A Tale of Two Shoppers

I’d like to share a story with you about two very different types of shoppers.  One is a shopaholic who shops unconsciously, buys too much, buys the wrong types of things, and returns at least half of what she acquires. The other shopper shops much more carefully and mindfully, buys far less, and doesn’t need to return many of her purchases.

Both of These Shoppers Are Me!

The interesting twist is that I’m writing about the same person at two different points in her life.  In fact, both of these shoppers are me!  The first shopper is me prior to starting this blog and the second shopper is me now, in October 2013.  In this post, I share a before and after comparison of how I used to shop and how I shop today.

Two types of shoppers

I shop a lot differently now than I did a year ago…

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m still a recovering shopaholic.  I don’t have it all figured out by any means.  I still make mistakes and at times I still shop for the wrong reasons and buy the wrong things.  I’m not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but I have made some important changes that I’d like to share with you today.

Before the Blog…

Prior to starting “Recovering Shopaholic” at the beginning of this year, I spent an average of $5000 per year on clothing, shoes, accessories, and alterations.  I shopped in brick and mortar stores at least once a week and often several times per week.  I also spent an average of two to three hours a day reading style blogs and forums and combing through online stores.  I added close to 200 new items to my closet each year, and that doesn’t include the many, many pieces that I bought and later returned.

I shopped for a variety of reasons, the least of which being a defined wardrobe need.  I shopped when I was bored, I shopped when I was lonely, I shopped when I wanted to avoid something else in my life, and I shopped when I wanted to boost my mood, as well as a whole host of other reasons.  I didn’t even need a reason to shop.  “Just because…” was as good a reason as any for entering a physical or online store.

An Altered State of Consciousness

Whenever I shopped, I entered an alternate state of consciousness.  I lost myself in the sights, sounds, smells, and feel of all of the bright, shiny, new items around me.  When I entered a store, I began moving quickly and speaking rapidly.  I was a woman on a mission, so much so that I was frequently mistaken for a store employee.  My personality completely changed.  I went from a normally reserved introvert to an exuberant and bubbly extrovert whenever I was surrounded by racks of clothing, shoes, and accessories.

I could spend hours and hours in a store without getting tired.  I shopped and shopped, but I never “dropped.”  Quite the contrary, in fact.   Shopping actually energized me instead of draining me.  I was “in the zone” when I was shopping.  Shopping was my drug of choice and I imbibed in it with the vigor of any addict.  Instead of drinking, doing drugs, gambling, or overeating, I shopped.   I felt compelled to do it and there was a “payoff” for my actions.  But as with any addiction, there were also consequences…

And Then the Spell Was Broken…

When I left the store or the mall and loaded my bags into the trunk of my car, the spell was broken.  I then became gripped with a sense of sheer panic. I was ashamed at what I had done and started to plan ways to avoid the negative repercussions of my actions. I used faulty logic to justify my behavior and I resorted to covert and underhanded activities to hide my ill-advised deeds.

I acted in ways I wasn’t proud of and which didn’t reflect my true beliefs and morals, because I wasn’t ready to change. I didn’t want to give up the highs I experienced from shopping in order to escape the lows I felt after my shopping sprees.  The payoffs I was getting from shopping outweighed the negative consequences for quite some time.  However, as 2012 drew to a close, I knew I not only needed to change, but I also wanted something different for myself.

In January 2013, “Recovering Shopaholic” was born.  I vowed to do whatever I needed to do to trade my full closet for a full life, and I agreed to openly and honestly share my journey with anyone and everyone who found my message through the blogosphere.   Fortunately, many people have found me and I’ve been blessed with an abundance of support and encouragement from my readers.

What’s Different Now?

In the past two weeks, I’ve made a few pilgrimages to the mall.  In doing so, I’ve noticed some important shifts in the way I approach shopping today as compared to a year ago or even earlier this year.  Most of these shifts are very positive and I’m proud of myself for the changes I’ve made.  However, there is a downside to my transformation which I’ll share a bit later.

First and foremost, I no longer lose myself in the shopping experience.  My brain now remains in the driver’s seat instead of my emotions.  I stay calm and with my wits about me as I survey the merchandise and decide what, if anything, to try on.  I consider my shopping list and why I’m there and don’t allow myself to be overcome with the sights, sounds, smells, and feel of the displays.

