I was a shopaholic for years, and at my worst, I shopped seven days a week. But now? I can go weeks, if not months, without shopping, and I rarely make regretful purchases. Check out this episode of The Simply + Fiercely Show to learn the three things that helped me finally create healthy shopping habits.
In This Episode:
- 3 things that helped me overcome my shopping addiction
- why thinking of purchases as ‘hours of my life’ doesn’t work for me and what I do instead
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Note: this is not an exact transcript and has been edited for clarity.
3 Things That Helped Me Create Healthy Shopping Habits
Hey everybody, it’s Jennifer here and welcome to the Simply and Fiercely Show.
In today’s episode, I’m going to talk to you about shopping. More specifically, about how to create healthy shopping habits.
But first, a little background so you’ve got some perspective about what I mean.
I used to be a shopaholic, I know that some of you know that but I’m not sure if I’ve ever really made it clear how bad my shopping addiction was.
At the peak, I guess in my late 20s, I was shopping a minimum of five days a week but probably closer to seven days a week. I spent almost all of my disposable income and then some.
I guess I could say that I was fortunate. I was never to that extreme point that you see in stories on TV, where I was going into severe debt. But I was spending money that I didn’t have to buy things I didn’t really want. That was obviously a problem.
It was shoes, handbags, makeup, accessories, housewares, you name it, anything that could give me that little dopamine hit.
And back then I was very influenced by magazines. Everything I saw that I thought was beautiful, I wanted.
I was also the type of person who would wander into a shop just to browse and then I would literally go through every single shelf looking for anything that sparked joy.
So that’s where I was, I did not have a healthy relationship with shopping. I’ve come a long way since then.
Not feeling deprived but having more of a healthy shopping relationship
I’m very proud to say that I’ve been a minimalist for nearly 10 years.
From 2021 to 2022 I didn’t shop for clothes, shoes, accessories, or that kind of thing at all. That would have been unimaginable 15 years ago.
So what I wanted to do for this episode was to reflect back on my life and think about some of the things that really made a difference.
How did I go from being the person where shopping was, to some extent, my whole identity to somebody who could not only not shop and not feel deprived in any way, but where it actually felt easy, it feels comfortable?
I still of course buy things now, but it feels intentional. I’m not perfect, but for the most part, I don’t have buyer’s remorse, I don’t spend beyond my means, and it just feels different. It’s almost like when I shop, it comes from a different place inside of me.
So what I mean is, I’m not a financial planner. I’m not here to tell you what you should be spending. But to me, when you feel good about your purchases, that’s what feels healthy. You’re spending within your means, you use what you buy, and you love your things.
Reflecting back on my life, what were the things that helped me make that transition?
#1 The importance of framing your purchases in meaningful terms
When I think back, I can envision moments when I was in the shop looking at things and I started framing what my spending was costing me in meaningful terms. By doing that, I was able to easily walk away.
A common example of this is when you start thinking about your purchases in terms of hours in your life.
So for example, let’s say that you are looking at buying a sweater that costs $30 and you earn $10 an hour. In that case, you could say that the sweater cost you three hours of your life.
For some people that might be enough. You might think oh my gosh, that’s so meaningful, that’s going to help me change my shopping habits right away.
But to be completely frank, that didn’t work for me.
That’s why I really want to highlight the importance of choosing a meaningful framework for you.
For me, the whole concept of thinking about my purchases, in terms of hours of my life, was just not very motivating for me. And I think for a lot of people, it’s a little too abstract.
I mean, of course, our time is precious. Our lives are precious. But this idea of three hours of your life, especially if you’re young, feels like you’ve got so much life ahead of you. It’s hard to feel like you’re really giving something up.
Also, the situation for most people is that you have to work to earn money anyway so it’s just not very motivating.
What I found worked for me was to look at my purchases in terms of what they were really costing me. I love to travel so when I was buying a sweater that cost $30, that $30 was keeping me from traveling.
There are several reasons why that was so powerful for me.
Travel has always been my biggest hobby, I’m quite passionate about it. Also, I live overseas. I have lived in Australia for 20 years, but my family is in the US. And now my husband’s family, my kids’ grandparents, are in the UK. So travel is really important for us because we want to travel to see family.
When I was younger and going through the phase of trying to overcome my shopping addiction, travel had this extreme meaning to me.
I was struggling a lot with my sense of self when I was in my 20s, I felt like I was trying to live up to everybody else’s expectations. It often felt like the only time I could truly be myself was when I was traveling alone long term, which is something I did often in my 20s.
Those times were incredibly freeing. I’d be able to stop in a town and stay at a backpackers hostel where nobody knew me. Nobody knew what to expect from me and it gave me the opportunity to be myself. It was really life-changing.
