Essential Life Lessons from Not Shopping for Ninety Days

When considering a challenge for this year o’ mine, I question the potential impact of its affect on three things: how will this addition or abstinence affect my health, how will it affect my social interactions, and how will it affect my sense of self?

On the surface, the no-shopping challenge didn’t seem as cerebral or profound as abstaining from social media for forty days. Nor as hard, to be quite honest. But looking back, I feel refreshed and refocused because of it. And, as it came during a treacherous time that I could in no way have anticipated, the challenge kept certain aspects of my life in check while others ran amuck around me.

But first, a summary of lessons learned

I spend more money on books than I ever could have imagined.

Book are my “weakest weakness.” The inability to buy them for myself made me get off my ass, renew my library card, figure out all the tech stuff, and actually use the library for both print and digital books. The library is my (old is new again) favorite place. Because of it, I was able to download books while I was ripping through them in Portugal. (Actually, Isabel Allende’s Ripper was one of them – fantastic. Read it.) As a New Yorker with a tiny apartment, I pass on 95% of the books I buy after reading them anyway. Most get donated to my library when I’m done with them!! This revelation is sticking with me, kids.

I didn’t need to spend the money I wanted to spend on…

…that laundry hamper, that mattress pad, that on-demand movie, or that Find True Love in 27-Days program. Because of this challenge, I didn’t buy the first three. Luckily, I got my money back for the last.

But the money I did spend on…

…the Tom’s shoes, bra, heating pad and sunglasses for my Portugal trip were worth their weight in gold. Figuratively speaking, of course. And I still remember with glee the deliciousness of that lemonade.

I haven’t missed the “superfluous stuff”.

Other than restocking on the essentials I burn through, not a single cosmetic has been purchased in ninety days. I haven’t bought a tchotchke, anything for my apartment other than one candle (which, when you work from home, feels like an essential purchase), extra supplies for my dog, taxi rides, or superfluous gifts for friends. And I feel totally cool with that.

But then there’s the deeper stuff.

I didn’t know when I started this challenge on August 1st that I was going to get really sick on August 17th. Like, really sick. As in, there were almost two months where I was barely able to work. When I don’t work, I don’t generate income. Luckily, I had the trip to Portugal with my father already planned and was able to see my doctors and get medication to make it there. It ended up being extremely restorative (challenging, too, but that’s another story).

In preparation for the trip, I’d already turned in almost a full month’s worth of work so that I’d still have money coming in. But upon my return…. I was still sick. It took a few more weeks until I could write again. I couldn’t muster emails to pitch new stories for future assignments. Even now, months later, I’m only back to maybe 70% of my “normal”. Some days, that percentage drops. Monday, I had a hard time writing a few sentences.

Additionally, I was seeing more doctors. Even with insurance, I can end up paying hundreds of dollars a visit. Add on prescriptions, supplements, blood work… it costs a lot of money to be sick.

Had I not been saving during this period, I would have been charging these things on my credit card. Had I been absentmindedly buying those books, that laundry hamper, superfluous groceries, extra coffees and taxi rides… things would have added up.

Instead, I was able to pay everything from my bank account. Sure, I still have some outstanding medical bills coming in from this period. But the panic that not working for two months could have generated had I not curbed in tiny bits here and there? It was coincidentally avoided. Hell, I didn’t drop anything dramatic in these ninety days! Being a freelance writer, I’m already not a big spender! We’re talking $14 books and $4 coffees. But it made a huge difference.

To my health: I could buy supplements and medications, which help regulate my symptoms, with less angst about their cost. And I learned the value of being able to buy things and have them delivered to me when I was too sick to get them for myself.

To my social interactions : I still went out in public when physically able. I just didn’t spend money killing time in between. And watching my cash helped me relish the time alone I needed to heal, too.

To my sense of self: I got rid of a lot of stuff in these ninety days. I learned to value what I already have so much more. I appreciate the permanence of the objects I choose to surround myself with. I hope to only cultivate those I’ll never want to gift or give away.

Ninety days, done.

And tomorrow is a brand new day!



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