While I still look at the sales racks, I’m now able to do so without putting on my “sales goggles.”   I now feel much less temptation to buy something just because it’s a “great deal.”  If it doesn’t fulfill upon my wardrobe needs and desires, it stays in the store!

Sometimes I Still Get Emotional While Shopping

Occasionally, however, I still find myself becoming emotional while shopping. I sometimes feel myself drifting towards shiny, pretty items that I just don’t need.  I shift my efforts toward what’s easy for me to find, such as tops and jackets, instead of searching for those difficult pieces like jeans, pants, and skirts.  My emotions push me to do what’s easy and mindless instead of what will best serve me in terms of my wardrobe and lifestyle needs.

When I feel that “shopping high” creeping up my spine, I’m now able to put the kibosh on it before it takes over my brain.  My rational mind steps in and presents compelling questions to diffuse my emotions before they start running the show.  I ask myself things like:

  • “Do I really need that?”
  • “Is it on my list?”
  • “Do I already have something similar?”
  • “Where would I wear it?”
  • “Does it suit my lifestyle?”
  • “Does it fit my budget?”

Fewer Buys, More Sales Resistance, Great Progress!

I now buy far less than I did before.  I sometimes even leave stores empty-handed, even after I’ve tried on a number of pieces in the fitting room and have been assisted by a helpful (and sometimes pushy) salesperson.  I have much more sales resistance as I’ve become better at keeping my wardrobe goals in mind instead of shopping as a hobby or as a diversion from the rest of my life.

As I mentioned earlier, I still make mistakes and at times I have to return things or just cut my losses, but in the balance, I’ve made tremendous progress in shifting the way I deal with shopping.

But There IS a Downside…

That all sounds great, doesn’t it?  What could possibly be the downside to the changes I’ve made in the way I shop?  Well, there is one negative point that I need to find a way to overcome.  You see, I used to love shopping.  It was my primary hobby and a great passion in my life.  I used to derive great enjoyment from shopping, but I don’t anymore.

Now that I’m shopping more mindfully and with purpose, the experience no longer feels all that fun to me.  Since I don’t lose myself in the experience, it doesn’t provide the type of escape or diversion I crave.  It’s become more of a chore or a means to an end at this point.  Sure, it’s satisfying when I find an item on my list, but when I don’t, it’s often quite frustrating and draining.

No Replacement for Shopping as of Yet

I know many of you have lots of activities you enjoy and which fulfill you in various ways.  While I definitely have things I enjoy doing and am working to cultivate new hobbies and interests, I’ve yet to find a replacement for shopping in my life.  I’m sure that will come with time, but at this point I feel a bit of a loss for what shopping used to mean for me.  I know it was very destructive to me in many ways, but I miss what it provided for me.

I’m sure I will find my way and grow to love a lot of other things in life besides shopping. I’m sure that shopping will eventually find its rightful place in my life as an occasional activity that meets a defined need.  I’m sure I’ll eventually create the full life I want to replace my full closet.  But right now, I feel a bit sad and I’m mourning the loss of shopping as a hobby and passion.

In the Balance, I’m Happy with the Changes

In the balance, though, I’m very happy and proud of the changes I’ve made.  I know I still have a long way to go, but I’m happy to now be a different type of shopper, one who shops with her brain instead of her emotions.

I’m sure I will always like nice things and want to dress well and I’ll need to shop from time to time to fill closet gaps and update my wardrobe.  But shopping is no replacement for truly living and enjoying my life.  Shopping will never fill the emptiness in my soul.   That emptiness is still there, but with some time and a lot of work and soul-searching, I believe I’ll find other ways to feed my soul. I will have faith and continue to walk my path of recovery.  I thank all of those who are walking with me and cheering me on along the way!

24 thoughts on “A Tale of Two Shoppers

  1. I would imagine that time will balance out the two different shopping personalities. After all, many women have an emotional response to that great silk scarf or cashmere sweater that they spent a little too much on, but know (or hope) that this piece will serve them well in the future. With your analytical mind you will arrive at the point where you will enjoy shopping and spending because the guilt of feeling that you over shop and -spend will have subsided. Look at how far you have come since beginning this blog.

    • Thanks for your kind words and insights, Cornelia. I truly hope you’re right that things will balance out in time. I know that sometimes we go from one extreme to another before settling it a happy medium. I hope I can get to the point of enjoying shopping as just one of my hobbies and not take things overboard. Fingers crossed…

  2. Excellent post. When my Daughter was small we used to go out everyday and hit the “resale” shops after I picked her up. Then I realized I was creating a bad habit. When we stopped going out everyday it was kind of like withdrawal for both of us. We had to do something else that didn’t involve shopping. We still shop too much, so I love your posts.

