A Different Kind of Shopping

Yesterday, I went to the mall.  It’s something I’ve done countless times before and it used to be something I did weekly, if not more often.  In fact, it was pretty much my “default activity.”  I shopped when I was happy, sad, anxious, frustrated, overwhelmed, bored, or whatever other emotion dominated my mindset.  I shopped regardless of whether or not I really needed anything new. Shopping was my favorite hobby and I didn’t need a reason, just a destination.

My trip to the mall yesterday was different in several significant ways.  In today’s post, I share what was different, how I felt, and what it all means in terms of my recovering shopaholic journey.  As with all of my posts, it’s my hope that you’ll learn from my experience, both from my past mistakes and from the knowledge I’ve gained as I worked to overcome my compulsive shopping problem.

Want vs. Need

Want Need Balancing Act

Do you buy because you want things, or because you need them?

When I went to the mall yesterday, I had two very specific purchases in mind.  I was shopping to fulfill two defined needs in my wardrobe; I needed new bras and I needed a new pair of walking shoes.  It had been at least two years since I had purchased either type of item, and both were long overdue for replacement.  I had worn my favorite bras and my trusty walking shoes into the ground (the latter quite literally) and I should have purchased replacements months ago.  I had the money to do so, yet I kept placing these items on the “back burner” of my shopping priorities.

Why hadn’t I bought new bras and walking shoes prior to yesterday?  After all, I really needed both items, right?  Well, if you’re a shopaholic like me, you know the answer.  Buying things because you need them isn’t fun.  It isn’t exciting or sexy; it’s utilitarian and functional.  Shopping for things you need requires that you engage your brain and be mindful during the shopping process.  You don’t lose yourself when shopping for things you need.  Losing ourselves happens when we allow our inner child to take over and shop for what she wants.

As most of you know, there’s no shortage of things to want out there.  Store merchandisers gear their entire jobs around getting us to want things. They display everything in such beautiful and enticing ways and make it really easy for us to grab the newest and hottest items.  When mannequins are draped with gorgeous clothes put together in impeccably stylish outfits, it’s difficult to resist the pull to drag those pieces into the fitting room or straight to the cash register. Even if we have no conceivable reason to buy a cocktail dress because our last evening soiree was eons ago, we still feel compelled to try on the season’s newest dress styles.

Exhilaration vs. Satisfaction

Shopping for what we want is exciting and exhilarating.  We get caught up in a wave of emotion and experience a powerful high from that type of shopping.  We get a strong burst of positive emotion while we’re in the store.  Whatever cares we have in the outside world fall away and we completely lose ourselves in the sights, sounds, feels, and smells of the sartorial feast laid out before us.  Throw a sale into the mix and the experience is further heightened.  Not only can we find something new, stylish, and beautiful, but we can also buy it at a significant discount! Win-win, right?

Well, not necessarily…  Buying while in an exhilarated state is rarely smart buying.  Sure, we feel great while we’re in the store, but how do we feel when we get home?  How do we feel when we pull our new cocktail dress out of the bag and hang it up next to our five other cocktail dresses that still have the tags attached?  Do we marvel at our shopping prowess or do we shake our heads in disgust at our folly?

In contrast, shopping for what we really need rarely produces a spectacular high.  We don’t feel particularly exhilarated while walking in and out of store after store searching for a very specific type of item.  In fact, we may feel tremendously frustrated when our efforts don’t yield the results we desire.  We may leave a store – or even the entire mall – empty-handed!  But when we do find that ever-elusive item that fills a defined wardrobe need, it can be incredibly satisfying.   Exhilaration and satisfaction are entirely different emotions.  One is more powerful and fleeting, while the other is deeper and more lasting.   It’s tempting to go for the former, but more rewarding to opt for the latter.

Back to the Bras and Walking Shoes…

Back to my shopping trip yesterday…  After being measured for bras and trying on about fifteen different styles, I settled upon two new bras that met my needs.  While they were both attractive, they weren’t particularly exciting and they were full-price instead of on sale.  I cringed a bit at the high price tags, but I knew I was purchasing good quality bras that would last for a long time.  Hardly anyone will ever see them, but they will serve as an important foundation for all of my outfits.   A good bra is a critical part of all attractive ensembles, but it’s something many of us overlook because it’s not fun (for most people) to shop for bras.

Bras can be expensive and we may prefer to use the money to purchase things that are more “fun” to buy and wear.  I didn’t have fun shopping for bras, but I did feel incredibly satisfied when I left the store.  I knew I’d made a wise buy for things I really needed and would actually use.  I know I’ll get my money’s worth from my new bras, which is not something I can confidently claim about many of my other purchases.

