I’m reading a book on shopping. No, not that kind of book. Not a how to shop guide. More of a how to stop shopping guide… or a reason to stop shopping guide. It’s called The Day the World Stops Shopping by J.B. MacKinnon, and it’s fascinating, and troubling, and inspiring all at the same time. It’s about shopping, consumption, the need we have to consume, both psychologically and economically, and the consequences of over-consumption. In writing his book, MacKinnon has “undertaken a thought experiment.” “Suppose that we suddenly listened to all those voices through history that have asked us to live with less.” MacKinnon asks the question: What happens if the world stops shopping? And he attempts to answer it.

Before I go any further, I must tell you that I have only begun to read the book. I’m still reading the prologue. I’ll get back to you when I’ve finished the book.

In the meantime, I wanted to explore my own attempts to stop shopping. Or more precisely, my attempts to slow my own consumption by shopping less and shopping more sustainably by buying vintage and second-hand instead of new. I say “my attempts” because I can assure you I am not an expert.

So, this is my “how to stop shopping guide” which is, of course, a work in progress.

First off, how does an avowed lover of clothes and fashion even attempt to stop shopping? Well, by doing other things instead of shopping for starters. Like walking in the bush with Hubby. The antithesis of shopping. Ha.

And by avoiding outings that include shopping. This spring I have yet to visit my normal shopping haunts. These forays usually involve shopping and then meeting friends for lunch. Instead, now, if I meet up with friends, it’s for walking followed by coffee, or sometimes just for coffee. And usually in a part of town where I don’t normally shop. That way I am minimizing temptation by not putting myself in harm’s way.

I’ve made a few dedicated shopping trips since my pledge in January and almost all of them have been to consignment, vintage, or thrift stores. Except for the day I shopped and had lunch in Fredericton with my old friend Debbie. And we know how that ended up. I capitulated and bought my second new purchase of the year. As I said, I am a work in progress. Ha.

I’ve not really missed shopping. Because I’ve not actually stopped shopping altogether, merely tried to stop shopping for new pieces. It’s been fun to research consignment and vintage stores in my area. I made a list and plan to visit them all one by one. I love a good project, and getting to know the local second-hand shopping stops in Ottawa has been a labour of love.

Of course the best way to want to stop shopping, in my opinion, is to know what you already own, and to appreciate what’s in your closet. It’s way easier to love what you already own if you’ve purchased wisely in the first place, bought what you loved, bought good quality (or as good as you could afford), and taken care of your clothes.

The best way to get to know your wardrobe is to do a full closet inventory. I know you already know this, but my method is to keep a written list of what is in my wardrobe. I divide it into two main seasons. Then each season I add to my list anything that I’ve purchased. This may not work for you. But a written list appeals to my love of order. I keep a small book of my dated lists. Some people I know do this in a spreadsheet. There are even aps you can buy. I tried to use an ap one year as an experiment. But each item had to be photographed and uploaded into the ap and that seemed way too labour-intensive to me. I prefer my little hand-written book.

Once you know what you have, make sure you wear what you own. Make a point of showing all those neglected pieces that you once loved some care and attention.

Like this old Cerruti jacket below. I haven’t brought it out for a couple of years. I almost culled it multiple times. But the other day, I knew it would be the perfect jacket with my cream cargoes, black boots, and a light-weight cashmere sweater.

Wearing my old Cerruti jacket again.

I was planning a day out in Almonte with my friend Marina. It was supposed to be sunny, but cool in the morning. Since I needed to be warm, I wore socks and ankle boots and a cashmere sweater. But I also wanted to be dressed for spring, not winter. Hence the cream cargoes and my old Cerruti jacket. This jacket was part of a skirt suit I purchased back in the early 2000s. The skirt is long gone. But I have held onto the jacket. Its casual shape works really well with the cargo pants. And it has a bit of a shiny finish which adds texture to the all black on top. I added the silk scarf for warmth in the morning and stuffed it into my purse later in the day. I was kind of excited to put together this outfit.

