|That's a Fish.|
Three months into my shopping fast - which is more of a "shopping recasting" since I still purchase groceries, cleaning products, depleted consumables etc. -, I started to understand exactly what my shopping habits used to be about. After a few weeks of struggle with my willpower, realizing what I'm really after when I go shopping helped me find replacement activities.
As an introduction, I'd like to compare shopping and eating, because I find the metaphor to be very clear. Just like there is eating (to fuel your body) and eating (for pleasure, social gathering, as a reward or symbol, emotional compensation...), there is shopping and shopping.
This was made clear a couple of weeks ago, as I went on a little Paris tour with an agency to plan an event for work. At the end of the afternoon, I was left to go home for the day in the city centre, right in my shopping hot spot: Hôtel de Ville. I felt compelled to go to the BHV, to get a few decoration and organization items, new home ideas in mind. Thankfully, the shopping fast bigger motivation won and I stayed into the metro, went straight home, reasoning that I could reorganize first, then go purchase fast-authorized utility items if needed.
As usual on Friday evenings when I don't travel on week-ends, I then cleaned my home, and, suprisingly, ended up reorganizing it in depth. I went through my drawers, junk bowl, shelves, introduced a few Autumn things and added some cellar resurrected items such as pieces of my collection of minerals. Three hours later, I was dining in front of Elementary, in a clean, fresh smelling, incense burning, candle-lit, renewed appartment. I felt happy at home like I hadn't been in weeks. Here is the real motivation: I've felt transitional in my life lately, and this shopping trip was supposed to make me feel better in my home by introducing new decor.
Shopping Motivations and Substitute ActivitiesThis episode made me realize that the best way to "win" the willpower battle, when faced with temptation, is to understand why I really want to go shopping, and have prepared substitute activities to dive into instead. Here are a few shopping "motivations" I have identified these past three months, and how I've tried to replace them during the fast:
- I need a New Item: This is the basic, original reason for shopping. Something broke beyond repair, a consumable got depleted, new habits show that a certain item would make everyday life smoother. In this case, I'm still going shopping. The fast is supposed to be an experiment to help understand my consumption habits better, not a self punishment making my life less practical. But in that case, I write down exactly what it is I need, make sure nothing I own can do the job, and make initial research as to what the best purchase may be. Recent examples: A yoga outfit, a sieve as I eat more grains/legumes that need draining.
- I want to Celebrate the New Season: I have always enjoyed celebrating the seasonal pleasures with a couple of symbolic purchases, both for my home and closet. A tea cup with a maple leaf on it, a warm coloured top or scarf... That's how I built my seasonal capsule and decor over these past few years. This Autumn, I am doing with what I previously purchased. Getting knits out of storage, digging out the little leaf and pumpkin thingies I got in Japan. The idea is to celebrate the season, more than getting something new, so I give my owned seasonal items a top spot in my closet and on my shelves. Another trick is to get a few consumables: orange and red candles, decorative squash, a bouquet of fresh seasonal flowers. And to find other ways to celebrate the season: eat seasonal products, go for a walk in the forest, take pictures...
- I am Joining a Social Gathering: In today's society, there is a lot of shopping together. Checking out a new shop at its opening, walk (and shop) around the city, go to a special market or shopping event... That brings temptation, and pressure to buy something if all your friends do. I enjoy the social aspect of the event, without the purchase: What really matters here is to be with my friends, advise them on the clothes they try on, or discover the new shop or market together, have an afteroon tea... I focus on the discussions and enjoying each other's presence, take a few pictures to remember the afternoon without needing a material token for it. If I'm tempted, I trick myself by thinking I'll come back alone when I have more time to try and decide. And, of course, I never come back.
- I Need A Compensation for a Hard Day: Sometimes, I'm having a bad day at work, or got a bad news among my friends, and I feel like lifting my spirits with a nice new item for myself. Even though I globally don't like shopping much, I enjoy browsing my favourite stores with the idea that I can offer myself a treat. These days, I find compensation in another activity: I buy half a bottle of Champagne and set up a fancy dinner by myself at home, or I decide to indulge in a gaming night, or I call a friend, or I set a foot bath and massage... There are many light and pleasant activities to engage in to compensate the brain's need for less stress, it doesn't have to go through buying a new thing.
- I Want to Reward Myself: I have completed or achieved a milestone or objective in my personal or professional projects, I kept going with a good habit for a week, a month, I've successfully edited my drawers or sorted my cellar, and I want to gift myself with a reward to keep my spirits up and keep going with the next objective. Here too, there are other possible rewards: Depending on your taste, the reward can be a night out in a nice restaurant, a film session, a fancy dinner at home, a 30mn massage by a professional, a week-end away even. Since the beginning of my shopping fast, I'm training myself to consider there are other, equally joyful rewards than acquiring a new material item.
