On Creative Math and Playing By the Rules

I’ve often shared that I learn a lot from my readers, and last week was definitely no exception. I received quite a few comments on my “March 2014 Accountability Update.”  Many of these comments were, in essence, calling me on the carpet for my “creative math” related to my item limit accounting.  I’m glad that some of my readers didn’t let me get away with changing the rules mid-stream and that they pushed me to take an honest look at my behavior and my justifications thereof.

Creative accounting

I was guilty of doing some “creative accounting” with my item limit.

Not only did many readers point out my creative math, they also offered helpful suggestions for how I might approach my shopping rules moving forward.  In today’s post, I share some of the recommendations I was given, as well as the conclusions and decisions I’ve reached following deep introspection over the weekend.

Why I Changed the Rules Last Week…

Before I delve into the feedback I received from readers, I want to share a bit of the thought process I went through when writing last Thursday’s post.  I had committed to buying only 38 new wardrobe items this year, but I was deathly afraid I wouldn’t be able to meet that goal. After all, we are only a quarter of the way through the year and I have already purchased close to half of my limit!

I was afraid that I would fail and disappoint all of you, as well as myself.  So my mind scrambled for ways in which I could increase my chances of success.  After some pondering, I came up with what I believed to be reasonable compromises that would enable me to more easily honor my commitment. I was so steeped in my fear that I didn’t realize I was being dishonorable in making the changes I enacted to my 2014 shopping rules. My addiction – and my commitment to protect it at all costs – was speaking louder than my integrity. I basically wanted to have my cake and eat it, too, as the old saying goes.

What My Readers Said…

As I mentioned earlier, I’m glad my readers didn’t let me get away with “weaseling” out of my commitments.  Most of the comments were respectful but firm.  Here are a few excerpts of what was said.  To read the comments in full, click here.

  • A couple of things really jumped out to me with this post. The main one being that any item that hasn’t been worn and goes to consignment doesn’t count. It’s probably not a coincidence that this new rule came about the same month that you got rid of a few things that you bought on consignment and couldn’t return. I understand returns, but if I make the choice to buy something on eBay and I know I can’t return it, I figure I own it. My hope is that it will encourage me to make better choices in the future rather than keep repeating the same mistakes.
  • I wonder why you have decided that pre-worn donated or consigned items (limited to 10 for a year) are exempted from your total annual purchase. You’ve basically given yourself 10 “Get Out of Jail Free” cards. I understand the stuff that’s returned to the store, presumably for a refund. In this way, the sale is voided and your clothing budget is adjusted accordingly. But consigning or donating your clothes once bought — whether worn or not — is a negative hit to your clothing budget and so should be counted in your total garment count, too.
  • I also think the “get out of jail” cards you have given some of your mistake purchases are a bit of a red flag. Consignment shops and online shopping seem like things that should just be avoided. Unless, for example, you already tried on a pair of pants in a bricks-and-mortar store and loved them, but just need to go online to get the “tall” size. And the items that don’t count seem a bit like a numbers game just so at the end of the year you can meet your target. But would it be so bad to honestly say you didn’t meet your target? As long as you understand why and can adjust for next year? It’s all going to be a learning process.
  • I wanted to point out that you seem to be trying to expand your item limit by exempting shoes and purses. You have listed them in purges and in purchases in the past, and admitted to having many more shoes than you needed at one point. Lounge-wear is one thing, when you never count it in your wardrobe totals, but shoes and handbags you do, so it doesn’t seem to align as well.
  • I think you’re shopping too much, and I think your budget isn’t doing what you want it to do. From reading your blog over the last many months, it seems the budget is a crutch. YES, you’re spending less, but I think you’re shopping because you CAN and have the means to, rather than because you really want or need to get new clothes. It’s an exercise in practicing HOW you shop, versus questioning the extent to which you NEED to do so. And that’s still shopping for the sake of shopping.
  • What I noticed is when you say, “If I want to continue shopping through December,” you’re hitting the nail on the head. I want to spend less time, less energy, and less money on clothes.  I want a smaller wardrobe, but I want all this while continuing to shop. Of course, this can’t work, but the hardest part is to come to terms with the fact that shopping for pleasure has to stop if we want to truly achieve these goals.

My Thoughts on the Comments

While I don’t like to think of my shopping rules as a sort of “jail,” I agree that I was letting myself off the hook by allowing myself some exemptions for shopping mistakes.  If I am able to return an unworn item for a refund, the slate is basically wiped clean, but a resale purchase that is later donated or re-consigned is a horse of a different color.  Once I buy a “final sale” item, I own it and it should count toward my item total for the year even if it is never worn.  After all, at least 25% of my wardrobe was unworn during 2012 (see my initial “benchwarmers” post), but those items were still counted in my initial 2013 closet inventory.

I also agree that shoes and handbags should be included in my item total.  My rationale for leaving those items out was so that I could still shop late in the year if I exhaust my item limit but still have money left over in my shopping budget.   This exemption was entirely fueled by my shopping addiction, not by any real logic, as it is true that I still have too many shoes and handbags in my closet. While I don’t overbuy these types of pieces as often as I do clothing, I still need to be mindful of my numbers for these categories and continue to pare down that which isn’t being used.

Finally, the commenter who wrote that I am still shopping too much is absolutely right!  She mentioned that my shopping budget is a crutch, as it enables me to shop regularly even if I don’t necessarily need to buy anything.   I agree that when I have money available to spend, it’s like it’s burning a hole in my pocket.  It’s almost begging to be spent!  However, I don’t know how to remedy this, as I don’t feel ready to abandon my budget at this point in time.  My fear is that I would shop without constraints and spend money uncontrollably.  Perhaps I will be ready to approach my shopping differently come 2015, but for now I feel the need to retain the budget.

Reader Suggestions

In addition to suggesting that perhaps I abandon my shopping budget, there were a number of other suggestions offered by readers for how I should move forward with my item limit and other shopping rules:

  • Stop shopping at consignment stores and instead select two or three reliably good stores/brands to shop regularly.
  • Stop all consignment and online shopping (with the exception of purchasing the tall versions of regular-sized items I’ve tried on in brick-and-mortar stores).
  • Have a small separate budget for resale purchases to give myself a bit of “wiggle room” to meet my goals.  The items purchased with this small budget would be exempt from my item limit.
  • Use small items (i.e. chocolates, soap, candles) to treat myself instead of clothing.
  • Abandon the item limit in favor of a strict annual dollar amount for clothing and related purchases.
  • Omit the mistakes I have made thus far from my item limit as a “one-time allowance” and stick strictly to the limit for the remainder of the year.
  • Add 10 items to my yearly item limit instead of allowing myself 10 potential purchasing mistakes.
  • Divide my remaining item number by the number of remaining months to make it easier for me to stick to the item constraints.
  • Do more wardrobe planning and use lists to limit my shopping only to priority items I’ve identified in advance.  Keep “must have” and “nice to have” lists on my phone so I can refer to them anytime I shop.

I told you I got some great feedback and suggestions!  I was definitely given some excellent “food for thought” to consider over the past couple of days…

What I’ve Decided

Thanks so much to everyone who offered me feedback on my March accountability post. I have taken all of the wonderful input from readers into consideration and here’s what I’ve decided to do moving forward:

  • I’m going to keep the item limit for the year, as I feel that it’s been very helpful in getting me to buy less and think more deeply about my purchases.  I will also keep my budget in place for the year and will continue to report my item limit and budget status each month for the remainder of 2014.
  • Since I’ve struggled with buying too much, too fast, I’m going to impose a monthly item limit on my shopping for the rest of the year.  I’m going to allow myself to buy 2 items per month for April through November and 4 items in December (for a total of 20 additional items this year).  When added to the items I’ve already purchased (less the pieces that were returned for a refund), my item limit for the year will remain at 38.
  • Shoes and handbags will be included in my item limit, as originally stated in January.
  • I’m not going to place a moratorium on resale and online shopping, but I do plan to seriously limit both types of buying.  I can only buy items in both situations that are on my shopping priorities list.  No more buying things just because they are cheap or a “good deal”!
  • If I buy items online, I need to wait until they arrive and I decide what I will keep before I can make additional e-commerce purchases.  That way, I’ll be less likely to get in trouble with the math.

I also plan to take the advice to treat myself in other ways besides shopping and to be more diligent with my wardrobe planning.  That type of advice is very wise and applicable to all of us!

I Commit to Staying Honest!

I commit to honoring my revised rules for the rest of year and to reporting my progress openly and honestly each month.  I know that none of you expect me to be perfect and that I shouldn’t worry so much about disappointing you.   Recovery from any type of compulsive behavior is not generally a linear process.  Rather, it is more of a winding path with lots of peaks and valleys.  I commit to sharing both my peaks and valleys in my future blog posts.

I may not be perfect, but I am improving.  Each time I shop consciously and mindfully, I know I’m making progress.  Each time I make a different choice than my longtime default option of overshopping is a triumph.  Every time I look into my significantly pared down closet, I know I’m on the right path.  I just have to keep going, keep taking things one day at a time, and never give up on myself and my recovery.  If you’re still struggling, you need to do the same thing!  We can get to the other side and put shopping into its proper place in our lives.  I believe in myself and I believe in you!

