Let's Play Name that Trigger!

Why is my brain telling me to shop?

Before I began therapy for my shopping addiction, I never gave much thought to the reasons why I shopped so much. In truth, I think I avoided any attempts at delving deep into my psyche…I just wanted to shop…whenever the urge striked. The inner child in me would scream “Leave me alone..let me be!”. My “in denial” self would say “I got this. I can stop whenever I want”. Now that I realize I haven’t stopped shopping just by saying that I could, I need to understand what flips my shopping switch. There are days, even weeks when I am not shopping and also certain times of the year when I can't seem to stop. I have come to pay closer attention to my overwhelming shopping urges and this has helped in identifying my shopping triggers. There are many reasons people shop too much and these triggers may change throughout our lives. I’m sure I haven’t yet figured out all my triggers, but here is a description of my top five:

Trigger #1: Vacations

This should come as no surprise since you are probably already tired of reading about the excessive shopping I’ve done for my upcoming vacation. Vacations themselves are fun, but the anticipation of them brings additional excitement. I enjoy daydreaming about an upcoming trip and in my mind I paint a variety of picture perfect scenes. I then begin to shop for all the perfect things I think I need to make my vacation dream come true (if only I could shop for great weather). As I mentioned in a previous post, my mother would buy me all new clothing for our yearly vacation, which may partly explain why I always fill my suitcase with new beautiful outfits. My vacation trigger has proven to be very difficult for me. To help with my next tropical vacation, I am going to take pictures of every outfit that I wear on this trip so I will remember them. I store my off season clothing in a smaller closet in my dimly lit, disorganized basement. In the winter when I need to find warm weather clothing for a trip, I will vaguely recall memories of all the chic clothing I wore the previous summer. I know I have great “stuff” that is literally “stuffed” downstairs, but I don’t have much of a desire to rummage through my clothes squished into the dark corner of the cellar. It’s much easier and much more fun to buy new stuff! This is why sometime between now and the end of summer I must devise an easier and more organized method for storing my off season clothing (at least what I am most likely to need for a mid-winter vacation). With pictures reminding me of the nice things I already own plus easier access to these items, I might be able to talk myself out of a shopping frenzy before my next trip!

Trigger# 2: Fashion Bloggers

I enjoy following websites of a few beauty and fashion bloggers. I have gotten some great advice and tips which have been useful (how to tie a scarf, wear a belt, etc.). But when I see a confident, beautiful blogger in a great outfit, I immediately feel the urge to purchase everything she’s wearing! In my head I’m thinking “that’s the perfect dress for summer dining….those shoes really do go with everything - look how many outfits she has paired them with….that is truly the ultimate beach tote..I have to have it”. If a blogger lists their “must have” pieces then I feel I “must have” them all! Although some of my best loved clothing items have been found through these fashion sites, there were many instances where I could have used their images as “inspiration” for how to style similar pieces I already owned. I need to have more control of my compulsiveness and my irrational fear that if I don’t immediately buy something I will miss out (shopping FOMO). I also need to consider more deeply about what would happen if I miss out on purchasing something? Will I never find another white summer dress? I definitely need to slow down and create a list of the items that appeal to me. I need to determine if I already own similar pieces to create the same blogger look. I need to tread much more carefully in this arena. In fact, I probably should take a break from even watching these videos and posts. I certainly must avoid the upcoming posts on “must haves” from the Nordstrom Anniversary sale!

Trigger #3: The Nordstrom Anniversary sale

I specify this particular sale because last summer I spiraled completely out of control when shopping it. Normally a sale is not a trigger for me as I have usually purchased everything I like before any of it goes on sale. The Nordstrom sale is different because Fall items are on sale providing a head start for the next season. Since I am the type of person who enjoys buying clothing prior to the start of a season, the Nordstrom sale is a double whammy for me. I like the anticipation of the cool autumn days when I can wear that new cashmere sweater, jeans and boots I bought in August. Because of the Nordstrom credit card damage I incurred last summer, I must avoid it this year entirely (I really really must). While those fashion bloggers are creating long beautiful posts about the Nordstrom sale, I will be working on strategies to avoid the sale this year!

Trigger #4: Change of Season

I tend to over shop cyclically. I feel a stronger urge to shop in late August, December and again in March/April. My mind starts to prepare for what I will be wearing once the weather changes. In the Fall and Winter, I’ll obsess over soft cashmere sweaters, the perfect black boots or a new trendy coat. In the Spring I’ll be preoccupied searching for the right transitional clothing to move from winter to summer stylishly. Prior to summer I get weak and dizzy over flowing white dresses, platinum gold sandals, white jeans and colorful bags. What can I do to break this cycle going forward? How do I hop off this over shopping hamster wheel? Last November I purged and organized my closet creating a cold weather wardrobe that I loved. I could clearly see all my Fall and Winter clothes which helped me to avoid buying items that were similar to what I already owned. Additionally, I was motivated to keep the closet looking neat and therefore was reluctant to add more. This led to a very mindful winter when it came to shopping. I took many pictures of my favorite winter outfits to remind myself of what I already have before I get carried away with any pre-season purchases.

Trigger #5: Hiding from Emotions

This last trigger is most likely going to be the toughest to overcome. When I am suffering emotionally I tend to avoid the pain and instead I turn to shopping as a pick-me-up. I mentioned the affect last summer’s Nordstrom sale had on my shopping addiction, but what I haven’t mentioned is that last summer I was hurting a great deal inside knowing that my oldest son would be going seven hours away to college. I would cry randomly and fear that I was no longer needed as a mother and was truly at a crossroad. So much of my time was spent with him at the baseball field, watching his games, driving to different cities for tournaments, planning and assisting him with every step of the college recruiting process. I was thrilled that he found the right college where he could get a great education and also continue his love of playing baseball, but I was not prepared for the sense of loss I felt. The abundance of purchases made last summer was a culmination of several triggers working together, but there is no doubt that the biggest cause was my low emotional state. I don’t have an answer as to how I will cope when my next son goes to college, but I know now that shopping will not make it better. Last year shopping actually made things worse. When September rolled around and he was off at school, I was now home with a massive credit card bill to deal with. This led to feelings of shame and low self esteem which lasted long after I got over the sadness of my son being away.

I have other triggers, but these five are the ones I face most often and are the hardest for me to battle. Yes, it is a battle, but identifying my triggers helps me to prepare in advance for them. I’m still likely to purchase something new this Fall, but knowing that I am at a higher risk for compulsiveness at this time of year allows me to set up strategies to avoid over shopping and work on being a more mindful shopper. I suppose I should start soon to construct my plan for handling the pre-season Fall shopping! This is a one step at a time process - not an overnight transformation. I’m learning, I’m growing, I’m trying.

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