How Curbing My Shopping Habit Taught Me to Take Care of Myself

The following is a guest post from Christine Li, Ph.D., whose story of finding lost time by looking in her closet is part of my “Stories of Recovery” series. Christine is a clinical psychologist who specializes in helping her clients recover from chronic procrastination and anxiety.  She started her blog, Procrastination Coach, in 2013 and recently released the book, Stepping into College.  In this book, Christine and her co-author, Diane Elkins, share their thoughts and tips on how incoming freshmen can make the most out of their first year in college.  

If you would like to be profiled in the “Stories of Recovery” series (you can be anonymous if desired), or if you have an idea for another type of guest post on “Recovering Shopaholic,” please connect with me to share your thoughts.

Take time for yourself

How else might you spend your time if you weren’t shopping?

Not a Shopaholic But Still in Recovery

I have never considered myself a shopaholic.  I’m not much into fashion or stuff for that matter. But I am in recovery from shopping.

Makes no sense, you say?

I realized many, many years after my adolescence, that the way I used shopping to fill my time was not helpful to my overall well-being.  I would use shopping to browse, to wander, to be relaxed, to numb out, and to zone out.  I would go shopping whenever the time permitted.  Part of that impulse felt positive and fun even, but I was never a very good shopper.  I never knew what I wanted.  I never knew what I needed.  I never had a style or brand that suited me.

My closet, therefore, ended up becoming a warehouse of unmatched, ill-fitting, fuchsia-dominated clothing pieces.  Because I was not good at cleaning out the old to bring in the new, the closet also became a veritable history of what I wore through the decades years.

Recovering, But Not on Purpose…

So how did I recover?

It certainly was not on purpose.

My original goal was to improve on my overall stress level.  I was always behind schedule, feeling panicked and overwhelmed, and I wanted to feel more confident and steady.  I turned to my closet and began giving away, donating, and tossing what wasn’t well-fitting, comfortable, or current.  It took some time, but the good feelings that resulted were really good.  Fuchsia left, but the better clothes seemed even better now that I could find them and could use them well.

Because I enjoyed my newly-functioning closet a lot and my easier selection of items to wear, I began going shopping less.  Again, this was not on purpose.  It was the gradual result of a series of small, but meaningful shifts.

Finding the “Missing Time”

Lo and behold, the time I saved from not going shopping was huge.  It was the missing time I had been looking for and had been hoping to find.  Being able to use my time more consciously and mindfully brought me even richer rewards.  I started doing better work.  I learned to relax.  I stopped feeling like I was in a rush all the time.  My relationships deepened.  I even started a blog and found I enjoyed pouring my energies into it.

I’ve learned over these past few years how much responsibility we each have over how we plan, use, and enjoy our time.  I’m grateful I don’t need to shop anymore to fill my time, and even more grateful to have more time to fill!

I wish you all the best in your own journey to find what is a perfect fit for you.

A big thank you to Christine for sharing her story!  Learn more about Christine via her blog, Procrastination Coach, or check out her book, Stepping into College.

34 thoughts on “How Curbing My Shopping Habit Taught Me to Take Care of Myself

  1. I do think that the time I spend browsing is a problem! And of course, as I browse I find things I want- and then I buy the things I really want- etc. The problem is that I am an online shopper, and it’s SO EASY TO DO.

    I’ve been concentrating lately on spending more time reading books I enjoy, but I don’t want to endlessly buy books either (and if I like a book, I must have it- I ALWAYS re-read). The other problem is that even the spare minute I have with nothing to do ends up with me online, which frequently means browsing.

    How did you make the shifts you describe? I just can’t seem to get a lasting change- I do something alternate for about a week, and then regress.

    • Regarding shopping on-line: I ONLY “shop” on-line to do research for an item I need to buy. I set a time limit, about 15 minutes max, before I end my research and then buy something (last purchase — a new case for my slightly older cell phone — $4.oo with free shipping. Then I turn my computer off. This not only reduces my utility bill, it also frees my time up to do other, more productive things.