112 thoughts on “On Creative Math and Playing By the Rules

  1. Good for you. I think you’ll be a lot happier with this. I am impressed with how well you took being called out and how you used it to learn and grow. I believe this will put you on a much healthier path.

    • Thanks, Tonya! I always try to learn and grow from difficult situations and I appreciate the honesty that my readers give to me in return for my honesty. I know it comes from a caring place and I agree that I will be happier with sticking to my original rules.

  2. Just one thought…this isn’t punishment, it’s fashion. A little fun is okay. The over-riding goal of all this is to take over-the-edge behavior and make it more normal. It’s normal to enjoy your clothes and enjoy your shopping. You’re doing a great job with this. You’re staying within your budget. You’ve hugely reduced your wardrobe. You don’t have to feel guilty about anything. Why make so many rules that the whole thing becomes a restricted, regimented, limiting, self-flagellating exercise in shame? A better exercise, for all of us who use shopping as comfort, would be to look into our pasts to see why we feel compelled to shop for reasons other than simply enjoying adding a little beauty in our lives. Why are we going overboard? At what point did we feel so unloved that we decided to “love” ourselves with shopping. We need to forgive and release those feelings so we can actually enjoy what should be a pleasure-able part of our lives, not the source of guilt.

    • Oh no I just lost a long comment. The abbreviated version is that I like your comment, happy forgiver, and it reminds me of the book intuitive eating and its principles, which have helped me notice emotional coping patterns and listen to my gut and seek pleasure in my life more – with respect to food and to clothing.

    • I love your comment. Having pretty clothes is a joy. It was only when the clothes made my life feel “unmanageable” (to use a word from the 12 Steps), that I crossed over into addiction. When I found Debbie’s blog, I was overwhelmed by all the junk in my closet. Yet, I felt I didn’t have anything to wear. This blog has helped me so much and this spring, I am finally feeling more joyful and less overwhelmed. It is good to be reminded that this process isn’t punishment. It is the pathway to sanity!

    • Thanks for this perspective, Happy Forgiver. I definitely don’t want to take all of the fun out of clothes, fashion, and shopping. I’m just searching for balance and sometimes the pendulum can swing too far in the other direction before we reach a sense of equilibrium. I have done a lot of introspection about why I overshop and have written quite a bit about it in past posts (this one is the most comprehensive and revealing: https://recoveringshopaholic.com/why-do-you-overshop/). Still more work to do there…

      Abby, I like the concepts in “Intuitive Eating,” too, as I struggled with eating issues for years. I finally overcame my eating issues and hope to do the same with shopping.

      Anne, I’m glad you’ve found my blog helpful and that you are feeling more joyful and less overwhelmed. I agree that the process we’re on isn’t punishment but is instead a pathway to sanity. That is what I wish for all of us!

    • Your comment is really interesting. For me, my shopping went out of control at a time when my marriage started to crack. It was something that kept me focussed. I kept myself busy with shopping and returning. Planning my wardrobe was something that kept me occupied.

      Interestingly, since I separated I have not been interested in shopping. It is quite amazing. I no longer spend my days wandering the shops, buying, spending the day after returning goods. For me, my compulsive shopping disorder was very much linked to my emotional state.

      • Very interesting, Carolyn… While I have had issues with overshopping for many years, it has often escalated out of control during extra-stressful times. I think we can often use shopping as an “escape” from the things in our lives we don’t feel we can control. I’m glad you’re not overshopping anymore since your separation. Hopefully you are in a much better place now!

    • This is a very perceptive comment. Unless we make our own clothes, shopping is the way we dress ourselves. This should be a pleasurable experience but one with a certain amount of parameters so we don’t go into debt or take over all the closets in our homes with excess purchases. I really enjoy finding something that works in my wardrobe (and it really has to “work” — mixing and matching with multiple garments). But shopping is not a recreational activity for me – it’s an opportunity to purchase something I need. I admire your honesty, Debbie, and your commitment to manage how your shop and what you purchase. Even though we operate with different systems (you have an annual budget and an item limitation, I have a small annual budget), I find it helpful to ponder, pre-purchase, whether I want to spend X% of my annual budget on a particular item – knowing that this purchase may prevent me from buying something I really need (winter boots, raincoat, etc.) Being aware of how any purchase impacts my budget helps me stay on the straight and narrow. Also a tiny budget helps — no room for any excess there unless I also want to give up food or electricity for a month or two.

      • I agree that shopping should be pleasurable but also rational. I’m currently struggling to strike this balance after years of basically mindless shopping. I agree that it’s helpful to have some parameters and to ponder our purchases before we make them. My rules may not always stay the same, but having rules has helped me not to go crazy with my shopping like I used to – and for that I am thankful.

  3. Please allow me to make an observation. I read your words calling your shopping in the past as an addiction. Then I read at the end of this post your naming your shopping problem a “compulsive behavior”. I think that is a more accurate description than the former. I have been sober for 25 years and alcoholism is a disease and an addiction. My shopping behaviors can be disjointed (for lack of a better term) and I wouldn’t say my shopping is an addiction. Disease and behavior are two different things. Tomato tomato, just words but I think they, the words, matter. I hope you do not take this as an kind of criticism. I appreciate your thoughts and reflections on the problems of shopping too much. I can relate often. Blessings, Mary

    • I agree that “compulsive behavior” is a better term for my shopping issues than “addiction.” I have often put “addiction” in quotes when I’ve used it in the past because I don’t think it’s the same for me with shopping as it is for an alcoholic with alcohol. I don’t think there is a physical component involved in my shopping – it is more of an emotional need/drive. Sometimes I think we need better words, as “disease” is often used as synonymous with “addiction” when those two things really aren’t the same, either. Your point is well taken, Mary. I’m glad you find my blog helpful and I thank you for taking the time to comment.

  4. Loving this, thanks for your honesty, you deserve all the best.

    I think what we do has many analogies with addictions. (I definitely get a ‘high’/ a dopamine rush from scoring a terrific item on sale. And shopping improves my mood and relaxes me much better than anything else.) It’s really a gray area what constitutes a behavior, a disorder or an addiction (even shrinks disagree – they just redefined addictive disorders: gambling, nicotine and caffeine are now in).

    I definitely think I have a chronic, relapsing problem. I’ve not been keeping track of my shopping of late and have noticed that not paying attention = a big pile of impulse purchases. Creative math, not taking into account certain things are just some of the symptoms. I wipe the slate clean every month and pretend I have not purchased anything, but my bank statements and the pile in my bedroom tell another story.

    Finally, I think recovery is a process and there are always setbacks and relaxes. We’ll just have to get back on the wagon. I’ve been stressed out, have let things slide a bit and have been using the wrong methods to cope. Thanks for reminding me of that! Back to tracking… And I’ll need to go back to doing small good things every day, maybe even reread some Dr. Benson’s chapters. Anyway, sending you lots of warm thoughts! I know how tough it is…

    • I reread the end of your messages (what to do from no on). I already know what works for me. Here are my suggestions:
      * Stop browsing (b&m stores, online retailers, resale shops, blogs, forums) – out of sight, out of mind 😉
      I will commit to doing this for the rest of the month. For me, it involves blocking certain sites from my computer. I also sometimes disable the browser on my smartphone – I will still have access to the phone, maps, email and apps.
      * Instead of buying items, invest in experiences. These work for me: go outside, see a film, read a novel (The Goldfinch is terrific!), visit a museum or exhibition, take a weekend trip, dine out, invite friends over…
      Will try to do more of these as well!

      • Sorry that I’m spamming your comment box today (and sorry about the sloppy typing earlier) but your post really jolted me wide awake. I decided to stop browsing fashion blogs and forums, blocked my computer and phone, and am right now going through my bank statements to check how much I have spent (whew not too bad!) to bring my Toshl up to date from April 1. (Will track everything this month.) Plus I went outside and had a really enjoyable 5K and scheduled a lunch with my husband tomorrow and scheduled time with a friend tomorrow evening and a meetup with some other friends. I even read to my children – all this in the dead time that I usually spend semi comatose online after work. None of this would have happened if I hadn’t read your post about integrity and being truthful… So thank you – sending you lots of warm thoughts!

      • Just updating – I took aside from my wardrobe 22 items that no longer reflect my personal style (mostly patterns and bright colors; reason for culling – hasty impulse sales purchase: 7, too bright or dark: 5; poor materials: 3; worn out 2, no longer fashionable: 2, will look nicer on someone else: 1; TBD: 2). For some reason, I’ve been unable to do this before – I guess admitting I was wrong and bought the items for all the wrong reasons is just really hard. I also mentally identified items that feel ‘me’ or fit my current daily lifestyle (neutral, casual, practical, fuss-free, even boyish items). I’ve been unwilling to do this in the past too, I think because my actual and ideal selves are quite far apart.

        I’ve also taken time off work to go see my daughter run a race and enjoyed connecting with other parents there. The lunch out was really enjoyable… And I have more social stuff coming up tomorrow and over the weekend 🙂

    • Wow, a lot has happened for you in the day since I wrote this post, FrugalFashionista! I love that you have come back to comment as you’ve had more revelations and have taken powerful action. I really liked reading your insights and seeing the changes you have made. Kudos to you for getting yourself back on track and honoring your self-care!