The same can be said about my new walking shoes.  My husband and I go for long walks near where we live at least several days per week.  I have “fussy” feet, so it’s especially important that I buy high quality walking shoes with good arch support and shock absorption.  Such shoes don’t come cheap, but I know the cost per wear for my last pair of walking shoes is down to mere pennies at this point.

I needed the walking shoes, but was it as fun to shop for them as for a new pair of heels?  Of course not.  But like with the new bras, I felt highly satisfied when I left the shoe store with my new walking shoes in hand.  I know my new shoes will serve me well and carry me through many enjoyable walks along with water with my wonderful husband.                        

About Potential Diversions

My shopping trip yesterday was not without temptations.  I bought the bras at Nordstrom, as they have a wide range of sizes and styles and excellent customer service. However, they are currently in the midst of their half-yearly sale, which is one of only three sales they have all year.  The store was booming with lots of customers and the sales frenzy was palpable.  I saw numerous women frantically pawing through the sales racks trying to take advantage of all the “great deals” in store.

Was I tempted to peruse the sales racks?  Sure I was, but not nearly as much as I’ve been in the past.  My impeccable tracking methods have shown me how little I’ve actually worn many of the items I’d bought on sale, thinking I was getting a “great deal.”  I’ve learned that it’s far better to buy something you really need at full price than to purchase something on sale that’s either “just okay” or a mismatch for your lifestyle.

As I’ve taken rarely or never worn garments to consignment stores or charity shops this year, I’ve seen the error of shopping with my “sales goggles” on.  The dollars wasted are painful to contemplate, but all I can do now is learn from my past mistakes and hope I can help others to do the same.

The Moral of the Story

So what’s the moral of the story?  With shopping, as in many other areas of life, we benefit from placing our long-term satisfaction over short-term enjoyment.   Not only will we save money by shopping for what we truly need instead of buying on whim, we’ll also be much more likely to cultivate a wardrobe that actually works for who we are and how we live.

I hope the different type of shopping I did yesterday will become the norm in terms of how I shop.  Of course, I’ll have to find new hobbies and interests to meet the needs that shopping used to fulfill in my life. That will likely take quite a bit of time and effort, but I have the time and I’m willing to be patient with myself and my process.  I’m willing to place satisfaction above exhilaration on my priorities list, as I know I will be much happier and fulfilled in the long run.   I wish the same for all of you!

40 thoughts on “A Different Kind of Shopping

  1. Very good post Debbie. I know exactly what you mean. I’ve been meaning to buy new underware for about a month now. I even went so far as to put several pairs in an online shopping cart and just….never bought them. I have however, bought two shirts, a pair of jeans, and a necklace that I don’t need. I had a bit of an epiphany this week. I was reading about a woman that clearly has a drinking problem and she rationalizing how she could continue drinking. Things like I won’t have more than three drinks, I won’t drink before five, etc. I nodded my head and thought “I remember doing that”. Later that day while I was looking online at more things to buy that I don’t need I was telling myself that it might be a good idea if I just bought accessories since I have plenty of clothes. I realized that I am doing the same thing with my shopping that I used to do with drinking. I am making up reasons to justify my purchases. Things like I’ll only buy items I love, I must wear everything new before I buy anything else, or no more short sleeve tops. Does it really matter if I buy long sleeve instead of short sleeve because I own less of them if I have plenty right now? The fact of the matter is that unless I have a true need I am just fooling myself. I keep telling myself that I’m doing good. That really isn’t an accurate word. If I was “doing good” I wouldn’t be buying things that I don’t need. I am doing better. I have made big improvements and I spend much less time and money than I used to shopping. I don’t want to minimize what I have accomplished, but I do want to be honest with myself. When I first started this journey I thought if I could buy 3 or 4 things a month and spend $200-$300 that would be fantastic. I am now there and it feels like too much. I now want to buy only when there is a true need (and there won’t be many for a while), a few new things a season, and if there is an event such as a wedding. I know this will take time and work, but I’m willing to do it.

    • Thanks so much for sharing your epiphany, Tonya. I definitely think it’s true that the rules we create may be a way of enabling ourselves to shop more when we may not really need anything. I see it as a step on my journey – controlling the shopping instead of stopping it altogether. Of course, it CAN be a slippery slope… I think it’s good that you’re acknowledging your progress along with looking at how you can still improve. My view of “too much” has radically changed as well. We are all a “work in progress,” but from my vantage point, you’re doing very well. Of course, you can improve, but I’m glad you’re seeing the progress as well.