      So maybe what you could do is set a time limit, say , 1 hour, and use a kitchen timer to remind you when the hour is up. After a while, you might be able to reduce this to 30 minutes, and so on. But you have to be honest with yourself and not backslide. And rewarding yourself (mani/pedi? facial? an hour in your favorite museum? lunch with a pal?) for success should give you something to look forward too.

      I figure that my time is worth something. Since I work from home, I decided to use my hourly rate as the “cost” of spending time on-line. So I add that to the cost of whatever I buy. So my $4 cell phone case was really more expensive than it first seemed, but I found it in under 5 minutes — thus not too bad. I also consider that sitting glued to a computer/laptop/tablet reduces the amount of time I have for socialization and other fun things.

      • Dottie, I do the same thing that you do. I allot myself 10-15 minutes to search an item, and then I do something else, although I don’t turn my computer off. I also work from home, and my company requires me to keep it on most of the day. I also calculate in my “cost per hour” during business hours, and then I determine if its “worth it” for the benefit I expect to get out of it.

    • Hi meli22,
      Thanks for your reply and interesting question. I think the issue of spending time browsing, whether on-line or in stores is a very common one. For your situation, I’d recommend two things: (1) try planning and tracking your activities at the same time by using the Emergent Task Planner (you can download a free page from the website of creator David Seah) and (2) take a look at how you feel about un-busy time — does it make you nervous? Sad? Bored? Finding the reasons you might be compelled to use all of your time might help you take back some of it. Good luck! Hope these suggestions are helpful. Christine

  2. Yes, the online shopping and browsing is powerful. I use it to fill my time, and then some. It’s hard because it’s so relaxing, fun, and I can do it anywhere. Problematic for sure…

    • Hi Chelsea,
      Thanks for your reply and comments. I wonder if you might benefit from a 7-day hiatus from browsing? That way you could determine what the pros and cons of browsing a lot are for you. I suggest this because I know you’ll find yourself with a whole bunch more time in your hands :). It will feel strange at first, but then you’ll end up discovering what you may be covering up by browsing. Good luck to you as you explore this area. Christine

      • Great idea, Christine. I think a 7-day hiatus is doable (usually people try to do more and find it overwhelming) and would likely give Chelsea some good insights into her life with and without the web browsing. I hope you decide to try it, Chelsea. If 7 days seems like too much still, try 2 or 3 or whatever feels like a stretch but still doable. If you do, I also hope you’ll let us all know how it goes for you!

      • Is it sad that 7 days seems like forever?!? It’s that FOMO you talk about Debbie. I keep thinking about what I would miss out on… If one of the coveted items I have been searching for will suddenly become available during that time… Isn’t that crazy to think?!

        Rationally, I know that 7 days is no big deal, but I’m struggling with even the thought of it… That being said, I like the idea of the challenge and will try and do it… Maybe just a 2-3 day one to start?

      • I totally get it, Chelsea, which is why I mentioned starting with a shorter time-frame. We have to start from where we are, stretch ourselves a bit, and then perhaps commit to more challenging goals. There were times when even ONE day of not shopping or browsing online would have been a major triumph for me. I commend you for setting 2-3 days as your target. Try it and please let us know how it went! I bet you’ll learn some things about yourself which will help you moving forward. You can do it!

  3. What a great guest post! I have recently realized how much time I am spending on-line either shopping or reading wardrobe-related blogs, and this further strengthens my resolve to start setting a timer (30 min morning, 30 min evening) for on-line time. There are so many projects I needed to complete this summer, but time spent on-line has completely derailed them. The college book recommendation is also very well timed. I’ll be checking it out, as I work with incoming freshmen and their parents at a large state university.

