Changes I’ve Noticed

So there’s been positive changes that I’ve been documenting so far – haven’t bought any clothing this year! haven’t spent money without being aware of my budget! haven’t bought from any of my other no-buy categories! – but I need to be realistic about “areas of improvement” that I’m noticing as I’ve gone past the 6-month mark of not buying any clothing (if we count from the soft start in November).

For one, I’m still on my phone more than I would like to be. In 2022, that’s a bit of a nebulous statement since we use our phones for so much, but I mean it in the sense that I’m not being intentional about my phone use. Watching youtube videos to clear out my “watch later” playlist, reading an e-book, or listening to a podcast while out for a walk or doing chores don’t fit into unintentional use – I’m setting out to do something and my phone happens to be a tool to complete part of the task. Where I end up losing track of time is generally through social media, particularly Instagram’s explore page – made worse by having both my personal and my Lady with Less account to scroll through. I want to highlight that I’m not saying I feel like I’m wasting time taking in content from fellow no-buy, mending, and outfit repeat accounts – you’re actually all so inspiring, just saying – but specifically the explore page is where I can lose more than an hour of my day (minimum). I know there are ways of having your screen-time limited within the app, but if I’m already in the middle of reading or watching something, I usually just hit “ignore” and go back to whatever content was on-screen.

Which leads in nicely to my next point: getting enough/better sleep. I already have a weird sleep schedule for working second shift and being on call during the night, and I’ve strongly identified with being a night owl for most of my life (I was maybe 8 the first time I stayed up until midnight outside of New Year’s Eve to satiate my curiosity of what happens when the alarm clock goes from 11:59 pm to 12 am on a normal day). Some nights, I’m falling asleep by the time midnight rolls around, but there are others where 2 am comes and goes and then I’m fighting against the melodious squawking of the early birds greeting a new day. If I’m able to follow my routine to a T, particularly that I fit in some time to read before bed, rather than scrolling, my sleep is significantly better. Pardon the tangent, but I want to point out a win: this time last year, my endless scrolling wouldn’t have been nearly as aimless and at the whim of the algorithm, but I was instead surprised by the sudden light of the rising sun after losing 2-3 hours to going through every page of the stores I spent the most money on. So, while there’s growth in that I’m no longer midnight shopping, stores would run out of content eventually, while the explore page does not.

Finally, sugar. My skin gets worse, my body hurts more, and I don’t feel great (overall) when I backslide into snack-y comfort food for meals on end as opposed to something more balanced. I didn’t study nutrition in university, but I know my body well enough at this point to recognise what my patterns are – and what reactions correlate to my actions. I generally don’t buy anything sugary of my own (I am a Montrealer, so I will always have at least some maple syrup at home), but my workplace has a generous snack supply that we can take from as we please. If I’m not getting enough sleep over a few days and things are quiet at work, I’ll grab something to munch on, since the kitchen is right by my desk. It’s almost like no one part of my life exists in a vacuum and everything is connected (pardon the sarcasm).

For me, it’s reached a point where saying, “I need to be more intentional about XYZ” has almost lost its meaning since I’m going through things too quickly (real talk, I haven’t used my planner in three weeks and have instead relied on daily post-its around my monitor screen). I need to give myself that time and work through what’s working and what isn’t, and make small adjustments rather than sweeping statements about massive change. I also realise that the focus of this blog is about the no buy, but I feel as though the no buy touches so many areas of my life that there’s grounds to bring up other areas that I want to work on as well.

To close with another win, in all of my endless scrolling, I’ve still been seeing ads for the clothing stores I like. I don’t have them blocked for the sake of knowing I can see them without losing the plot, and the unexpected benefit has been that I’ve seen spring/summer items over the last two months, and I feel nothing. It all is just the same florals and pastels that I have something similar to in my closet, and the cuts of the sleeves and skirt lengths on the dresses are the same, too. So, if nothing else, this check in coinciding with switching in my spring/summer clothing has highlighted how little I need more clothing.

April Empties & Bye-Bye Bin

It’s been a bit since I last had a look at my empties and I’ve been making some progress in using up my stuff. I realise I hadn’t included an update here for March, so you get a two-fer this month:

All the empty tea pouches are from topping up the tins I have, while the empty tin is from finishing off a tea entirely (pardon the extra text on the first picture, I had to pull it from my instagram stories – this is a one-person blogging team). For the soaps, I finished the last of my bar soap that I used for travelling last month, the lip balm was finished a few days ago after fighting to get the last of it out from the bottom of the tube – and the liquid soap was emptied within around a month (which I include to answer my own question from my last post).