Seriously, folks, if you want to know how to stop shopping, try loving what you already own. You might be surprised what you can do with the older pieces in your closet.

Here’s what else I’m going to try this spring.

I looked up, in my blog photo files, some of the outfits I loved but didn’t wear enough in the past couple of years. I love that yellow sweater with my tan linen jacket and the gold Michael Kors bag. I dreamed up that outfit for a post last year and never wore it. Ditto that pink Cole Haan bag. It’s the perfect spring accessory with my lilac sweater. I’m going to make an effort to wear the outfits below. I’ll use this post as a checklist of sorts.

The whole idea of “The Rule of Five” appeals to me. I like rules. They help me to achieve my goals. And having a strict goal of five new pieces has helped me to say “no” to shopping new. When Marina and I were in Almonte on Friday we browsed in a couple of stores. Marina tried a sweater. I didn’t try anything. I saw a couple of pieces, a pink striped summer sweater in particular, that I knew I would love, and which would work in my closet, but I didn’t cave. That looming number five made it easy to say “no.” Much more than if I had pledged simply to cut back, for instance. Loose goals don’t work for me.

Sometimes, like on Friday, you can’t avoid browsing. I wasn’t going to stand on the sidewalk while Marina shopped by herself. That would be silly. But I knew that if I tried anything on I’d be doomed. So I didn’t. I loved that pink sweater, I patted it fondly, and then I walked away. Walking away is a good skill to learn if you’re trying to stop shopping.

What I did buy in Almonte were some gorgeous silver buttons for my new white jacket. Thanks to Diane for recommending Darrell Thomas Textiles in Almonte. What a treasure trove of a store. So many buttons. And their array of fabric made me wish I sewed. Well, almost. Ha. And Darrell himself was a hoot. He helped me choose my buttons, and even sent us to his favourite restaurant for lunch.

Smiling in the sunshine in Almonte.

As I said, I’m still reading the prologue of J.B. MacKinnon’s book The Day the World Stops Shopping. I’m going to buy it because I’ll never finish it before my library loan runs out. My problem is it’s so interesting that I read a page and then put the book down to go find Hubby to discuss what I’ve just read. I’ll never get through the darned book this way. I first heard of MacKinnon’s book on CBC radio a couple of years ago. You can listen to his discussion with CBC radio host Mary Hynes here, if you’re interested.

For those of you who were expecting a non-fashion post this week, I apologize. The best thing for me about writing a blog is that I get to talk about whatever is currently occupying my thoughts. Many years of keeping up with curricular goals has made me loath to commit to a writing topic schedule. And other than the last Tim Sullivan book The Teacher, which I just finished, or the newest Anthony Horowitz novel Close to Death, which I am listening to, and MacKinnon’s book which, as I said, I’ve just started, my goal to stop shopping is uppermost in my mind. Or, to be totally honest (which I am aware is redundant) shopping and trying to stop shopping are equally in the forefront of my mind.

Partly that’s due to the button-shopping foray my friend and I made on Friday. I can’t wait to transform that white jacket with new buttons. Partly it’s due to the fact that I must start looking for something to wear to the family wedding in early June. First I need to shop my closet to see if I can cobble together something appropriate which I also like. If I can’t, I’ll do the rounds of the consignment and vintage shops. Then, if I must, I’ll try to find something new. And time is running out.

So, you want to know the secret to how to stop shopping?

There isn’t one. You just have to make up your mind and do the best you can. For me that includes having a number as a goal. And making a point of finding ways to turn old pieces into new outfits. Outfits that make me excited to get dressed. And which make me realize that I don’t need to shop.

So how about you my friends? Let’s talk about you in the comments this week instead of me.

What are you shopping for these days? If you signed on to the Rule of Five Pledge… how’s that going? Do you have any tips for us on how to stop shopping? For clothes, or anything actually. Over-consumption isn’t just about clothes after all. People who have previously signed the pledge say the idea has spread into all aspects of their shopping lives. That’s good, isn’t it?