      • Thank you Debbie, I always appreciate the encouragement! I was just thinking today that the last couple of months I spent under $300 both months and last month bought five items and this month seven. I was fretting that this was way too much. I realized that two years ago I would have been giving myself high fives and pats on the back for buying so “little”. I am very glad to see how much my perspective has changed.

      • Yes, it’s interesting how our perspective can change! I can’t believe how much I used to spend and how much I used to buy. I know I still have a long way to go, but I’m glad I’m no longer buried in a mountain of clothes like I used to be.

  2. I went shopping on Saturday and bought …. nothing!!! This time I asked myself some completely different questions as I looked through the merchandise on offer.

    I have been purging my wardrobe lately and I have a pile of over 100 garments that I no longer wear or love. Some of the garments are old and tired and have had a lot of wears and use but most have not and were stupid purchases, worn a handful of times, some only once. Considering that the average price of each article is $100, there is over ONE THOUSAND DOLLARS worth sitting in a big pile in my basement right now.

    So, as I shopped on Saturday I asked myself – will this 150 Euro sweater be good value? Will I love it, wear it to death and keep it for years to come? Or will it become another garment destined for the out-pile, worn only a handful of times before I am over it? Is this 150 Euro sweater “the one” or is it just going to be another interim love affair until the right one comes along?????????

    Thinking in this way, it was easy to leave all the clothes and accessories I looked at and tried on right where I found them and that was a very satisfying feeling!!!

    • Bravo to you, Carolyn! How wonderful that you’ve not only been able to pare down your wardrobe, but you’re also exercising much more self-control when shopping. I love the questions you’re asking yourself. Keep up the great work! You definitely deserve to feel satisfied and proud of yourself!

    • Not to add to your pain, but if you have a hundred garments that averaged $100 each, you actually have spent *ten* thousand dollars. Ouch!

      • I saw that, too, Renee, but was afraid to add insult to injury! I can certainly empathize with her, though. I shudder to think of how much money I’ve wasted on bad shopping decisions over the years. That’s one type of tracking I haven’t done and I’m kind of glad, as it could be too much for my middle-aged heart to bear!

      • Yes, you are right !!! But let me better explain what I meant.

        I was looking at a pile of clothes that did not prove to be good value and came up with $1000 as a guestimate of that pile. Seeing these clothes in a pile was a clear reminder that I had spent money on things that did not give me good value for money because they weren’t good purchases to begin with.

        It has been quite motivating for me to see clothing in terms of VALUE instead of my usual way of looking at clothes in shops (cute, pretty, great color, would look good with..etc.) Considering that the average price of clothing is about $100, it can quickly mount up to $1000 wasted if you are not shopping wisely.

        Thinking about it like this really made me stop and think more carefully about the clothes I was looking at in the shops and stopped me from buying things I don’t need. It’s very easy to spend a casual $100 in a brief shopping spree on a Saturday afternoon. When it’s done week after week, that adds up pretty quickly. And obviously when these are things aren’t needed in the first place or go on to not earn their keep, it’s just a sheer waste!!!

  3. The very last paragraph left me incredibly curious… You’ve wrote about ‘new hobbies and interests’ – the fuller life part. I wonder what these have been before you got hooked on shopping… I know that dealing with eating disorders has been a huge part of your life, so it must have been a time drain(at least I know that from my own experience), but I assume that you pursued hobbies other than shopping at some point in your life. What I know from reading your blog is that you’re keen on traveling,. In my case it’s pretty similar. I like to travel, but haven’t done much travelling , because shopping took my money, time and energy… Now I know that instead of looking for good deals on the racks I should have been looking for places to visit… I’m doing a 3 month shopping for clothes hiatus and I’m almost in the middle of it. I need to say that it does help me a little bit to get focused on what I know I really need to do…
    Anyways, I originally wrote this post to ask you about your past hobbies, so sorry for the rant about myself 🙂

    • Excellent question Kasia, and well done with your shopping hiatus! I’d also like to ask Debbie to perhaps consider a future post based on this theme – past interests, hobbies and things other than shopping that you used to enjoy.

      For me, a big step forward has been to realize that I had given up so many activities I used to enjoy because of changing life circumstances. And then I started to fill all that empty time with online shopping… When restarted doing thing I really like – traveling, spending time with friends, learning new things, enjoying cultural activities, working outside the home – there has been much less overshopping. Life is fuller and more satisfying!

