Lessons Learned from My Year Without Clothes Shopping

Posted by Jill Chivers in My Story

Wednesday marked the conclusion of My Year Without Clothes Shopping.  A year doing anything gives you a lot of opportunity to learn a lot of things.  You don’t have to learn them, of course.  You can drift along, following the rules on paper but not letting it really sink in.  I didn’t want that to happen to me.

Welcome to blog #99 of My Story.

I wanted my year without clothes shopping to change me. Right back at my very first blog postings, before the challenge even started (here and here), I knew there was some Serious Learning’s to be had, and I wanted them.

And I got them.  This year has been amazing.  I feel differently about shopping.  I think differently about shopping. 

And that’s why, after a year without clothes shopping, there wasn’t (and won’t be) a big spending spree immediately following the challenge.  Yesterday – officially “permitted” to shop again, the last thing I wanted to do was go shopping.

Some of what I learned from this incredible experience is specific to me and unique to this challenge.  Other things I’ve learned apply to almost anyone doing anything challenging or fascinating.  Let’s take a peek, hey?

Lessons About Me

Lesson #1: Know What You’re Made Of.  I thought I was fairly self aware before this challenge started.  When I was a corporate facilitator running leadership programs, I would caution the senior managers attending that the road of self-awareness has no end.  This was certainly true in my case when it came to this challenge.  

I knew I was resilient, determined and persistent.  But I hadn’t realised quite how courageous and innovative I was (and let’s not forget, cough, modest). I also discovered what a drama queen I can be, how determination can slip into stubbornness, and how persistence can be seen as a pain in the butt to those who are on the ‘receiving’ end of it. 

An experience like this gives you a new lens through which to see your personal qualities.  This is a way of ‘layering’ the learning; and in the end you have an expanded, and maybe expansive, view of yourself. 

Lesson #2: Be Honest and Face It – You Won’t Die.  My shopping habits weren’t healthy and I didn’t understand them – and I didn’t want to face up to having gotten myself into this situation. 

I felt fear when I first started the challenge (that I would walk into a store, see something I absolutely lerved and wanted to buy, that was on sale and just my size that I wouldwearwitheverythinganditwouldmakemesohappy…. and I wouldn’t be able to buy it) – and I didn’t want to face up to having that fear. 

I felt that having a shopping problem would make me look ridiculous and subject me to derision from others – and I didn’t want to face up to the idea that I cared about what other people said and felt about me.  

But I did face up to all that (and much more).  And none of it killed me. If the old adage is right, then sure I must be stronger because of all that facing up, right?  Maybe I am.

Lesson #3: Don’t Beat Yourself Up.  That’s everybody else’s job (oh, the  gallows humour! Borrowed heavily from The Addams Family!).  In one of the radio interviews I did just before the challenge finished, the journalist, Richard Aedy commented that “you were quite hard on yourself”.   Richard had been reading my blog (oh my – a real journalist, reading my writing! Why ever didn’t I work on my grammar and punctuation when I had the chance?) and made the observation that I was tough on myself at many times during the challenge. 

I found this a fascinating comment, and when I thought about it, it was also quite true.  Maybe being hard on myself was an ‘offensive’ move.  Maybe it was expression of the occasional self-loathing that many humans, including me, sometimes feel.  Maybe it was a bad clam. Whatever it was, I beat myself up pretty badly at times during this year.

There is transformative power in treating yourself with compassion.  This is not the same as letting yourself off the hook.  What it involves is taking a clear sighted and empathic attitude toward yourself and all your human foibles. 

It’s ok that I love clothes and have built a large collection.  It’s ok that I felt some fear and confusion.  It’s ok that I don’t have it all worked out just yet (and possibly never will).  It’s ok that I’ll never fit into an American size 4.  It’s ok.


Lessons About Shopping and Fashion

Lesson #4: It’s the Fashion Industry’s Job to Sell us Stuff.  Not a news flash, I know.  But when you have an unhealthy relationship to shopping, you are vulnerable to the compelling messages that come from the world of fashion and beauty (interminably meshed).  It can be easy to ‘slip into neutral gear’ and allow yourself to be washed along on the river of messages telling us what to buy (This Season’s Must Haves, authoratively intoned by ‘experts’ and attractive celebrities). 

