Julie Phillips,age 31, loved to shop, and explore all cinema’s until she went cold about hanging out and doing shoppings for 12 long months.
Here’s how that transformed her life into an Era of Excellence.
“There’s nothing like a flood to shake up your life. In June 2013 I was 28 and working at the University of Calgary in Alberta in the alumni relations office. I’d spent a lot on my apartment, buying furniture, dishes, decor. I was going out probably five nights a week with friends. I’d shop for clothes to kill time. And I’m embarrassed to say how much I splurged on my hair (fine—$250 for cut and color). But just as I was packing to move to another place, there was a history-making flood. The city was underwater, and my new apartment was damaged; suddenly I was telling my friend Geoffrey, “I don’t know where I’m going to live.” He and his partner had just broken up, and he offered me his spare bedroom—with one condition: “You can’t bring all of your stuff,” he said.
I started trying to get rid of things. I had, like, 15 winter jackets, 15 scarves, so many purses and bags, stuff from my childhood, plus toys, puzzles, and books I’d bought over the years for my future children. I thought, Why am I keeping this? I don’t even know if I’m going to have children. Oh my God, I’m a crazy hoarder!
Although I managed to give away a lot, I still packed Geoffrey’s spare room to the brim. As he and I drank a bottle of wine to celebrate our first night, he said, “All that stuff’s probably holding you back from figuring out what you really want in life.” We started to talk about why we felt the need to acquire things—he had recently bought a car and a $5,000 couch. We realized we were following the expected trajectory of becoming adults, without giving ourselves the freedom to think about who we really were or what we cared about. At one point we just looked at each other: What if we went a whole year without buying anything? I remember we checked our underwear drawers: Did we have enough to make it 365 days? Then we went for it.
The Upside of Downsizing: As Phillips swore off purchasing stuff, she learned to fix flat tires, grow veggies,
host potlucks, and “discover the person I want to be,” she says.
We started by cutting out non essentials: no shopping for clothes or housewares or wine. Next: no haircuts, no going out for drinks or food. (Toward the beginning we both broke down and bought a pizza.) At first I had serious FOMO. One snowy evening my colleagues and I stopped for dinner on the way to a work event. I literally sat outside on a bench eating my pasta from home out of Tupperware; I felt like Tiny Tim looking in through the window at these people having a nice warm meal. But I learned to cook and invited friends over; once I had 20 people for pancakes. And I found creative ways to have fun—like volunteering to be the bartender at parties and hosting clothing swaps with friends.
After the year ended, I’d saved $10,000, but I’d also become aware of how we’re constantly told to buy the right dress or the perfect bathroom trash can to feel good about ourselves. Now I work for the Institute for Canadian Citizenship, helping newcomers who arrive with only what’s in their suitcases—when I saw the job listing, it was a click moment. I still live with a roommate and have 30 items of clothing, total. Geoffrey was right. All my old stuff embodied the life I thought would make me happy. It kept me from finding what really does.
Lessons I Learnt
The Best Thing I Gained: Deeper relationships: Geoffrey remains my best friend. Also, I found a career that aligns with my values, one I’m truly passionate about.
My Advice to You: If you want to make a big change, set a time frame and tell other people your goals—both will help hold you accountable.