About a month ago, I went to the mall in search of a few of the items on my shopping priorities list. Since I was looking for very specific things, I probably walked into and out of close to half of the stores in the mall. During the process, I observed many other shoppers and later jotted down a few notes to potentially explore in a future post. When I shopped again this past weekend, I was reminded of my impressions from the June excursion.
In today’s post, I write from the perspective of a recovering shopaholic who has emerged enough from my compulsion to see it in a different light. While it’s true that I am not yet completely recovered (that may take a while…), I am sometimes able to view the folly that shopping can be with the wise eyes of an outside observer. It is my hope that my observations will be helpful to you and will provoke both deep thoughts, as well as lively discussion for those who wish to chime in!
Allow Me to Set the Stage
Back to my June shopping trip… It was a weekday evening and the stores were bustling but not jam-packed. Most of my fellow shoppers were women and many of them were in my age range (for lack of a more flattering term, middle-aged). Most were dressed in ultra-casual San Diego attire, some of which could be referred to as sloppy or even frumpy. While it’s common for some women to dress up to go shopping in these parts, it was a hot evening and the garb du jour was mostly very dressed down.
A lot of these women looked lost. I doubt that most of them had a defined purpose for their shopping trips like I did on that particular evening. Many of them seemed like they were rushed and frantic, but I still got the impression they weren’t exactly certain as to the objectives of their excursions.
The popular destination in almost all of the stores was the sale section, usually positioned in the back of the establishment. I noticed many women make a beeline to those racks and rifle through them feverishly, hoping to snag a great deal on something they didn’t know they needed until it was smack dab in front of them. As I glanced at the garments these shoppers were carrying, there didn’t seem to be much rhyme or reason among them. I wondered if any of the items were pre-determined needs or if the low prices propelled them to gather up pieces to buy “just in case.”
Where’s the Outrage at the “Sea of Sameness”?
One thing that I noticed was the virtual sameness of much of the merchandise on offer. If what you wanted was a pair of ankle pants or some skinny jeans, you were in luck. Likewise, if a crop top or a boxy blouse was the prize for which you searched. But if you happened to desire a fitted top or a looser pair of pants, tough luck! I’ve written about the “sea of sameness” of the retail landscape before, so I won’t belabor that issue too much here. But there is a point I’d like to make in line with that.
I mentioned that many of the shoppers were in my age range. My impression in many stores was that the clothing for sale was geared more to a younger demographic. Even the so-called “older ladies stores” (i.e. Chico’s, J.Jill, etc.) seemed to carry the same styles and silhouettes as the shops known for catering to the millennial generation. Yet, no one seemed upset or outraged at this fact. They just scooped up what was there. A few questions popped into my head:
- Am I such a big “fuddy-duddy” in that I don’t want to dress like a twenty year-old?
- Do all other women my age want to outfit themselves in trendy duds, even if the current styles are not flattering on their body types?
- Is looking young and hip of primary importance to most “women of a certain age”?
- Is getting a good deal more important than buying something one will actually love and wear?
I don’t know the answers to these questions. I may just be a hopeless fuddy-duddy, but I wasn’t enamored with most of the clothes on offer and I seemed to be in the minority. I saw many women fawning over what seemed to be low quality, unattractive garments on the sales racks. They snapped them up and clutched on to them like Gollum held on to his “precious” golden ring. I thought, “meh,” but others clearly didn’t share my views.
Will Those “Great Deals” Ever Be Worn?
I can’t help but wonder if the women I saw will ever wear the pieces they had to have that night because “the price was right.” Are many of those garments still hanging in their closets with the marked-down sales tags still attached? Did they forget about their new clothes soon after they left the store, shopping bags in hand?
Were they really searching for clothing that evening, or was their actual target something else entirely? Were the clothes merely stand-ins for positive feelings they wished to have, such as excitement, passion, love, and acceptance?
The Continuum of Shopping Behavior
It may sound like I’m being overly judgmental toward my fellow shoppers, and perhaps I am. But the truth is that I know and understand their behavior all too well. Not long ago, I was a charter member of their sorority, after all. I’m not saying all of the women I saw were shopaholics. I’m sure some of them were, but many of them likely were not. What I am saying is that there is a continuum of shopping behavior on which “shopaholism” is at one far end, but there are many shades of disordered buying in between that extreme and the relatively rare phenomenon that is conscious shopping.