The alternative is to wake up, put your brain into gear and buy only those things that you consciously choose. This means taking back your power when it comes to deciding what style is and making decisions that suit you.  So what if military is “in”?  What does that even mean, and who has decided that? 

As I reached the middling point of the challenge, these questions started to rattle around in my brain, and infuriate me.  This post was one of my attempts to come to grips with the insanity of the messages we receive many times a day about how to look.  I concluded that it isn’t the fashion industry’s fault – it was my issue.  And equally importantly: I get to choose which messages I’ll listen to, and which I’ll switch off.

Lesson #5: Put Your Brain In Gear.  One of the unexpected upsides of this challenge was to explore the context in which shopping exists.  I read a lot of books and articles about fashion and shopping, and this post was inspired by a fabulous booked titled, but certainly not, Cheap

I found it fascinating to explore how shopping centres have been designed to daze and confuse us.  How we lose our sense of time (and sometimes, direction) when we are in them – and that means the shopping mall has done its designed job. 

That’s why it’s so important that you switch your brain into the ON position when you go shopping.  The deck is stacked against us (we’re hoodwinked, even).  If we allow ourselves to be anaesthetized by the environment, or over-stimulated as some are, we’ve got Buckley’s. 

You can only shop consciously when your eyes are open.  So the big tip here is: only go shopping when you’re truly awake and your awareness is tuned to high beam.

Lesson #6:  The Bigger Context.  When I first started my blog, on a free platform on December 11 2009, I had no idea where the blog would go (or even how to write one).  I thought I’d write about my personal experiences and feelings, mostly. 

It was only when I got into it that I became fascinated by what others had observed, thought about, studied and written about with regards to shopping, fashion and consumption.   I learned a lot from the authors of books like Cheap, The Overspent American, Fashion: A Philosophy, To Buy or Not to Buy and The Story of Stuff.  I’ve written about some of these already.  And in 2011, I’ll be writing a lot more about them.

All good stories have a broader context – we hear not only the personal journey of the afflicted, but the context in which their suffering has occurred.  I had no plan to do this when I started, but it has given a broader meaning, and created a broader appeal, to my journey to have delved into that bigger picture. 


Lessons About Media and Promotion

Lesson #7: The Mass Media Are Approachable.  My first piece of media exposure was in New Zealand in May 2010 – 5 months into the challenge.  I wasn’t sure how interesting (to the media or anyone outside my own circle of family and friends) my story and the challenge would be so it was a stab in the dark to approach the media.  I created a Press Release from a template I found online and sent it off to a few TV and radio stations.  I was surprised at how quickly and positively TVNZ responded. 

Mainstream media need interesting stories. That’s the truth of it.  The trick is to make your story appear newsworthy (and not sales-y) and to make a connection to someone somewhere in the media.  Preferably someone who can get you on the air.  Which may or may not be the person who reads the Contact forms.   This is also why you need Lesson #8.

I browsed many many media websites, and used the Contact forms as well as direct email addresses.  I followed up.  And followed up.  I was ignored by many media outlets, and received a few “no thanks” from others.  And a handful of others said “yes please”. 

I also learned that one media appearance is unlikely to create ‘game changing’ exposure.  I realised this after my website didn’t explode with visitors, or the server didn’t crash with so many people rushing to sign up for the course, after my first TV appearance.   You have to keep at it.   

Lesson #8: Persistence Works.  When contacting the mainstream media, and other sources of possible promotion (such as large blogs), persistence is key.  I became the follow-up queen – checking in after a week or so to see if my email had been received and to ask if my story was of interest.  In one case, for the huge personal finance blog, Get Rich Slowly, it was 6 months after my initial contact that my story was published (thank you JD!).

Persistence combined with courtesy is a winning combination. Nobody owes you anything – a segment on their show or a posting on their blog – but many people will be happy to support you and your project if they can. 

