Shopping, as with any other habit, happens on instinct— so a shopping ban is a great way to change your instincts around mindless consumerism. Giving up shopping temporarily doesn’t mean you can’t return to your old habits if you miss Shein hauls or Amazon binges— but I’m willing to bet you’ll appreciate the clarity on the other side.
If you’re considering a hard reset on your spending habits, here are just a few suggestions:
1. Set your intentions before you stop shopping
In other words, what’s the point of your shopping ban? Are you trying to save money, be more environmentally friendly, or waste less time in stores/scrolling? If all of these motivate you, which ones stand out the most, and how can you track it?
For example, if you are motivated by saving money, try tracking everything you considered buying to get a better sense of your spending triggers and how much you’ve saved by not buying.
If you’re motivated by being more intentional with your time, consider comparing your screen time usage from before and after the shopping ban, or tracking how much extra time you’re devoting to family, hobbies, or a side hustle.
2. Be intentional about the length and terms of your shopping ban
Even if you’ve never considered yourself to be addicted to shopping, chances are that you’ll experience a withdrawal when you give it up. The reason for this is simple: Shopping, and all the micro-habits associated with it— from scrolling social media to eagerly checking for mail— provide your brain with dopamine. Dopamine is basically a feel-good chemical that’s released when your brain expects a reward. Historically, this was a super-important neurological function for teaching our ancestors to forage, but now, this nifty brain trick is being used for slightly less survival-oriented pursuits– including over-consuming. When you imagine buying something and smile, dopamine. When you enter your payment information and click purchase, dopamine. When you see the Amazon package on your doorstep, more dopamine.
You want to quit shopping long enough to make a difference, but not so long you can’t commit to seeing it through. Ideally, the ban will last at least a few weeks— I’ve always found a month or two to be a sweet spot— to make it past the ‘withdrawal’ phase and let your brain adjust to a new equilibrium without shopping. While there are definite benefits to a longer-term shopping ban— say, 6 months to a year— start by committing to just a month or two to give yourself a ‘win’.
You also get to set the ‘rules’ and exclusions for your ban. The most typical shopping ban exception (if you have any) is to only purchase what you need to replace, whether it’s dish soap or sneakers. If you are responsible for other people’s possessions as well— for example, if your husband counts on you to buy his deodorant or you’re the one who finds the next-size-up clothes and shoes for your kiddos, take that into account as well.
3. Put some accountability in place
You want an accountability partner who will, in fact, hold you accountable. Pick the friend who will talk you out of buying the earrings or remind you that your toddler already has a full wardrobe, and ask them to do just that. If it’s your partner that you want holding you accountable, consider asking them to do the shopping ban with you— a partner who has free reign to spend while simultaneously telling you not to buy anything might cause just a teensy bit of resentment.
You can also seriously cut down on temptation with just a few hacks. Avoid any in-person shopping trips that encourage you to spend unnecessarily (Target is a big one for most people!) with curbside pick-up or grocery delivery. And to cut down on online shopping, delete apps from your home screen or place screen time limits for any app or website.
4. Remove yourself from e-mail lists
Have you ever noticed how stores are practically always running sales? For some companies, 30-40% off is practically the norm. The super annoying thing about this is the potential for an inbox cluttered with ‘FINAL HOURS! Up to 30% off’ and ‘Don’t miss out: Sale EXTENDED ’. But the great thing about this is, chances are you can always stumble upon a sale, even without the e-mails.
So go ahead and click ‘unsubscribe’ on your least favorite marketers. Ideally, you’ll start this process a few weeks before your shopping ban— but don’t sweat it if you’re ready to stop shopping but haven’t gotten around to the emails yet. And if you’re truly worried about missing out on coupons, try sending all promotional emails to a separate email folder (or better yet, a separate email address altogether) that you only check when you’ve identified a need.
5. Prepare alternative ways to spend your time
If you’re mostly trying to avoid in-person shopping, then I’ll be honest: I’m not terribly concerned about you finding a way to fill your time. Go for a walk, declutter your home, read a book, take a nap. Enjoy your free time.
If you are prone to online shopping, though, you’ll need some different strategies. Here are just a few suggestions:
– Whenever possible, leave your phone in another room, and set up screen time restrictions to limit your time online.
– Have a plan for your phone time that doesn’t involve scrolling, such as reading an e-book or playing Wordle (does anyone still do that?).
– If you’re prone to shopping as procrastination (particularly during your work day), try taking a break from your computer every time you think about opening an unrelated tab. Get some fresh air, grab a cup of coffee, or just take a few deep breaths.
And remember, too, to reward yourself during your shopping ban. Changing your habits— especially around something as deeply set as money— can be difficult. So build in some extra soul care for your journey.
About the Author: Jennifer Newton is a minimalist mama who is passionate about empowering others to live their values and be kind to the environment around us. She writes at Sustaininitiative.com