    • Hi TexasAggieMom,
      Thank you so much for your kind words and for checking out the new book. It has been truly a pleasure to blog and to write in order to share what I’ve learned for myself about rescuing lost time during the average day. When we use our time mindfully, the rewards are tremendous. And of course, using time mindfully does not mean we need to deprive ourselves or to feel deprived of fun. I find the calm feeling I get from having more “open” time helps make most decisions that much more easy to make — including when I shop! Best wishes as we approach a new school year… Christine

    • Love the timer idea, TexasAggieMom! I think that’s a wonderful plan – and one I might adopt myself. Actually, I often look at these types of sites while I’m in bed – and then I stay up too late! So I’m going to set that timer for 30 minutes tonight – no time like the present to start.

  4. Debbie,

    I am also a recovering shopaholic. I’m very much a newbie. I in fact sent you an email a couple days ago, so I’m sure you’ve not had time to read it. I would like to ask you a question. I am reading your blog by starting at the beginning. In you February 2013 archives you mentioned you released a couple of items. They were open cardigans that had only been worn a couple times. I’ve taken some items I don’t wear or haven’t worn much, but are too nice to donate to our local thrift store and instead have taken them to a local consignment store. For me I feel like this allows me to obtain money that was wasted in my shopping. What are your thoughts on this?

    • Welcome, Joanne! I replied to your email a little while ago but also wanted to answer your question here. I think consigning items that are still in good condition (or selling them on eBay) is a great idea. In fact, I have done it quite a bit and it does help me to feel a bit less guilty about all of the money I wasted buying items I rarely or never wore. For years, I just donated everything, but started consigning at least some of the pieces about 2 or 3 years ago (when two new consignment stores opened up near me). I still donate some of the less current items, as well as whatever the consignment stores don’t take. In either case, I feel good knowing that at least some of my castoffs will be enjoyed by other people.

      The slippery slope with consignment, at least for me, was that I often ended up shopping MORE when I brought the pieces to the store. They always needed some time to go through everything and of course I shopped around during that time. I’ve recently gotten a lot more discerning with consignment shopping (if you read through all of my posts – I’m honored you’re doing that, by the way – you’ll read about the troubles I’ve gotten into with such buys), so it’s less of a problem, but that was a big gotcha for me in the past.

      Bottom line, I don’t think you should feel guilty for wanting to get some of the money back. But maybe rather than using that money to shop more, you could put it into a fund for something else for you to enjoy, such as a trip, something new for your home, or something for your family to enjoy together. I have not done this – just thought of it, actually – but I think it’s a good plan and will move us farther along the path of trading our full closets for fully lives!

  5. Time is an interesting wardrobe factor. What I’m wondering is how much time is reasonable to spend creating and maintaining one’s wardrobe, including planning, researching & shopping, altering, and accessorizing? I don’t think the time I spend is excessive, considering how many alterations I need and do myself, but I’m very curious to know how much time people in general feel they should allot to their wardrobe. I see people allocating specific amounts of time to shopping, but what about the other aspects?

    • Hi Terry,
      What great questions — ones I feel Debbie would be better equipped to answer! My one suggestion is to try to pare down your wardrobe needs first. In other words, give consideration to the idea that less is more and take out from your wardrobe what isn’t necessary or nice. In doing so you’ll likely find less of a need to devote gobs of time to the looking great process. Hope this helps. Best wishes, Christine

    • I don’t think there is an absolute answer in terms of how much time is reasonable to spend on shopping and related activities, Terry. Obviously, when one is building a wardrobe, more time will need to be dedicated to the process, as well as at the beginning of each season. But I think that many of us who overshop subconsciously create more “needs” than are really there because we are avoiding other things in life that are uncomfortable for us. I know that has been true for me. I would organize my closet for the third time in a month and think it was imperative that I do so, but I really needed to be attending to something else in my life. I would fret over the clothes, but it was still easier – emotionally – for me than dealing with whatever else was on my plate.

      That said, we all have real wardrobe needs that need to be attended to. But if our wardrobes are HUGE, it will take more time for us to maintain them. I know that as I’ve pared my wardrobe down by more than half, I spend less time on shopping, laundry, alterations (I don’t do them myself, but it still takes time to bring them to my tailor and pick them up), planning, researching, and shopping. I am happier as a result of shopping occupying less time in my life (my July relapse notwithstanding).

