I’m letting you in on a dirty little secret.
I love to shop.
I must preface this entire post with the fact that I grew up with little “indulgences” being a part of my life. You know, a treat here, a toy there. We weren’t rich, but like many kids, we just didn’t grow up thinking of financial health as a lifestyle factor.
As I grew older and started to earn/manage my own money, I began to get a real sense of how much things were worth, and how each purchasing decision would have an effect on all other purchasing decisions thereafter. “Little indulgences” on the regular was a norm I needed to consciously un-norm.
Still, in some ways, I’m a very stereotypical modern-day, consumer-culture female. I’m not beyond buying a random outfit just because, or a cool purse just because it’s semi-cute and semi-my-style and, most of all, semi-cheap. I’m embarrassed to admit that up until a couple years back, I hadn’t given much thought to what I was actually doing when I would purchase something that I would probably be getting rid of less than a year later.
And then I moved to a smaller apartment with a better view. A place with no closets or shelves (I use racks – gasp!) but LOTS of breathing room. A place I felt at home.
It made me look at all my “stuff” out in the open and how it really added value to my life.
I’ve heard that you rarely learn big lessons all at once – they gradually take shape. In regards to my stuff and its value, I had a little shopping epiphany (shoppiphany, if you will) last weekend that might have sealed the deal.
I’d just taken a break from working all morning, finished a great workout at the gym, and decided to walk to a nearby store to get a refill bubble-maker for my SodaStream…and in the meantime, I don’t know, treat myself to a little mindful mindless spending. After all, I hadn’t bought something “just because” in ages.
I walked into the store and thought, Hey, I’d like a jumper! (you know, as you do) A plain black one I can throw on and dress up or down in a pinch while still feeling like I’m wearing my stretchy pants. That would be fab. I had a picture in my head of exactly what I wanted, but I figured, this is a trendy outfit right now – might as well get a cheapo version I can schlump around with me in my gym bag, and not feel too bad about when it falls apart after a few wears.
I Labyrinth’d my way through the makeshift aisles, the neon summer prints and dizzying patters giving me a slight headache. Distractions were abound. Socks I didn’t know I needed! Oh look, tea lights! Wait a sec, all the clothes I wore when I was a teenager are back in style?! I snagged a shirt, just ’cause I felt nostalgic.
More hippie clothes, earthy-colored basics, and denim galore – heaven! Somehow I was suddenly jumper-minded no more; sifting through the sizes, distracted by the low-rise distressed-straight-legs in the corner, looking for a boho hat because I liked the picture that popped into my head.
And then…I paused.
I don’t really need this, I thought. I don’t even WANT it that bad.
How does a seemingly innocuous shopping trip like this fit into the negative talk conversation, you ask? Welp, just like food, we are what we eat – and we are what we buy. Spending money we don’t necessarily need to spend usually ends up stressing us out (a whole other post for a whole other day). And moreover, buying clothes that are made to fall apart in two jiffs or trinkets that will be forgotten about after three days is a reflection of our own sense of worth.
If you’re thinking that I’ve just got a lot of willpower or something for stopping myself…you are so wrong. I’m a bone-fide girl’s girl. And despite my penchant for dark earth tones and anything but pastel florals, I’m very stereotypically female. That includes the way I act as a consumer. I might not like to shop often or in huge blowout sprees, but I do enjoy a fun little shopping trip here and there, just ‘cause.
But because I aim to live in a certain “way,”I sometimes tell myself I’m being materialistic, or straight-out “dumb” for enjoying it. What’s more, when I do get sucked in by the alternate vortex that is Inexpensive Fast-Fash, I usually end up feeling bad about myself (note I did not say “about my body”) because the generically sized outfits and straight, easy hems were not meant to hug my curves in a way that works best on me.
Maybe it was the serenely gloomy clouds looming over this pre-summer afternoon, maybe it was the fact that I hadn’t eaten lunch yet and was a little extra-sensitive. Maybe it was a Mercury Retrograde magic trick. But in that moment, I softened my gaze and really looked at what I was holding. A slashed price for something I only somewhat like. Jeans and smocked shifts that seconds ago I was confident would look great on me started to look…cheap. What did this say about what I thought of myself?
I did a lap and realized – nothing was worth it. It wasn’t even the money: it was the feeling that buying these clothes would, in some way, not be in line with what I stand for and how I aimed to treat myself. I was worth an investment and, at bare minimum, worth clothes that made me feel like a rockstar inside and out. And so, empty-handed, I walked out.
We deserve to have things that bring us joy, make us feel good, and last at least a little while – not stuff that fills a void, fits okay and is ultimately made to be disposable. We’re made to last, and our clothes should be, too.
Here are some ways to check yourself before you shop it out – and what to do if you somehow find yourself in the thick of it:
CHECK – HOW ARE YOU FEELING ON THE INSIDE? Are you hungry? Tired? Irritated? Sometimes when we’re experiencing an extreme emotional or physical feeling we make decisions to self-soothe. Instead, try doing something else that brings you joy: exercise, call a friend, take a walk, binge on Netflix, write, read, draw diagrams of your Action Plan for the year (no? just me?). Whatever it is, see if there’s something else that will bring you joy in the moment – and moreover, remind you of who you are at your very best. And if you still want to shop for fun, go for it! Give yourself the permission.
COMPARE – HOW MUCH IS THIS, REALLY? When I’m vacillating in between if I really need/want something or if it just feels good in the moment, I’ll look at the price tag and think of something else in that price range. These jeans are only $20, but that money could be spent on a pedicure, a nice meal, a month’s worth of those high-grade Vitamin D supplements I love, a book I’ve been coveting, my utilities bill from The Gas Company – heck, I could stretch $20 to feed me for a week if I really needed to (I’ve been there). An extra $20 saved per month could even buy me a ticket to NYC on Jet Blue with money left over
for shopping to see a show! All the sudden, those jeans don’t look that great. Or maybe they do. But I’m making an informed decision.
FHOP – THEN SHOP. Okay, here’s another secret. Fhopping is my term for fake shopping. Here’s what you do when you’ve got the itch: you go to a store with the specific intention of getting a sense for what you really want. Look around as long as you’d like and try on whatever speaks to you. Take a photo of yourself in the things you like. And then put them back and leave. If you’re compelled to come back to them in a week, then treat yo’self! But take some time to make your decision, assessing your wardrobe and asking yourself if it’s something you really need and actually want taking up space in your room. This has not only saved me tons of money, it’s made me feel in control of both my spending and what is actually worthy of my time. Fhop courteously, of course, and make sure you treat the dressing room attendants the way you’d like to be treated :)
Will I never buy something just-because ever again? Probably not. But I know that making mindful decisions with my money, treating myself to what I actually WANT and what is a reflection of who I strive to be, are key to being a balanced consumer living in the modern world, conscious of the choices we’re making and how those choices inform the way we view ourselves.
By the way, I found a black jumper exactly like what I’d envisioned in my head. Not once did I get distracted by what I didn’t really want. (Well, too distracted. Still working on un-norming the norm, after all.) There was only one left. The perfect cut, the perfect fit, the perfect material – just perfect for me.
When the cashier scanned the tag, it was 60% off. Coincidence? I think not. It’s exactly what I wanted. And it looks killer hanging in my “closet.”
What is a purchase you’ve made that you absolutely LOVE – that is a reflection of who you are and how you want to feel?