Shopping Therapy: The Psychology of Stuff – Part 2

All opinions are my own, and I’m not at all a psychologist or any sort of expert — in fact, I’m wholly unqualified to express this opinion (but express it, I will). This piece is simply a very unofficial exploration of an idea.

The first part of this opinion piece laid out the issues with compulsive shopping and the psychological motivation and impact of our relationship  to owning things, and my teensy-weensy hypocrisy in telling you to shop less on a blog essentially about shopping.

I love shopping. It’s a joy and it makes me feel good. I like having enviable pieces and seeming well put-together (well, on days that I put on makeup, at least). I’m guilty of being a bit of a self-indulgent fashionista.

But I strongly believe that there is a way to shop without being problematic, psychologically or spatially.

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Let’s avoid hoarding, please.

To avoid the psychological and other trappings of too much stuff, shop with strategy. It’s important to take inventory of what you have, how many items you can match each item with, and really ascertain what you need. Sale shopping is great and all, but if you’re buying things simply because it’s on sale instead of shopping for what you’d always intended on getting, you are spending too much. End stop.

That means items  in your closet will probably lean more toward classic than super trendy. Said items tend to be in more universal, earth-toned, neutral, or dark colors, since brights by nature tend to be a bit more limited in how they can be used in outfits. That means that you have to commit to the care of your pieces and select items with good stitching and durable, quality fibers (and yes, this is a time and energy investment).

I have a few tips I use when shopping:

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Realistically, this logo is owned by the producers and studio affiliated with The Purge Franchise. But it’s so appropriate to #4’s timeline. Consider this appropriate credit.

  1. Have a shopping buddy. When I see something I like, I send my best friend a screenshot, photo, or a link to the product and ask her opinion. Her first question almost always is, “Do you need that?” or “Will you wear that?” (e.g. today she saved me from a moderately awful pair of leather Cole Haan loafers that were on sale for $25 during Amazon Prime Day… but they were silver. Some women can own that shit- on me, silver shoes, if they’re not formal sandals, make me look like a geriatric disco dancer, and frankly wouldn’t fit into the scope of what I feel comfortable styling for myself to wear. I wouldn’t know how to make these look good.
  2. I rarely, if ever, purchase items I intend to keep forever. I have a few legacy items – a couple of specific coats, a few luxury handbags that I know won’t depreciate, some jewelry. But, many of the pieces I select I look at with an eye for resale, which helps me amortize costs over the estimated length of time I think I’ll keep the piece, and also forces me to be much more selective about what I’m willing to spend.
  3. I try to be patient and wait for the pieces I’m eyeballing to go on sale. I know this is super problematic for the longevity of brick and mortar stores, but if Macy’s is going to give me 12% cash back on Ebates and multiple coupon codes, as well as a flash sale on that sweater that’s been on my wish list, you can bet I will refuse to pay full price in store (hey, stores- can you offer those 15-20% discounts for first time shoppers in store, too, instead of just on the online email registry?).
  4. Seasonal purges: get rid of items in your closed every three months.
    • If you haven’t worn it in a year or more, let it go.
    • If you have multiple versions of an item, let all but one go. For example, I recently kept my husband from going buck wild at a Hugo Boss outlet and trying to buy two gray-striped dress shirts. We recently purged his closet at my insistence — because he has the whole master bedroom closet, and how is that fair? — and I discovered he legitimately has 4 different gray-striped dress shirts in excellent condition. On the flip side, he called me out for having way too many beige sweaters about five minutes before I received a delivery of yet another beige sweater. That went back to the store really fast.
    • If you have name-brand items, consider selling clothing via Poshmark and handbags via eBay or through consignment services. Cash is a soothing balm to the hurt of letting your closet babies go. OR…
    • …If you have good-quality in good condition, please consider donating seasonally-appropriate items to the less fortunate. Research the best non-profit in your area for the donations and support a cause that’s important to you. This, too, is a balm for letting your closet babies into the world.
  5. When shopping in person, I try not to enter a store just to “look.” This is what I call my Target dilemma – going in for toothpaste and deodorant and coming out with a full cart of stuff that I suddenly am sure I need as I see it. No, instead I go in with a specific idea of what shopping need I am trying to fulfill when looking for clothes. It’s a mental grocery list.
  6. Beware of fake “sales.” It’s a well-known retail strategy used to promote urgency in the buyer… and frankly, as much as I love HauteLook, this is largely their flash sale strategy (with a few notable exceptions, mostly for beauty products). I haven’t really found much that I can’t find statically on the Nordstrom Rack site (and the NR Clear the Rack events sometimes reduce these further).
  7. Don’t rely on your credit cards, even if you’re getting a pricier item. This is just general life advice – don’t put anything on your card that you can’t pay in full at the end of each month. Save for those items you’ve been eyeballing, instead. And having said item sell out before you get to buy it is actually a blessing in disguise, as it forces you to be more frugal in creative in finding an item of similar quality and worth of use. FOMO is all in your head – missing out on these is more money in your pocket, money you didn’t need to spend.
  8. Learn how to care for various types of fibers and fabrics. Cashmere, silk, leather, suede, rayon, cotton, polyester, etc. all require different, specialized care. You’re aiming for quality, classically inclined pieces that aren’t likely to go out of fashion soon, so it’s important to treat your investment pieces with care and respect for two reasons- 1) so you don’t look grubby, and 2) in case you elect to resell and/or donate items from your closet. Shave the pilling from your sweaters. Figure out how to treat that oil spill on your silk cami from dinner the other night. Get rid of the period leakage from your premium denim. There are tips and tricks to all of these things – they just require a bit of time and commitment.
    • Fringe benefit? This helps psychologically reset your disposable “fast fashion” mentality that if something is no longer good, you have to replace it. You don’t – sometimes a half hour repair project will get another year or more of use out of an item.
  9. Don’t exceed your budget. Seriously – be honest with yourself about what you can afford and don’t exceed it. Once you go down a slippery slope of “well, I will just spend less next month,” it’s seriously unlikely you’ll actually balance your accounts the following month. Most of the time, it just means you make yourself more and more comfortable with passing off the deficit in your budget to the following month, which can cause a balance to grow.
  10. Outlet shop on holidays. Go early in the morning, beat the rush, sign up for VIP coupons, and try to take advantage of specials (but don’t spend money on what you don’t need, even if it doesn’t cost money).
  11. Get comfortable with thrifting. I’ll fully admit that I am squeamish and a little prissy about used clothing and shoes, especially after reading this article about that oh-so-familiar thrift store smell that I’m especially sensitive to. But there are some good/well curated consignment stores in Southern California that don’t have that Goodwill-smell and specialize in higher-end attire. I’ve had some great successes doing this. Once again, don’t buy what you don’t need (with one small exception – if you see an exceptional item that you think can easily be resold for a profit, take the chance. Just be realistic about resale value).

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To my mind, a lot of the psychology about compulsive shopping can be combatted by associating pleasure triggers/relief from letting go of these items, as well. This can be done through rewards (altruistic or monetary), but it also means that those rewards can reshape your perspective on the purchasing side, as well.

Clothing is something you should try to use regularly, for as long as is reasonable, in my opinion… but it’s not something you should remain committed to if the passion’s faded. This isn’t a marriage. If a hotter young thing, a sensible choice comes along to replace your existing piece, REPLACE IT. No piece of clothing likes being stuck in the depths of your closet forever.

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