      I need to get back to Dr. Benson’s book, too! I have been focusing too much on the symptom and not enough on the underlying issues. I need to find other ways of meeting my emotional needs besides shopping and obsessing about my wardrobe. It seems this post has resonated with a lot of people, so that’s a definite “up side” to my difficulties. Enjoy your social plans in the coming days. Sending you warm thoughts, too!

      • Just letting you know that things are progressing really well. I’ve been able to stay away from shopping sites and fashion forums and had some lovely moments on the phone with a far-away friend.

        Yesterday’s clearout inspired me to think about my personal style from this new phase of life and I read some lovely Into Mind posts, this in particular:

        Although I felt really apprehensive spending any more time thinking about fashion, I decided to do some moodboarding based on the items that remained in my wardrobe after the cull. In the past, I’ve been too tied up by general style definitions (you know, classic, dramatic, gamine…) and I feel adhering to those rules has clouded my thinking – I felt I could never fully decide who I was because no definition fully fit. Yesterday, I realized that I have two very different style personas: one loves classic chic and beautiful ladylike tailoring (this side gets an outing infrequently, mostly during summer and when I go to parties or work events); another is more casual and practical (my everyday look, a work-from-home mom) who loves jeans and easy-to-wear menswear-inspired clothes.

        I decided to think outside the box and use my knowledge of fashion to think about possible style icons. I started a new board Pinterest and realized that there are quite a few stylish women who share and are able to combine these style personalities. I randomly pinned outfits based on what I already own and love (I don’t want to be triggered to purchase any more ‘missing pieces’) and to my surprise, my moodboard looked quite coherent.

        Somehow I felt it all came together on the board and I felt that I now have a unique voice!
        No more need to shop for more – this is it, for now, it works for me right now, and I’m allowed to get rid of stuff from previous life phases that no longer fit who I am today. Not sure whether I was explaining this well enough for anyone to understand, but I feel like I have a permission to trim all the extras now and it’s a huge relief! This also means, I hope, that I will no longer need to think much about style and fashion… Instead, I can continue opening up to other, much more rewarding aspects of my life!

      • Thanks so much for sharing your process, FrugalFashionista! I love Into Mind, but hadn’t seen the post you referenced. Very intriguing concept and exercises! After reading about your progress (bravo for you!), I think I’m going to do the exercises, too. Like you, I’ve found it hard to identify with most of the style personas written about in fashion books/blogs. I do the quizzes and end up as a mix of a few types. But perhaps doing a mood board (I already clip photos and save online images to a folder) will help me to clarify things. The end result of your exercise is fabulous – how wonderful that you are letting go of what no longer suits you AND you have no need to shop for more!

      • Just a tiny encouragement – I opened Dr Benson last night where I stopped last year – and she had some of the most spot-on advice about limiting exposures!
        I did look at my Pinboard last night for a few moments in those dangerous twilight moments when I’m really drained (between ferrying tired children home from the playground and feeding them proper dinner) and added my winter clothes to my Pinboard. Still a coherent look!

        Then I decided that instead of thinking about my own clothes (very dangerous territory) I could use my fashion sense to make hats for my children for their Easter parade. Although we all were really tired, we had a few great moments decorating their sun hats by sewing on toy frogs and the kids were really pleased with their silly hats. I felt much prouder than I ever feel about my own outfits…

        This morning I realized I’ve had a ‘this is it’ moment earlier with make-up (I have been streamlining my collection for a year now – I’ve decided to use up everything instead of throwing products away) and it’s lovely to have this with clothes too.

        Good luck with your process and please keep us updated about which steps you are taking!

  5. Thank you for this very honest post, it takes a lot of self introspection and courage to admit that type of behaviour so quickly and work toward recalibrating them, congratulations! I find that setting some item limits via random numbers can lead to thar type of “creative math” pitfall.

    It’s a good idea to break it down into a number of items per month though, as it makes the limit more concrete and attainable. However, wouldn’t it lead you to find a way to buy 2 items per month even if that particular month you don’t need any at all? Or wouldn’t it limit the sale or travel opportunities you may have one particular month? I know that my purchase habits are up & down because I use the opportunity of a shopping trip with friends, or the visit of an outlet village to buy a lot but then I don’t buy anything for an amount of time.

    Well, I guess the bet way it to experiment and see how it works out for you. But maybe, since you have a lot of rules, I could advise to “categorize” these various rules between the hard and fast ones that will be the skeleton of your 2014 purchase habits (for example, the 38 item limit and the type of items that are counted in there), and some that can be flexible depending on circumstances you can’t predict today. I find it easier to respect rules when they include flexibility. For example, I never managed to exercise when I said it “had to be 3 times a week”. After failing a few weeks at a time, I would just give up. But I’ve been exercising regularly since 1 year and a half, after I introduced more flexible rules – i.e the exercising has to be regular as in exercising every month, ideally 3 times a week but this can be bent according to circumstances.

    I hope this makes sense. In any case, please let us know how your challenges, rules and purchases evolve, your learnings can help us too.

    • I can definitely see your points here, Kali. I initially did not want to have monthly item limits for precisely the reasons you outline. But as I saw my shopping get out of control during the first three months of the year, I thought I needed more controls in place. I hope to not have to continue to need to be so strict in the future. I will definitely keep everyone updated on how this goes for me.

  6. I admire your honesty, Debbie.

    Perhaps as your addiction (compulsion?) wanes, you will be able to have a healthier relationship with shopping.

    You may always need, as I do, to shop online for tall clothing or large shoes. I even order multiples, to ensure I find the right size. I return those that don’t fit, sometimes exchanging for another if the item was perfect.

    For today, this would not work for you. For the future, you may very well be in a place where it does.

    Thank you for sharing your journey with us! I really admire you.

    • I agree that online shopping will likely always need to be a part of my shopping plan, Bette. There just aren’t enough tall options in the stores. I just need to do only a bit at a time and let the dust settle (see what works and what needs to be returned) before doing MORE online shopping. It has a tendency to get out of hand sometimes… I do hope to continue to forge a healthier relationship with shopping and to have the compulsion fade away.

  7. I wanted to say this in your last post, but couldn’t articulate this until today for some reason. I think you’re being too hard on yourself, particularly in using the words 1. Dishonest and 2. ‘weaselly’ (and the same goes for anyone else)! If I were to describe why I like your blog, it’s because you are honest and wide open. We were pointing out to you some of the tricks you were using on yourself (and most of us have been there), but that doesn’t mean you were dishonest!!!! We never could have said a word had you BEEN dishonest- we never would have known! I enjoy your blog immensely and look forward to your posts and the discussions in the comments.

    I think you are making a ton of progress and can’t wait to hear how this works out for you and any insights you gain! I agree, having an item limit monthly will make you choose more wisely and carefully. I’d love to see your shopping list in detail- what you feel you need, what you want to replace, specifics. I’m posting mine tomorrow- partly because I said I would, but also because I feel like it will hold me accountable. If I buy anything that’s not on my list, I’ll have to own up to it!

    • Good points, Meli! I definitely can be too hard on myself sometimes. I know that readers appreciate my honesty and I want to make sure you all still trust that I’m leveling with you. I will do a post about my shopping priorities soon. I think it’s a good idea for me to refine them (like you did in your most recent post!) and put them out there for all to see. The accountability will be helpful to me, too.

  8. Debbie, I think you might just be the most honest person I know! You post the good and the bad for all the world to see. I think you’ve made a lot of progress this past year and I know that reading your blog has been helpful to me and many others. My spending has gotten totally out of control the last few months and I know it’s because of boredom mostly. I’ve been ignoring my 2014 mantra of “simple” and “enough” and just buying, buying, buying. I’ve got to stop it now. In my head I know that I need absolutely nothing new in my closet, makeup bag, or home. I think I’ll try what FrugalFashionista said above and block sites on my computer and then stay away from the mall. I do a lot of internet shopping and then end up taking most of it back to the B&M store. Another problem I have is that when I try to substitute something else instead of shopping, it also becomes sort of a compulsion, for instance mani/pedis or massages way too often. I will continue to come here for your honesty and accountability and also all of the comments.

    • Thanks for your kind words, Kim. Boredom comes into play with my overshopping, too, and I also have a tendency to become compulsive with “replacement” types of activities. Staying away from shopping temptations helps, but I know it’s hard with the internet being right there at all times. I like the idea to block tempting sites from view. Good for you for noticing that you are off track at present. That’s an important first step toward change. Forgive yourself, do what you can to do “damage control” (returns, etc.), re-commit, and take it one day at a time. Ups and downs are part of the journey.

      • The “forgiveness” mentioned in several comments is important. If you don’t meet your goals this year but you know WHY you didn’t, then this is probably more important than meeting your goal through alternate means (such as, taking back half of your purchases or other tactics that might get the numbers “right” — I confess I’ve done this in the past to stay within budget). Knowing your shopping “triggers” and understanding how your make purchase decisions are valuable pieces of information that will give you more freedom in the long run. Good post on a tough topic.

