Chapter 3 – The Rules


You know how you can write a letter to City Hall to ask them to designate a certain day in honor of a person, a group, or a movement? My local government officials have been very supportive of my no-unnecessary-shopping pledge.

On Day #5, here in Syracuse, NY, they’ve issued a travel advisory until midnight tomorrow. All this to keep me off the roads and out of the stores.

I didn’t even have to ask. They must be reading these posts.


My bowling ball of sirloin tip (yesterday’s borderline cheating purchase) is roasting in the oven. My garage floor is adrift with white and so is my family room floor. The former is snow; my husband forgot to shut the garage door. The latter is polyfill fiber; my two small dogs went stir crazy earlier and chewed up every dog toy and pillow within reach. Both are asleep now, one draped over my shoulder like a fox fur stole with the head still attached.

Yet even with the weather outside so frightful, and my home all cozy and delightful, still I felt that urge — that tug to shop. I’m still going through withdrawal.

So I’ll confess: I did buy something. I BOUGHT SOMETHING. But don’t get all mad. It’s a website — a domain name! I spent the morning setting it up. But again, not really cheating — it’s a business expense, a website that focuses on one aspect of my teaching. Okay, I’m rationalizing a little, but it came to me right after I woke up and I had to get it. I’m not launching it yet, but you’ll be the first to know when I do.


So those parameters of this no-shopping experiment are still loosey-goosey. Time to buckle down and draw up the guidelines.

1. I will not buy something I already own

This covers a lot of ground: things in my home and office, food in my refrigerator and pantry, books (yes, I buy extra copies of my favorite books at Goodwill, it’s a problem). I have to completely use up the very last drop/crumb/item before I can buy more.

Admittedly, I already broke this rule yesterday. Twice.

First, I bought a bottle of shampoo at the scratch-and-dent market because I don’t love the shampoo sitting in my shower.

Second, I made an appointment at the Genius Bar at the Apple store to get my iPhone battery replaced. Apparently they’ve dropped the price $50 as a goodwill gesture because so many people are angry at the news that Apple deliberately slows old iPhones to get you to buy a new one. A Washington Post article alerted me to the sale; in many cases, a new battery can improve performance up to 100%. So, that’s a work-related expense, right? Again, FOMO (fear of missing out) at work. The appointment is for Monday, so again, another purchase.

This sh** is tough, man.

2. I will not buy something I don’t own but don’t need

Here’s where the rubber meets the road, where desire smushes up against need and want and greed and what’s essential and what’s not.

The craving is still there, but that door is shut, so I will probably do something like excavate my closets and drawers and ‘go shopping’ that way by unearthing new-to-me finds. There’s a lot to go through, several rooms’ worth, so that will help with decluttering.

3. I will buy selectively in a few categories

I will not buy books en masse (as I’ve been known to do at book sales) but if I need a book, I have a $20 per month book budget. Which means I can buy new, or buy used. That’s still $240 of books a year, much more than most Americans.

I will buy replacement supplies for essential things like printer ink cartridges, batteries, cleaning products, but only if I am close to running out; I will allow myself to pre-buy anything work related (because I will have a stroke if my printer stops working and flashes the Low Ink light). But first I’ll make a list and check my stash on all of these things.

I will buy gifts, but again, I will have a budget, and this will only be for specific events like birthdays, anniversaries, and parties where I am expected to come with something. I will not use this as an opportunity to purchase what I want — this is not about getting my fix. Instead, I will try hard to give what is actually desired by the recipient. And no buying in advance because I think someone will want that in sixth months. I’ll be honest with myself: I’ll lose it.

I will buy essentials for the dogs, but again they don’t need 10 bags of treats or another stuffed toy unless they are torn to shreds. They are not my excuse for my reliving the past as Benevolent Mommy; my own daughters told me how much they disliked me overspending on them, getting things they didn’t want or need because I had to fulfill my good mother fantasies.

4. I will not buy prepared food while away from home unless I am going to keel over from starvation; I can wait until I get home to fix myself something to eat. But I am allowed to buy food if I’m dining with someone else for lunch or coffee

5. Similarly, I will not buy coffee or beverages when I’m out and about by myself, but I will if I’m meeting someone out. The only exception is if I’m driving long distances and I need to jolt myself with a large dose of caffeine to stay awake.

6. Sorry Girl Scouts, but I’m not buying cookies or chocolates or other fundraising items just to have them sit in my home and eventually get thrown out. I don’t eat that stuff, and my husband can do that. If I feel bad about it, I can make a monetary donation with no ‘purchase’ attached.

7. I am not going to ‘buy’ any living creatures. I don’t need another dog or pet.

8. I am not going to purchase games or apps for my phone unless it’s something that would really save me time and effort in my personal / professional life. For example, someone mentioned Paprika to me — and it’s become my go-to recipe app and was well worth the $4.99 price tag because it lets you browse the web and capture any recipe anywhere in a split format: ingredients and directions. Plus you can click on ingredients and add them to a shopping list on your phone. But I have to research these apps and not just buy them on a whim. If I do make this kind of purchase, it will be limited to once a month.

9. I am not going to buy any kind of travel unless I am traveling with a friend. For example, I promised my friend Sue a girl’s week in Cape Cod, so booking accommodations is acceptable.

10. I am going to carefully evaluate every conference, retreat, and workshop I attend, and only choose those that give me real benefit vs. those that are just fun because of the people I see. If I want to see them, I can expense it under “traveling with a friend” as described above.

11. If I feel compelled to spend money on something that’s not permitted above, I have to earn it by getting rid of multiple items like it. If I want a new coat, I have to take old coats/clothes to a consignment store or sell them on eBay. Same thing with books. And for everything that comes into my home this way, it has to be at a ratio of 1:3 or greater — one book comes in, three books leave. Same thing with clothes and shoes.

12. And if I do spend on these sorts of items, I’m going to try and buy one of two ways: previously owned from the secondary market so I’m not consuming new goods, or handmade items by people I know or from artisans I trust.

So this is my 12 step program to address my shopping addiction, 12 rules on what I won’t and will be spending money on. I’ll try and craft another short document — an addendum — as a quick reference to keep me on track. But that’s later.

In my next post: what I won’t be spending time on.

Because part of this process of no unnecessary spending is breaking the habit of spending time on non-essential time wasters that do nothing for mental development, like Candy Crush or Bubble Witch. (Don’t panic, Words With Friends buddies. I’m not going to that extreme.)

I have the time to make lists and evaluate. It’s going to be a long, cold, snowy weekend.

Photo by Alexander Popov on Unsplash

2 thoughts on “Chapter 3 – The Rules

  1. I applaud your efforts and hope you can keep to your resolutions. I think your rules are really tough ones. I have the one in and one out rule – whether it’s a book, clothing or a treat. I use Vinted to sell my clothes that aren’t needed and give the rest to charity. I got addicted to selling my stuff and getting the money back into my purse and sometimes it was so little compared to the purchase price, that it hurt. That ‘hurt’ made me change my shopping habits. I wish you lots of luck in changing you.


    1. linda

      Thanks. I’ll take any luck or advice I can get. Sometimes seeing how little something is valued in the marketplace is the hardest part. Thus giving it away can feel liberating — it’s outcome independent; no price is attached, you just set it free… for free.


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