Your reasons for shopping and wanting to stop shopping are intimate and personal. They may speak only to you, your situation, your relationships, your relationship to your body. They may also (as at least one of mine is!) be widely universalisable (Hey, look at you reading French now! Don’t forget to show that gem off to your friends at work today!)
So, let’s dish. Why do you shop? Were you able to put your finger on some of the thoughts, the emotions or states of mind that push you to seek a sense of wholeness outside of yourself?
Why I shopped
I shared yesterday in Part Two of You should really stop shopping! about some of the reasons that drove me to shop. In a nutshell, I would shop because I was bored and feeling empty. There is another reason why I would shop: I lived constantly with the belief that no matter how many items of clothing were in my closet, I absolutely never had anything to wear.
I’m certain you never have this thought.
What I can say for sure is that ten and a half months into my challenge, that thought has disappeared, and yet I have purchased no new clothes.
How is that possible? By alleviating some of the triggers that set off that thought, which to me was evidence of both an emotion and a state of mind, I no longer create the environment for that thought to surface, therefore I no longer have the thought. Let me illustrate.
One of the reasons I would shop was this incessant feeling, when I would stand in front of my closet, that I had nothing to wear. I had tons of lovely clothes, but I had nothing to wear. That sentence is one over which, very early on in my marriage my husband and I had a disagreement because it simply did not compute to him that with a full closet, I had nothing to wear. I learned quickly that this kind of thought was one best kept to myself. He’s a very kind, indulgent man. This, however, would have to be my secret garden.
Keeping the thoughts to myself did not help keep them in check, however.
When six years ago I had my first baby, the feeling was compounded. Not only was I stressed because I was a first time mother, I also had a new body that I had to learn to accommodate. I didn’t necessarily have clothes that fit that new body. For the first time in my life, the feeling that I had nothing to wear was very nearly a reality. Maternity clothes were too big, pre-baby clothes were too small.
Then I was pregnant again at the next possible opportunity. Back to maternity clothes. Now with two babies, I was even more stressed out. In the few seconds I took in the morning to get dressed, usually after my husband would leave for work, I was trying to make sure that one baby wasn’t boinging the other over the head with a pingpong paddle while I reached into my closet; panicked moments during which I was thinking “What in the world am I going to wear?” and hearing my closet answer back, “you have nothing to wear!”
I found a solution to this problem, and it became a central element to my year-long challenge. That solution is called mise en place. It means that at night, after the boys are in bed, I take five minutes to look at the weather and our scheduled activities for the next day and then I pick out, calmly, in the quiet of the evening, an outfit. An outfit appropriate for what we are going to do and for the weather. An outfit that fits, and bonus points if it is something I like, too. I get out everything I will need: underthings, socks, extra sweater, scarf if necessary. I even think about the shoes I will wear. In the morning, I then no longer have to stress out about what I am going to wear. A benevolent, kind, not-stressed-out, thoughtful version of me did it for me.
When I decided I wanted to stop shopping, I didn’t necessarily expect that doing mise en place every single day would entirely erode the feeling of dissatisfaction I was experiencing. But by taking five minutes at night when I am (relatively) serene, I have nipped the fuse off the dynamite of dissatisfaction. Dissatisfaction happened when I had to make quick, stressful decisions. By eliminating making decisions while stressed and I eliminated the dissatisfaction.
Why I wanted to stop shopping
One of the reasons I wanted to stop shopping was to take a leap of faith. I had always read in that verse where Jesus says, “Why do you worry about what you wear? Consider the lilies of the field. Even Solomon in all his splendor wasn’t dressed like them. Can’t God dress you better than them?” The truth was, God already had been dressing me better than the lilies of the fields. But I kept thinking I knew better. So I kept shopping and adding things that I would often not even end up wearing.
I mentioned in my brief discussion of Maslow and his incredibly dull Hierarchy of Needs that I believe the Physiological Needs are ones in which miracles can happen if we let them. Because we live in modern, relatively self-sufficient society, we don’t expect miracles to happen in these areas. But if you listen closely to people of faith, many will have a story about this to tell you.
A family whose teenage daughter had quickly outgrown all her clothes during a growth spurt and the family, who found themselves at the time in rather dire financial straits, was concerned about how they could afford a whole new wardrobe. A work colleague, who did not know about their problem, and whose wife had done some decluttering, showed up with three huge bags of clothes in exactly the right size asking if they might be useful. The miracle, the mother tells me, was not that the clothes came in just the right size at just the right time. The miracle was that they were all to her daughter’s liking and in her style!
In my own experience, it was twenty years ago when a mysterious bag of groceries was left on my doorstep with a note. I was making $6.00 working 30 hours a week as an intern at a theme park and my husband was out of work. We were barely making rent, let alone buying extravagant groceries. The bag, the origin of which is still a mystery to me, contained the classiest, most expensive, most delicious groceries…the kind I never would have dared buy and still would not buy today.
These moments of need create opportunity for unusual things to happen, whether you believe in miracles or not. It happens that I do. I would venture to say that my petticoat collection is one of those miracles, although I wasn’t in need. My heart needed something, and God spoke to me through that extravagant gift.
So one of the reasons I wanted to stop shopping is that I wanted to experience God’s provision for me. I want to know what it would look like if I let Him provide for me. This doesn’t mean he will provide anything new. But I have started learning tailor my clothes with the help of internet strangers. I have had ideas to turn the things I have into things I love. I want, no I choose to believe these are divine connections.
Setting your challenge and finding motivation
Your challenge is intensely personal, but it needs to take into consideration that we are dealing with a two-pronged approach.
First, we need to start playing Sisyphus with our temptation to shop. We need to start rolling around the stumbling millstones that make us want to shop. We need to create strategies to avoid temptation while we build new habits and momentum towards our goal (that thing that we defined as our motivation yesterday.)
Oh what? The expression is “stumbling blocks?” And Sisyphus rolled stones and not millstones? Oops!
The point is this: It is hard. There are times it will feel like you are reliving the same painful, visceral covetous thoughts over and over again. You will find yourself attracted to styles and objects and items of clothing you didn’t even like before. But the longer you live with the discomfort and the more willing you are to be brutally honest with yourself about it, the faster the urges will subside. For me, this was about seven weeks worth of Sisyphus-ing before I went one day without craving something new. My sister as my witness, it was hard. It was also immeasurably worth it.
Second, we need to start loving what we already have, first by knowing what we have in our closet (by doing an inventory, which isn’t as daunting a task as you might think), then by identifying what makes the things we love lovable and the things we don’t like unlovable. We then can think more clearly about what we already own and start making little tweaks to things we don’t necessarily love to improve them and make them more wearable.
First step: stop adding to what is already there. Second step: Start appreciating what is already there.
I genuinely want you to find solutions that will help you. It may not be mise en place for you. It may be something entirely different. This is your challenge. Make it right for you!
Select three of the oldest items in your closet and answer the inventory questions from our first day.
Lastly: Take the Four Tendencies quiz on Gretchen Rubin’s website. Incidentally, everything this woman says is brilliant and very helpful to habit-building and finding contentment. Follow her lavishly!
We will talk about finding an accountability partner, why spouses are lovely but not helpful, and setting a timeline for your challenge.