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49 thoughts on “How To Stop Shopping”

  1. I struggle, I struggle, I am trying. Cleaned out underwear drawer…sorry but really need to shop for new undies. Time, weight and washing does take a toll. Definitely a need, not a want…but controlling the want is hard. Did dig around and found a sweater I hadn’t worn in a while, still love it, so that was a nice surprise. Time will tell how well I do with the rule of five.

    1. Nothing like a good clear-out, eh? And fresh underwear to replace the sad saggy stuff we’ve washed to death. Besides, undergarments don’t count towards your five new pieces. Yah!

  2. After not buying much during COVID I added to my wardrobe last year after donating some things that no longer suited me or my lifestyle to Dress For Success. Some were good purchases (mostly sandals but also a coat and 2 jumpers) but some not so good – a linen dress I didn’t really need, but it’s been worn a few times. I visited a lovely button shop in January to replace buttons on a jacket I’ve had for a while but which had awful buttons. The new buttons look great and I’ll get much more wear out of the jacket now that the weather is cooler and I no longer hate its buttons 😂 Mindful consumption is hard. So many new things to tempt me… Knowing what I have by reviewing and rotating my clothes helps. Staying away from shops helps. Walking away from a possible purchase that’s not necessary feels good.

  3. Post-covid, I am certain that I have become someone who has a lot less interest in any kind of consumerism – I give a good deal more thought to what I want and I have to genuinely want/need stuff. Stuff includes books, food, drink, clothes – I think the slowing down process of 2020/21 truly changed the way I look at how I live. In essence, I only want EXACTLY what I want, no compromises. And shops are crammed with things that do not interest me. Going for a look is fine but it reinforces this. Also, getting older means that I am becoming impervious to advertising or merchandising – not because it isn’t aimed at me (and a lot of it isn’t) but because I know it is a shill. All of which makes me seem like a curmudgeon. On the contrary, I would say. I am now going to make a cup of tea EXACTLY how I want it. I like a rule too, you see.

    1. So many shops are crammed with stuff I’d never buy even if I weren’t committed to the Rule of Five. But I’m not sure how strong I’d be if I were in Montreal at my long-time favourite store. You’re right about Covid schooling us on how we can live with less. I kind of liked the lock-down feeling of cosy solitude. Not the other stuff, of course, that affected so many.
      P.S. I identify with the character of George Cross in the Tim Sullivan books, who likes his tea just so.

  4. Before Covid I had generally stopped shopping retail but continued to purchase second-hand Eileen Fisher either on-line or at a spring and fall pop-up of a retired EF employee and her consigners. This is the first year I won’t even go for a looky-look but I do continue to visit a cancer charity shop and that’s a slippery slope too because the prices are so low. For me, shopping my wardrobe is most helpful in curbing a long standing habit. That and thinking about how little so many people have in the world. Now I give more to charities.

  5. I love clothes and I love shopping, window shopping and second hand, thrift shopping. In fact, if it is a textile, I love looking, handling, reading about (hello High Heels in the Wilderness!) and dreaming about the potential of a pretty piece. For an upcoming trip this year I have purchased 14 items alone, which is pretty much what bloggers would call an entire capsule wardrobe. I can justify the purchase of things like rain pants, practical and missing from my current wardrobe but two sweaters with different coloured stripes? Not so much. Being mindful is always a good thing to strive for, I think, so thank you for the discussion on consumerism. I don’t know how I will channel my love of clothing differently, I already spend money on fabrics for quilting and one, and ones’ family, can only “need” so many quilts. Maybe time to take up painting….hmmm, do I need a painter’s smock??

    1. Oh, me too, Susan. I could talk about clothes all day…and read about them too. I love a good memoir from someone who worked in the fashion industry. I think that being mindful starts with noticing what you’ve bought that you could have lived without. I often buy more than I would normally do when we are preparing for a trip. I don’t like to pack my best things because they can get ruined.