For the bye-bye bin, there’s not as much this month (only 3 items), though I suspect that number will be much higher as I swap in my spring/summer stuff and set aside the long-sleeved and bulkier items.

The French phrases book has been sitting on my reference shelf for about 3 years, and I’ve never once used it as a reference for students in tutoring – I’d either explain the answer to their question, or the student would look it up. The yellow tin is ready to find a new home, as I know if I have more tins, I’ll find a reason to fill it with yet another tea (also, I’m back to an even number of tins, so there’s that too). The dress acting as the background to the flat lay was an impulse purchase last year from an online thrift store that just doesn’t fit right.

While there’s still nothing on my wishlist, I do want to bring it up for the sake of sharing a change in how I’m thinking: there isn’t anything yet on the list since I genuinely don’t need anything, so I’m going to treat it more like a restock “limbo,” where I keep an eye on the stuff I’ve emptied and see whether I actually need more. There aren’t any categories that I’ve emptied out entirely yet, so it will likely be a few months before I have anything to add to the list.

Later this week, I will be looking over my April goals, though for the next few weeks (to May 19th or so), I’ll be aiming for one post a week while I’m leading a budgeting and financial literacy course with students in a local school. Thanks for reading!

Psychology and Shopping: Ideal & Real Self

Figuring out who you are is a big question, and inherently relies on comparing yourself to other versions of yourself or to others. Your answers to that question may have some elements that are fixed while others change over the course of your lifetime. A common exercise in social psychology/sociology classes is to answer the question “Who am I?” 20 times over. How you choose to answer this is going to be a mix of what comes to mind first, what you value most, maybe some insecurities you have (“bad at math” was common amongst the social science students in class), and some demographic information when you start to run out of ideas.

Another thing to consider when thinking about who you are is how close you are to being who you want to be. There’s a lot to unpack from that as well, so I’ll keep it simple by working with “real” and “ideal” self. “Real” is, simply enough, who you are right now, for better or for worse. This is who you see yourself as, and can be a combination of your perception and what others give you as feedback of who you are. “Ideal” is who you are striving to be, whether within realistic reach or beyond what you could ever do. I don’t mean that in a defeatist way, there are limitations to what we can do – or what we care to do, just as much as we all have our strengths and passions. I like to learn through visuals, so we’ll compare how low and high overlap of “real” and “ideal” self can play out.

In our first Venn diagram, there’s not much overlap between “ideal” and “real.” We aren’t going to make any other assumptions about this sense of self – my blog posts are long enough on average, so we’re not going to try to unpack level of happiness, feelings of self-worth, sense of success, or anything else, we’re sticking to just what’s in the circles. So, there’s minimal overlap between “real” and “ideal,” which means that, to this person, there’s a lot of catching up to do for them to be their ideal self. What can influence this is the types of messages they’re exposed to and whether they choose to internalize these messages as faults/failures they need to change.

For example, you likely don’t internalize the types of messages we see in pop-up ads or spam mail (the “dermatologists hate her!” type), but you may be more inclined to consider listening to or heeding the advice of someone whose opinion you value – even if you weren’t aware of the “issue” in the first place. The more and more things or abilities that get added to the ideal pile that you don’t already possess, the further gap – or more minimal the overlap – will be between “ideal” and “real.”

The second Venn diagram has much more overlap. Who this person wants to be and who they are is mostly consistent. This could be someone who manages the number of messages they choose to internalize, someone who is able to fulfill their goals/enact their values, or someone who may see the value in their faults and how it makes them human which in turn is included in their “ideal” view of themselves.

You can reasonably expect that the gap and overlap will change throughout your life. There can be parts of yourself that you’ll (almost always) value, and other parts that used to be “ideal” but either no longer fit your lifestyle, or your goals and responsibilities have changed. How this can be a factor in shopping habits is whether the aspirations you have can be fulfilled through shopping/physical items. If you feel the need to follow specific trends or fads to feel like you belong with a specific crowd, there are likely items or fashion staples that you would need to purchase to “keep up” with everyone else. This can be related to hobbies as well (a topic I’m coming back to later this month), where to get into certain hobbies and the lifestyle that surrounds it can lead to a lot of money being spent for the sake of getting “in.” Granted, you would absolutely need to buy a kayak to get into kayaking, but for other hobbies like table top gaming or crafting, my experience has been that there’s an undercurrent of gatekeeping if you don’t own a bunch of stuff or specific brands related to the hobby.