      I have known women who were not overshoppers but were still quite stylish and well put together. I don’t know exactly how much time they spent on their wardrobes, but I know they spent less time than I did. They would typically evaluate their closets at the beginning of each season and determine what they needed to buy to upgrade their wardrobe (replace worn out items, add a few new pieces to modernize things, etc.). They would then do what was necessary to make those additions – and that may take a number of hours – but then they would basically be done until the next season. That is in sharp contrast to those of us who seem to be continuously evaluating, researching, and shopping.

      If anyone can chime in with some numbers to help Terry here, that would be great. But I think it’s quite an individual thing. We need to look at how balanced our lives are and if our focus on clothing is a way to avoid other things. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with liking clothes and wanting to look good, but I wasn’t happy with how much it was ruling my life, so I’ve been taking steps to turn things around. I hope this helped… I’m a bit long-winded and waxing philosophical tonight, but I hope I made some sense here!

      • Thanks for your thoughtful reply – it definitely makes sense that the time required to develop and maintain a wardrobe varies depending on the person. I can’t really wrap my head around the “shop once for the season” approach, because I can never seem to find what I want, when I want it. I was curious if people allocate a specific amount of time, or squeeze in wardrobe work when they have a free minute, etc. Clothing is like food: We can’t do without it completely, so we have to individually decide how much time and attention we’re going to give it. I’m sorry you had such a challenging July. Here’s hoping August is much more rewarding. 😉

      • I can’t wrap my head around that yet, either, Terry. But someday I hope to get there! I think it’s better to allocate time to shopping than to do it on the fly. But I’ve done better with having a set start and stop time rather than leaving it totally open-ended. I like to give myself a couple of hours (for in-person shopping – less for online), but not carte blanche to shop all day long and until the mall closes (have done that many times!). For example, I buy a movie ticket or make a plan to meet someone for lunch or shop for a couple of hours before an appointment. Too little time can lead to hasty and rushed buys, but too much time can lead to too many buys! It’s all about balance, which, yes, is easier said than done! I wish you a more rewarding August, too!

      • These “built-in” time limits sound like really good strategies.

        As far as amount of time spent shopping, for me it depends on the time of year. About twice a year, when I swap my closet for either warm or cool weather, I do the kind of assessment you describe, Debbie. Once I’ve decided what I need and a few things I just want, I browse a lot–online and at the stores I’ve already decided carry the kinds of things that work for me. I probably drive the shop salespeople crazy saying “just looking.” I try a lot of things on, because I hate wasting time doing returns. And then, usually over a cuppa at home, I decide what will meet my needs. By this time, I know which stores are going to carry those items and what they will cost. Then I know if I can add in a few “extras.” Finally, I go to the shops and actually exchange money for goods. That is the very last step in the process. I already know I like the items, that they fit, and that they will fill my clothing needs.

        After obsessing for a week or so, then I just ignore shopping and enjoy my new and old clothes.

        I like to focus hard on the clothes acquisition process a few times a year, so that I can relax and ignore it the rest of (almost all of) the time.

      • Thanks so much for sharing your Wardrobe Reconnaissance strategy, Amy, and no worries about the length of your comment! What you described is how I would like to operate in terms of shopping. If the time spent during July was something I did only two or three times per year, I would be okay with it, but I tend to spend a huge chunk of time on shopping and my wardrobe every single month. I love that you don’t buy anything during your initial shopping trip, as the “power pause” you have allows you to deeply consider what will work best for your needs. Since you do it all within a relatively short time-frame, you don’t really have to worry about the things you want not being there when you return. I’m going to try to model your process in the future, as it’s really quite ingenious 🙂

  6. Thanks so much for this wonderful guest post, Christine, and for responding to readers’ comments. I loved your story, as well as the conversation that it provoked here. This post is especially apropos given my last post in which I shared my remorse for the tremendous amount of time I wasted on shopping and related activities during July. Your story brings hope to me and others, and I appreciate that!