  6. Although I enjoy getting something new, I don’t really like to shop for anything. With clothes, I often go in looking for something specific and either don’t find exactly what I want or don’t like what I thought I wanted once I try it on. In addition, I have not been successful with online shopping, so that is no longer even a temptation. That said, I have been eyeing a jacket, but haven’t yet bought it. Regarding the Rule of 5, I may have already blown that up. I was out of town and my stay exceeded what I had expected and packed for. I bought 3 t-shirts out of necessity and a pair of earring as a treat. I always enjoy getting out spring/summer clothes as it is a combination of seemingly new things and reacquaintance with old friends.

  7. Several things really stood out in your blog today. Loose goals don’t work for me. That statement applies to so many areas of my life. My goal to reach a healthier weight is stagnant by my lack of discipline. Yes, I may be exercising more but still not monitoring my diet very well. It’s so easy to play mind games that stagnant my goal.
    The other thing that really stood out was the grouping of six photos of yourself. The two where you added a pop of color, lilac and yellow, were just gorgeous. As much as we may love our neutrals, a bit of color seems to add a youthful glow.

    1. I need to wear more colour, I agree. That yellow sweater is on deck to be worn on my next outing later this week. Even if it’s only to the massage therapist. Ha.

  8. Oh I failed this year. My son is getting married and having a destination wedding in DR.
    So-6 dresses, 3 short day dresses, bathing suit, shoes, you name it. It is a lot planning for a tropical destination wedding with nightly events.
    Oh well-I am set for life now.
    I did shopping on postmark and great sales. 3 Johnny Was dresses, 1 Tuckernuck, 2 Anthropologie and 1 Nordstrom Rack. All quality but reasonable prices. All the casual wear came from Quince. My husbands wardrobe is all linen from Quince. It has been a pricy year!

  9. I never loved in-person shopping, and the trauma of the COVID years cemented it. Online shopping (with all its drawbacks) was and still is my solution. I have to be really intentional about what I order, why, and when — as well as committed to returning every item that doesn’t work, immediately. Right this moment, I have 11 dresses — for a summer event — coming to me from 3 retailers, and I am hoping one will work and the other 10 will be returned. Eleven? Seems crazy? Given sizing and color and fit and quality issues, it’s needed. Wasteful use of delivery and returns? Probably. But if I could step into a local store, try the 11 and buy the winner, I would. For me, buying and keeping 5 items per year means ordering 50 items per year and returning 45, and that is just crazy. I have no idea what the solution is.

  10. I’ve already gone through my five. I didn’t shop, except thrift, through January, February, March, then April hit! I went looking for a pair of casual, black sandals and ended up buying two pairs of cropped pants and a top. Okay! I won’t do that again. But a friend called to go shopping. “I can do this”. I bought five new tops. I love them all but were they a need – no. I did have a crisp, white button down on my list and found one I love so that was not a want but a need. Right? I resisted shopping yesterday and suggested a coffee and a chat instead. I know I will buy more because I like to shop with friends. It’s a fun outing! But, I am more aware and know I will buy less this year. All that to say, five articles is not an attainable goal for me. I will say, I do not shop crazy like some women. I don’t have a crowded, overflowing closet. In most cases, my purchases are filling a gap, replacing ones that are old or don’t fit my aesthetic anymore.

  11. Not having access here to shops with the sort of clothes I like, I fall back on Internet shopping from old favourites from back home in the UK, like Toast and Brora. But their clothes aren’t cheap, then add on shipping, and the cost of returning if they don’t suit, and it does get a bit out of hand. I just don’t like cheap clothes, and my wardrobe will see me out anyway, as they say !
    If second-hand was an option here I would definetely go for that when I felt like a shopping fix. Instead I’ll buy a couple of books ! Much better for the pocket.
    We’ll see how the summer goes, so far I’ve been good and only bought a few things that were needs rather than wants.
    By the way, I wonder how you, and your readers handle having friends with a very different philosophy regarding shopping. I have a couple of friends who although they could afford to buy less and good, get most of their clothes from really cheap sites from China. They buy a lot, it seems to be for the thrill of new stuff, regardless of the cost to the planet. i would never say anything, would you?

    1. I more often than not talk about my own habits rather than comment on others. Like how I’m trying to meet my goal of only five new pieces etc. Then they can take from that discussion what they want… or not. I recently read about a survey Vestiaire Collective did on the cost per wear of fast fashion. What seems like a bargain actually isn’t.