For a personal example, when I got hired after university, I felt like I needed to overhaul my entire wardrobe for it to be work appropriate (despite having pieces that would have been fine to wear at work), which resulted in a shopping spree in preparation for entering “the real world.” I internalized that I needed to look a certain way for work, spend a chunk of money to emulate that look, and four years later, own only a handful of those pieces. On the other hand, I was in the later years of high school (16 years old) when Silly Bandz were a thing, and I saw no value in purchasing any despite most people I knew having at least some and otherwise being the type to like the idea of having a complete collection. The “need” for these items were not internalized at all, and I largely forgot about them short of watching a YouTube video about 2010s trends and fads.

It’s been a long while since I’ve last done my 20 “who am I” questions, though I’d wager that what my focuses are now are less geared toward fitting into specific groups – especially through status symbols – and more about liking who I am and what I bring to the table.

April Goals

With the first quarter done and the sun’s warmth returning (kinda), I feel as though I’ve gotten a seasonal boost of motivation and I’m ready to get back into what I was working on before March’s hiatus.

Clothing:

The average temperature through to the end of the month is supposed to be around 12C, so I don’t think I’ll be pulling my sun dresses out just yet. With this being the last month before I do the seasonal swap out, I’ll mirror my February challenge of finding things I’ve not worn yet – but with a focus on unflipped hangers, rather than remixing combinations. It’s mainly tops and dresses that fall into this category, which shouldn’t be too difficult to pair with the rotation I have for trousers and skits for work. What I’ve done so far is separate the unworn from the worn items and placed them at the middle of my closet so they’re easier to see – and with the 20 or so items, I should be able to wear each one at least once by the end of the month, especially if I plan what to wear either the night before or at the beginning of the week.

Books:

I’m going back to picking my own books now that I’ve finished reading the last of my library loans (digital and physical). I’m going to read at least two art history books, one about Friday Kahlo and the other about Marc Chagall. I know a bit about both, and I’ve seen Chagall’s works in person, so I think it would be easier for me to get invested in their stories. The books are also visually pleasing and roughly 110 pages each, so it should be easy enough to get into.

Using What I’ve Got:

With the prospect of travel back on the docket, I’ll focus more finishing up my bottled body care products that wouldn’t be allowed through security – as opposed to alternating between bottle and bar soap. For planner stickers, I will finish working on doing a memory spread in my planner of my two weeks away in March, especially since I have pages of stickers dedicated to travel, dinners, and other fun plans. I haven’t got anything specific in mind for yarn, nor for writing and stationery supplies, but I’m keeping an open mind if something crosses my path.

For Fun Money:

I want to be more intentional about treating myself for my efforts or if I feel like it, especially with there being a handful of new places to eat having popped up in town in time for spring. If the weather is nice and I just so happen to walk by the mom & pop smoothie shop, then why not support the local economy? But on a more earnest note, having felt guilty and hesitant about spending the for fun money while traveling because I forgot about it isn’t a feeling I want to carry forward. I need to get in the habit of being aware that this line in my budget exists and shouldn’t only be spent at the end of the year because I held out for 11 months. I don’t so much have a negative relationship with money (I’m quite fond of spending it, actually), but I don’t want to develop any miserly habits and miss out on little blips of fun for food and experiences in between the bigger stuff.

Later this week I’m dropping a spicy opinion storage bins, and then on Monday, I’ll be back at another instalment of psychology and shopping. Thanks for reading!

Storage Bins are my Enemy

I know these are fighting words in the organization and decluttering communities, but this is strictly about my own beef with how storage bins are *too* good at their jobs.

I get clutter-blindness rather quickly, which means that it’s easy for me to forget for days on end to put away my bag of bags and wallet after going grocery shopping (or months, if we’re talking about the one paperclip that is just out of reach under my desk when I sweep the floor). I also find it hard to remember what all I have unless I can see it – which has even happened with clothing, where, once, my closet was so jam packed that I forgot entirely about 10+ items and was pleasantly surprised to refind them (and then reckoned with why I have so many navy blue tops that they all blend into each other). Which is where storage bins come in.

For my style of organizing, things that are not regularly in use will be tucked away in drawers, under my bed in zipper-top containers, or within one of many compartments in my arts supply half-wall unit. For everything else, I keep a fairly open-concept style: my closet doors are open so I can see the hanging clothing and my shoes; my earrings hang from a ribbon on the wall (barring those which came in a box, which, unsurprisingly, aren’t worn as often); my body products are on a small shelving unit in my washroom instead of under the sink; and I took off my pantry/cupboard doors so I could see everything (my kitchen is tiny and I would bonk my head a lot reaching for spices, so that’s a 50/50 on my motivation to do so). Think of the way that a bookcase is curated and organized, and that’s what I strive for throughout my apartment as a whole.