      • Agreed, Dottie! I would rather be fully honest and “fail” than succeed by underhanded means. Even if I don’t meet the 38 item limit (which I still hope and plan to do…), I still think I am succeeding. I’m learning, growing, and making progress. I no longer shop constantly and buy a bunch of “crap” I rarely or never use. I’m gradually gaining more and more freedom from my overshopping compulsion and that’s a very good thing!

  9. I came in here to make a few suggestions that others have already made with a few extras, such as:
    – stopping online shopping by blocking sites
    – reducing the amount of fashion “media” you consume (magazines, blogs, forums, pinterest, etc)
    – setting a “no buy” period
    – focusing much harder on the life-related goals you had made earlier in the year
    – introduce a new hobby, or volunteering

    Maybe trying out this change of focus (no mindless browsing, and instead focusing this time elsewhere) for a month could help to distract you from that burning budget and clothes allowance. Warmer weather is coming up, and you’ve said numerous times that you have way more summer-esque clothes than you could wear last summer… so instead of getting into “omg I need to prep for summer!!!” mode, practice literally shopping your wardrobe. I know you’re doing the minimalism game for April, and maybe it’s too much to add this right now, but a month-long “no buy” game might be something to consider.

    During the “no buy” you could keep a list of the things you want to buy (and why) and then revisit the list at the end of the month to see if those are really items that would add to your wardrobe in a positive way (i.e. fill a gap or replace a loved item that has been worn out, or however you would define it). This might also give you additional clarity for how you would like to “spend” those remaining 20 items in your annual budget.

    Also, I always find taking up a new hobby and trying to learn something new always makes me feel really proud of myself. Same goes for volunteering! You’ll likely have a solid chunk of spare time if you remove online browsing/shopping and you might want to have a game plan for how to fill it – hopefully making it easier for you to stick to the goals!

    • Marie, I really feel those approaches work – I was totally shopping free for a long period when I closely followed them. Sadly the set budget rarely works for me – I spend every penny and more. But if I’m busy out and about doing things that I enjoy, clothes are the last thing I think about. And even if I total every restaurant bill, movie and museum ticket, it’s peanuts compared to how much I can spend overshopping…

      • This rings true for me, too. I usually spend every penny of my clothing budget and even if I do a lot of social things (which I generally don’t…), the dollars spent pale in comparison. I know I really need to cultivate more things I enjoy and more friendships. But the only friendships I’m cultivating as of late are online! Those connections are definitely valuable, but I need some in-person ones as well…

    • I like the idea of making a list of things I wanted to buy and why. I bet I could learn a lot about myself.

    • Thanks for your suggestions, Marie. I haven’t been doing much browsing and I’ve really cut back on “fashion media,” but I do need to do more shopping my wardrobe and focusing on cultivating other interests. I also like the idea of making a list of things we want to buy and why. I appreciate all of the ideas I’m being offered here. Lots of food for thought!

  10. Hi Debbie!
    I think your refreshed goals are spot-on, and agree that “dishonesty” is a strong and too-negative label for what happened in your March accountability post. Part of our exercise and journey is learning what is *rationalization*, and what is *exactly the right dialogue* before making a purchase. Quite similar processes, just different outcomes.

    Some additional ideas that you might find appealing:

    (1) What if, rather than “shopping to shop” your two items every month, you make a list during each month of all the things you want or feel you need in your wardrobe (without limitation in dollar or number), and then allow yourself to purchase two items from the list only at the end of the FOLLOWING month — if you really still feel you want or need them?

    Example: a couple of rounds of P333 ago, I decided I “needed” a work dress from Lands End and a new pair of hiking boots. I put them both on a “need to buy” list. Several months later without having purchased either one, I can comfortably say that don’t need the LE dress at all (I was just missing some other dresses that were packed away and work better for me), but I *would* like a sturdy pair of hiking shoes or boots (within the past two years, I finally donated two pairs of not-right-for-me options, leaving me without any; I don’t like using my running shoes in their place for multiple reasons, and we do hike often enough that a suitable pair of shoes makes sense). So I will shop, carefully, for a pair that meets my aesthetic, quality, and use guidelines.

    Similar exercise, different manifestation: You may also find that *shopping without permission to buy* could be satisfying, but I suggest this cautiously, because it can be challenging at first, or when you’re not being diligent. When a shopping bug hits (I’m tired; I don’t like my outfit; I’m bloated; I’m sad;), I will peruse a catalog and turn back pages, or put items in a shopping cart on Amazon or Anthropologie, but then I *close out the browser without buying anything*. When I return to the catalog or website, the purchases or turned back pages are often still waiting, but no longer available, or no longer looks so appealing, so I easily empty out the cart or recycle the catalog without buying anything at all. This is kind of like the “shopping” version of packing your clothes away for P333 — you’re not saying no, but “not right now”, and will often find “no” would have been just fine, which makes “no” easier in the future.

    What both exercises have in common: forcing the wait (cooling-off period) distinguishes what you want versus what is really a missing link in the closet. This allows you to practice both shopping AND not shopping, in that you are keeping a tally of what you need and want and developing your eye for what is right for you, but also refraining from acting impulsively with respect to either category. You can still enjoy fresh styles and trends, without buying them (and maybe even find them in what you already own). It removes the “moodiness” from purchasing, so that you know what you buy is something you’ve sat with for a while – and we can all afford to sit – there are not really any clothing emergencies for any of us, are there?

    Anywho. My thoughts. You’re doing a great job, and I’m happy to be on this path with you.

    Lord, I’m wordy. Yeesh. 🙂

    • I have implemented a system sort of like you describe, though it started out for different reasons. I collect every item of clothing that I would want to purchase (excluding basics like underwear) on pinterest (now: a board called summer fashion) and leave it at that at least for a week but mostly longer. I started doing this because I wanted to visualize my summer capsule wardrobe as well as keep a nice overview of my planned (and made) purchases. Because of budget limitations I cannot buy everything at once so there is definitely a mix of ‘unspecified’ items (like ‘some’ beige chinos) and specific items that I intend to buy. For both, the board is very useful in reevaluating my likes and needs – sometimes I buy stuff from the board exactly as pictured, sometimes I search for something similar, sometimes I remove the picture and never look back 🙂 .

      • Btw I would be cautious as well with this technique for recovering shopaholics – all in all you still spend quite some time browsing online shopping sites!

      • Hi Liesbeth – yes, I agree that you really have to have set rules for yourself online. E.g., if you are allowed to buy, you must follow the list, and if you aren’t you don’t buy, no matter how fabulous the deal. I do like Pinterest, in that it allows me to “gather” clothing without purchasing it. I have a “virtual closet” board and I just pin what I find attractive and compelling, and then use it to develop my personal style (whether by shopping or shopping my closet), as appropriate. I think that’s a good tip, too.

    • Great suggestions, Rebecca and Liesbeth! I actually do the “shopping without permission to buy” one sometimes. I think of it like the “power pause.” I put things in my shopping cart but then go away for days (or even weeks) to see if I really want them. Most of the time I don’t buy those items. I like the idea of using Pinterest to collect ideas for things I want to buy. Maybe I will do that for when I do my post about my shopping priorities list (per Meli’s suggestion). I think Pinterest can be a great tool to help us refine our personal style. I haven’t used Pinterest in a while but perhaps it’s time to revisit it!

      • I myself have several problems personally with the ‘shopping cart method’:
        1) When I turn off my computer, or on some sites after a set period of time (like half an hour), my shopping cart is automatically emptied. Maybe my security settings are too strict. But this makes it hard to ‘collect’ ideas and heightens the pressure of buying before the cart is emptied.
        2) You can’t compare clothes from different brands / stores. On my pinboard I can keep an overview of all the stuff I might buy over the course of a few months. This has two consequences:
        – the totality of possible purchases is continually visible, reminding me of the limitations of my budget
        – some products are more attractive when considered as only competing with other items from the same brand, but lose some of their luster when you see them in the midst of ALL of the other clothes you have pinned. (I think this might be the same effect that sometimes occurs when you have bought an item and see it in your own wardrobe as opposed to how it looked in-store; but before you actually buy it!)
        3) I’m generally less drawn to actually ordering when I reconsider clothes in the ‘safe’ environment of pinterest, where you have to ‘click through’ a lot before you actually can order as opposed to the online shop, which is designed specifically to make you order (e.g. all kinds of temporary discounts popping up and links to ‘you might also like…’)
        But, I would be very careful with pinterest as it can also lead to an overwhelming amount of new information; depending on who you follow it’s easy to feel like your own clothes are not good enough or as if you NEED something like a maxi-skirt ASAP!! 🙂

      • Thanks for sharing more about your system and how you use Pinterest, Liesbeth. I can see how this could be more useful than just putting items into one’s shopping cart and going away. I know that some stores retain the items in the cart (and some “nag” you about it!) while others do not. I used to use Pinterest but stopped, as I was experiencing the phenomenon that you mentioned. I kept comparing my wardrobe to that of others and finding mine lacking. Of course, there is nothing wrong with Pinterest as a tool. It all depends upon how we use it. I may go back to it and do what you’ve suggested. It seems like a useful way to plan out future purchases.

  11. Thank you for being honest and truthful. You are very brave and you are definitely improving, we can all see your progress.

