There’s something about the second nature-like act of clicking “sort price low to high” on a website that always puts my mind at ease. When I’m stressed, I often turn to online shopping to reward myself for making it through to the end of the day (or at least getting halfway there). The act of shopping itself has always been therapeutic for me, as it feels like I’m creating both artistic expression and a strategic design for myself. Focusing on what silhouettes will flatter me and envisioning how certain colors and necklines will look against my fair skin always puts my head at ease. I am a devout disciple of retail therapy because it makes me feel like in a world of uncertainty, I am in control of something. When I am stressed because I have writer’s block, or I’m feeling the weight of society’s imperfections, or my emotions are spiraling out of control, my body longs to shop. Even if it’s for miscellaneous items like notebooks or toiletries, shopping allows me to step back from the crazy world I live in and do not understand. It started out with clothing and then it turned into bags, which turned into skin care, and now I fantasize and shop around for airline tickets and Airbnbs. Regardless of what it is, if there’s $20 in my bank account and I’m having a rough day I will shop.
With this habit comes the consequence of overspending. The truth is, I should not be spending my last bit of money on a new set of pens just because I had a hard day at work. My purchases might seem harmless at first, but doing this more than a handful of times in one pay period adds up; next thing I know, I’ve racked up a credit card bill I could have easily avoided by finding coping mechanisms that don’t involve spending. No matter how hard I’ve tried to shake this spending habit, it always comes back to me like a diet that I’ll “start tomorrow.” I always promise myself that I’m going to stop spending, and then I find out a website now offers Afterpay (a really awesome payment plan service that makes shopping so much more desirable) and suddenly I now have to pay four bi-weekly installments of $75. But what is it about spending money and shopping that feels irreplaceable, and how did something that was once about being in control end up spiralling out of control?
The first thing I had to realize was what shopping meant to me. I’ve concluded that I love the idea of carving out the person I want to be, and the fastest way to do that is to dress a certain way. The accessibility of spontaneously changing who I am into someone “better” is addicting. If the website has my card information saved, that means I’m one click away from looking a certain way and liking myself more. It’s instant gratification, and it acts as a Band-Aid for whatever dysphoria happens to be stressing me out. But my overspending habits have stretched beyond clothing. Even though I was spending money on different things—from wax kits, to skin care (a lot of skin care), to makeup, to jewelry, to stationary—the ability to shop consistently provided me with automatic results that made me feel like I had the power to change myself and therefore my life.
When I felt most confused about things that were out of my control, and stressed out because I couldn’t control them, I turned to shopping to ease my pain. The whole process of ordering and tracking a package distracted me from my real life, and the arrival of whatever I’d ordered made me feel like I was one step closer to being perfect. I shopped while thinking, “If I just have this one product, then it will be better.” I shopped around and researched the perfect products to spend my money on, so that I could fix the existential problems I felt were out of my control.
These realizations are as far as I’ve gotten with progress. I still look to shopping to ease my mind, especially when I feel like I am deserving of a reward. However, after calculating my income and how much I’ve spent, I’ve definitely frightened myself into submission: I need to stop overspending. Since I’ve moved toward ethical fashion and pledged to shop secondhand more often, I have cut down on my spending habits. I have not, however, stopped shopping.
As of right now, I’m okay with that.
By Elysa Rivera