Where my cattle ranch’s worth of beef comes in is that at least a small part of my continued shopping habits from 2018-2020 were fuelled by not knowing just how much I had because it was all in storage bins. Dresses and tops that easily get shoulder dents from narrow hangers? Storage bin. Easy gift items for the holidays? Storage bin. $400 of yarn, all rolled up but not in use? Storage bin (that I could barely close). Fountain pen refills? Ziploc bag, in a pencil case, in a storage bin. I have no idea how many candles/ornaments/mugs/treat kits I have, so what would I do while I was out and about? Buy more, just in case. Nothing sounds as backwards as “Well, this bath gift kit is a backup in case there’s someone I forget, even though I’m buying it on Boxing Day for the following year,” but that was the logic I used (for the record, the kit in question is verging on claiming squatter’s rights for how long it’s been living in my closet).

Not to get off track or try to be too deep about storage, but I wonder if I would even need the bins for seasonal clothing if I had enough room in my closets and drawers for all of it? The top two shelves of my washroom shelf unit would be empty were it not for my 45 or so total backup body products, and even if I bought new when I reach the last 15% of a product, I could store them under my sink for the 4-5 remaining uses. Maybe I wouldn’t get rid of the half-wall unit that doubles as a standing desk since it houses infrequent-use stuff like tools and winter hats and scarves, but could I condense my infrequent-use items all into one place? Sounds like something to reflect on and maybe turn into a month-long project for May.

To clarify, I don’t have my heart set on a spartan, minimalist monochrome apartment with zero storage space. I just need to operate within my Goldilocks Zone of open storage for frequent-use items as opposed to using the wrong type of storage for my stuff. Or, you know, have slightly fewer total items in my dwelling to begin with.

Travelling on a No Buy

This post is both to look at how I did with my March goals and to reflect on travelling within the parameters of my No Buy Year.

Goals Reflection:

Packing:

I ended up going with a backpack and a purse, which meant that I was able to fit in the estimated three days’ worth of clothing into my bag. Granted, I didn’t count the day of clothing for travel (I wore the same thing on each flight), but I needed the layers for some of my excursions anyhow. I was able to do laundry often enough that it wasn’t a problem, and it was still cool or rainy out that I would have been seen in a jacket and black leggings no matter what tops I was wearing. Getting through checking in and airport security, by the way, was an absolute breeze, so I’d be inclined to do this again for short trips.

Stuff versus Experiences:

The only “things” I bought were postcards, but I bought fewer this time around since I brought my gratitude journal with me (which I used to list my daily highlights instead of the postcards). Though I’d been in some stores throughout the trip (where else would I get classically tacky postcards?), I had very little inclination to browse for location-name shirts or books – especially when I thought about how many layers of shirt I’d have to wear on the flight home to fit it all into my backpack. I’m not entirely sure if I would have done the trip all that differently were I not on a No Buy, since much of it was spent on day trips and walkable outings, but it made it easier to not have half a day lost to the vortex of circling a store display to hunt for bargains. I also was able to pace myself a bit better throughout the trip, since I wasn’t trying to constantly do mental math to figure out how long we had left before the gift shop or other stores would close.

Staying on Budget:

I do my my monthly budget by pen and paper in my planner (which I didn’t bring with me), and I didn’t think to take a photo of it before leaving. Though that may sound like I’m gearing up for something negative, things actually turned out well. I ran through the numbers before setting out to write this, and the only section I was over budget on was for postcards, by $0.26 – everything else either fit into what I’d allotted to spend, or was added to my “for fun(d).” I did make sure that what I was setting out to do had a reasonable cost in the first place (museum entrance fee for $15CAD versus almost $70CAD for a suspension bridge crossing), and to not be swept up by promotions like, “buy 12 postcards for $5” when I only wanted 3 (which came out to around $2.50, but I’m fine without the other 9 postcards). I also was travelling during the off-season, which meant that there weren’t too many lines or a sense of urgency while going from place to place, which in turn meant that I could take my time to make more intentional decisions.

For the sake of not worrying about trying to account for preferred currencies of every reader, I figured I’d use percentages to make it easier to see how I did with my budgeting:

On maybe a less positive note, I noticed it was really easy for me to slip into the same treat-yo-self/guilt cycle for buying take-out/dine-in meals. One major factor was that I had lowkey forgotten that I had the $75 “for fun” money set aside, so each time I bought food while out on my own, I went for the cheapest options instead of what I necessarily wanted. For example, one of the slower days had about an hour of deliberation of how far to walk versus how much to spend versus should I just get delivery, which was made worse by my increasing hunger. The majority of the food for the trip was either home meals or split bills/someone covering for the group in turns, so this at least didn’t eat away (… ha ha) at too much of my time – but it’s indeed something to keep in mind for my next trip, whether that’s looking at restaurants in advance or choosing the number of meals out versus at home.

