Shopping Sabbatical – 1 year sober

By Kelsey Wong, founder of CO-OPhx

September 1, 2012. 1 year has gone by and I am taken aback, I made it.

Rewind to 1 year prior, September 1, 2011.

I have just returned from my euroadventure and after 3 months of wearing only what I could carry on my back, I just touched down at Skyharbor Airport, Phoenix. My roommate Jake calls me “Hey, I’m here! Go to the south side of the terminal, I can’t wait to see you.” He meets me with an outstanding hug and I’m filled with glee, we head home. “ I found us a great place in downtown Phoenix, Kels, you’ll love it, it’s perfect for us.”




The next day, Jake took us to our new home, I remember being overwhelmed by it’s magnitude. Willow district beauty, 3 bed, 2 bath, 2 living rooms, full kitchen and a big backyard complete with a greenhouse.  “Isn’t it wonderful?” Jake said, “and you can have the 2 “jack & jill” rooms!” I walked into what should’ve been my dream room and I felt so uncomfortable. This place was too big, I didn’t need this, I didn’t want this…

Our old lease was up and new lease was already signed so there were no but’s about it. The next day we transported everything.

I robotically began pilling my stuff in, boxes upon boxes upon boxes, some with kitchenware and home decor but 80% of mine were full of clothes, shoes and accessories.

As I popped open another box, I pulled out an exquisite rust-rose BCBG blouse, graceful, in good taste. A showstopper, something I would’ve died before leaving the store without. Then I realized, yes it was beautiful, but I’d had it for two full years and never even worn once.

I stopped my mindless closet-organizing and sat on the floor holding the blouse.

I peered up at 2 full racks of clothing: pencil skirts, rompers, dresses, business attire, winter wear, blazers and coats. I looked harshly at a full 36” dresser of t-shirts, shorts, leggings, jeans, swimsuits. I absorbed the full weight of 2 heavy boxes of sandals, heels and boots of every color and a chest full of enough jewelry to please a queen.

How did I have the time, expendable money and energy to collect all of these things?

The 22 years of resale, vintage and destination shopping stared back at me. My body filled with rage and disgust.

This was ALL mine, seriously? How is that possible?  How could I let myself become this?

Who the hell am I?

In that moment I realized, my three months of living the life of a hostel-hopping, couch-surfing, world traveling free spirit had affected me tremendously. And though my current self could see this now, my past-reality hadn’t moved an inch and I was in dire need of a life change.

At the time, I wasn’t sure if I could do it for a year. I was scared to say it out loud and didn’t know who to talk to about my revelation. But I also knew I had made my decision, my past habits weren’t okay with me and I wasn’t going back to the old Kelsey.

My 1 year shopping sabbatical has been one of the most important personal experiments I have ever subjected myself to and though limiting in one perspective, absolutely liberating in another.

In the end, it was not about the shopping nor was it about saving money.

Yes I saved which was convenient as this was during the poorest time in my life. Yes, I saved loads of time, which I was able to dedicate towards things that matter like the CO-OPhx and CO+HOOTS but what this experience gave me was so much more.

To me it was a long lesson about identity, self-worth, discipline and life-change.

Identity:  As long as I could remember, I wanted to be a fashion designer. As a child, I loved playing dress up. I imagined I was a flamenco dancer, a Hawaiian Airlines flight attendant, a doctor or a business woman.

As a teen, it had been a way for me to fit in and be part of the popular crowd. In college, it allowed me to stand out and express my creativity. As I grew, people began commenting regularly on how stylish I was, nice, yes, but I also received a lot of back-handed comments such as “I hate you, why do you always dress so cute?” “Well don’t you look perfect as always”. 

My outer presence began to overpower my internal qualities, no one said “Kelsey is a loyal friend, fierce go-getter or interesting person to talk to.” I became a real world mannequin and I felt internal and external pressure to keep up with immeasurable style expectations. 

Self-worth: I realized through this journey, which you can fully read in my blog post Confessions of a Renounced Shoppaholic – 6 month mark, is that because I worked all the time, I would treat myself with a new outfit, it was how I showed myself love. When I needed “me time”, I would put together ensembles at home and fall into my own style dimension. When I got to dress up and go out, I felt special, like the bell of the ball. Though I felt more confident, determining my self-worth by this measure was nearly impossible to maintain. 

Discipline:  Discipline is the perfect solution to two of my greatest weaknesses (or opportunities for growth) 1. Impulsiveness 2. Indecisiveness. 

To me, shopping is the act of taking both of these qualities and rubbing them feverishly together like flint and stone, producing a full-blown forest fire.

During my sabbatical, I still bought necessities like toilet paper, tooth paste and food (unless I could get away with snatching them from my parents homes). A few times I bought gifts for others though I preferred to get crafty and make something. But for the entire year, I exercised enough self-control to not give in to my desires and trust me, it wasn’t easy. I stopped going to most stores for a long time to avoid the impulsiveness, I couldn’t even window shop or be a “shopping-stylist” for friends (something I loved doing in the past) because I was afraid it would be like putting a recovering alcoholic in BevMo or a recovering gambler in Vegas. 

But the more comfortable I became with this decision, the more at ease I felt going into stores. I didn’t have to worry or feel pressured to make a decision, because I knew I wasn’t going to purchase anything. 


As, the year has concluded, so many amazing things have come out of this experience. 

First, I have a new identity. I am a Creator, a Giver and a Connector. A life-long learner and a worldly explorer. I love what I do. I love what I create, especially fun events like Clothing Swap CO-OP and ART CO-OP which allow people to come together, collaborate and experience the beautiful feeling of giving. 

I am filled with energy and excitement anticipating our 3rd Clothing Swap event, the Fall Swap & Clothing Drive tomorrow from 12-4pm at frances vintage (10 W. Camelback, Phoenix AZ 85013) where we anticipate 150-200 swappers in attendance thanks to media coverage from Channel 5 and Channel 12

I love who I am and I have an incredible community of support who sees me as an inspiration, a visionary and a young leader. 

Second, my self-worth has nothing to do with the things I own. Yes, I will still continue to dress confidently and creatively, but it will not stop me from living freely or loving myself fully. I can say with certainty that there is absolutely nothing I own that would break me if it was gone. Community, family, friends, love, joy, gratitude, opportunity, dreams, that’s what matters. 

Third, I am the driver behind the wheel of my own life. I can’t always see what’s coming up ahead, I can’t predict what the weather will be like or how many stops and detours I’ll make but I am fully-charged and fueled by my own passion, love and light and I’m not afraid of flooring it! I see now that everything happens for a reason, even that house that was way too big, it ended up being the home to so many incredible memories, a space just the right size to house our first CO-OP events and a place just magical enough to birth our vision for CO-OPhx. 

This is a testament of life-change and proof that you can do anything you put your full self into. Sometimes it takes a month, a year or even a lifetime but change can be a good thing. 

Decide to be the person you want to be, today. 


Leave a Reply to Amy Black Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>