  12. Always interesting reading. I am a shopper so buying only 5 items this year would have been really hard. Instead I decided to write down what I’m spending each month on clothing and shoes. Wow it is an eye opener!
    So I’m not going to purchase anything more until we head out for a vacation mid June. just being aware of what I am spending has been useful. Also I agree I can still window shop just not try anything on … that’s when it becomes too difficult to leave in the shop. But hanks for the great posts!

  13. Two sayings come to mind as I think about shopping less.
    “ If it’s not h.ll yes, then it’s h.ll no!” That has helped me quite a bit. Especially when an item is very discounted. It is no bargain if it is not perfect.
    The other idea is that I “can’t have all of the pretty things.” Even when something works well I must evaluate whether I really need it. How many tee shirts does one actually need and wear?
    Thanks for the ongoing discussion.

  14. When my brother lived closer we would go for a hike on the day after Thanksgiving rather than going shopping. (Not terribly hard for either of us since we’re not big shoppers.) We called it our anti Black Friday hike.

  15. I hope no one is beating themselves up for not shopping and purchasing less than planned. For some of us, I wonder if the origin story of fashion/shopping comes from a time when we did not have a lot of money for clothing and longed for the stylish stuff. I guess my grandmother said that when you are young and have a great figure, you’re too poor to buy nice stuff. You get older and have more money but not the great figure so where’s the fun in that!
    I really appreciate the discussion about consuming less “new”. I am also trying hard to consume less plastic (polyester, household cleaners, food packaging etc). Now that is a challenge!

  16. I love looking at clothing, touching fabrics and wondering if the outfit held the magic to make me feel better about myself. The rule of five has forced me to be more creative about getting dressed. I’ve also been more honest and have let some things go that don’t really work for me any longer. I often rewarded myself for a job well done when I was working with clothing. A new piece of armor was necessary when working in a challenging environment. Now that im retired I dont really have those issues. I have been reading and walking alot more since the weather this past week has been milder. That keeps me out of stores. Also a new grandchild pushes me to the baby section in any store. I love those adorable little girl outfits and seeing her in them!

  17. I think I may have hit five+ I made the mistake of ordering two pairs of sandals last year in my usual size 9 but when the insistent voice in my head said ‘for you backless sandals need to be 8.5’ I did not listen dumb, dumb,dumb…
    I tried wearing them thinking adjusting would help, nope. Anyway I ordered two pair this year ( the others will be on Poshmark soon enough) As well a cashmere sweater and travel wrap that I have lusted after for years in the colours I wanted finally came on sale 40% off. So that’s four items YAY…but I have to budget 1500.00 for my post op knee brace…so there’s five. Hmm need a few pairs of wider leg, stretchy yoga type pants to fit over brace…..so 7 or 8? Maybe that type of medical fashion expenditure doesn’t count??
    On the upside having husband do the grocery shopping is saving a bit. He does love a list and sticks to it.
    The lavender/ pink duo just lights you up!!

  18. You inspired me. I pulled out all my summer clothes – that in itself was eye opening. I pulled out the “doesn’t fit” few, to donate and set aside those that need a new button or whatever. Still a shocking amount of stuff.
    I will try to re-dye my favourite navy linen pant and shirt set. Here’s hoping it will work.
    I am not committing to 5 just yet but I am on the “on ramp”. Thank you for the encouragement.

  19. I can’t do five this year at all. I have not traveled since 2017. Cancer (3 times, one life threatening) Covid, isolation from others for fear of germs, a 30 pound weight loss, newly gray hair and differing skin texture/color from chemo…if there was ever a reason to shop it is mine. I cannot keep up any pair of pants I own without a functional belt. So I am enjoying online shopping a lot. Yes, there are a lot of returns, but I try to order several items from one place. Yes, most have to be returned. But the sheer exhaustion factor of going into a store and trying on multiple outfits with no help is and will always be beyond me now.
    I have been successful in adding some beautiful color to my wardrobe, and several casual dresses, which I enjoy for the simplicity factor. A trip to France, which has been postponed three times is upcoming. I just want to do it once more to see if I can. And I want to look decent while doing it. So much change we cannot control..

