How A Shopping Break Can Redraw The Line Between Want And Need

Shopping is so entrenched in our culture that the lines between want and need have become blurred. In order to keep step with the ever-quickening turnover of trends, we enter into a never-ending chase for the next new thing. We need a skirt to complement our new season shoes, or a top with must-have statement sleeves. We need it to feel current, adequate, accepted. 

Except we don’t need it at all. So how do we redraw that line? A shopping break might be the answer.

Why a Shopping Break? 

Taking a break gives you the space to reassess you relationship with shopping.

Shopping feels good. It activates our pleasure centres and causes ours brains to release dopamine. It’s a lovely chemical reward for doing something as simple as picking a dress from a rail and we chase that feeling. As with any unhealthy action-reward cycle, it needs breaking. Taking a break gives you the space to reassess you relationship with shopping. Whether you want to demote it from a habit to an incidental or elevate it from a socially obligatory pastime to a genuine treat.

Working Out Want Versus Need

When you have nothing but your own wardrobe to dip into you start to figure out what you really need. When I started my own shopping break, I started to panic at the thought of the things I might need during that time. There was absolutely nothing I truly required immediately; it was just my shopping-loving brain trying to wangle one last shop in the name of ‘need’.

In the past I’ve told myself I need a fifth pair of trousers to finish my wardrobe or another new bag because it’s different to my others. Yet, over the last three months when I had no purchases to justify, all of those supposed necessities melted away and I was left with only two things that my wardrobe was genuinely lacking: a raincoat and a sun hat.

Remove the ability to shop and the majority of your needed items go with it.

When to Start

If you want to have your own shopping break, start now. Not tomorrow or on Monday. Now. When I realised I had bought five secondhand items in the space of just a few weeks, I stormed over to my diary and declared no more; marking the date three months from then. Just start. Don’t allow one last shopping trip or a buffer period. Now is the time.

What if You Really Need Something?

If you really, truly, genuinely need something during your break - say a shirt for an interview - don’t immediately fold. Instead, exhaust every possible option that isn’t going to a shop. Borrow or rent or swap. Get creative and explore other, more sustainable options that reflect the kind of person you want to be when the break is over.

Make Yourself Accountable

In order to cement my non-shopping status, I quickly wrote a blog post to publicly declare it. It’s much harder to break the rules when other people are there to uphold them. You definitely don’t have to tell the whole world, but a good friend who has your back can be golden for keeping you on track when you’re telling them about a brand new dress you need...

It Can Last as Long as You Want 

I’m fresh out of my shopping break. It lasted three months; a completely arbitrary number that I pulled out of nowhere, but please be reassured that it flew by. There is no magic number, just make it long enough to make an impact to your usual shopping routine.

It Works 

I now harbour a completely different perspective. Whereas once I would endlessly scroll through Depop and mindlessly pop into shops for nothing in particular, I now have absolutely no desire to do so. I appreciate my wardrobe tenfold and I’ve lost that sense of consumer panic that descends when you see something beautiful for sale. I have my raincoat, I have my sun hat and I don’t need anything else. 

I appreciate my wardrobe tenfold and I’ve lost that sense of consumer panic that descends when you see something beautiful for sale.