Reading:

I finished my physical book in one day, and finished three e-books during the month. The audio book didn’t pan out, but I was completely enthralled by what I loaned as e-books, so I’d say that balances out.

About the No Buy & Travel:

To begin, doing a No Buy while staying with friends and family would look different than if I were in a hotel/accommodations without a fridge and space to cook. Everyone I stayed with or spent time with had some knowledge of what I was up to, and my goals were respected, which made it easier (and was validating). There were a few small instances of needing to say no (to the general “is there anything you need while we’re out/on the way back?”), but for the most part, discussions took place in advance to figure out what I could borrow/share while I was packing and planning.

My level of flexibility for planning what to see/do was influenced more by travelling in reduced-but-not-gone pandemic measures than the No Buy Year, since experiences are a category I hadn’t limited. I did, however, spend less time combing through any souvenir shop that caught my fancy – especially once I had a postcard per person on my list – which gave me more time to see and do things (and not have my hands or bag full while doing so). In trying to be more mindful of what and how I’m consuming, I’m also more hesitant to pick up things for others – mugs, magnets, shirts, etc. – if it wasn’t something specifically requested. I’m sure my friends and family who have young kids are silently relieved there isn’t a new toy or stuffed animal entering their home.

I don’t believe that it’s fair to compare international/non-family trips to essentially going home, so I won’t look at how I did versus my last bit of travel in 2020. I can, however, think about past trips to family versus this trip, and recognise that I didn’t even go into a mall (let alone browse small shops) on this trip, at all. I didn’t have the room in my luggage for stuff (intentionally), there’s nothing on my wish-list (still/yet), and I didn’t put myself within reach of temptation through staying busy otherwise. Or, to consider things in a positive light, I got to do what I set out to do: take a proper break from work, see my family, hang out with friends, eat delicious food, lose myself in 5 different museums, and be in nature. The memories made and the photos taken will outlast my interest in a t-shirt that might get worn twice a year, even if I got it on discount.

Skewed Numbers

How many times can you brush your teeth from one tube of toothpaste? Maybe you don’t know the exact number of brushings or days, but you could probably estimate the number of weeks or months before you need a new tube.

I have minimal concept of how long it takes for me to finish just about any product. Part of this has to do with having more than one on the go at the same time (think of having a lip balm in your purse versus in your washroom, as opposed to only having the one – and how much longer that would take you to finish it), or from sharing with others (I’m sure I’m not the only one to have used the same shampoo bottle as my mum while growing up). When I went away to university, I was surprised at how quickly I went through body wash and toothpaste on my own. I still don’t know how long it takes for me to complete a lip balm.

Sure, there’s the fact that different products will be different sizes and viscosity, so how quickly you hit pan or empty something will be influenced by that, too. Though I think were I struggle – and how this has influenced my excessive shopping – has to do with having taken a scarcity mindset when purchasing stuff which will eventually run out. Take the following sticker sheet, for example:

I use one sticker per day of physical activity, to track on a year-long calendar that I’ve made some amount of movement that day. I started with these last year, using some 200 of them, and continued on for this year since I’m using the same calendar format. I took this photo back in February, already concerned that I would need to find more stickers for the rest of the year. Actually, to be more honest and accurate, I was stressed that I would need to find more stickers for the rest of the year. This was my gut reaction to seeing that I had fewer than half left, despite there still being more than enough to get me through to June. Thankfully, my first thought wasn’t to purchase more, but to go through the sticker booklets that I thought might have equivalent/similar ones that could be used. I did happen to find more than enough of roughly the same size, so the stress is no longer there – but it’s also something I don’t want to carry as stress in the future.

While it’s certainly an ongoing learning process, my skewed perception of how long something will last has definitely influenced how I’ve shopped in the past. Even in a climate that has all four seasons, the amount of clothing I have is far more than I need, as evidenced by the fact that I barely have enough space to store all of it – let alone enough days in the season to wear it all. I also have bought five of something (candles, crochet hook sets, art history books) thinking that I will need more immediately if I like something even just a little bit. Even with library books, I’ll take out the first two of the series in case I like it enough to want to continue reading immediately.

None of those items are necessities (well, clothing for the sake of being adequately dressed is), but the combination of lacking delayed gratification, bargain hunting, and being a bit of a collector, I generally end up with more than I could need within any definition of “reasonable amounts.” I’ve found that things I’ve already been doing this year – being more intentional, having an inventory of my stuff, keeping track of empties, not buying anything new until I’m all out – has helped with re-calibrating my perception of “enough,” even if the learned response is still “uh, oh, need more!” when I reach the halfway point of something.