    I have very similar problems with clothes shopping and that is the reason why I read your blog. I only comment occasionally. I am doing somewhat better myself but I am still struggling with the over shopping. I do think when one is able to afford certain things, the math becomes a little fuzzy. For me it becomes not whether I can afford this, but it is something that I want, I want, I want again and again, over and over. I counted my wardrobe the other day, I stopped after 150, it is quite overwhelming.

    I am using the 40 days of Lent not shopping on eBay. I am doing well yet I am counting days till Easter so that I can shop my beloved Eileen Fisher silk jersey T shirt again on eBay, since I do not want to pay the price at stores, not that I cannot afford the price.

    Bottom line, it is a struggle for many of us. I am a working professional and my job is mentally demanding. I find that browing eBay is mentally relaxing, which is likely the main reason why I do it so much. It is trully mindless and I can relax and rejuvenate and next day face the mental challenge again. For me I need to find something else to relax. I am learning to play the guitar, I also sew, but I am not doing either one as much as I should.

    Perhaps looking at why you shop can help you stop so much shopping. I also read Shop Your Wardrobe blog. I do not know whether not shopping for one year is realistic for you or for me, but it may change your perspective. Maybe not shopping for one month. Maybe it is finding something else to fulfil your life.

    I do believe there is much more to shopping, much much more in life for us to enjoy.

    • Good for you for giving up eBay shopping for Lent, Lynn! I wonder if you will continue to count the days until the end or if it will get easier to avoid eBay. I agree that online browsing/shopping can be a way to unwind after a stressful day. Finding alternate methods would likely be helpful for you. I have written quite a bit about why I overshop. The most comprehensive of those posts is the following: https://recoveringshopaholic.com/why-do-you-overshop/. I like “Shop Your Wardrobe” and often recommend it. I did the 1-year program but didn’t commit to not shop for a year. I still learned a lot but would have learned more had I even committed to a shorter shopping hiatus. I’ve done one-month shopping pauses a few times, but have had mixed results (I often “binge” after the month is over). I agree with you that there is much more to life than shopping! I enjoy lots of other things, but shopping continues to be compelling. A tough nut to crack!

  12. I love the comment from Rebecca, that would be something I’d consider doing myself. I’ve been trying to figure out this whole ‘when-and-how-much-to-shop’ myself for quite some time and maybe you could be inspired from what I do – so keep reading :-).

    Last year I gave away half my clothes to 25 friends and relatives. It’s the best I’ve ever done. I took each category of clothing and kept a max of nine pieces and only keeping things that were very different. Of course I gave myself room to give away more if they were things I didn’t love. A lot of the items I passed on were bought on sale (just cause they were cheap) and I just had so much. Apparently the cheap stuff didn’t make me as happy as the more expensive. After that all my clothes fit in my bedroom closet. It’s about one meter wide.

    Fast forward to now. I still love all my stuff and I only buy things that I love. I don’t keep lists of essential items everyone should have in their closet and then shop for this (or maybe I still make the lists, but I just enjoy making them, I don’t shop by them). What I do is that I’ve made a shopping calendar just to keep my organizing and systemizing needs happy. I figured I’d change all my clothes within a five-year-period. I then wrote down how many items I’d need of each category and spread the purchases out over a five year period. Bam! I’ve included makeup and stuff like bedsheets, jewelry, sportswear – pretty much everything. Every year I’ll purchase about 45 items. I love it. This month I get to buy a necklace, panties, foundation, mascara and nail polish. And I might even not buy mascara, foundation and nail polish as I still have a few I haven’t opened yet:-). It limits my spending and I get to focus on a few items and make sure I get the exact right ones – this requires lots of searching!

    Now, I don’t blog, but I enjoy reading. If you’d like to see my calendar please email me at grevernesgods(at)gmail.com. Right now it’s in danish, but I don’t mind translating it if anyone’s interested.

    • Thanks for the calendar idea, Mette! I currently buy all bras at once, about once every year to two years (I buy 3-4 at a time at a high quality shop after a professional fitting, and rotate them regularly, until they cease to do their job). Undies and socks I don’t do on a calendar basis, but perhaps should. I’m currently trying to “use up” the cotton sock-and-underwear options and replace them with merino wool, which is far pricier, but of better quality, more ethical (when purchased with that goal in mind) and more comfortable. I always appreciate the opinions of people who live/have experience in other countries, where higher prices and smaller spaces are the norm.

    • Thanks for sharing your strategies, Mette! It sounds like they’ve worked well for you and could benefit some of us as well. I just emailed you about your calendar, as I would love to see it! I like your idea to just keep the best within each of your wardrobe categories. I’m gradually letting go of my “ho-hum” closet items over time. My wardrobe is about half of its previous size but still too big. At this point, I still want more than nine of some types of items (tops, shoes), but think that would be more than enough of other categories (pants, skirts, dresses). I guess it’s all about what we’re used to…

      • Mette, that is one brilliant spreadsheet! I will think about trying something like this for myself because from reading your blog it sounds like you really enjoy shopping this way. My husband is an engineer and loves spreadsheets. He’s got one for almost everything. I find it sexy for some reason, lol.

      • Sexy spreadsheets? Why not 🙂 But Kim, I’m so glad you liked it – I’ll try and post updates on my purchases, so if I could have my first follower, I’d be very proud… (hint).

      • I think it’s so great that you have started a blog, Mette! I read your first entry and loved it! I am always amazed at the systems that people create to help them shop and dress better. I think your calendar idea is something that could benefit a lot of people. Many of us shop mindlessly and do very little planning in terms of what we will buy and when. That’s how we end up with overloaded and disjointed wardrobes. What you’ve done is injected a dose of sanity into the whole shopping situation, which is something that many of us desperately need. I’m going to write a post on creating a shopping priorities list soon and will definitely link to your blog post/calendar as a resource for people to use. Thanks so much for sharing your tool and information with all of us!

      • I’ve injected a dose of sanity into the whole shopping situation? I’ll print this comment and keep it close so I can show it to anyone who questions that! Thanks for all your encouragement.

      • Thank you for YOUR encouragement and for sharing your process and insights with all of us! I shared your method and spreadsheet in yesterday’s post (on shopping priorities). There is no one method that will work for everyone, but I believe a lot of readers will benefit from how you do things.

  13. Hi Debbie-

    I hadn’t read the comments on your last post so I did just now. (I may have raised an eyebrow when reading the post, though. 🙂 ) Something has worked really well for me personally when it comes to clothing budget money “burning a hole in my pocket”: I give myself an incentive to spend it another way. This is actually the way I initially broke my overshopping habit – my husband and I wanted to go to Europe and they only way we could afford that was for me to stop buying all the stuff.

    For example, I have $200 to spend on clothes for the month of April. But if I don’t spend all that money, it goes into my kitchen renovation fund. And I want a new kitchen something fierce! I want a new kitchen so bad that when I’m fooling around on Zappos and I say to myself, “Man, those shoes are HOT,” I ask myself, “Sure, but are they hotter than $100 of shiny hardware for my new cabinets?” and the answer to that is no. Then at the end of April, I can pull the money I haven’t spent from my checking account into my special kitchen savings account. And dream about my beautiful marble countertops!

    Before this my extra money went into my vacation fund, or towards a nice dinner out with my husband or tickets to Broadway shows with my friends or a spa day. Whatever it is, it’s something that I want as much (or more than) new clothes. I try to make it an “experience” as opposed to “things”. And then I spend my time researching (travel spots, restaurants, kitchens) and planning instead of shopping!

    • This worked extremely well for me. Last year I wanted new kitchen countertops in the worst way so I put all of my clothing budget towards them for a couple of months. We also cut out going out to eat and if we spent less than our grocery budget that money was put into that account too. I didn’t feel like I was depriving or punishing myself. I simply felt like I was making a choice to put my money toward something else that would give me more joy than clothes. This worked so well I am surprised that I haven’t had this mindset more often. Thank you for reminding me of it.

    • Thanks for sharing your idea, Mrs. M. I like the idea of channeling funds elsewhere, but I’m not sure what I want as much as shopping at this point (kind of sad, huh?). I live in an apartment so we can’t do any renovations. We already have budgets for dinner out and travel, but I like the spa day idea. I could save some money to buy something for my husband or take him out somewhere. I will percolate on this concept and see what I come up with. Sounds like this type of plan has worked well for you and Tonya!

  14. The only way to learn from mistakes, is to make a mistake. You have some excellent advice here. For myself, I’m not up to declaring a full on stop shopping phase yet. So instead I’ve been doing the ‘you can shop, but you cannot purchase’ phase. By having a monthly item limit I don’t feel I am not allowed to shop, because if I did that, it’s the fastest way to get me to shop. Sort of a feast or famine mentality. If I think I will not be able to shop for a while, I want to stock up. So I had to break it down into another step, shop but don’t purchase. And yes I have had to leave my wallet in the car so I really don’t make a purchase!

    • Interesting idea, Lisa. I’ve thought about shopping without my wallet and writing a post about the experience, so perhaps it’s time to do that. I think it would feel very different to shop without the possibility of buying, but I’m intrigued enough to give it a try!

  15. Thank you Debbie. Your willingness to be honest and vulnerable is helping all of us gathered here.

    Also, please don’t put pressure on yourself to do volunteer work right now. As a former Director of a large volunteer organization, I know that the strain of volunteering would not be helpful for you while you are in the process of regaining your health. Better to purse other activities that are less demanding of your time and energy.

