- Jessica McAtee
Updated: Apr 16, 2020
We swim in a consumer culture like fish who don't know they are in water. The devious appeal of media and advertisements combined with our perception of our worth greatly influences our minds. Our compounding stress, busyness and mounting to-do-lists prompt us to check-out. We are drowning. We need a mental release, "A new pair of snoogerdoppers would make me feel better". And if we're not careful...
We don't even know it's happening.
I was once Queen Automatic Shopping Machine. In my early 20's, I went out every weekend, and nearly bought a new outfit for each. At 24, it got worse because I bought a house. There are always more chic pillows to add. And candles. And rugs.
According to cultural standards, I could afford it. And advertisers may say I deserved it. Looking back, my actions reveal the biggest lie of all: It would improve my worth. After all, I wasn't drowning in consumer debt or blowing my entire paycheck. Is it wrong to look cute?
Yet, that is not to say that it was benign.
When we become mindful of our living practices, it is obvious that we don't want cultural standards or advertisers directing how we live the one precious life we have. Going with the flow simply because it's how everyone else seems to be doing it is not cool. Our worth is not contingent on our stuff.
When I arrived at this epiphany, around the ripe age of 25, I immediately hit this habit head on. My plan was a complete Retail Detox arbitrarily created by me. I decided to stop shopping for one month. In that time I could buy food and toiletries, but only ONE new item that was beyond those categories. The one item could be a pair of sunglasses, a rug or a pair of snoogerdoppers. I didn't set a price limit. BUT, once it was purchased, that was it for that calendar month.
However, I did allow myself to purchase from thrift stores, trade with friends or simply ask people if anyone had extras. This was my way of making it hurt a bit less and of recycling resources. If my coffee pot went out, I could still obtain another one.
I also cancelled ALL catalogs that came to my house. For me, whenever a new one arrived it only made me want to be thinner, have more stuff, and feel inferior. Who needs that?
Finally, I banned myself from going into ANY sort of retail mall or trendy store (it was 2004 we didn't have online shopping). I could only go to the grocery store.
After one month, something amazing happened: I was okay! I had everything I needed and I was content. Plus I was being more gentle on the environment. Eureka!
With trepidation, I decided to try for a second month. After successfully completing the second, and still being okay, I decided to make it six months. As you can guess, after 6 months, those habitual chains were broken and I easily finished out the year.
Eventually, all of the bad retail patterns were broken and I retrained myself to become mindful of purchases, avoid emotional shopping and limit my exposure to stores that tempt me. The benefits far outweigh the costs. I won't go back.
I still monitor myself and the catalog prohibition still stands. I don't go shopping without a specific list and even that is usually to thrift stores. Like someone in recovery, it is a lifelong journey, but one that is much easier now that I have had time to enjoy the benefits of it.
Now it's a way of life. I am thankful.
The Real Cost
The reality of it is, had I not caught this poisonous behavior and attacked it at the root, I would certainly not be enjoying the financial independence I have today.
My husband and I live frugally, but splurge on occasion. We have everything we need. We have prioritized being free of full-time work and spending time with loved ones. We spend our days doing what we love and adventuring between our two homes in Florida and Oregon. Our worth is inherent and that motivates us to show others their worth.
The trade-off is we don't shop often. I rarely buy anything new. Most of my clothes come from thrift stores or generous friends. You can look cute on a budget! As this (new) blog unfolds, I will continue to share the hundreds of life-hacks we have discovered that enable us to live the way we do.
There are more ways than one to curtail bad habits, this is just a memoir of what worked for me. I suppose that I will always have an affinity for shopping. Who doesn't love sparkly things (I know some of you don't and that is admirable). I have had to learn to reign it in and not let it control me. I no longer shop when I am depressed, feeling inferior or unloved. Instead, I try to work through those feelings head on. A walk in nature helps. It can be painful but it beats blowing a bunch of money on snoogerdoppers and then regretting it the next day!
Plus, then I have time to go out and catch butterflies, which is what really fills my heart!