Shopping is competition. The whole point of having an Instagram account (and a blog) is to show the world how much- or how little- you own. These object-driven narratives inform everyone: "My lifestyle surpasses yours." Possessions are status symbols affirming self-worth, apparent stepping stones to social advancement.
When I was younger, I wanted Hollister, Ugg boots, and Coach bags, to be like the girls that went tanning, drank Starbucks, and stole low-calorie margarita mixes from their stepmothers' bathrooms. They had hair straighteners, Juicy Couture purses, eating disorders. A frisson of candy-coated adolescent glamour surrounded them. Later, I interned at ELLE, which championed mixing designer samples, cheap basics, and thrift store finds. I developed thinly veiled contempt for suburban life, with all its exigencies. My style emerged a few years ago; clothes progressively became more conservative as life got more exciting (moving to Paris, meeting Kanye, studying the role of enzymatic post-translational modifications in Alzheimer's). I hope I'm less impressionable now, but I still struggle with my competitive streak.
To this day, I don't want clothes because they cover me up, permit self-expression, and protect me from the elements. I want the thrill that comes from taking my coat off and exposing a Louis Vuitton monogram lining. It's like the environmental justification for thrift shopping isn't enough- I need the additional excuse, "Oh, I bought this used, but it's Prada." I stopped reading fashion magazines and stayed away from street-style blogs, which were detrimental to my impulses and wants. Now I feel the material and check the fabrication- not the designer- label. As requested by reader Jo, here are ten ways I limit shopping:
- Resist sales. Bargains aren't about saving money. They're about the rush of finding designer merchandise at rock-bottom prices. Sometimes I get the idea in my head, "This deal is too good to pass up. I have to buy this, now!" and end up with something I didn't really need or want. Think realistically about the long-term consequences of buying, owning, and maintaining an item. That irresistible bargain may turn out to be an expensive waste.
- Avoid retail "therapy." Shopping can brighten your mood- temporarily. When emotional, go for a walk or bike ride instead. Engaging in physical activity relieves stress that drives you to buy what you wouldn't otherwise.
- Don't shop for recreation. Shopping isn't sport. Avoid browsing the web or visiting the mall when bored. Shop when you need something. Set a specific purchase in mind, and stick to it.
- Stop storing billing information online. In a brick and mortar store, there are physical barriers to purchasing. You put something in the cart, carry it to the cashier, and hand them a card, allowing plenty of time to think about the purchase and put it back if necessary. These barriers don't exist online- three clicks, and it's yours. Avoid express checkouts, instant log-ins, or saving address and credit information. When you have to think about your password, get your card, and enter your details over again, it kills the incentive to purchase unnecessary items.
- Get new friends. At the very least, stop shopping with them. The lifestyle and conversation of your friends can shape your desires. If you're overspending to keep up with friends, choose different ones that place less emphasis on money and stuff. I avoid watching Gossip Girl-type TV shows, which are endless advertisements for certain brands, for much the same reason.
- I don't have a credit card. Sorry, this is a personal statement, not a suggestion. I became "credit card age" after the bubble burst in the US, so I've paid everything outright my whole life. I can't be sure, but I think credit cards make it easy to buy while ignoring the consequences, while cash makes purchases concrete (you can still develop a good credit score by paying bills on time). Instead of purchasing on credit, save for larger purchases and pay cash.
- Don't be enticed by loyalty programs or time limits. I almost bought espadrilles I didn't need because The Real Real sent me a $50 credit expiring the next day. Beware of sites offering free shipping, installment payments, and timed carts, which pressure buys. I can't tell you how many times I filled a punch card for a discount and wasted money I meant to save.
- Stop buying items just to return them. You'll forget to return them and end up with a pile of useless clothing. Or you'll spend so much in return shipping, you could buy a whole new outfit with the fees. Thrift shopping prevents this by default.
- Think of all the things you won't be able to do if you purchase an item. Let's forget the skirt I spent several months rent on, delaying travel for a year. Once I walked from Bonne Nouvelle to Rue de Rivoli with my friend Tori, and I couldn't climb the Jeanne d'Arc statue like she could, because I was wearing stupid heels I just bought. A perfect Instagram moment, lost forever thanks to unchecked consumption.
- Above all else, ask yourself, "Is this worth it?" You don't have to sit in store calculating cost per wear. Just think, "Am I comfortable spending this amount, considering the use I'll get from it?" Remember, as your stuff increases, your quality of life decreases. Look at Suge Knight.