    • I’m glad you liked this post, Donna. It sounds like you and your daughter have a special bond. I hope you’ll find other things you like to do as much as shopping. I know it’s hard to find, but hopefully you’ll find another passion and I will, too!

  3. Debbie those questions you ask yourself are great questions and I will certainly be asking them myself for the rest of my life! At the moment I’m on a self-imposed shopping diet as I have all the clothes I need. However on Monday when I was volunteering at the thrift shop I was tempted by two items. They were good quality and certainly a bargain but I asked myself if I really needed them. I already own (several!) similar pieces so I resisted.
    Good luck with finding a passion that will replace the buzz you formerly got from shopping 🙂

    • Congrats on resisting temptation, Megan! It’s good to be in a place of “enough.” I am probably there but am not feeling it fully as of yet. I’m sure I will get there, though. Thanks for your good wishes for me to find another passion. I hope it will happen!

  4. Hey Debbie, part of your “downside” experience sounds like a natural and healthy grieving process to me (not that that makes it any easier, of course). I have experienced similar bouts of grief as my health problems have progressed and I’ve had to come to terms with the loss of being able to do certain things and even wear certain things. Although I was never addicted to shopping, fashion was still a fun hobby for me for a long time. Now I’m just trying to figure out how to make chunky New Balance athletic shoes look somehow cute! I feel less sadness than I used to about it and try to keep a sense of humor, but it is still hard sometimes.

    Also, for me personally, browsing through stores serves as easy, low-impact exercise and I actually notice a difference from shopping less. It’s a part of my self-care, if you will. It’s not all that easy to replace something that comes so naturally and fuels one’s creative expression in a fun and meaningful way, while also providing accessible movement. The sense of losing the beneficial qualities of shopping/dressing can certainly lead to a legitimate, painful grief process.

    I think part of the trick is in searching for and recognizing the things that do in fact work for you and that deep down you really, truly enjoy- which will not always necessarily be what you *think* should work, or want to work, or works for others, or what others expect should work for you. Hope that makes sense. It’s kind of a fine distinction and certainly takes a lot of inner focus and effort to determine for oneself. Anyway, I empathize with you and wish you (an me!) lots of luck in finding ways of coping that feel meaningful and help you move forward in the way that you desire. 🙂

    • Thanks for sharing your insights and experience, Claire. I do feel that I’m going through a form of grieving and it is normal and natural. Placing that perspective on my experience puts it in a different light and makes it easier to understand. Keeping a sense of humor in the midst of it all, as you have, is helpful as well. You seem to have learned a lot of useful tools for dealing with your difficult situation. I’m glad you’ve been able to incorporate a new way of shopping (browsing) as part of your self-care plan! I second your wish that both of us find new passions and ways of coping! I think if we keep on keeping and continue to explore our feelings and gain new insights, it will happen.

  5. Good post Debbie! Like Claire said, “Although I was never addicted to shopping, fashion was still a fun hobby for me for a long time.” And I shopped way too much! I continue to have a high interest in clothes, enjoy looking in stores. But the big change that has taken place for me in the past 10 months of following along here, is that I no longer settle and buy something that “almost” fits or is “almost” what I want. Now I take a long time to search for exactly what I want. Often shopping, but not buying anything because I need to think it over carefully before I purchase. What I’ve begun to notice is that store clerks find me annoying, coming back week after week and still just looking. Oh well. Whereas in the years before I would always buy something, a T-shirt or some little item every time I went shopping– and that needed to stop. It has taken me a while to adjust to the fact that I will need to shop a couple of times a month, and most of the time come home weary and tired and empty handed, and without a reward for my efforts. Like you, shopping has become somewhat of a chore, and I’m looking forward to the day when browsing might become fun again. Lately it is becoming a bit more fun, but mostly because I now trust myself not to buy unless I love it, it’s a good fit, and I will wear it the next day. I’ve learned a lot too from all of the comment here. Thank you everyone!