I’d be very curious to see where my head’s at when it comes to reaching the last of a category (say, liquid body wash, though I still have 10+ bars of soap), and whether I deem an arguable “necessity” to be worth refilling. For the record, body wash absolutely is, though I’m thinking about hair masks as optional. Once I get to that point, I’ll be sure to offer an update.

Shopping Habits Part 3: Forging an Identity

Here are parts 1 and 2 if you need a refresher before jumping back in.

If you take a look at your wardrobe as is, I’m sure there are a handful of things that you could infer about yourself: the colours you prefer (or prefer to dress in), the climate you live in, maybe how tall you are, how much money you’re willing to spend on clothing (or appear to be willing), maybe your job/the field you’re in, and what aesthetics you’re drawn to. I use “infer” since it’s not likely that you have a plain t-shirt that lists everything about you in neat bullet points, but instead we can make generalizations about who else wears similar (or the same) garments and has the same style as you.

With this in mind, I’m going to talk about how much I relied and still rely on clothing for my self-expression. By around age 12, I moved from only shopping with my mum to mostly shopping with friends as a group outing. Friends who lived closer to the suburban mall a metro ride away introduced me to new boutiques that were heavily marketed and engineered to draw in young teen crowds. Too afraid to split away from friends – both for safety and social repercussions – I spent many afternoon hours circling displays of graphic tees and neon skinny jeans that I absolutely didn’t need but still purchased. We were all self-proclaimed bargain hunters, but that point was negated by how frequently we shopped. As I’ve mentioned before, I had a uniform from grade 7-11, so much of what I wore was weekend cozies or Bat Mitzvah/Sweet 16 garb, with a few select outfits that fell in between. Though I never was outright copying my friends (unless ironically for Twin Day), there was still a lot of overlap between how I dressed and what they wore.

CEGEP was a bit all over the place for specific looks – I think one week I wore a burgundy duster with a tight black v-neck and galaxy print leggings, and the next day I was in a purple and black bodycon dress with a blazer and heels (and I wasn’t even giving a presentation in class). The pieces were inexpensive and easy to swap out with a basic/neutral tone top, so I had fun with intentionally looking like Cher Horowitz’s closet directory had a mind of its own. There was definitely no one here who dressed like me (or at least to this extent of zany), and I had no problem with that – especially after 5 years of a uniform. I was my own interpretation of what was on trend, I had a body that was easy to clothe, and friends that didn’t balk at my gauzy, neon, pink button-ups.

Skip ahead to university, and everything was purple. School events (especially athletics) would follow the “head to toe purple” dress code, and the more the better. My first year was the most extra for this, with me buying official and student-designed school merch, spending more on clothing and accessories than I did on textbooks. The campus as a whole would regularly wear purple on a daily basis, which we only really noticed when we left campus or the student village and encountered locals who dressed in more than just one colour. Things mellowed out by my fourth year, but I still own some 10 or so school shirts and sweaters.

For work, I knew what a Young Professional in Montreal looked like, so I stocked up on office-friendly attire before moving out of the province for work. I felt overdressed in my setting with most of my colleagues dressing more casually than I would, so I shopped some more to fit in (rather than wearing my perfectly fine and still professional clothing!!), because I already stood out enough with being youngest on staff, being bilingual, and being an out-of-towner in a relatively small community. Even after attending a fairly small university and seeing mostly the same people every day, this was the same experience, but zoomed in, which meant that feeling like I stood out was all the more visible (according to me, in my brain – no one said as much, but that’s anxiety for ya).

Where am I now with all of this? I dress as “fancy” as I want for work, regardless of how others are dressing. I’ll show up in a suit or a monochromatic look (my go-to looks for weekday work), but I’m picking my outfits according to what I feel that day (or what I have to do) rather than doing mental gymnastics of what could be counted as overdressed for the people I work with. Did I wear turtlenecks every day last week? Yes. Did I enjoy it? Also, yes – and that’s where I’m at now, not wasting time worrying about others’ response to what I wear, but seeing if it makes me happy.

You could argue that none of this matters, I just need to be clothed and respect the rough dress code at work and in other social settings. However, a key part of how I express myself – and how I feel! – has to do with how I’m dressed. If I’m in cozier clothing (pj-adjacent, if you will), I’m 100% less likely to work on Important Stuff TM and it will take me longer to go from task to task. If I’m struggling to put together a weekly summary email for a tutee’s parents, I throw a blazer on and can get back to work. The second example probably has more to do with taking a break and getting up from my seat than actually wearing the blazer – and having a few minutes to mull things over without the cursèd blinking cursor mocking me – but it works, so I keep doing it.

