A Month Without Shopping 

Or How I Learned to Start Worrying and Hate Credit Cards

People have long accused me of being a “shop-a-holic,” and I won’t deny it. In New York, being addicted to shopping seems as common as being addicted to TV or caffeine. Then, suddenly, you’re up watching nightly news specials entitled “Addicted to Shopping” (“She Couldn’t Stop!”) and thinking, “Me… Me… Also me. Yikes.” So I decided to cut shopping out of my diet entirely, cold turkey, for a month. I’ll admit I embarked on the experiment out of curiosity and desperation: My American Express bill looked like death. Surprisingly, the fact that my personal credit hung in the balance didn’t make the fast any easier to complete.

— Days 1-2 —
This is going to be so cake. My sister and most of my friends seem skeptical. Invariably, declaring my intentions is met with a mixture of disbelief and sweetened scorn. It really is the same way you feel when you tell your friends you’re going on a diet and the eyes around the table say, “Oh, fuck you.” But, then, women are crazy that way.

— Day 3 —
Does anybody appreciate how long a month actually is? It’s one-twelfth of a year. Of a year. Dude.

— Day 5 —
On the route from my apartment to the subway to my job, there are six places I’d like to shop. Six. I counted.

— Day 10 —
I keep thinking about the time I gave up sugar for Lent. For the first week, I was shaking by 4pm, but by Week Two, I was over it, yet still left with this vague feeling of being unsatisfied and cranky. Buying something new to wear — even a T-shirt — is a kind of reward and a salve, a way to bolster emotion or soften stressful periods. For me, it’s clear that browsing the racks is like a meditation, a way to restore order, the way knitting or picking apart the sections of the Sunday Times might.

— Day 14 —
I stepped into the firing range today for the first time in two weeks to review a store off University Place, and immediately fell into a pattern of picking out what I’d buy. (Frankly, this whole process would be much easier if I didn’t research style for a living.) While perusing the store’s selections, I found a dress. Not any dress — the Vena Cava dress I wanted to wear to a charity ball I was going to in three weeks. I divulged my experiment to the girls running the shop, who were fascinated, as are most people I tell, and had lots of questions: “Have you developed any weird spending habits or vices to compensate?” Actually, no. “Has it been really hard?” Yes. Half out of curiosity and half out of pity, they agreed to keep an eye on the dress for me until I could buy it.

— Day 15 —
This Vena Cava dress is becoming like a reward for finishing the month, which doesn’t seem like a healthy solution. Am I really learning not to shop if all I’ve done is set aside the things I want to buy the second it’s over?
— Day 17 —
I really thought I was doing well in terms of getting over my impulse shopping until I forgot to bring a belt today for this dress I was planning change into after work. My first instinct was, “I’ll just run over to Saks and…” and then dawning disappointment. Interestingly, two people I confided in that day had the exact same reaction: “Why don’t you just run over to Saks?” I’m surrounded.

— Day 20 —
I really haven’t been thinking about it. Really.

— Day 24 —

What’s really frustrating is that I haven’t been able to plan shopping dates with friends. It’s one of the few ways to spend a longer stretch with a friend than, say, a meal (without getting drunk, I guess). It’s too cold for an afternoon picnic and it’s too quiet in museums for much laughter. I’m going to have to come up with some new field trips.

— Day 26 —
I went to see a movie in Union Square, and stopped into the store to check in on the Vena Cava dress (pathetic!). It had been sold. I guess you can’t trust your fellow junkies.

— Day 27 —
I just got an e-mail about an Earnest Sewn sample sale. Does the universe hate me?

— Day 31 —
I don’t want to end this with some corndog what-I’ve-learned sum-up, because while I’ll think twice before making the same knee-jerk, impulse purchases I used to, I think I’m still as infatuated with fashion as ever. Perhaps it would take a year without shopping (and a book deal) to completely kick the habit, but my opinion is, “at least it’s not crack.” And I did find the Vena Cava dress online. And I bought it.

Honestly, what this experience has opened my eyes to is how easily a person can spiral into debt, and how our culture and credit system is basically sitting around waiting to give folks a push. According to CNN, the average household with at least one credit card is nearly $9,200 in debt, and in 2005 and 2006 the national savings rate was in the negative — meaning for the past two years, Americans, on average, have spent more than they even earned. Forgetting student loans, or getting into debt over something like a home or a car — many of the cases I read about that got me head-scratching seemed like mounting debt over lifestyle choices — better hotels, fancy restaurants, nights out… shopping. But in all my condemnation, I’d failed to truly see the hundreds of credit card offers I get

 Am I really learning not to shop if all I’ve done
 is set aside the things I  want to  buy the second it’s over?

every year or the fact that after less than one year, my one major credit card — American Express — saw fit to increase my line of credit threefold. I mean, threefold? After less than a year? Were they trying to get me to spend more than I had? Well, yes.

A culture compulsively in debt is a culture obsessed with both status and stuff, which have really become the lynchpins of American capitalism. I’d always joke that, by shopping, I was just doing my part to support the economy, but more and more, during my fast, I realized what a cog in the wheel of that system I really am, wisecracks notwithstanding.


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