    I have already seen the benefits of spending less time on shopping. Much of the time I spend on this blog would have previously been shopping (or browsing online or managing my wardrobe or other clothing-related activities). I can say that I am definitely prouder of myself for the time I spend on this blog than I even was for any time I dedicated to shopping. The more I recover, the more I see a clearing for what I can do in my life. Sometimes I feel more in the fog, like I did for much of July, but I know I can experience the freedom and mastery with my time that you wrote about (and so can anyone else who is reading this!).

    • Thank YOU Debbie for being such a lovely host and wise guide here. I’m so glad my story sparked a great conversation. Best wishes to all on your individual paths. Christine

  7. Thanks all for the suggestions! I’ll try a time limit- that may be best. I tried to do a ‘ban’ of sorts where I only did it 1x a week, but it did not work. I’ll try to be mindful about how it affects me (time limit) and see if I can sort out why I feel I need to do this so constantly. I love the idea of charging my time- if spending all the time I do browsing is really worth what I would be paid if it were work 🙂 I need to contemplate it a bit longer but this is a great start!

  8. I like the idea that when she started going through her wardrobe and got it down then she was happier with what she wore and didn’t feel the need to shop so much.

    I don’t have any idea how much time I spend on my wardrobe, but I think that if I spent twice as much time tending to the wardrobe I have – experimenting, altering, cleaning, pressing, straightening, organizing- as I do shopping for new items that I would probably be getting more out of what I have. I would say that hair, makeup and attention to diet (so I can continue to fit in those clothes) should probably be included. What’s the good of a lovely wardrobe if your hair looks awful or the clothes are all too small?

    Think about cooking. Is the fun part of cooking going to the grocery store or buying new pots and pans ? For me the fun part is once it’s all home in my kitchen. That’s when the magic (or disaster) starts. If it works out and I like what I’ve created I”m happy. If it’s a disaster then I make notes on the recipe so it will work out better next time, or else I decide that I won’t waste my time – no homemade pasta at my house! Shopping for a wardrobe seems like it should have a similar time usage.

    • I love the cooking analogy. There’s so many parallels: shopping for what the recipe requires, making a list, learning how to make the recipe successfully (trial and error), improvisation, etc.

    • I also love the cooking analogy – I wish I would have thought of that myself! It’s so true that we are more excited about the food when we get it home, but the excitement for clothes is often much higher when we’re in the stores. I agree that if we were to approach our wardrobes the way we do cooking, we’d probably be in a much better place! Good point about hair and make-up, too. Anyone who has watched a makeover show has seen that the transformation really didn’t fully come together until after those critical pieces of the puzzle were addressed.

  9. Hi GingerR,
    Thanks for your great great comments. It is so true that there is more to a wardrobe than just clothes! Your point about how organizing and experimenting with what we already own is very well taken. I’m no master organizer, so paring down what I had in my closet gave me a fighting chance in looking put-together in what I wore. I’ve found I’ve paid more attention to mixing things up much more than I did before. Thanks again for your reply. Christine

    • I think that when we have fewer items to work with, it’s much easier to mix and match. When I did Project 333, I found that I was far more creative with remixing my wardrobe pieces, as it was much less overwhelming to work with a smaller closet. Even though I still have a quite large wardrobe, I’m finding it easier and easier the more I pare down. I also give a lot more thought and attention to how everything works together and my wardrobe is becoming more cohesive as a result. I still have a ways to go, but I’m getting there. Thanks again for sharing your story, Christine!

  10. A great reminder that time shopping is time that could have been spent doing something else. It is easy to ignore how much time various activities take to do.

    • Very true, Lisa! I think I only very recently realized how much time I spend on shopping and related activities. I don’t think I used to care that I dedicated such a huge amount of time and energy to those activities, but now I would like my life to be more balanced – and to find fulfillment elsewhere.

    • Thanks for your comment Lisa. I believe our closets are prime candidates when we are looking to save ourselves some time. Morning getting ready time, laundry time, prepping for tomorrow time and of course, shopping time. I hope you enjoy more time as you move forward. Christine

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