Ban The Notion Of Retail Therapy

If you are just starting out with Minimalism, the first thing and albeit the hardest thing you will face is the act of decluttering.  As you start to let go of things, the one thing that may come to mind is this "How did I acquire all of this stuff?"  The answer is Retail Therapy

Shopping with the primary purpose of improving the buyer’s mood or disposition. Often seen in people during periods of depression or stress, it is normally a short-lived habit. Items purchased during periods of retail therapy are sometimes referred to as “comfort buys”. The name retail therapy is ironic and semifacetious, acknowledging that shopping hardly qualifies as true therapy in the medical or psychotherapeutic sense. It was first used in the 1980s, with the first reference being this sentence in the Chicago Tribune of Christmas Eve 1986: “We’ve become a nation measuring out our lives in shopping bags and nursing our psychic ills through retail therapy.”
— Wikipedia

You know that this is partly true.  We shop when we are depressed, when we are nervous, in anticipation of a big event, to pass the time, because it's what we always do, because we feel entitled to a nice bag after a hard work week, the reasons can be endless.  It's also so easy with the click of a button.  The problem is that the buying of stuff provides just a temporary euphoria and happy feeling.  Yes, it's nice to see boxes waiting for you at the doorstep or it's nice to come home with bags full of goodies, but the problems you were trying to escape from remains after you open those boxes and those bags.  It may also create new ones.  As you shop, you spend and waste money, you accumulate unneeded stuff and it creates a burden on yourself and the environment.  And it starts a continuous cycle.  You may dread coming home because the stuff at home overwhelms you so you end up at the mall instead medicating on retail buys.  Shopping yourself a new outfit or a new electronic toy every week does not result in greater happiness. Shopping is just one aspect of our lives but it should not be the center of how we spend time.  Here are other ways to improve your mood and distract yourself if you find the itch to go shopping.


Ban "Retail Therapy" From Your Vocabulary

Before we can change a habit, we need to take on a new mindset and the easiest way to take on a new mindset is to take on new vocabulary.  So from now on, ban "retail therapy" from your list of words.  It is no longer something that you can use to justify the action of spending.  Don't use it as an excuse, don't use it as a lighthearted explanation of coming home with an arm load of shopping bags.  From now on, "retail therapy" is no longer a solution for you.  Without a solution for what ails you, it's time to work through what will work to get you out of that funk.  Experiment, test and see what other options change your mood besides shopping.


Get Outdoors

Shopping is a great walking exercise as well as a great opportunity to spend time with others.  Consider heading outdoors instead and exploring a park or a nearby trail instead of walking around a shopping mall.  I am sure there are plenty of parks in your areas that need exploring.  Get your inner adventurer out and see what you are missing out.  Bring a friend, a co-worker, a child or spouse along.  This is a great time to catch-up without the temptation to purchase something.  If you are at work or at home, get up from your desk and visit a co-worker on the other side of the visit before you pile on stuff to your cart.

Exercising in an environment that has fresh air instead of perfumed air will do wonders to your mood and health.  Imagine coming home feeling great and without any feelings of regret or guilt and one less item to add to the pile.


Do a Craft Project

Part of the joy of shopping is the fun of it.  There's a creative aspect to shopping as it allows you to create, curate and appreciate the aesthetics of things.  Part of our buying decision is the look and feel of an item.  We browse, we touch, we compare. 

Instead of doing the buying, why not create something to your liking.  I bet that if you look in your closet, there is already a piece of item that can be transformed into something worth buying.  By completing a craft project, you allow yourself to express some creativity and appreciation of design which is ultimately what you do when you admire an object and purchase it.


Pick Up a Hobby

Shopping allows us to escape our day-to-day, to forget the happenings of our daily lives.  I have no doubt that the break shopping provides helps change our mood, but instead of spending time purchasing what most likely will be an unnecessary item, how about focusing this time and energy into a new hobby.

Learning and honing a new skill allows your brain to focus on something different.  Choose a hobby that you can look forward to doing at the end of the day.  Make sure it's one that requires you to tinker, explore or built.  The new hobby should bring you joy and allow your mind to wander and relax for a little bit. 


Find a New Ritual

Heading to the mall is a ritual for many people.  In most cases, it may be part of the schedule, part of their status quo.  It may be something you've done as a child, but perhaps it's time to change the rituals into something more meaningful.  If you always spent Saturdays at the mall, how about finding an alternative instead.  How about visiting a friend, spending time with a love one or finally sitting down to read that new book?  You are not bound to old habits so it's important to know that you can change and find new ways to spend time.

The key with how to replace your shopping ritual is to figure out why you do it in the first place.  Think long and hard about why you go shopping.  Are you bored?  Are you tired?  Are you looking for something specific?  Do you feel alone?  Once you know the why, you can then experiment with the many ways to answer the why without retail therapy.


When I was growing up, my sisters and I would spend Sunday afternoons at the mall.  It was the thing we did after church.  We lived in between two major malls so it was easy for us.  We would end up buying clothes that were on sale.  When I finally started minimizing and decluttering, it was an eye opener for me finding clothes I remember buying years ago and only having worn once.  I accumulated a lot of stuff and along with it wasted a lot of money.  I think in hindsight too, we could have done something else do spend the time together instead of shopping.  It's a lesson learned.  These days, I don't step into the mall quite as often as I used to.  I only have a handful of stores that I subscribe to and this has helped curbed my browsing needs.

Retail Therapy is not the answer to what ails us.  While advertising may make us think we are missing out on certain things, certain emotions, we are not.  In our current world of over consumption, it is important to understand what our consumption triggers are so that we are aware of them and are able to get in front of them.

If you are interested in reading more about how Retail Therapy affects us, check out Spent by Geoffrey Miller.

...basic survival goods are cheap, whereas narcissistic self-stimulation and social display products are expensive. Living doesn’t cost much, but showing off does.
— Geoffrey Miller, Spent

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