Overall, clothing is a key component of how I express myself. I like getting dressed up, I love themed events, and I have fun with putting together outfits and accessories. What others see about me first is how I’m dressed, which matters to me more along the lines of “this is precisely who I am,” and not at all a “what if they don’t like the way I’m dressed?” thing. How I dress will change throughout life – I don’t know that clothing from age 27 will last to age 72 – which is fine, so long as what I’m using, how I care for it, and what I do with it when I’m seemingly “done” with a piece is handled in a thought-out manner. There’s nothing inherently wrong with associating identity with clothing – who *hasn’t* heard “oh, this is so you!” while shopping with friends – I just need to be more mindful how much I’m bringing in.

Selected Luxuries

I like nice things. I’m sure you probably like nice things, too – whether experiences or physical items, there’s something out there that brings you happiness to have or experience. Nice things in moderation is the way to go, but I didn’t start with that mindset.

Going from being a student with a minimal budget to working full-time with minimal expenses (no student loans, no car, meal plan through work), I welcomed lifestyle creep into my life like a long-lost friend. Frequently travelling within and between provinces each month, attending symphony concerts like I wrote for the Arts & Culture spread in a newspaper, and shopping bargains like it was a part time job was my life from 2018 to early 2020. Granted, I didn’t go so all out that I bought luxury goods like designer bags, shoes, and clothing and wound up in massive debt, but I was definitely buying and doing more than the average person could expect to do in a sustainable way (neither for my bank account nor for the planet).

After slowing down significantly last year, I had a look at what I’d been spending my money on the most – and what mattered the most to me. As much as I love clothing, I have more than enough at this point and I don’t need more (not to mention that I’m still decluttering). Tea, planner stickers, and craft materials are still abundant in supply and there’s no need to purchase anything more for this year at all. What I miss most about my pre-2020 life (other than seeing family) was the solo adventures to museums, concerts, events, restaurants, and festivals within eastern Canada (namely Montréal, sometimes Toronto). Sure, I’d ask friends to tag along when our schedules lined up, but I’ve never had an issue with doing my own thing if I was excited enough about whatever the experience was. I also miss travel and getting to visit somewhere new or even playing tourist in my own city. Museums for me are like 3-Michelin Star restaurants for foodies – I’m willing to go somewhere with the museum as the focus and fill out the rest of my day/stay around it.

There’s a limit to what a person can do in their lifetime, and I’d rather have stories of experiences that leave me fulfilled, than items that fill up my home.

Once it’s safer to do so, travel and experiences are my selected luxuries. I’m willing to forgo following trends and buying new clothing if that means I can see a Degas in person, get a lodge seat for the ballet, or watch a hockey game in person (go Habs go!). The amount of money I’ve spent on tea in the last 5 years could have covered a trip to Reykjavik, Edinburgh, or Toulouse. The craft supplies bought in 2019 are the equivalent to the premium table seats at the charity ball I attend. I’ve also fully given up buying granola bars since they eat up too much of the grocery budget and don’t last me long enough in my two-month grocery rotation, which I mention for the sake of pointing out the smaller decisions I make, too – as not everything is gala-level for luxury to me. There’s a limit to what a person can do in their lifetime, and I’d rather have stories of experiences that leave me fulfilled, than items that fill up my home.

Personal finance is by definition personal, and my selected luxuries will not be the same as yours – even if on paper, we seem to be at the same stage of life and have other overlapping qualities. Our selected luxuries may not overlap at all if you have a family to take care of, and what you count as your luxury is time to yourself or the ability to pay off your mortgage sooner (does that even count? I don’t know, I still rent). What I would encourage you to think about is where you’re unwilling to compromise on standard of quality, freedom/ease of access, and what is non-negotiable versus things that cause you undue stress or you feel external pressure to keep up with (whether FOMO or something internalised/self-imposed). Basically, how you spend your time, effort, and money should add to your quality of life rather than cause you more stress. It will take time to figure it out, but I’d wager it’s worth it in the long run to see what matters most to you – and you can always adjust and shift as necessary – as what you’re doing is going to serve you. For example, I use a silk pillow case to protect my curly hair from frizzing – it serves me but might not do anything for you, and that’s okay.