These people are busy.  Sometimes the first contact you make slips through unattended and unresponded to.  Don’t be discouraged (unless you get a “no thanks”.  Then you can be discouraged need to graciously accept the decline and get on with something else).

 A generously-worded email to check if your first contact was received is often gratefully received.   Don’t give up if you hear nothing the first time.

Lesson #9: Recognition Matters.  When you work in cyber world, you often don’t get the kind of personal interaction and feedback that you get when you work in the “online” (or ‘real’) world.  This is a positive for some people, but for me it wasn’t and isn’t.  I miss day to day, face to face contact with people.  It’s been one of the hardest things of running my own online business – the feeling of isolation and “working into the void” that comes with it.

So to receive any kind of acknowledgement and recognition is very encouraging and meaningful.  About one week before the challenge finished, I heard that our website had won an award from Wishlist, the software that drives our membership site.  This gave me such a buzz – to have someone say “hey, we noticed – and we liked what we saw”.

Another form of meaningful recognition was to have a media production company approach us to develop a documentary based on “a year without…” and “shop your wardrobe” concepts.  No matter what happens with this idea – whether we produce the show or it never appears on screens small or large – just having this active and genuine interest, from a respected and experienced media production team, is significant.

Working ‘into the void’ without any form of recognition is a recipe for discouragement and burnout.  So however you introduce positive acknowledgement into your life and your project, do it – it may just be the fuel you need to keep going.


Lessons About Life and Business

Lesson #10: Shopaholism Really Does Exist. When I first started this challenge in December 2009, I really knew nothing about shopaholism.  I hadn’t even seen the movie!  What I learned, from reading, downloading, listening to and talking with others was that shopping compulsions do exist. 

Unconscious consumption is a source of genuine misery with ‘hard’ effects not only on finances, but on relationships and issues of identity and self-esteem.  To know that many fine people ‘out there’ are struggling with the same unexamined desire to shop was a comfort to me.  It made me feel less alone, and less like a total idiot (I am fairly good at self-directed name-calling, as unhelpful as it is). 

Knowing that shopaholism exists expanded my viewpoint and made me more understanding.  I hope it does the same for others.  If it’s not clothes you can relate to, perhaps it’s something else.  Some say for them its books, or CDs, or cosmetics that they overspend on.   I’ve even heard it said that television and work can be ‘overspent’ on.  Fascinating.  This may be why glass houses are not safe.

Lesson #11: Who You’re Being Makes a Difference.  I worried that what I was creating (first the blog, then the 12 month online program) would be sub-par in some way.  Even though I have over a decade of experience in creating successful adult learning experiences, I still worried a little bit. And then I received this email from a valued member of our Shop Your Wardrobe program, Penny H from Texas:

Criticism, ridicule, and rejection are not very helpful. People who do not suffer in the same way are impatient and simplistic about it. The support from you – another woman who understands – is as important as whatever the program is, kind of like therapy works best if you genuinely like your therapist”

Who I am – how I’m showing up and who I’m being – makes a difference.

A woman listening to the “Life Matters” radio program sent me an email to say “Know that you have been, and are, an inspiration for many ordinary people out there.  Those who may be truly suffering with an addiction can take heart if they are ready to hear how another broke the shackles as you did. Sounds very mundane but it is very profound isn’t it? And it is in the ordinariness of life that we find the really ‘great’ things!”

Who I am – how I am showing up and who I am being – makes a difference. 

High standards in work and business are always important. I also realised that there is a place for relaxing into the knowing that “you are enough” – that I am enough — without a constant striving, striving, striving borne out of an unexamined sense of “not enough-ness”.

Who you are – how you’re showing up and who you’re being – makes a difference.


Lesson #12: Showing Up Counts.  “99% of being a Dad is just showing up” (Jay Pritchett, played by Ed O’Neil in Modern Family).  Well, that may not be entirely true and this post is about shopping not parenting.  What is true is that showing up…. and showing up…. and showing up… counts. 