    • Again, our experiences seem to be on a parallel, Terra. What you described sounds very familiar and much like my experience. It is definitely a more frustrating type of shopping, but in the long run, it will serve us much better than the type of buying we used to do. Leaving stores empty-handed is a new type of experience for me, but at least I’m not adding as much to my already too full closet! I do still buy and still make mistakes, but a shift has occurred. I’m glad you’re experiencing a shift as well and that you’re learning a lot from this blog and readers’ comments. Thanks for sharing your experience!

  6. When I became more aware of how my shopping was impacting my life in a negative way I tried to stop the shopping and to replace it with other things. I really struggled with it. The first go around I just wanted to stay busy. I replaced shopping with chores. So not only was I not doing my favorite thing-I was working my butt off. I felt like I was being double punished. The second attempt I tried to pick things I might enjoy. That made a huge difference. The best I’ve felt is when I was doing a variety of different things and was open to trying new things. I love to read, watch baseball, and paint. I am enjoying these things again now that shopping isn’t a daily activity.
    For a while after I changed my behavior shopping stressed me out and left me with a vague sense that I was doing something wrong. It wasn’t enjoyable anymore. Today I had a very different experience. I went to Nashville with one of my friends and I had a great day. We went to a mall and couple of stand alone stores. I didn’t buy anything until one of the last stores we visited. I was perfectly okay not buying anything at all. The day would have been just as much fun if I didn’t. My enjoyment level was the same when we were eating lunch and when we stopped at Whole Foods. I just enjoyed the company of my friend and the opportunity to check stuff out that isn’t available in my town. It felt like a much healthier approach. I think with time and additional interests you might find that shopping can be a fun thing, but it’s not the only thing.

    • Your day in Nashville sounds wonderful, Tonya! It seems like you’re reaching a happy medium in terms of shopping and you give me hope that I can get there, too. I’m still in the “shopping is stressing me out place,” but perhaps my journey will be similar to yours and I can reach a place where I can enjoy shopping and not go crazy with it. I still need to find new hobbies and interests to enjoy. I have a few – reading, movies, writing, walking – but could use a few more and to include more activities that include other people. With time, I believe it will happen. Your progress inspires me. Congrats on how far you’ve come!

      • I think I was able to get to this place because I am spending time pursuing interests that are not clothing related. I’d like to second what Katy said about trying many new things without great expectations. Things that I never thought I’d enjoy(like canoeing) were the things that helped break the hold that shopping had on me.

      • Very good point, Tonya! I guess I need to broaden my horizons in terms of things to try. I don’t know if I’ll go canoeing, but you never know 🙂

  7. I have gone through a similar process in my own shopping habits. I used to shop for amusement, or because I was sad about an event or familial relationships. Shopping was a bandaid, a way to say “I love myself even if no one else does”. I always ended up taking back these purchases.

    Unlike you, Debbie, I never felt energized by shopping, it felt more like an act of desperation where I was seeking to reward myself to make up for something sad, or to define a different side of my persona by experimenting with outfits that were unsuitable for me–and what’s more–I knew this before I ever left the store! This was a major clue that something was wrong…

    Because I felt guilty about shopping this way, I never shopped with the purpose of finding something that really spoke to me. Paying full price for anything was an anathema, because I knew I shouldn’t be shopping in the first place. So I would only purchase stuff on sale or clearance–stuff that I wasn’t in love with because I knew it was my second best. I would see outfits in the stores that I loved, and say “that’s not for me because its not on sale”.

    Now I have a different method of shopping. I will quickly peruse the store, and determine if there is anything that would coordinate nicely with my new color palette and garment needs. This takes me about 15 minutes max to scan a store’s merchandise. If I don’t see anything, I leave. If I do see something I watch for it to go on sale unless it is a popular item that I will miss out on my size if I don’t purchase it right away. I’ve gotten over my horror of paying full price because I’m not buying as much, hence I’m not spending as much.

    I’ve even come to view shopping as boring, something I never thought I would feel. Now, if I’m not interested in purchasing anything, I see no reason to waste time in the store. I have become a not very good shopping companion now for this reason!

    I think part of the reason I now find shopping boring is that I have a hard time finding garments that meet my quality requirements. So many things are cheaply made and foisted off as “designer”. I only wear shoes, belts and bags of leather for aesthetic and health reasons (I have a skin condition where I am allergic to the glue and materials used in the manufacture of athletic shoes and other faux leather items). There is so much faux leather out there, and very cleverly done too–but I can smell that awful petroleum scent that emanates from vinyl and its a real turn off. In stores like DSW, for example, the reek of faux leather is overpowering from the moment you enter. Faux leather is not good for the environment either. It doesn’t last as long as real leather, so you have to replace items more often, and then it ultimately goes to a landfill rather than decomposing naturally.

