Last month, a coworker, whose luggage was lost by the airport, asked if I had any receipts for clothes and/or shoes I had bought in May. She said she needed to collect $3,300 in receipts—the amount she was eligible to receive for reimbursement. Without hesitation, I pulled out my wallet and handed her a $380 receipt and, almost embarrassingly, said I had more at home.
Then it hit me: I’d spent nearly $600 on clothes and shoes in ONE MONTH. A tidal wave of guilt immediately flooded over me.
I realized then and there that I needed to do something drastic to fix what was obviously a problem that had gone pretty much unnoticed until now.
I decided the next day I would go on a shopping fast. No shopping for 30 days. Thirty. Days.
I told a friend about my ambitious plans. His response: “I won’t hold my breath.”
Another one said: “Lies.”
“That’s so crazy," my editor told me. "I cannot fathom doing that and I don’t even buy that much shit.”
Well, I was determined to at least give it a shot.
June 3, 2014:
Just a few days before I started the fast, I bought a pair of shorts from Aritzia “because it was summer” and “it was getting hot." I thought about what I'd wear with those shorts and, almost as a reflex, told myself I need to buy a white shirt to wear with them. I nearly convinced myself, too, listing all the white shirts I’d seen recently, picturing how each one would look with the shorts, and mentally hitting that "buy" button.
The next thought that came to mind was even more ridiculous: "Okay, before I stop shopping, I should buy everything I need and want today." But I knew that would be cheating. The fact that I was about to drop a paycheck the day before my fast started was absurd, but at the time, in my desperation and fear of what lay ahead, it seemed rational.
My mind felt cluttered with all the items I thought I needed to buy. So, I FaceTimed with a friend in an attempt to distract myself from all the goodness.
June 4, 2014:
At 11:30 a.m. I received a phone call from a TD Bank representative. “Did you spend $675 at Target?” the woman on the other line asked. I chuckled out of confusion. Then she asked if I took a $17.50 cab ride from Jamaica, Queens. By then I started to freak out and her words went in one ear and out the other. All I heard was: “we have to cancel your card and will send you a new one within seven to 10 business days.”
After getting over the initial rage and feelings of who-the-fuck-stole-my-info, I realized it was probably a blessing in disguise. No credit card meant no online shopping (and I do most of my damage on the web).
I started to actually wonder if this shopping diet could be done.
June 5, 2014:
“When you get a chance, can you send me your picks?” our market editor asked me. He was referring to the “Complex Style Editors Each Pick Their 5 Summer Essentials” story we were running on Saturday, the same assignment I’d been putting off all week. I was dreading having to look at clothes. I tried to come up with a solid game plan: I'd race to copy the "buy" link, save the image of the product, and exit the screens so rapidly you would've thought there were virus pop-ups covering my screen. I (somehow) managed to survive another day.
June 6, 2014:
My friends from Toronto were visiting and of course they wanted to head to SoHo. I told them I'd go but that I couldn't shop—and made them swear they wouldn't let me buy anything. For that day, I shadowed my friends and didn't leave their side; I couldn't be trusted to wander and "browse."
June 8, 2014:
"Is buying nail polish considered shopping?" I asked my friend. I seriously thought about making an exception, but in the end figured if I was spending money on something I didn't absolutely need it'd be just the same as copping a T-shirt.
"It is, but I can just buy it for you," my friend replied. Was that cheating, too?
June 9, 2014:
Totokaelo posted about an upcoming sale on its Instagram account. Shit. I closed the app and went to bed and tried not to dream about incredible clothing.
For the next couple of days, I avoided all temptation: I didn't step foot in a single store, erased websites like Totokaelo and LaGarconne from my digital and real-life memory, and avoided the mid-season sales that were popping up like crazy. At this point, I had mastered my responses to coworkers/friends who'd send me links to products or who mentioned sales:
"Please don't send me these links. Still on my shopping fast."
Or my personal favorite: "Let's not even talk about it."
I was determined to make it through the 30 days.
June 13, 2014:
And then this happened:
"Four and a half." Those are the only words I remember before I blacked out and handed my card to the cashier at Nepenthes. Next thing you know, I was walking out of the store with a brown paper bag and a pair of black Vans x Engineered Garments slip-ons.
The justifications came pouring in: the shoes were under $100; it was fate because they were actually available in my size when I was convinced they wouldn't be; they would've sold out and I would've regretted not buying them.
Then it hit me. Not only had I failed. I had failed miserably.
There's no masking this: My 30-day fast lasted only slightly longer than the length people stop eating food and for the sake of a juice cleanse. How did I only survive nine days? (If you're laughing, I'm right there with you—reading and writing this, I realize how ridiculous and psychotic I seem.) Immediately after getting over the initial buyer's-high, I had nothing but mixed feelings of disappointment, confusion, but also being nonplussed.
Nonplussed because, the truth is, it's difficult not to shop—especially when your job requires you to write about some of the same clothes you're trying to avoid. What this experience taught me is that I'm not built for fasts (of any kind). That said, I do think I need to change my spending habits. But what might work better are baby steps. A gradual weaning, if you will. A coworker suggested I allow myself two purchases a month, under $100 each. I might give it a shot. Another coworker suggested planning out my purchases. Smart. Everything in moderation, right?
But when I look down at my mismatched EG x Vans slip-ons, honestly, the absolute beauty of these simply outweigh the negative implications of lasting only a third of my original plan.