Of course you can’t just show up and do crap work.  There were a couple of blog postings I wrote where I felt I didn’t do my best.  I phoned them in.  I didn’t feel good about the quality of those posts, sure.  What I did feel good about was, on that day: I showed up.   And I felt good about it because I didn’t want to show up.  I wanted to skive off.  But I didn’t; I did the work, however ‘less than my best’ I felt it to be.  Showing up counts.  It builds perseverance muscle.

Lesson #13: Obstacles Can Grow You.  When we were just developing the program, I had a guest contributor lined up to write several lessons. The day a large piece of her content was to be sent to me, without any advance notice, she emailed me to say she was pulling out of the project.

This wasn’t a great experience for me; it truly left me in the lurch, holding a very empty can.  I had to work like a galley slave to develop the content by the deadline.

But did I learn anything from it?  You bet.  I learned about listening to my instincts (something wasn’t feeling right with this person for weeks beforehand – and I should’ve listened). 

I learned about believing in my creativity and my capability (I wrote the content myself and was thrilled with it (and have received great feedback from members about it)). 

I learned about what actually can be achieved when you’re under the gun (I produced 5 quality lessons all with bumper Resources in 3 days.  I didn’t get a lot of sleep during that time, but I got the work done).

Another example of an obstacle that seemed like a mountain range was PayPal limiting our account.  This happened at the worst possible time.  We were building some beautiful momentum with the Shop Your Wardrobe program – more people were signing up for the course and we were receiving some excellent media attention.  This limit on our account meant we couldn’t trade until it was lifted.  We couldn’t take any new member’s payments, and we couldn’t process existing member’s monthly payments.

This experience was incredibly stressful.  I won’t go all sunshine and roses on you and say I’m glad it happened now it’s all fixed and my hair has stopped standing on end.  I’m not glad it happened; it was an awful experience I wouldn’t wish on anyone.  But I learned something very valuable from it.

I learned that courtesy from “customer service” people doesn’t equate to correct information or actually helping.  I learned about when it’s good to be patient and play nice, and when you need to be forthright and very direct.  I learned that sometimes under the doona with a book on a Saturday IS the best course of action.

If all you have is obstacles, it can be a sign you’re on the wrong path.  A handful of obstacles, on the other hand, can be a good thing.  They can teach you what you’re made of.

Lesson #14: Step Up and Take Action. None of this would have happened if I hadn’t taken action.  If I hadn’t listened to myself that very first day when I thought “I should take a year without clothes shopping”.  If I hadn’t started blogging.  If I hadn’t made that first contact with  New Zealand TV stations, and then kept making contact with other media.  If I hadn’t acted on the idea to turn my experience into a course for other women.  If I hadn’t started talking about it and actually developing the content.  If I hadn’t reached out to my sensational guest contributors. If I hadn’t said Yes (and sometimes No). If I hadn’t followed up.  And followed up. 

Have I done everything right?  Far from it. Have I even done everything I should or even could have?  Probably not. 

I’ve tried to balance clear thinking and adequate preparation with moving forward and taking action.  I’ve been too slow on some things and probably too quick on others. 

But here’s the thing.

What I haven’t done is nothing.  I’ve taken action.  I’ve stepped up (and sometimes sat down).   One of my favourite quotes is “Rely on God but row away from the rocks”.  Oh yeah, I’ve rowed alright.

Take action. 

Final thoughts

This year has been amazing for me.  At times it’s been a rocky road. 

What’s great is I got what I wanted, however poorly defined it was in the beginning:  I have a transformed attitude and ‘relationship’ to shopping.  

I feel differently about shopping.  I think differently about shopping.  And that is incredibly freeing.  Right?

P.S. – If you liked this post, please Tweet, Facebook, and tell your blog followers about it….thanks for your support in spreading the word (all 3000 of them).

P.P.S. – If you want to have your own enriching Year Without Clothes Shopping, check it out here.  Read the FAQs.  And sign up here!

P.P.P.S. – Our latest media appearance was this week.  A feature story on Australia’s Today Tonight evening magazine show which aired on the day my challenge finished!  You can find out more on our Media page

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