    1. Trying on clothing in stores is exhausting, I agree. Especially if you can’t find an attentive helper. You need to give yourself a free pass to shop for whatever you need, however you want to do it, I think. 🙂

  20. Hi Sue … I always enjoy hearing from you, regardless of the topic 😊
    Obviously I have my favourites but I definitely feel that your posts should be about whatever’s on your mind in a particular week … to put it simply “whatever you feel keen / happy to write about “
    You’ve put together six great outfits ( above) imo. You look great in them all. The top two are possibly my favourites and I love your pink bag with your mauve sweater. Interestingly I was thinking recently about a pink bag that I have and how I should use it this Spring / Summer. It’s been in a drawer for a couple of years now for no particular reason other than that I’m not great at changing bags daily, unless I’m going somewhere special. Something I’m trying to change as I have some lovely bags.
    I resonate with so many of the comments above, especially about on line shopping and the need to order in the minimum a couple of sizes which frustrates me. I don’t enjoy the shopping process as much as I used to either in store or online but I’m still tempted unfortunately.
    Although my shopping style is so much more thoughtful and considered since I met you and I can definitely walk away more easily 😉
    I didn’t commit to the rule of 5 as I knew that I needed to replace a few basics and buy some casual trousers ( not jeans or linen which I have enough of ) for our recent trip. I am keeping it in mind though and I’ve started to record what I buy with a note to myself that explains why …
    I often reflect on my “ Swiss travel choices” which are truly a capsule wardrobe. They remain pretty constant except for a new jacket or hiking boots as needed and I am so happy wearing them. I also know that if we lived full time in that small Swiss village I doubt I’d shop at all!
    Interesting eh 😉
    Rosie xx

    1. Those six outfits were all pulled off of old posts in 2022 and 2023… I can’t remember why I never got around to wearing them. Having a blog is like having a readymade outfit idea bank, sometimes. Ha.
      P.S. Your trip to Japan looks wonderful, Rosie. How long were you there? I think you’ve been before, haven’t you?

      1. Hi Sue, we were there for just over three weeks. Our first visit and we really enjoyed it! I’d like to think we’d make it back there one day 😊 xx

  21. During covid, I upped my sewing game. I make much of my wardrobe these days, so it works well that I can (often) get precisely what I want. Also, been up-cycling, re-fashioning older garments. Things are starting to feel a little stale, though, so I need to cast a critical eye out for a few pieces that might add a fresh note.

  22. I’m buying far less these days but I do still enjoy the occasional new buy to perk things up . I’ve actually found it helps to have an impatient husband in tow when around shops . We spent a day exploring Bath whilst on holiday recently , enjoying walking by the canal & the river , sitting in the squares listening to excellent buskers & having a lovely lunch in the sunshine . Yes , we did wander through the shopping streets too but there was no shopping . Not even in Cos . I just can’t enjoy it with a miserable husband waiting outside with an even more miserable dog . I’d have loved to have joined you in the button shop , buttons gathered together can look so pretty , like jewels .

    1. That’s why I never shop when we travel… Stu cooling his heels waiting for me takes the joy out of it. I love Bath. It’s such a “wander-able” city, isn’t it? I must say we had a fun time button shopping. The array was amazing. And part of the fun was chatting with the owner… who was very voluble in the best way.

  23. I read your post about the Rule of 5 earlier this year and thought it a splendid plan. I could do it, right? Well then Eileen Fisher Warehouse Sale lulled me into ordering. Free ship, easy returns to local store. Surely I wouldn’t keep all 5 of the items I ordered, right? Well I loved them all and they all fit, so I kept all of them. High quality and scandalously low prices. A cupro midi skirt for over $100 less than original price. I have so many ways to wear it in warmer weather. But I have tried to shop less. Maybe a moratorium for the rest of the year? Keep on encouraging us, Sue!

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