A final point I’d like to make is that I feel having a specific or category of selected luxuries allows you to be a bit less restrictive while working toward a specific financial goal. Whether that’s a sinking fund/line in your budget for the category for one major event or smaller experiences throughout the year, you have planned for it and can get hyped about it coming up (which is half the fun for me) – or you’ll be less likely to overdo it and go all out when the event or item comes up, which in turn could throw off your budget/lead to unplanned debt. In essence, being intentional about what brings you happiness and intentionally planning for it is what I’m trying to do, and I invite you to do so, too 🙂

Soft Start

I’ve failed a lot in my personal goals throughout my life. I bite off more than I can chew, I dive in without enough planning, or I just don’t have enough information about what I’m getting myself into – all of which can lead to failure or false starts. In many cases, I’ve given up, shrugging off the sense of embarrassment by claiming that I wasn’t that “into it” whatever project or goal. Other times, I’ve left the goal aside for a length of time until I could devote more attention to it, without actually changing my approach the second time around. What usually leads to this repeated outcome is trying to make too big of a change and expecting perfection on the first go. I wasn’t reflecting (enough or period) on what wasn’t working – and would throw myself into the next thing to distract from the lack of immediate success.

I was aware of the idea of practice tests, tutorial levels in video games, and receiving training prior to beginning a new job, but my brain saw each of those as context-specific rather than something that can be applied beyond the singular situation. I also had the expectation of perfectly mastering whatever I was attempting to do in minimal time – which was partially fostered by the culture of my high-calibre schools and partially from the feedback I got from non-parent adults in my life about how brilliant I was at whatever I set out to do. I feel this is something other gifted-kid types can relate to (based on the volume of memes and tweets), and it’s an incredibly difficult mindset to break free from.

Now that we’re all sad and feeling a touch dreary, I want to point out that I’ve found something that does work (at least for me), so there’s hope. Other than planning and reflection, I’ve found that setting myself a mini-scale goal – fewer things to be changed and a shorter time scale – is not only more manageable, but it also allows me to explore different approaches if something doesn’t work before fully committing to it.

We’ll use my first attempt at doing a No Buy Year. In 2021, I was fresh off of looking at my spending from the year before, aghast that I’d been so frivolous with my money. I resolved to curb my spending and there were to be no purchases made other than food. Except, I needed a thick yoga mat for my knees, after a decade of ballet effectively turning my knees to dust. Well, and a new pair of running shoes since I’m taking my fitness more seriously. Let’s not forget the semester-long course I took, since my alma mater was offering it online. Oh, but wait – Le Chateau is having a closing sale, and I could really do with two more ball gowns, five suits, and a handful of work tops. This was all before March 2021, and after I’d gone from too restrictive to “this is justifiable, I guess,” more and more purchases were made until around July. I spent the next six months observing what triggered my spending, what I was spending the money on (… other than just the turtleneck shirts), and listening to podcasts and videos about what worked for others on their No/Low Buy. 50 hours or so later of content, I felt like I had a better idea of what could work, namely, having a set of rules (rather than full restriction), budgets for the allowed different categories, and figuring out what purpose this goal was serving.

For the latter half of October to December, I slowed my spending and shopping, left items on a wish-list for the holidays, and spent less time in stores. I had a few holiday gifts to purchase, but I wasn’t doing my usual “one for you, one for me” approach to shopping, which helped immensely. This also coincided with opening my first credit card, and the last thing I wanted to do was go all out and rack up a huge debt that I wouldn’t be able to pay off (or, as my dad put it “how many months of your entire paycheque would it take to pay off your total credit limit?”).

Trying this goal out twice in the same year – once without much structure, during a high-stress period, then later with research under my belt and a clearer idea of my “how” and “why” – highlighted the difference (for me) between a false start and a soft start. For the former, I went off the rails when the wiggle room for necessity burst open to include anything I could justify to myself, and then I quietly gave up. For the latter, I could already feel the sense of relief of not having to guess at what was left in my bank account on any given day, since I wasn’t spending money on just whatever, nor was I making unplanned purchases.

If you’re doing a Low/No Buy this year and this is your first ever go at it, I commend you. Regardless of real-life setbacks, things being over-budget from inflation, surprises/emergencies, if you’re still at it, that’s splendid. If you’ve taken a pause because now is not the right time for you, I think that’s an incredible choice for recognizing and respecting your needs over fulfilling a goal that you can return to whenever. Whether you’re on day 1, 55, or 365, your choice to try something out and stick with it (or pause) is equally valid.

Lastly, for anyone thinking of tying something new – No Buy or otherwise – I want to encourage you to start small. Even Costco lets you sample snacks before committing to a knee-high box of chicken tenders, so give it a go, one tender at a time (Editor’s note: I should have eaten before writing this).