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Why Is It So Hard to Not Shop?

New, 1 comment

On money, self-control, and lack thereof.

Photo: Christian Vierig/Getty Images

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A few weeks ago I decided to go on a self-imposed shopping diet. I was coming to terms with the number in my bank account after bill-paying week (my rent, student loans, phone, cable, internet, power, and credit card bills are all due within the same five-day span) coupled with a recent splurge purchase. I felt like I had to plug up the hole before I sank the ship.

The rules I made up for myself: no “new” clothes, shoes, or jewelry for the next six months. I’m allowed to shop at secondhand stores, and I’m allowed to use gift cards already in my possession. (I’m also allowed to buy new underwear, because honestly I needed some and did not want to wait six months.)

To a degree, my shopping diet is about consumption, redefining for myself what it means to “need” something. Once, as her New Year’s resolution, my sister didn’t buy anything new for a whole year. She told me it totally changed how she shopped and thought about purchases, even five years later.

It’s also (way more) about money, and how I’m spending it. It’s not that I’m bad with money; I’m just a little too good at spending it on stupid things. And of all the stuff I spend on after bills and groceries — clothes, cabs, drinks, dinners with friends, more drinks, Seamless (a.k.a. takeout, for you non-New Yorkers) — clothes are probably the easiest thing for me to take a break from buying.

Years ago, when I first moved to New York, I didn’t ever buy new clothes because it just wasn’t an option available to me. Working two minimum-wage jobs and unpaid internships on my days off didn’t exactly leave me with any disposable income. (That doesn’t mean I didn’t shop; give me a by-the-pound dollar bin and I will find you the silk and cashmere.)

Now, eight years into my career, I can afford to buy something when I really want it, and sometimes I do. I browse for wine in the $20-$30 section instead of buying the cheapest bottle from France. I take cabs home instead of suffering through the late-night subway. I don’t think twice about adding avocado. And I don’t feel (too) guilty about any of that. But for some reason, when it comes to buying clothes and objects, I still see myself through the eyes of the 22-year-old who agonized over the $35 purchase of a used winter coat when it was freezing outside.

I still wear that $35 coat. I also just bought one a few weeks ago — the aforementioned splurge — for $400. It doesn’t keep me the least bit warm. In its defense, it’s a leather jacket, so it’s not trying to. But inner me is raising her eyebrows.

Since implementing the ban, editing market posts has become excruciating. I want most of these earrings, and I really want every single pair of these shoes. I haven’t pulled the trigger on anything from the site, but I do have a confession: After two weeks, I broke my own rules for something I didn’t even want, let alone need. I made the mistake of accompanying some of my coworkers to a Reformation sample sale, and when it was time to leave, I bought the skirt in my hands instead of putting it back.

I blame sample sale psychology, and obviously my complete lack of self-control. Which, to be honest with you (and myself), is what this whole exercise is really about, right? The skirt I bought at the Ref sale was actually a great deal, but if I could resist the impulse buys throughout the year, I wouldn’t have to beat myself up for the splurges I actually want (like my new jacket).

At any rate, I’m trying again. My six-month clock reset the morning after my “setback.” Inner me is crossing her fingers.