Retail therapy. Ah, two words that caress like a silk Hermès scarf. If you’ve ever heard the siren call of the Target home goods section or felt the quiet beckoning of items waiting in your Amazon shopping cart, you understand how one purchase can lift your entire mood. The instant gratification of getting what you want is hard to deny. Bad week at work? You deserve that dress. Stressed about your relationship? Those shoes will get your mind off of it. Bored? Go to the mall to see what’s new. The consumption of material goods is so closely linked to our emotional state, it’s easy to develop unhealthy habits when shopping. And it makes sense — shopping (for many of us) is fun! You get to see beautiful things and make them your own. It’s a tangible creative process that makes you feel good. Naturally, when you enjoy something, it’s easy to frequent that activity, turning it into a hobby — especially if it’s cheap. But when we think of the term “hobby,” things like running, listening to music, knitting, blogging, fishing, etc. typically come to mind. Because hobbies are usually simple independent activities, they rarely have an unhealthy impact.But in the past 30 years, the consumer’s approach to shopping has drastically changed. Prior to the explosion of the fast fashion industry in which clothing is made cheaply in factories in third world countries, shopping was not taken so lightly. Purchases were long-term investments. If there was a hole in your pants, you mended it. If you outgrew a dress, you took it to the tailor to let the seams out. This behavioral shift coincided with the affordability of fast fashion and has greatly influenced the way in which we value and consume goods. Not only is this dangerous for the individual psychologically, but it also has a global impact. We’re all guilty of unnecessary spending from time to time, but if you feel like shopping is a habitual activity, it might be time to recognize how your favorite hobby is inhibiting your personal growth.
Shopping as a hobby diminishes your freedom of choice
Have you ever bought something simply because it was on sale?“It’s on sale for bogo, so I should just get both.” “It’s only $10, so why not?”“This is such a good deal, it’s basically free!”Stores like Target, H&M, Forever21, and the like thrive on these sale tactics to get you to buy things you don’t actually want or need. There is a sense of urgency to take advantage of the opportunity to get something for cheap, making us believe we’re being offered something exclusive and that we’d be fools to pass up on it. Once we see signs and stickers that boast 50 percent off, the analytical part of our brains turns off as the scavenging side turns on. Usually, this tactic is used to distract us from how low-quality (or ugly) the item actually is. Post-Black Friday shopper’s remorse, anyone?Eventually, the habit of buying goods simply because they’re on sale turns into compulsive shopping, ultimately influencing how we consume goods in general. Once you stop being critical about what you buy, you start to lose your freedom of choice on what enters into your wardrobe. Being in bargain mode when shopping also inhibits your ability to decide whether you really love an item or not, which stunts the growth of your personal style. It’s easy to then become controlled by what the stores say is stylish, causing you to buy into their cyclical trends.
What to do instead
The best way to limit the influence of sales and avoid compulsive purchases is to simply avoid situations of temptation. Give yourself the gift of a shopping detox, allowing yourself to gain self-control and a critical eye. Detoxing from shopping is similar to detoxing from sugar. At first, you crave it like crazy, and then after a while you don’t see the appeal anymore. As you allow the critical side of your brain to regain control, you’ll start to see cheap sale tactics more clearly, while also recognizing which items you actually like or not.
Your style and wardrobe rarely benefit from hobby shopping
Often, it’s those who shop as a hobby who complain about having nothing to wear — even when they have a closet full of clothes. Why? Because when you enter a store without a plan of what you need and you don’t even have a clear idea of what you like, you end up buying random things you won’t actually wear. Items sold at most stores are typically based on current trends, which are usually “in” for just a season and rarely match anything else in your wardrobe or suit your weekly activities. As a result, your closet is full of one-off items that don’t work in the grand scheme of your personal style or lifestyle.
What to do instead
Clothes shopping should be a highly-discerned process that blends practicality with personal taste. While you’re on your shopping detox, take time to discover what clothes you actually like and need. Follow this easy guide to define your personal style and identify your wardrobe needs. Let yourself choose what you really like while keeping in mind the items that you’ll actually wear.
Blowing hard-earned cash is never really a reward
We’ve all felt the high of walking out of the store with a new purchase in tow, but we’ve also felt the guilt of a drained bank account. Similar to the healthy concept of not depending upon alcohol to have a good time, shopping shouldn't be a psychological remedy or outlet to any emotional state. As we all know, feelings of immediate gratification are fleeting, and we’re often left with either complacency or regret after we succumb to feel-good impulses. When you become accustomed to the process of spending money to feel better, it’s easy to start thinking that you always need to spend money to improve your mood. As a result, you never learn to deal with feelings of sadness, boredom, or even allow yourself to simply be happy without a monetary reward.
What to do instead
Facing your emotions head-on is the first step to minimizing unnecessary spending and the connection between your mood and material goods. Allow yourself to feel sad, bored, or happy without reaching for your credit card. It’s possible to avoid feelings, but you can never truly escape them. Let those feelings run their course and learn to address them in a healthy way. If you’re sad, get down to the root of why you’re feeling sad and what solution will actually solve the problem. If you’re bored, think about all the activities you love that don’t involve money. If you’re happy, bask in your joy without needing any sort of physical reward — your happiness is enough.
It’s not ethical
Clothing is more accessible and cheaper than ever thanks to the fast fashion industry and the internet, which has made shopping a casual activity for both high- and low-income households. Elizabeth Cline, the author of Over Dressed, compares the average shopper’s approach to buying clothes to buying a coffee. In other words, we tend to value disposability. Unsurprisingly, the fast fashion industry is one of the biggest sources of pollution in the world.The list of negative environmental impact goes on and on: Toxic chemical runoff from garment dyeing contaminates clean water; non-biodegradable polyester fabrics pollute our oceans with plastic particles that are consumed by both marine life and humans; and 26 billion pounds of textiles end up in American landfills every year.Not only is the fast fashion industry causing a growing global crisis, but it’s also been a known offender of human rights. The inhumane working conditions in many clothing factories have resulted in sweatshop labor, child labor, and even death.
What to do instead
It’s easy to emotionally distance ourselves from how our clothing is produced. Often, our excuse is that we simply cannot afford ethically-produced clothing, but it’s actually cheaper to shop ethically. The key is to shop less frequently and to buy high-quality clothes that last. Ethical brands pay everyone along their supply chain fairly, provide safe work environments, and produce top-notch garments. Investing in ethically-produced items will also save you money in the long run since you won’t be shopping so frequently at cheap stores. And let’s not forget, secondhand shopping is actually the best way to avoid fast fashion while simultaneously saving money and investing in quality. So don’t be afraid to hit up your local thrift and vintage stores!
Your self-worth is not located in material goods
Lastly, it’s easy to get your self-worth wrapped up in the items you buy and the way you look. When shopping makes you feel better about yourself, it becomes harder to separate your worth from the items you buy and how you look in them. The thought process is: “This brand new dress will make me feel better = I am better because of this dress.” An awesome ensemble can make us feel like the best versions of ourselves, but we have to remember that our self-worth never comes from our appearance. Whether you’re wearing the most fabulous outfit you own or sweats and hoodie, your worth is the same.
What to do instead
Recognizing your worth and that you are good enough even on your worst days requires accepting yourself as you are and knowing you’re loved by God, no matter what. If you find yourself struggling with this, take a step back from the material things that contribute to making you second-guess your worth. Take a break from social media, stop negative thoughts in their tracks by replacing them with positive ones, and surround yourself with people who love you just as you are.