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
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!