It was during a taxi ride across Mumbai when my dear friend and partner Payal showed me an article that she had seen on her Facebook profile about a woman that gave up shopping for a year. I gave the ideas some thought and then dismissed it. Later on that day when I was surrounded by beautiful shiny things, the softest of fabrics, bindis, and blouses the idea came back to me. Could I go shopping free for a year? What would that look like? Does it include fruits and vegetables, books and plane tickets, eating out in restaurants, gifts for friends? How could I make this concept challenge and change me but at the same time be sensible and not something I quit by February. I am not currently growing all the food I need to survive and my job requires me to travel, so essentials like food and plane tickets I would need to purchase but otherwise can I stop myself from shopping needlessly? Can I stop myself glancing at yoga clothing websites, feeling the urge to nip into Top Shop when I am in the UK. Can I trust that when I need something I can ask and it will come to me.
I'm not sure where I was when the idea really sunk in. Probably in a mall in Mumbai. After traveling for 4 weeks I really saw what I needed and what I did not. I have enough stuff, maybe too much. It was then that I pledged to Pete that I was going clothes shopping free.
From Mumbai we flew to Chennai and spent time in Tiruvannamalai, I liked being in an ashram environment where there was no emphasis on clothes. They were simply a way to cover the body. There were no strict guidelines either but fashion in this community was certainly not a thing. From there we headed to Pondicherry... Here it got a little harder, cute boutiques where Indian fabrics and tailoring meet French flair and style. I was reading about these boutiques online but weirdly felt free from the desire of needing to find the street they were on, just to see. Of course by chance I passed a few and enjoyed browsing the rails. I also enjoyed knowing I was not going to purchase anything. Simply appreciate the design, the unique use of block printing, the fabric, the embroidery. It felt good.
I spent an hour yesterday unsubscribing from Gap, fabletics, bloom, electric and rose, liquido, yoga revel, topshop the list goes on and on. I realise how often I am distracted from the present moment by online shopping or simply browsing (because I often am not even in a country where I can proceed to check out.)
How I can find myself mindlessly scrolling through clothing and yoga websites, escaping reality, numbing my fears, feeding my ego with pictures of shoes, clothes, purses, leggings, capris and jewelry. Imagining how my life might be better with those items in it.
Patanjali speaks of the causes of suffering (The kleshas). Raja attraction to that which appeals to us is the third example he discusses. The desire to have more and the reality when we get that certain thing and the desire no longer exists. He talks about what happens when our happiness depends on material possessions and things outside of ourself. Could I make this experiment an exercise in reducing suffering? What might life look like without raja, attraction and desire? Would it still exist in other shapes? Attraction to music, attraction to people, attraction to food! At least it's a starting point.
The unspoken question of shopping is “What do I need?” What I need right now is actually very little or less. I have an overwhelming desire to empty my closet and get rid of everything that I have not worn in a year. In light of the fact that I won't be replacing anything maybe I should be less radical.
What about gifts??? I pondered this at 3am in the airport. I'm sure those boutiques are open at that crazy hour because they know you are tired and likely to spend money you might not if you were not trying to stay awake. Should I have bought something extra for my mum.
Would she think I loved her more if I bought her that pashmina? The thought that self esteem could manifest itself in a scarf was ridiculous. So how will I deal with not buying gifts. I hear gifting your time is a way around this. Offering to walk a dog, wash a car, watch children, clean a house ..... might be more valuable. How about an hour drinking coffee or cooking a meal with the phone off? Undivided attention and time. Might these be more valuable then another sweater?
It's only been 10 days so I can't tell you too much on how it's going but I like giving stuff up and away, I like finishing bottles of cream and shampoo... did I mention I will only replace when the last one has finished... Eck!!! I'm glad of my public declaration to ensure I stay committed!!!!!
Once I started digging around my bags I packed up when I left Africa I am sure I will find enough stuff to keep me going.
"The trick of no shopping isn’t just that you don’t buy things. You don’t shop. That means no trawling the sale section of the J. Crew website in idle moments."
I'm not in a country where catalogues get dropped on the door step but if I was they would go straight in the recycling or I would unsubscribe to their delivery.
I'm looking forward to the extra time I will have and the people I can spend that time with.
It doesn’t take too long for a craving to subside, be it for chocolate or wine or new shoes. It's often the desire or craving thats more appealing anyway.
I look forward to realising the startling abundance that becomes glaringly obvious when we enjoy what we have and what matters.
I look forward to the freedom that comes with this decision. I'll let you know in a few months how it's going.
There’s a reason that just about every religion regards material belongings as an impediment to peace. This is why Siddhartha had to leave his palace to become the Buddha. This is why Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor.”
The things we spend our money on give us a mistaken identity. Patanjali calls it avidya. Seeing things as they are not. Our sight gets blurred from that which feeds the ego, miss perception of what we do and don't need. What we crave and what we find repulsive. Even to an extent the fear of going without or not being trendy.