You see, I think most women (and many men) exhibit at least some signs of dysfunctional shopping behavior. Think about it… Do most of the women you know shop with a list and only buy what’s on that list? Do most of them only buy things on sale that they would purchase at full price? Do they only buy things they love, or do they purchase items they don’t even really like simply because a sales associate tells them it’s the latest, hot trend? Do they shop because they had a bad day and needed a little “pick-me-up”? Or do they pick up a new garment or accessory as a “reward” for putting in long hours at the office?
I’d venture to guess that most of the women we know do at least some of those things (and yes, I’m not yet immune to such behaviors, either). It’s quite normal in our society (not just the U.S., but in many countries around the world) to get caught up in the folly of it all. Sure, the deaths by trampling on Black Friday may be the outliers, but many people get crazed over sales and the promise of great deals. Many people settle for second-best simply because the price is right and/or they weren’t able to find what they truly want or need right away. Immediate gratification generally trumps long-term satisfaction for most people.
Where Does It All Get Us?
But where does all this mania over sales, low prices, trends, looking young, and the like get us? Does any of it really make us happy or lead to the long-term feeling states we wish to achieve? As someone who shopped compulsively for over 30 years (and still sometimes does), I can unequivocally state that it’s never made me happy. Sure, I may have felt a sense of calm, satisfaction, and success for a short time, but then the inner unrest fired up again. So I shopped again, and again, only to accumulate credit card debt and an overstuffed closet but very little inner peace.
Self-love, joy, acceptance, satisfaction, and all other good feelings cannot be found in a store and cannot be purchased with a credit card. I’m not saying it’s bad or wrong to love fashion and clothes or to want to look attractive and stylish. I’m just saying that it won’t get us everything we want and it won’t quiet the inner unrest that dwells in so many of us.
Clothing and style can be fun and can help us make a good first impression. They can even help to enhance our self-confidence, but they won’t get us all the way there. If we feel dissatisfied with ourselves or our lives, new clothes won’t make everything better for us. And if we continually shop with a short-term view, we’ll only end up with a bloated, uninspired, and overwhelming wardrobe that doesn’t meet our needs.
The Bottom Line
I wasn’t sure where I was going with this post when I sat down to write it. I had a few points I wanted to make, but I didn’t expect to take the detours I took in the process. Before I close, I want to clarify that I can’t possibly know what was going on in the minds and lives of my fellow shoppers. It’s quite possible that I took some overreaching jumps and made some unrealistic assumptions about their motivations and results. That’s really immaterial, as I likely won’t see any of those people again and probably wouldn’t recognize them even if I did.
The main point I wanted to make with this post is that shopping is not the universal panacea that many of us have tried to make it. It won’t make our lives better, it won’t make us feel more loved, it won’t turn back the hands of time, and it won’t assuage our loneliness, fear, pain, or regret. Finding a great deal on clothes we didn’t know we even needed doesn’t make us successful. That one stings a bit, as I infused such meaning into my shopping for a long time. I felt like such an absolute failure in life that being a good shopper was kind of my consolation price. I felt a rush of success for a short period of time, only to plunge into deeper despair when I still didn’t feel stylish, beautiful, or accomplished as a result of my latest acquisitions.
I don’t wish to demonize shopping or those who enjoy it. Heck, I will probably always enjoy it at least to some degree. But I no longer wish to kid myself, and I can’t even do it anymore. I still venture out to shop, but I mostly just feel hollow inside when I browse through the shops these days. I know that what I most desire cannot be found at the mall. I’m not exactly sure where I can acquire my deepest wishes, but I have to admit that some of them I already possess but was too stubborn and distracted to see for far too long.
I will close with a quote from a pillbox given to me by my mother a few years ago. The pill box broke, but I keep the cover in my jewelry box so I can take in its message every day:
Joy is not in things; it is in us.”
It’s always been there and it’s up to us to find and express it. I still have a fairly full closet and my life isn’t nearly as full as I would like it to be, but my journey is far from over. Recognizing the folly of it all in shopping won’t get me where I want to be, but it’s an important step along the road to a more joyous and fulfilling life – for me and for you!