;
      b) as you say, I already feel a deep desire to make the new place 'mine', so that might be challenging. Also, browsing pinterest is currently one of my default 'mindless' diversions and I will need some of those in the stressfull times ahead.