You should really stop shopping! Part Five: Pain that feels good

As you know, I am not an outdoorsy kinda girl. I would have been better suited to playing four-hands piano with my sister in a Regency romance novel than just about any outdoor activity.

However. However…there are times when life has made it impossible for me to stay on my divan embroidering flowers into linens for my Hope Chest.

In order to wear out my scalawags so that they don’t tear our little 75m² (800 ft²) apartment to pieces (uhmm…too late!) I am oft required to spend endless hours in the woods playing Maid Marion to their Robin Hood and Friar Tuck. Or at the very least, do my best Marion Jones impression as I try to keep up with them while they zoom on their bikes through town performing stunts and cultivating narrow misses with garbage trucks and strollers alike.

There are times, for example, the next day, after a particularly intense swashbuckling session, when I feel it in my entire body. Every single muscle in my body aches. Whatever trees we were dragging around to build a fort, whatever gravity-defying feats I managed to perform in an effort to impress my unimpressionable children…they left my forty-three year old carcass in pain.

On the other hand, that pain serves as a little reminder: Hey! Your forty-four year old carcass did something yesterday! While I don’t love the ache, I do love the memory. I love the memory of feeling strong.

Feeling the feels

The hardest part of giving up shopping was the withdrawal. As I have said before, shopping wasn’t my only problem: I was also a coveter, meaning I was most attracted to things that other people had.

Temptation is literally everywhere for someone like me. It’s online advertising (which I hate but also have succumbed to in the past), it’s magazines, billboards. Oh, but that’s not all!

It’s another school mom’s batwing sweater (with rainbow colored chevrons that I swear I want to rip off her itty bitty little shoulders every time she wears it). It’s Lydie’s lacy socks. It’s my sister’s winter jacket. It’s Caroline’s black wrap dress. It’s Aline’s boots. Marion’s white dress. Iza’s signature red glasses.

To give up coveting meant I had to be willing to admit to myself every single time I had a thought about something that belonged to someone else. Facing just how much I coveted what belonged to other people was humiliating.

At the beginning of my challenge I kept a log. Every single time I had one of those fleeting, visceral thoughts about what someone else owned, or something I saw in a store or in an ad, I wrote it down.

Measuring the problem

The goal of writing things down was not to shame myself, or berate myself. It was simply to unemotionally measure the scope of the problem. As they say, we manage what we measure.

At the beginning, I would have twenty thoughts like this a day. Twenty thoughts a day!

I knew from experience with my children, the way that one day they will want a skateboard and the next day a Playmobil helicopter, having forgotten they ever wanted a skateboard, that these thoughts will pass If we let them.

Strategies to power through the temptation

With my children, the technique I use is to allow them to dream. Instead of cutting them off, saying “no, you will never get a….”, I lean into it. I say, “oooh! that Playmobil police station is cool! Think of everything you could do with that!” We live in that imaginary world for a while. Usually, the desire shifts away from the object. Often, they will get so caught up in a new story they have invented that they go to their existing Playmobil collection and start playing the scenario out.

So I tried this technique on myself. Rather than get irritated that I couldn’t have something, or berate myself for yet again wanting something I couldn’t have, I let myself appreciate that Kelly green pashmina. Or that rainbow chevron batwing sweater. Or those lacy socks. Or fabulous signature look, like, of I dunno, red glasses.

The more I let myself dwell for a minute or two on appreciating instead of trying to stop the thoughts in their tracks, the more the overall quantity of covetous thoughts decreased.

The thoughts went from, “I want a signature look too! Why don’t I have red glasses!?” To “I love how that color pops. And…it’s her brand! Iza made glasses cool! What a trend-setter.”

At first it didn’t feel natural. But after a while, it didn’t matter anymore. Cause I stopped having the thoughts almost entirely.

Interdiction d’entrée

I also was extremely strict about going into stores. I did not permit myself to step foot into a clothing or thrift store for two months. I put imaginary blinders on when I would walk past a storefront. This meant that some of the burden of shopping (for little boy gloves, for example) fell onto my indulgent husband. I didn’t go into detail about why he needed to go take care of this (I kept my challenge secret from him for a long time.)

I took the long route to avoid being anywhere near the shops I usually would wander through just for fun.

I deleted my Amazon app for a good, long while.

Any place temptation might strike, I struck first. Although it was uncomfortable, every time I would come home after successfully avoiding temptation, I felt like a world champion.

After seven weeks, the visceral feeling of temptation and coveting started to subside. I remember the first time I went out on an errand to a store where I might find temptation, and finding that the styles were all ugly. (Maybe they were, maybe they weren’t…) I wasn’t tempted anymore.

