In 2012, Sarah Lazarovic decided not to buy any clothes for a year.
“I had been working from home and I didn’t think I shopped a lot, but boxes just kept arriving on my doorstep!” says the Toronto-based author and illustrator.
“It’s so easy to buy everything online — everything is a rabbit hole. You start on a blog or Instagram and end up at a store you never heard of,” she continues. “I just wanted to stop this mindless shopping.”
Lazarovic admits that she wasn’t the first to try a shopping fast, but she found that her experience resonated with people.
“People don’t trust themselves enough to say, ‘I’m going to be better at this.’ They need a hard-and-fast rule. And when you actually do it, it’s not that hard.”
After writing a visual essay about her experience for The Hairpin, Lazarovic turned her newfound retail consciousness into a book, “A Bunch Of Pretty Things I Did Not Buy,” which features both paintings of things she wanted to buy during her ban and her thoughts on consumerism and spending.
She writes in her book that after a typical childhood of mindless consumption, she started becoming aware of her money in college when she got to choose where every dollar went.
“It’s these maiden steps in personal consumption that begin to define us,” she writes. “But how not to go off track if our particular moment of consumer liberation comes just when everything is so plentiful, so accessible, and so cheap? It’s a recipe for overindulgence.”
Many of the pages in “A Bunch Of Pretty Things” are filled with colourful paintings of those exact things she chose not to buy, from a leather satchel ($US120) to a parachute-grey caftan ($US295).
Putting her illustrator hat on and painting the items she lusted after instead of purchasing them, Lazarovic says, served two purposes: It introduced the element of time, giving her a chance to think, “Do I really need this?” (the answer was usually no), and it allowed her to truly enjoy the things she wanted without spending on them.
The Pinterest-ready paintings belie the book’s serious underlying message: People are too focused on — and stressed out by — constant consumerism.
“It’s the endless stream of stuff that both dazzles and disgusts,” Lazarovic wrote in her initial essay. “On Pinterest I have to avert my eyes from the endless stream of effortlessly obtainable crap.”
“To me, my book is kind of a subversive call to action dressed up as a frothy shopping guide,” she adds. “The bigger issue for me is sustainability.” In fact, she’s currently studying consumer behaviour.
However, Lazarovic doesn’t intend to chastise people who drool, as she once did, over the products on websites and in store windows.
“You’re not a bad person because you covet beautiful things,” she says. “The world spends a huge amount of money presenting beautiful things they hope you’ll buy. You can just say, ‘It’s OK, I like these beautiful things, and it’s natural that I’m going to want these things. But I need to have some mechanisms to make sure I don’t buy them.’ Maybe in so doing, it sets you on a path to be aware that you don’t need the stuff and the stuff doesn’t make you happy.”
When asked about where her spare cash goes now that she’s shrugged off the online shopping, Lazarovic explains that she’s set up systems so “extra cash” doesn’t really exist.
“My disposable income goes into savings before I ever even see it, so there’s this feeling I don’t have this money to spend on a pair of $US300 boots, so I’m not going to go there,” she says.
She also explains that the problem with her shopping habit was never about overspending. She wasn’t in consumer debt or unable to meet her expenses — she was just tired of the constant, mindless, consumption. “It’s not tons of money,” she says, “which is why I think it’s easy to write off.”
Now, Lazarovic has taken the research-backed perspective that she’d rather spend the money she has on experiences than things.
“If you think about it, I could have spent $US100 on shoes, but for that $US100 I could go out and buy enough groceries to make a really nice dinner party for friends. What would I rather spend my money on?”
Lazarovic has also gotten strategic about what she does buy online, like pantry staples. “On the weekend, I don’t want to do shopping chores,” she explains. “I get coffee sent to my house so I never have to be in a store.”
“I would rather spend the day taking my daughter ice skating or go for a walk,” she continues. “I don’t want to be indoors looking at stuff under florescent lighting, I want to be outside. It’s not even about experiences rather than stuff — it’s just about experiencing life.”