    Shopping. Alas, I agree with what Lynn said. “When one is able to afford certain things, the math can become a little fuzzy.” It becomes not whether I can afford this, but about want. I want, I want, I want again and again, over and over. That’s how I ended up with 150 items. Back then (3 years ago) I was a working professional, I loved and wore all of my clothes, and my job was very mentally demanding, and I found shopping relaxing, which was the main reason why I did it so much. Then I found myself working from home and I didn’t need and seldom wore most of what was in my closest. My job was still mentally demanding, but suddenly shopping wasn’t relaxing anymore. It was the opposite. I felt sick about buying things I had no opportunity to wear. Jump cut to now. I’m finally in a place where I have the right amount of clothes for me, and they are all things I like and wear. Of course I have a fantasy about finding and buying the “perfect” black sweater and getting rid of the one I have, but when money is available it is easy to become too picky. Recently I’ve faced the fact that even though my income is far less than it was before, and now that I really MUST be careful and keep to a tight budget… but if I’m very honest with myself I know that shopping needs to not be about available funds. I’d like to think that if I ever came into money that I would still want to maintain a small wardrobe of clothes. I’d want to buy better quality items, but I’d also want the piece of mind of knowing that I would not be driven to buy a lot, or seek perfection, and waste my time and money searching for the “perfect” sweater. At least this is my new starting point and my goal. Actually I’m glad I can no longer shop due to lack of money. I know this will be good journey for me. Not easy, but a good learning experience.

    • I love the variable definitions of “enough” and what offers respite from challenging work you describe here, Terra. I think a wardrobe of “enough” (and Project 333) can be quite challenging when you have drastically different wardrobe (needs? desires?) between your office life and your home life. I’m very casual on my own (could happily get by on jeans, tshirts, cardigans, and the odd comfy dress on my own), but my professional wardrobe requires at least two suits, and dressy shoes that, while comfortable, are not the shoes I’d reach for if I was at home for the day. Ever! Likewise, what I can comfortably put on this body for a walk to the courthouse on a balmy 98F day is not reasonable or practical when it’s 5F and icy or snowy, or 50F and rainy. The variations in wardrobe needs and weather are a big part of why I’m comfortable considering a “150-item” wardrobe (inclusive of outerwear, lounge/workout clothing, outerwear, and PJs) “minimal”, where 40-100 items might suit another person’s definition perfectly under different circumstances. Even accounting for St. Louis’ highly variable weather, I could easily chop the number by another 1/3 (to 100, inclusive), if I could ditch the professional wear. That’s not on the horizon, though!

      • I think you are doing wonderfully Rebecca. Also, remember, the handful of professional work clothing that we never, ever, wear in our personal life does not count as part of the 33 in P333. Also, in my mind heavy winter weather gear does not figure in either, because we must have it to survive and it has nothing to do with want, or even fashion in most cases.

    • Great comments from both of you, Terra and Rebecca. I am not going to do volunteer work now, Terra. I’ve done quite a bit in the past and hope to do more in the future, but I can’t commit to regular days/times due to my health challenges. I’m putting my health first and honoring my current reality instead of pushing myself too far. I’ve learned my lesson in that respect.

      As for the shopping, I am on the same page with you in terms of not wanting a huge wardrobe even if I came into a lot of money. I’m really working to buy more quality instead of quantity, but I still struggle with the concept of “enough.” I really do want the clothes I have to get a lot of wear instead of only being worn a few times per year. I’m doing a lot better in this respect, but still have a long way to go.

      • Terra, I thought about excluding blouses and suiting from my 33 items as a “work uniform”, but my day so often goes from 8am – 10pm (between a full work day and church or social commitments), and what works for work is also appropriate on Sunday mornings for church services, plus I like to integrate other items into what I wear to work, which isn’t always so buttoned-up to require suiting every day (unlike my hubby’s job, where he wears a suit 4/5 days); I guess I decided that I’d rather allot four or five suiting items to my capsule of 33 and push myself to use the suiting as separates/see it as everyday clothing, than treat it as a work uniform, which has overwhelmingly negative connotations for me. 😉
        It also avoids treating items as “precious”. Use it or let it go, I guess.
        I always excluded from any 33-capsule items such as snow shoes and Uggs, and I never count outerwear, because it’s not part of my regular closet and I don’t have very much of it (but could still probably pare back a bit more). But a good reminder. Thanks!

  16. Your effort at reassessing your priorities and goals based on feedback is commendable.

    I have a tip that works for me when it comes to buying something merely out of temptation. I am uncompromising on quality. If something is not at least 75% cotton., linen, silk or wool, I will not buy it. It becoming more and more difficult to find these yarns in mass-produced clothing.

    If I acquire such an item, I hang on to it. I got rid of a huge amount of wonderful clothing when I came back from Europe. I had too many clothes and though I could replace them later if I needed to. Now I realise what a fool I was. I cannot find that quality any more. I buy mostly non-synthetics, take care of them and try not to put on weight ‘cos five years down the line I know I may not find these kinds of items again.

    If you set some strict quality standards, you may find it easier to buy less.

    Kudos to you for inspiring so many people with your honesty and your perseverance.

    • I really like your tip, Nutrivore. I used to focus too much on quantity and not enough on quality, but I’m turning that around. When my wardrobe was huge and I only wore things once or twice a year (sad but true…), I didn’t notice poor quality so much. But now that things are being worn more often, I see how fast lower quality items show signs of wear. I agree that it’s far more difficult to find good quality these days, but I also concur that having higher standards can help us to buy less.

  17. It sounds as if you have come a long way so far- I just wonder about all these rules- they seem so legalistic and it’s always possible to find a loophole. I understand addiction as I come from a family of addicts – It has been my experience that rules don’t really help, all they do is feed the shame. What brings transformation is dealing with the root of the addiction (often unacknowledged hurt). Forgive me I haven’t been reading your blog for very long, so I don’t know what work you’ve done in that area. I do know that it is all too easy to move from one addiction to another- my brother did. It wasn’t until he actually dealt with the root of the addiction that he found peace. Blessings

    • I have moved from one addiction/compulsion to another like your brother, Sharon. Or rather, I often moved back and forth between a few (eating disorders, shopping, relationships, etc.). I have done a lot of work on underlying issues, but clearly I have more to do! I have a good understanding of WHY I overshop (and why I did the other things), but peace still eludes me. I know I need to find alternate ways of meeting my emotional needs, plus I also need to accept some things that I cannot change (and have the wisdom to understand what can and cannot be changed). Sounds simple, but it hasn’t been easy!

      • We control what we can control because it helps us face the things we can’t control. Sometimes it’s healthy (reining in shopping, working out); sometimes it isn’t (unhealthy diets; over-shopping as therapy). I turn to projects to balance out the parts of my life I don’t have any control over, because feeling productive helps me balance out the feelings of helplessness in other areas. It’s mostly positive, but I “go-go-go” too much and wear myself out too often, and appreciate the idea that even mostly good things require moderation. A test I use for myself is whether a- something is more positive or negative in my life and, b-if it is creating problems, can/am I willing to disengage from the behavior causing the problem? If I cannot or will not form an exit strategy from a negative experience or behavior, that should raise some red flags for me, because there is probably something unhealthy going on there.

      • Very good points, Rebecca! I like your two tests. I don’t think shopping is always a bad thing, but it DID become something more negative than positive in my life and create other problems (packed closet, tension with my husband, spending too much money). This blog and all of the rules I’ve created are my “exit strategy.” The thing is, I still need things I can control that are positive because I continue to get stressed about those things I cannot control. Still a work in progress…

  18. I think the comments that suggest focusing on the root cause of “why” we shop is so important. In the interim though, while we are figuring out our “why,” the budget and item counts really help (especially for someone like me who tends to enjoy organizing and go through my closet).

    For those of you have already figured out the “why,” how did you do it? Soul searching? Therapy? I would love to know!

      • Seconding ‘To Buy or Not to Buy’! It helps to understand what you are really shopping for. For me, the answer is very long, but I started to address the underlying issues a year ago and despite a few relapses (when I’ve not doing what I should do) I feel I’ve changed a lot. My main reasons for overshopping are alleviataing work and family related stress and fitting in/belonging. When I started to address those needs directly, shopping lost its importance.

        Why do I keep relapsing? Because online shopping is such an undemanding lizard brain activity 😦 I can literally do it from my bed. Winter was really tough. Going out, seeing people, experiencing new things requires quite a bit of effort and scheduling. It’s easy to get stuck in a low energy/low mood rut…

        For me, focusing too much on wardrobe delays recovery – because it keeps me indoors and focused on need-to-buy and need-to-replace lists. When my life is in balance, I dress on autopilot, repeat-wearing just a handful of items, and my style falls in place very naturally.