    • Thanks so much for your question and input, Kasia. No worries about going on about yourself ! That’s a big part of what the comments section is for 🙂 Anyway, to answer your question, I DID used to have a lot of other hobbies besides shopping! Traveling was one of them, but there were quite a few others as well. I’m going to take FrugalFashionista’s suggestion to write about hobbies and interests in a future post, so stay tuned. She is doing SO well with replacing shopping iwth other interests and I can see that it’s having a powerful impact on her life. I hope to be able to say the same before too long.

      By the way, congrats on doing a shopping hiatus and gaining more focus on other areas of your life. I wish you the best with your process and I hope you’ll write again to let me and others know how you’re doing!

      • Thanks :). Certainly I will write again. I must admit that your blog helped me a lot with my bad shopping habits.
        FrugalFashonista, your comment is so inspiring and I just feel like writing a response full of ‘<3' hearts 😀

  4. This post is definitely food for thought, thank you! It’s true that shopping for a need (especially when it is a neglected wardrobe area for example) can be painful, and it is frustrating to come out of the mall empty handed. I remember a lot of my shopping mistakes used to be just because of that: I spent 2 or 3 hours looking for something, didn’t find it, and bought something (anything) just to reassure myself that these 3 hours were not wasted. But it is also true that the satisfaction comes from something else when you buy less. I realized I am much happier with a new purchase, and the “new” feeling lasts much longer when I haven’t bought anything for a long time. It feels like a special treat because I rarely get myself anything…

    • Great insights, Kali. I also used to buy things just to feel like I didn’t waste my time shopping and going home empty-handed. So I wasted money instead – where’s the logic in that? I love what you wrote about infrequent buys feeling like special treats. I can definitely see how one would appreciate things more when buying less.

  5. This is another great post and it definitely rings true.

    I had to laugh, though, because nice bras that fit well are one of my shopping weaknesses!

    • Thanks, Abby! I think you’re a step ahead of many of us because bras are SO important. Of course, one can buy too many bras just like everything else, but most of us don’t buy new bras often enough. I’m happy I finally took the plunge to replace my old, tired bras.

  6. Wow! Sounds like you are leaving the valley of shadows and heading to the bright plain of happiness. “Shopping” for me is a task on a to-do list — period. I only go to the store (or on-line) when I need to purchase something , and I only buy within my budget. I work in retail and even then I am not tempted to “shop” (vs. “purchase”). In fact, working in retail has made other activities much more delightful, especially hiking, gardening — anything with fresh air. I also volunteer several times a week to give back to my community. The glittery world of fashion does not retain its charm for me….

    • I do hope I’m headed to that bright plain of happiness, Dottie! I think it’s great that you can work in retail and not feel tempted to shop. I can see how that could happen over time, actually. It’s wonderful that you have a number of other activities you enjoy. I hope to rediscover some past passions and find a few new ones as well!

  7. I was able to keep myself out of the mall yesterday by default. I had sick child at home. I really wanted to go to Yankee Candle and get some $1 tarts, but I definately didn’t need them. Or any of the other items I would have been compelled to pick up just because I was at the mall and I saw them. I strugle with wants/needs as I find ways to fill the void of not many friends in this new place. Shopping gets me out of the house. But it usually leaves me feeling more empty when I get home with things I didn’t really need, don’t really love, and spent too much on.

    • Welcome, mindingmomma, and thanks for your comment. I hope your sick child is feeling much better today! I can identify with what you wrote. Shopping has often been something I did in order to get out of the house and around other people, even if they weren’t real friends. The empty feeling when we get home is a big problem. I hope that you, me, and all others who struggle can find other activities and interests to fill our souls, and new ways to get out of the house and meet people.

  8. Hi Debbie, well done!!! Bra shopping is an ordeal and so is shopping for sensible shoes 😉
    With a good bra everything you already own will look better.

    I realized some time ago that although I still have a decent figure, I was always wearing dull nude, black and white T shirt bras (sadly, not all of them were in great shape). I’m not going to become a bra-shop-a-holic, but getting remeasured (my size had changed!) and buying some beautiful new underwear was actually quite pleasant. Unlike the rest of my clothes, these new items will be worn constantly – so it’s really money well spent. I’m enjoying putting them on every morning.

    • You raise some excellent points about the power of good bras, FrugalFashionista! You are so right that everything we own looks better with a good bra and money spent on these items is money well spent. I wasn’t practicing what I preached, but I’m glad to be walking the talk now!