    I used shopping to escape, but there are other ways to escape that I find enjoyable. For example, I used to be a knitter. I’ve decided to take it up again, and am starting on a new project for a wool cascade front cardigan–just purchased the yarn last night! I am finding that making something with my hands is much more fulfilling that going shopping now. And when I walk out of a store empty-handed, I feel proud of my progress.

    There is a whole world of things to capture our imaginations out there!

    • Deby, your past experiences are a good illustration of the fact that we all approach shopping in different ways and many of them are unhealthy. You didn’t get a “high” from shopping but it was still fulfilling a purpose for you in various ways. Your new way of shopping sounds much healthier overall. I’m starting to do what you do in quickly perusing a store to see if there is anything worth my while to try on. More often than not, the answer has been no, especially since I’m trying to fill in real wardrobe gaps instead of just shopping for sport. This has been frustrating to me and this type of shopping HAS felt boring at times. I never would have thought I’d find shopping boring in any way, but it’s true!

      I hear you about the quality issues and the icky smell of the faux leather in DSW. I was just in there recently, so I can relate! It’s so great that you are starting to knit again. I don’t know if I’d have the patience for that, but perhaps I should keep an open mind and try it. Your new project sounds very nice and like a lot of work, but I’m sure it will be so fulfilling when you finish! You’ve made tremendous progress since you started to comment here, so I send you a very big congrats!

  8. I loved this post! I feel you are definitely progressing in the right direction and so am I! I still have occasional moments when the ‘altered state of consciousness’ draws me in (it’s like a drug high for me) and there is some collateral damage, unnecessary purchases. But I’ve learned a lot about the triggers. I think I’ve gradually been able to pinpoint what was really missing from my life. Right now, I feel my life is quite full – meaningful friendships (new and renewed!), intellectual stimulation, and spirituality. My closets are already chock-full, but more importantly I feel I have lost the headspace for shopping. I’d rather do something else.
    Oh, and replacing basics remains a chore for me too…

    • I’m so happy to read about your progress, FrugalFashionista, as I know we’ve had very similar struggles. We seem to be in a similar place now, too. I also get that drug high from shopping, but that’s happening far less often these days and like you, I feel I’m losing the “headspace” for shopping. I’m not really sure what to do instead as of yet, but I know I’ll get there. I just need to take things one day at a time. Congrats on your amazing progress!

  9. I loved this post and can identify with both sides. I really admire how far you have come as for me I had no choice and I’m paying for it with debts 😦 so I have also had to grieve and have found another hobby which I love. At the same time I’m still grieving my shopping because it was forced on me. Well done for coming this far!

    • I’m glad you liked this post, Christy, and could identify with what I wrote. I’m still grieving the loss of shopping (or at least the way it made me feel), too. I think it’s great that you’ve found another new hobby to love. I wish you the best with dealing with your current debts and with avoiding debt in the future!

  10. Another great post Debbie. You analyze your feeling of grief very well, which is helpful as you can distance yourself better from the addictive thrill of shopping. I’d like to suggest that you keep trying a range of new activities without too much expectation that they will provide you with a new purpose in life. I think sometimes we find the right interests, or activities, or friendships when we’re not really looking (if that doesn’t sound utterly contradictory). And yes, I’m sure you will always dress well and look great, probably with less and less in your wardrobe.

    • Your advice is very sound, Katy, and I thank you. I do think I need to try lots of new potential hobbies without getting too attached to any of them. I struggle with managing my expectations, but that’s an important part of the equation, I feel. I agree that we often find the best things in life without really looking for them. I met my husband that way and he’s the best find I’ve ever made 🙂

  11. It makes perfect sense that there would be a grieving process when one is no longer shopping frequently. I’m at this point myself. Shopping was such a huge part of my non-working time, and it was comforting, no longer doing so regularly, it’s like loosing a close friend. But that’s ok, because change can make room for something new, perhaps a real life person as a new close friend.

    • I agree about having room for something new. I’m still unsure what that something new is, but I’m willing to wait and trust that it will come. I still grieve the loss of shopping as my primary hobby, but I know it wasn’t really serving me and it was time to move on. I hope we both find our “something new” soon…

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