    • I read “Your Money or Your Life” (http://www.amazon.com/Your-Money-Life-Transforming-Relationship/dp/0143115766) and then it STILL took a couple of years and a money scare for the realization to set in that acquisition added stress, rather than providing joy (specifically, my dog was injured and my CC were maxed out and, but for my husband’s financial sense, I wouldn’t have had any resources to fix the puppy). For me, shopping wasn’t about fixing some profound hurt, so much as it was a failure to question the pro-consumerist messages that are fed to us day in, day out, including questioning the promise that ANY item I buy can make me happy (by making me into someone or something else, as promised by the manufacturer/seller). To be clear: SOME purchases DO make me happy. To reference Nutrivore’s comment, above, purchasing well-made items, in line with my values system, and which I find *beautiful* and *useful* (all credit goes William Morris for the easy-to-remember guidelines, thanks to his lovely quotation)DOES make me happy, because every time I use THAT item, I’m reminded of my progress and my goals, and I get to use something that meets my personal needs and aesthetics. What I want to eliminate are the purchases that fail to justify the exchange of life energy and valuable resource (mine or someone else’s) they require to manufacture or obtain.

    • I third the recommendation for April Benson’s book! I have written about some of the exercises in the book previously (look in the “Behavior and Psychology” category), but the most most germane to this discussion is this one: https://recoveringshopaholic.com/why-do-you-overshop/ I understand WHY I shop too much and that has helped some, but clearly I need to do more of the exercises in the book to help turn things around. Stay tuned for most posts on this topic! I haven’t read the book Rebecca recommended, but that seems like a good one, too.

  19. Wow~ So much to digest here, between your post and the comments… I understand the concept of limiting your number of items, and definitely having a budget limit. Personally, I would be okay with going a few items over your 38, provided you stayed within your budget and actually only purchased things you need, use & love.

    Part (maybe much) of the problem seems to be shopping for the sake of shopping, as a hobby. I totally agree with the idea of using some of you clothing budget for other pleasures, because you know you don’t really need more clothes. You need more pleasure & happiness that is NOT related to your clothing! I think this is something you already know… you just haven’t figured out a way to implement it yet. I hope you’re making progress toward finding new hobbies and interests that bring you joy~

    • I’m still struggling with finding new hobbies and interests, Diane. I will do an update on my “full life project” soon, but the bottom line is that my primary focus has been on trying to improve my help (to no avail as of yet). It’s like a “Catch 22” in that I need to feel better in order to get out and try more things and I don’t have the energy to do all that much. I don’t even shop very much anymore, but sometimes I get out for a bit to shop when I feel well. I do enjoy the walks with my husband and sometimes going to movies or maybe out to eat, too. But I need to make new friends and that’s been difficult to do because I can’t really plan things due to my health challenges. I am trying to stay positive, though, and believe that things CAN get better. I agree that I need more pleasure and happiness that isn’t related to shopping and clothing!

  20. For me I’d like to say that my shopping started to get out of control when my son was diagnosed with a brain tumor, and that my problem grew worse after he died, which I wrote about in “My Journey Toward Less.” But in truth I know that the root cause goes back much further than that. It began about 15 years after I was married and began to realize that my husband and I had very different ideas about how we wanted to spend our money. I wanted to travel, he didn’t, couldn’t because of work demands. He wanted nice cars, and I didn’t care about that. We were both making good money. The comprise was that he encouraged me to shop, to keep me happy, and it worked. I was very happy for a number of years. Yet please know I’m not putting my husband down. I’m thankful that I have a husband who let me shop until I was all shopped out.

    I was fairly poor as a child, but I never felt lacking and I always knew I was good enough. What I think happened to me is that I had absolutely no experience with having money and I got out of control. It’s a pity I didn’t save more of it. Thankfully I was somewhat frugal. Now I have way less money than I did before, and I need to be careful of how I spend it. Lesson learned. That said please feel welcome to check back with me next year and see how I’m doing. Bottom line is that I’ve been upper middle class and I’ve been poor, and being mindful of money and owning less is better.

    Thank you Debbie, and thank you everyone! I sincerely feel your stories and honesty has helped me become and remain the person I want to be.

    • I really appreciate you sharing more of your story here, Terra. I have enjoyed learning more about you, including the sad and difficult stuff. It sounds like you have a firm grasp on why you overshopped and I commend you that you’ve been able to turn things around. I wholeheartedly agree with your last sentence. The growth that I’ve been able to do over the past year plus since I started this blog was definitely helped substantially by you and the many others who have commented and encouraged – and challenged – me along the way. I thank you!

  21. “I am whole, perfect and complete just the way I am. If negative thoughts come up for you as you look into the mirror today, remind yourself that you are truly and simply beautiful, just the way you are.”

    From http://www.mentorschannel.com/AriannaHuffington/OnBecomingFearless/LandingPage/


    It bothers me that you are so hard on yourself, but you’ve chosen to be kept accountable through your blog. I know what it’s like to have money burning a whole in your pocket. My first thought was to give that money to charity. You’d feel good about yourself. In your shoes, I’d give the money to a charity to women in recovery of some sort, so they in turn can feel better about themselves! Any women could use decent clothes so they may go on an interview or simply feel that they look nice.

    Peace, Jeri

    • About Gifting and Giving. Jeri brings up an interesting point. When I had the opportunity to be in those shoes I gave money to charity and to other needed causes. I’m also a strong believer in tithing, and when I cleared out my closet, three years ago and ended my shopping hobby I gave my beautiful, excellent quality and professional clothes to a charity who in turn “gave” the clothes to women in the workforce. BUT the gifting and giving alone would not have been enough to teach me anything new or lasting without having taken my over-shopping journey, and learning “why” I over shopped. I couldn’t have what I really wanted so I accepted shopping as a replacement. Now what I really want most of all is to own less. Which leads to giving. But figuring out why we over shopped in the first place needs to come first, and we are each on our own journey, and on our own timetable.


    • Great comments from both of you, Jeri and Terra. I really like the quote you gave, too, Jeri. I DO give money to charity, but I could definitely give more and could include charities like the ones both of you mentioned. I think I shop as a replacement because I can’t have what I really want, too, Terra. What I want is to be healthy, confident, happy, and fulfilled, but I am sick, insecure, and feel “stuck” and unfulfilled. I don’t know how to fix the broken parts of me, but I DO know how to shop. Shopping is easy when compared to the other stuff that I just cannot seem to fix no matter how much I try. But I am NOT giving up! I still believe there is hope to turn things around.

  22. Hi debbie, just a thought, but maybe you should set a goal to save money for a home purchase,such as a new piece of furniture, or other items you could use. Open an online savings acct and deposit monthly savings into account. Saving for a goal is sometimes easier and may give you the motivation to think twice about buying a piece of clothing

    • I agree that saving for a goal can be helpful, Sherri. I’m not sure what I could save for because there really isn’t much that I want (or allow myself to want, maybe…). I’m sure I could come up with something, though, if I thought more deeply about it. The comments here are giving me a lot to think about.

  23. You guys will be so proud… I’m in the middle of a closet purge right now! Pulling out lots of stuff I just haven’t worn in the last year! No more excuses about “oh I’m sure I’ll wear this soon!”

    If I could post a photo I would! You guys are so inspiring!

    • I AM proud of you, Chelsea! Please send the photo via to debbie at recoveringshopaholic dot com and I will post it for others to see. Doesn’t it feel good to let go of things? I always feel better when I shed the clothes I haven’t been wearing. It can be scary to do so, but I know I always feel relieved – and lighter – in the end!

  24. I often stop by and read your blog, not sure why as I can’t stand shopping myself so I can’t relate to much of what you are saying but you seem like such a nice person that I come back to see how you are doing. I wish you the best.

    I sometimes wonder if taking up sewing would help you because it would give you a hobby and solve your pants problems. Also, you could do what so many people who sew do, buy commercial patterns you’ll never sew or wear. You can organize them, count them, reorganize them, analyze why you bought them, add them to spreadsheets to track and call unused patterns benchwarmers to your heart’s content at sometimes less than $2.00 a pop. If you never cut them, you can resell them on ebay too.

    Plus, the few that you will actually sew will take up some time otherwise spent shopping. If you can’t sew now, you could join a class and meet some potential friends. Plus, you could save on alterations by doing your own.

    Just a thought. All the best.

    • Thanks for your comment, Lisa. I like that some people read my blog even though they don’t have issues with overshopping. I have considered taking up sewing, but I live in a small apartment and am not sure I would have room for a sewing machine and all of the paraphernalia. However, I could see how it could be a way to channel my love of shopping and clothes into something more positive, as well as a way to meet people. I’m definitely going to keep it in mind!

  25. Dear Debbie,
    I just want to compliment you on your courage in making the journey to recovery. I also want to thank your many friends who have posted so many thoughtful responses. These last two blogs have been just incredible in their insightfulness.
    I just read for the first time your post and the comments about why you/we over shop. Wow.
    I look forward to hearing more about your progress both physically and emotionally. I do wish you the best in both these things. Without having gone back to reading the why, I would not have understood your last two posts as well.
    Again, my congratulations on your progress and on your top drawer blog.
    Best regards,

    • I really appreciate your kind words, Kirsten! I’m glad you liked my two recent posts, as well as my previous one on why I/we overshop. I know I need to give an update on how I’m doing with my “full life project.” I have hesitated to write about that, as I feel I haven’t made much progress. But whenever I share my struggles, it seems others can always relate and a great discussion arises.

  26. Thank you for all of your openness and honesty here, Debbie. I think it is really helping a lot of us think through some things!