  9. Yes, a good quality bra that fits you properly is expensive but well worth it. As a busty gal, I find that small shops that sell just bras give me a lot better experiences than at the department/chain stores. They are very knowledgeable. They always listen to what I need before they select and bring the bras to me in the fitting room. They always make sure the bras fit me properly before I purchase them. They usually offer superior selections and more choices in my size. They make me feel relaxed and satisfied, not so at the department/chain stores.

    • Great points, Rochelle. I know someone who owns a bra store, but sadly she lives on the other side of the country. I need to find such a shop in my area, as even though Nordstrom has great customer service, their lingerie salespeople probably don’t know bras as well as people in specialty shops. Since bras are such important purchases, it pays off to go to the people who really know what they’re doing and can offer expert help. Thanks for raising this issue!

  10. I wonder when “shopping” became a leisure time activity. I see large groups of people — whole families, 5-6 girlfriends, grandma/mother/daughter combos — in stores all the time. And I think, Why aren’t you in the park, at the museum, or at a sporting event? The acquisition of a need (food, clothing, etc.) has been replaced by a (seemingly) compelling drive to accumulate lots and lots of stuff. I would rather invest my hard-earned dollars in experiences like travel, attending the theater, etc., or investing in my retirement funds — something that continues to pay dividends (emotional and spiritual, like travel) or interest (like an IRA) long after skinny jeans go out of fashion.

    • I don’t think shopping as a leisure time activity is necessarily bad, Dottie. But like everything else, one can overdo it like I and many others have. I think we are all better off if we have a wide variety of hobbies and interests. I know people who are only interested in sports and that can be just as bad as the shopping habit. Both sports and shopping can be great things, but moderation is key in all areas of life. I do agree with you that experiences can offer more fulfillment than things, though. I’ve always known that, but I’ve lost my way a bit in recent years. I also think it can be difficult to shop smartly when shopping with others. Some of my worst buys have been influenced by friends or salespeople. Targeted buys done on my own work best for me (and I think for many others as well).

      • I’m not particularly interested in sports but I have a number of other interests that are far more rewarding than going to the mall or shopping on-line. The point I was trying to make was that investing in experiences (vs. objects/things/clothes) can, over the long haul, be much more rewarding. I’ve never hear an elderly relative fret that he/she missed a sale decades ago, but several of my relatives do regret not traveling more, etc., when they were younger and/or in better health. Time flies by, and you never know what is around the corner….

  11. This is a great post. I suppose once we will have succeeded in determining the difference between wants and needs, our bank and retirement accounts will be in much better shape, and all those ugly self-storage buildings a thing of the past.

    • So true, Cornelia! Most people have far too much stuff! Getting rid of our storage unit was very fulfilling for my husband and me. We don’t miss any of that stuff, either!

  12. I went to the mall on Monday because I had a few child-free hours to kill and just had nothing else to do (already had a fresh pedicure, had worked out and gone grocery shopping.) I wandered around and browsed, but didn’t come close to buying anything. I have done some on-line shopping in the past few days but they have been, as you say, targeted purchases, like replacing my favorite 7 year old winter boots whose (? Which) soles have cracked.

    Hobbies can be tricky though. So many of them provide their own plentiful shopping opportunities for supplies, accessories and other paraphernalia.

    • Congrats on making only targeted purchases, Renee. The fact that your winter boots lasted 7 years is amazing. You must have bought good quality and taken good care of them. Things don’t seem to last as long these days, sadly. Your point about hobbies is right on. Hobbies CAN make it easier for us to shop. I remember when I used to scrapbook. I didn’t just buy what I needed. I bought whatever I might conceivably need for LONG into the future. Perhaps I can find some hobbies that don’t need a lot of “stuff” to go along with them!

  13. A great post. Shopping for a need versus a want is an entirely different experience. I think one of the hardest shifts, is in one’s thinking. When you are shopping for a need, you have to think about the items. Asking questions about the fit, the materials, how it will (or will not) work in one’s personal wardrobe. Shopping with a want mentality is a chance to step away from thinking, to be mindless, similar to how someone sits on the couch after work and watches tv, for 2 or 3 hours, but is really just sitting there, flipping from channel to channel, not really watching anything.

    • Very useful analogy, Lisa! I sometimes miss the mindless state I used to go into while shopping, as I enjoyed the “escape.” But I also know that shopping that way didn’t serve me. I’m trying to find other things I can enjoy as much as shopping and hopefully things that will actually be beneficial for me, too. It’s taking time, but I believe it will be worth it in the long run. Plus my purchases are much better these days!

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