I still avoid stores, because it is best to let a sleeping bear lie. But sometimes it is inevitable.

How your buddy can help

My sister, who was my support system in my effort, received her fair share of whining messages from me. When I wasn’t strong enough, she heard from me.

Exteriorizing the thoughts: passing them from me to someone else helped me laugh about them, and laughing at ourselves never hurts. It dédramatise (look at you reading French again. Tu es incroyable!) the longing.

My sister’s special gifts are empathy and cheerleading. She never said, “You should…” she just said, “Ooof. That’s tough.” (Wait, no…not true. One time she said, “You should read Confessions of a Shopaholic”, which I did. Maybe you should, too!)

My sister also could have been a bot. (I mean that in the most kindest possible way.) I would text her about one small accomplishment and she would write back within minutes, “Yay!!! Go you!!!!!” (Exclamation points may or may not be exaggerated for emphasis.)

An enthusiastic partner in crime will help people of the Obliger tendency (remember when I told you to take Gretchen Rubin’s Four Tendencies quiz? I bet you want to now! Go do it! While you are there, binge everything she has ever written.) Whatever your tendency is, knowing it will help your accountability partner keep you on track.

My sister also, completely of her own accord, bought me that kelly green pashmina that I was drooling over. She heard what it was I was craving for and knew that a little encouragement would go a long way. Receiving a gift was not against my rules. Asking for a gift is.

Get yourself a buddy like Poppy Fields. Or even better, a Life Coach like Poppy Fields. Everyone needs their own personal Poppy. Hey! That is a great idea for an app! My Own Personal Poppy, a virtual cheerleader. (Stand back, Marie Kondo. Welcome to the Lily Fields Media Empire.)

Reward yourself

An essential part of this challenge is finding non-clothes ways to give yourself a little dose of pleasure.

For example, I have always wanted to have a podcast. I promised myself that at the end of my first three months, with the money I would have saved from not shopping for clothes, I could make an investment in some material necessary to making that dream a reality.

I wish the reward wasn’t a “thing”, but at the beginning of this challenge I hadn’t figured out non-money rewards yet.

For my next reward, my indulgent husband has agreed to take the scalawags to his parents’ for a week over the summer, leaving me at home to record my podcast in sweet sweet scalawag-free peace.

He is a very useful partner in making this happen. I don’t call him indulgent for nothing. He bears the brunt of my creativity and peri-menopausal moodiness on a daily basis. He is, in every possible sense of the word, a saint.

Now, to celebrate the end of the year, I am giving a concert with my friend Aline. We are fortunate that she has connections and we have people who want to hear us perform. It’s a very fun, “not buying things” way to celebrate.

Your reward

Prior to my Buy No Clothes challenge, I might have taken myself for a trip to the thrift store. Now, I might have a tea party.

What is your dream? What has your heart always dreamed of doing? Have you always wanted to try your hand at pottery? Then set a goal of rewarding yourself with a class when you are one quarter of your way through your challenge.

What is important is that your reward be an experience: doing pottery or taking a tap dance class or starting a podcast (Hey! That’s my idea!) Sure, there might be an investment. But it is an investment towards your dream.

Use this challenge as a way to divide your dream into multiple bite-size pieces as a reward. What small step towards your dream can you offer yourself as a reward for your progress?

Up next

Tomorrow we are going to look at a few intellectual objections you might have to face in order to pursue your challenge. There may be a few new skills you’ll need to pick up. I have some ideas (you know I always have ideas) as to how to help you do that.


Keep up your inventory! This time, pick out three items you like, but just don’t wear very often. Why don’t you? Fit? Color? Size? Too dressy? Get specific. If you could change something about it to make it more wearable, what would it be?

Published by Lily Fields

I am passionate about contentment. This is a challenge, because I am equally passionate about progress. I get up at 4:00AM to chip away at a solution to this monolithic problem: how to make progress on my contentment. Born and raised in the USA, I married a French philosophy teacher in 1999. We have lived in France since 2007. We stayed young and carefree until life threw us two curveballs in the form of little humans one after another in 2015 and 2017 respectively. Now I am a slightly older, slightly more exhausted version of myself, but with mystery stains on my walls and a never-ending pile of laundry.

2 thoughts on “You should really stop shopping! Part Five: Pain that feels good

  1. Wow, I admire your candour. It isn’t easy admitting our shortcomings on the blogosphere, but you seem to be sticking to it just fine, and your story will definitely help those in the same situation. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for saying this, because I 100% believe that authentic communication is the only way to change–whether for ourselves, or in being an example to others who want to change.


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