- I Need To Compensate for an Emotional State: The BHV example above is a good illustration for this one - a compensation for feeling "transitional" in my life. It can be a compensation for insecurities, a part of your life that is unfulfilling these days (crappy appartment, job, difficult relationship, health issues...). Identify this Emotional State: and find another way to deal with it. In the example above, once I understood what I really wanted is to "renew" my home, I dedicated three hours to reshuffling what I own, instead of buying another teacup or tray. Once the real issue is identified, it might be easier to find an adequate compensation: calling friends or family to vent or seek advice, plan a little body care evening... That is very personal of course, but the first step is to understand and listen to that emotion instead of shutting it up with shopping.
- I Shop As a Symptom to Something Else: The major personal example here is the exotic jewelry and decor that hid a wish to travel more. Compared to the emotional state above, this is more unconscious, but also lasts longer - it can be a wish to belong or fit in in a certain social circle, compensate a low self esteem, a buried desire to practice an activity or learn something... Reflect Upon Your Purchases: Again, this is a very personal realm, and, often, when we shut a desire with a surrogate, it's because we're not ready to admit something to ourselves. Besides, it's OK to compensate a frustration to make it more bearable, if it isn't possible to do what you really want now. However, I still believe it is much healthier to know what's going on and consciously decide to go shopping as a compensation, rather than filling a void with objects. So the first step in this case is simply to reflect upon purchases and wishlists - why do I want this? Can it wait until the end of the fast? Does it hide another, non material need?
- I Just Want Something New, I Want Change: Sometimes, I just want to go shopping for something new. I have noticed this since I've been controlling my purchases more, it's not that I want to fulfill a precise wishlist, I just want to indulge in selecting, buying and unpacking a new item for myself. I have noticed that this usually happens when I want some change in a boring situation, and getting new items (especially items of decor or outfits) seem to be a material symbol of that change (a bit like a new haircut) Find Other Ways to Bring Novelty: Planning a visit of an unknown part of the city, dig out old items long unused and find a new use for them, discover new outfits to feel new with existing items, shuffle the home decor a bit... If there is really a profound need for change, then maybe identify this need and set a plan for change instead of compensating with new material items.
- I Want a Memory or Token as a Reminder: In my case, this happens essentially on travel, or simply when I visit a museum or exhibit. Last year we had a week of holidays in Paris with le fiancé and I purchased a souvenir in each, and, every, museum and exhibit we visited. Despite being in Paris (which is not very exotic for me, obviously). Each time I travel I have to bring back some table sets, a mug, a pair of slippers... But this doesn't have to be linked to travel, it can be remembering a nice experience, meeting a friend... Find Other Ways To Keep the Memory Alive: Taking pictures seems to be the most obvious choice here, maybe even blog about them, or open a travel dedicated journal (via tumblr for example). It can also be writing the experience down on a diary, or finding a creative token - scrapbooking... My project: I want to buy (OK it means buy at first) a map of the world, hang it on one of my walls, and either pin or put stickers on countries I have visited. Maybe even sticking a local currency bill on it, and create my own travel log. We could have 2 different sticker colours with my fiancé and make it our creative token.
What's Next? Post-Fast LearningsAfter 3 months of shopping fast, I'm getting better at identifying the weak moments when I'm going to want to go shopping and find excuses for myself. In the heat of the (now rare) "willpower battle", I trick myself by thinking, OK, but later, let's add it to the planning. And later, when my head gets cooler, I can apply the ideas above.
The question I've been asking myself lately is - if I don't really need any of these, and if I can find other ways than shopping to be satisfied, does it mean I'll stop shopping for unessential items forever?
My item consumption is certainly going to go down after the fast - I want to avoid a post-fast binge which is why I have stopped fueling my List of the Possible - but I don't want to deprive myself completely from the pleasure of owning something new. The purchase, the unpacking, the smell of new, the removing tags, the integrating it to the rest of my collection...
I still have 3 months to give it more thought, and I'll probably prepare a post on my (revised) shopping habits after I learn more about myself through this fast, but the idea is moderation. Some of these shopping motivations above are healthy enough in my opinion - why not mark a travel or reward myself with a beautiful object once in a while, if it is either useful or joyful, and brings additional value into my life? I think it is rewarding only if this kind of acquisition is rare though. I'm sure it's much more enjoyable to unpack a cashmere knit when you buy only one during the year, than when you bought one last week already.