That was a bit of a tangent, but I wanted to share it with you so you understand that travel for me wasn’t just “Oh, this is fun, let me go to the pool and drink some cocktails.” It was something that really weighed heavily on my heart.
When I thought about my shopping habits and my passion for travel, it made it easy to stop shopping because it resonated with me on an emotional level.
So what I would recommend for you if you’re trying to change your shopping habits, is to find that meaningful thing that resonates with you. The decision to not shop will become so much easier once you do.
Because when you’re comparing some cheap dress on the rack with something that you really want from your life, all of a sudden the dress is like, ‘Oh my God, why would I even think of buying that’. It seems so worthless compared to this other thing that is so valuable to me.
That was the first thing that really helped me transform my shopping habits.
#2 Assuming that persona or self-identity of confidence and authenticity sans being a shopaholic
The second thing was that I changed the way I thought of myself. When I was a shopaholic, I thought of myself as a free loving girl who loves shopping. I came of age in the Sex in the City era, if any of you watched that, where Carrie Bradshaw portrays shopping to be so glamorous and fun and so lovely. She just had this energy to her and I wanted to be that person so that’s how I started thinking of myself when I was shopping.
For you, that might be different. There are so many different ways that our self identity can relate to our shopping habits. For example, the one that I see all the time on social media is the tired mom who goes to Target on these self care runs.
I’m not judging it, because I think when you are in a difficult situation, you have to deal with it however you can. But I do think that there is some danger in making this almost part of your culture. Where these Target runs start to become part of who you are, or how you see yourself.
Or another example might be, if you’re really into the crafting community, you may start to have this identity where you’re not a real crafter unless you have one of those big Pinterest craft rooms that I’ve seen.
That might be something that keeps you shopping because it’s almost like you are an actor in a play where your role is a carefree, happy shopper.
In fact, I saw a post from 2009 on my Facebook memories that said something like ‘Life is short buy the shoes’. That pretty much sums up the energy I wanted to feel back then. I wanted to be that light hearted person who bought the shoes. So obviously, if that’s how I see myself, that’s how I’m going to act. I’m going to shop all the time.
If we go back to the moment when things started to change as I started to see myself differently, it’s almost like I put on a different costume.
I started to see myself as someone who was so confident that I don’t need all those things but to be completely honest, it was still a costume. I didn’t necessarily feel that way inside yet but not shopping was the way that persona would behave. And that persona was aligned with my values and priorities.
And honestly, when I reflect back, I think that because there was that alignment, acting in that way helped me become that person.
The whole shopaholic thing wasn’t really who I was inside even after 15 years of ‘putting on the hat’. But the self assured person who doesn’t need to be defined by having the trendiest t-shirt, for example, felt more authentic.
And again, I’m not saying that it was easy but the more I practiced ‘wearing that hat’, the easier it got for me.
Okay, so that was point number two.
#3 Transform shopping habits with self-care
Point number three which really helped me transform my shopping habits was self-care.
I know it’s probably cheesy, but honestly, it’s so true.
On a really practical level, it was things like getting more rest, but it was also things like setting boundaries. For example, on social media, it’s easy to not only be influenced by other people but also for other people to make you feel a certain way.
That doesn’t mean that the person on social media is bad, or intentionally trying to hurt you. But you might be following an account and they’re the friendliest person on earth, but they have the most beautiful kitchen or the most beautiful outfits, for example. And every time you see that person on social media, you think, “Oh my gosh, I feel inadequate. I feel like I need more things to make me feel better.”
So in that case, self care might look like unsubscribing and creating a bit of a bubble around you where you’re surrounded by things that make you feel good about yourself.
Again, this may be different for everyone but for me personally, shopping was often an emotional outlet. I was dealing with things I didn’t necessarily have the support or the energy to deal with so shopping was a quick dopamine hit. I could buy something new and feel better for at least a short period of time.
But as I started to take care of myself, I didn’t need that kind of care anymore. I didn’t need shopping to make myself feel better, because I committed to making myself feel better in other ways.
And in fact, this is a little bit vulnerable, but one of the biggest things I did that helped me end my ‘shopaholism’, if that’s a word, was to leave the long-term relationship that I was in.
Not that it was damaging, it actually wasn’t a bad relationship, but it just wasn’t the right one for me and I was spending a lot of energy trying to avoid that. I didn’t want to think about leaving because it was going to be painful so shopping was a fantastic distraction from that. And I think that in many ways, ending that relationship, even though it was painful, was self-care.
So then as I said, once you start taking care of yourself, it’s easier to shop less, or at least it was for me.
Okay, so those are three things that helped me personally create healthy shopping habits. And I encourage you to think about them and how they relate to your life. Is it something that you might want to work on for yourself?