I’ve been reflecting lately about how much I’ve written and shared about the downsides of shopping too much and all the occasions when, even if it seems like it, shopping isn’t the answer.
My own journey through the landscape of shopping is marked by very clear passages where I shopped too much, and I shopped without too much insight into why I was doing it. I didn’t know my “buy why” and I didn’t exercise too much conscious choice in the shopping I was doing.
This was not healthy shopping, and I knew it wasn’t, even if I wasn’t too keen or too quick to admit it at the time.
Overshopping (where you buy too much and buy too often so that you cannot possibly use all the things you have purchased), compulsive shopping (where you can’t stop shopping), impulsive shopping (where you buy without thinking) – these are all types of shopping that has gone wrong in some way.
But I also believe that shopping, in and of itself, is not a negative activity – it just is. It could be termed a “morally neutral” activity. Like other activities that run the gamut from healthy to extremely unhealthy, shopping can be enjoyable, it can be healthy, and it is certainly necessary much of the time.
Like the person who enjoys a glass of wine with dinner but doesn’t overindulge so that they end up drunk several nights a week, the person who enjoys a spot of shopping isn’t engaging in a behaviour that is risky or unhealthy.
Shopping goes wrong when it becomes unhealthy for us. This is why determining if shopping has become unhealthy can be quite an individual thing – what might feel unhealthy to you may feel and actually be quite balanced for me, and vice versa.
I was intrigued by an article by Kit Yarrow of Golden Gate University in Psychology Today on “why retail therapy works” – looking at the why behind the buy. It’s a very thoughtful piece, you can read it in full here.
In this article, Ms Yarrow gives us five (5) life circumstances where shopping can be helpful. She doesn’t say that shopping is the answer or that if you aren’t shopping during these life circumstances you should rush out and do so to make the experience as fulfilling as possible.
But she does give us good reasons why shopping is included at these particular times in a person’s life, and the particular role shopping plays – when it’s done in a healthy way.
These life circumstances are:
- Easing transitions: when a significant event happens in your life – divorce, children leaving home, babies being born, getting married, moving to another place whether streets or states away, and so on – then buying items that reflect your new life can be helpful. They can ease that transition and bring you more fully, and quickly, into your new space.
- Dressing for success: this is about a particular change in life circumstances – getting a new job. And how buying clothing and other accoutrements that signify in seconds that you belong in your new job (especially if it’s a promotion or a ‘bigger’ job in some way such as a significant career move) can be helpful.
- Creativity and aesthetics: this is about the pleasure that comes from admiring and enjoying a creatively put together outfit or room, with items you have purchased as well as items you already own. And it’s about enjoying a well-crafted, and possibly expensive or luxury item, which may have taken expensive materials, many hours and considerable artistry to create.
- Relaxation and escape: when done in small doses over short periods of time with a particular goal in mind, and not as an ongoing or compulsive activity done to excess, shopping as a form of “me time” can be helpful, Ms Yarrow suggests.
- Social connection: shopping can be a way to spend time with others albeit without getting to know any of them at all, or very well – when you are in a busy shopping environment, at least you are around people even if there’s no real connection, in the true sense of the word, happening. Ms Yarrow suggests that “if there’s one antidote to emotional distress it’s human connection”.
Ms Yarrow ends the article with some warnings of when shopping goes wrong. Which is important: for many of us – an increasing number, from the studies cited in Psychology Today articles – shopping has become our only hobby. It’s our #1 go to activity whenever we experience even mild emotional agitation such as a bit of boredom, a spot of loneliness, or a twinge of anxiety.
I’m not in any way advocating or promoting shopping as an activity to make key life moments better, richer, or more fulfilling. If you’ve read much of what I share here, you’ll know that I believe shopping isn’t the way to create a life you love – that is to be found in the experiences you have, the people you truly connect with, and the contribution you make.
That said, Ms Yarrow’s article intelligently shares how shopping can be a positive contributor to key life moments, when done thoughtfully and when it is in its rightful place in your life
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