    Have you ever looked into mindfulness meditation? It sounds intimidating but it ultimately is quite approachable and I think it could be helpful to you. The changes are not obvious at first but over time you may find that you have a greater sense of peace and acceptance. There is a program specifically designed for people with chronic illness, called Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction. I am sure that somebody where you live offers the course – maybe UCSD. It has a good evidence base and has been demonstrated to help people with dealing with chronic illness and chronic pain. Another very approachable way to start meditating is with an app! There is a great online/app based program called Headspace. It is a very approachable program and it starts with guided five minute meditations.

    As somebody who struggles with chronic illness, I can attest to the power of a mindfulness practice. It has really helped me reduce how much I ‘fight’ with myself and my disease and the other aspects of my life that frustrate me. It helps you step out of the cycle of ‘doing’ and trying to fix things, and helps you learn how to ‘be,’ which seems to engender a lot more peace.

    One more thing, meditation is not physically demanding – there’s no requirement to sit in some uncomfortable pose. You can lie down, sit in a comfortable chair, etc.

    Wishing you all the best!

    • My good friend is a mindfulness therapist… If you are a smartphone user, the Headspace app is an easy start! I find meditation is an excellent way to getting closer to addressing the unmet spiritual needs Dr. Benson talks about…

    • I will second mindfulness meditation. And it doesn’t have to be done sitting. I love the MBSR program walking meditation and yoga meditation. I have chronic pain and have found mindfulness to be the soothing and relaxing.

    • I haven’t done much with meditation, but I have had it recommended to me multiple times. I think the Universe is trying to give me a message and I keep turning my back on it! Since several of you have indicated that mindfulness meditation helps with chronic illness/pain, I think it’s finally time for me to give it more of a go. I think starting with the Headspace app would work well for me. I also like the idea of walking meditation since I enjoy going on walks. Good point about the unmet needs Dr. Benson writes about, FrugalFashionista. Time to turn back to her book, t0o… Thanks to all of you for your suggestions/comments.

  27. Hmm I’m sort of on the fence here. I don’t have the hard and fast rules about how much I can buy. But I do have a hard and fast rule of one in one out. For example I have just bought some lovely bamboo knickers, I decided to clear out my underwear drawer and got rid of far more than 4 pairs of knickers. On the other hand I bought a bamboo dress at the weekend and I have had to make myself get rid of another dress. As it happens I got rid of a cheap, albeit longwearing, dress that was past its best and I don’t miss it.

    I think, certainly for me, the key is to keep cutting down the wardrobe, I do it almost on a weekly basis, even if it is just one scarf or one shirt, I cull at least one item a week. In addition I can only purchase a new (or second hand) item if I am prepared to let go of a comparable item in my wardrobe.

    That way if I see a drop dead gorgeous dress that looks good on me and I can afford and I know I will wear I can only buy it if there is “space” in my wardrobe – ie there is something I am prepared to let go of OVER AND ABOVE the weekly cull.

    In my case I have discovered the kind of clothes I like and want to wear and they were not necessarily the ones in my wardrobe. The cull was hard at first, but gradually as I have bought new items and lost old ones my wardrobe is starting to be more coherent and cohesive.

    • Hi Gillie, I am always thankful for the reminder for X in, Y out, because it’s such a good way to “pay” for your purchases and be mindful that you have to decide whether something is within budget, necessary, AND special enough to displace something else that you may like very well. I’m currently struggling with how to continue to pare down my wardrobe. I’m at a place where the remaining things work pretty well for me, but there’s still too much of it (even if a lot less than when I started). I did a one-in, ten-out rule for about 9 months when my inventory was terribly high, and it worked. Perhaps I will get everything together, count it up, and then “purchase” the ideal number of items (I think 150) with the items I’m on the fence about. Then I could go to a one-in, one-out rule for any new purchases to stay at that level.

      I will offer that I didn’t and don’t necessarily do like-for-like. In-for-out gives me an opportunity to acknowledge wardrobe evolution. For example, I discovered during Project 333 that I really enjoy wearing skirts and dresses, because they are often more comfortable and flattering for a curvy petite person than trousers. So I might buy a new skirt, but get rid of a pair of trousers. Likewise, I recently discovered an overabundance of scarves for the two necks in our household, but nearly all of my basic tshirts are worn out or have been donated, so perhaps a tee for a scarf is a better swap for my needs than a tee for a tee.

    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts on culling and one-in, one-out, Gillie and Rebecca. I am in a very similar place to you, Rebecca. It was very easy for me to cull previously, but it’s gotten more difficult as of late. I’m still not sure of my ideal wardrobe size, but I know it’s smaller than what I have today. I still try to do at least one-in, one-out, but not right away and not necessarily like for like. I think that eventually I will do that, but I’m still figuring out what works best for me.

  28. I never played ‘creative math’ with my wardrobe. If I bought it, I owned up to it. If I spent too much or realized I had purchased on a ridiculous whim, I took it back. If it was really worth it I kept it. Sometimes whimsical purchases do prove to be worth it. I believe in the concept of right place/right time. However, I don’t purchase with the level of reckless abandon anymore that I once did. Now, I usually know what I am going to purchase before I ever get to the store because I have examined it online and figured out how most efficiently to procure it. If I can get it in store, I prefer that.

    • That’s great that you never did creative math, Deby. I agree that whimsical purchases sometimes prove to be worthwhile. How wonderful that your purchases these days are usually planned. I prefer to buy things in a store, too, as the colors and fits in web photos don’t always match up to how things look in real life. Like you, I often view things online and then go to the store if at all possible. I’m still trying to find a grey skirt to replace the one I ruined in an alterations casualty last year. Who would have thought it would be SO hard to do?!

      • I guess I never played creative math because I’ve never shared my money with anyone. I was brought up in a family where my parents both worked full time and kept strictly separate bank accounts and property. When my father died in 2011, my parents had no communal property–not even their house or cars–everything was separate. I also married a man who believed in separate property and I was expected to work full time. He couldn’t care less what I bought as long as I could pay for it myself. So I never felt guilty, or thought that I had to hide my purchases.

  29. Just recently discovered your site and really want to commend you on your progress and honesty. It is motivating me to start to get serious about addressing the shopping issue in my life. I’ve been working at it sort of around the edges for a while, with many slip-ups. Right now I am confronting one of the questions I see raised here, which is, if I can’t count on shopping as my ‘go-to’ what am going to do to replace it? (You surely see the emptiness and maybe I should read the Benson book.) At one time, I was overweight and food was my friend. Then I made it an ‘enemy’ of sorts and no longer can I turn to it in time of need. But shopping remained another go-to activity, so I could turn to it. If I fix my shopping issues, where will I go next. At some level, I have not yet gotten to and solved the underlying issues – I’ve just been treating the symptoms.

    • Welcome, Joanna, and thanks for your comment. We have a similar history in that I used to have an eating disorder for many years. I also had a shopping problem at the same time, but when I progressed in my recovery from the food issues, my overshopping intensified. When we don’t address our underlying needs for compulsive behavior, symptom substitution often occurs. At this point, I have a lot of awareness of WHY I’ve had eating and shopping issues, but haven’t found suitable and constructive replacements as of yet. I highly recommend “To Buy or Not to Buy” and will be writing more about the exercises in that book very soon…

  30. Hi Debbie, I’ve been reading all your archives with much interest, although this is my first comment. (I figured I’d save them for the more current posts.) First of all, although I don’t think my shopping behavior has ever been extreme, I do see a lot of great points you’ve made apply to me, especially consignment and emotional shopping, so I’ll be coming back in the future! I’ve been reducing all of my possessions, including clothing, for about two years and I’m down to about 1/3 of what it was previously. I include all my socks, shoes, underwear and workout gear in my wardrobe number, and I’m down to about 165 (about 100 without these additional categories). Now I’m focusing on filling in any gaps with high quality ethically made clothing (it’s hard!).
    I wanted to chime in with a suggestion for your budget-burning-a-hole in your pocket quandary. What if you opened up a savings account earmarked for something very special, like travel or a new hobby that you’re picking up, and if you are under budget on your clothing expenses, put the the extra in there? That way it becomes a reward instead of feeling like you’ve missed out. I’ve used this method to help me save more (as well as automatic transfers), and I’ve found that once it’s in the savings account, it’s pretty exciting to see the number climbing, and I almost don’t even want to spend it! I use an online bank (Capital One 360 – used to be ING) and it makes it SO easy to open up as many savings accounts as you want, each one with a nickname so you know what it’s for. This way I have my money actually separated for various things, like vacation, unexpected health care expenses, and car repairs, rather than just on paper. It makes it easier to track. Although I am a huge fan of spreadsheets as well.

    • Welcome, Sarah, and thanks for your comment. Congrats on all of the wonderful progress you’ve made on paring down your possessions, including your wardrobe. I’ve pared down in other areas, too (in fact, the clothes are one of the last areas I’ve downsized), and have found the process quite liberating. Thanks for your suggestion regarding my clothing budget. Currently, if I’m under budget, I just carry the money over to the next month. I’ve been getting better at not spending it all. My husband and I have other budgets for things like travel and other types of expenses, but I like your idea of the online banking accounts. I’m going to look into that!

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