Mindful Shopping and How to Determine What You Really Need

Mindful shopper Mindy calmly peruses the rack of sweaters at the department store while light pleasant music is playing in the background. She has come to the store today to purposefully shop for a couple of new sweaters to wear to work. Mindy stops and removes a black cardigan from the rack, holding it up to get a better look at it.

She says to herself, “This is very pretty. The ruffle around the neckline is an added touch. In fact, didn’t I just see Reese Witherspoon wearing a similar sweater on TV the other night? How much is this?…Hmmm, $80 is more than I planned to spend on one sweater. Do I really need this? I don’t think so. I already have a black cardigan that I love which is still in great shape. So what if it doesn’t have ruffles? I’m happy with my classic style cardigan..it’s more me. I’d rather keep looking around for something else.”

Mindy, the mindful shopper, strolls away happily and within a few minutes Shopaholic Shelly is passing through the women’s department on her way to customer service. She came to the store today to return a purchase that she had changed her mind about. Shelly pauses, looks at her watch and wonders if she has time to quickly look around. Something inside her says “walk away”, but then her eye catches a glimpse of the black ruffled cardigan hanging on the nearby rack. She briskly walks over to it and holds it up.

Shelly says to herself, “This is gorgeous! I love it! Isn’t this the same sweater that Reese Witherspoon wore on that talk show? I just adore her..she is the perfect example of a strong, successful woman! The sweater looked so perfect on her. I just have to get this sweater.

I need this…I think…don’t I? I already have three black cardigans, but I love this one more. None of my other cardigans have ruffles, and ruffles are so on trend right now. How much is it? $80? Well that’s not too bad. I really shouldn’t be buying anything right now though since I’ve already charged so much this month…but is $80 really going to make that much of a difference? After all, I just returned that $40 top. I know I have room on my credit card and maybe if I don’t go out this weekend with my friends I can put that money towards paying for this. Yes, I’ll do that and it will be like I got this sweater for free. I’m so getting this!”

Clearly, neither woman really needed the cardigan. Also, neither one was planning to spend $80 on a sweater that day. But the shopaholic quickly convinced herself to buy it anyway. Was it because she felt that wearing the latest trends transformed her into someone more admirable? Or did she imagine that wearing the sweater would make her more like Reese Witherspoon, a celebrity she admired? In either case, she quickly concluded that what she already owned suddenly wasn’t good enough anymore.

Can you relate?

One of the basic questions we often ask ourselves before making a purchase is “Do I need this?”. But for a recovering shopaholic, whether or not I truly need something new is not so easy to determine.

I’m almost always looking to buy something because "I want it” not because I technically need it. I need to breath, I need to eat, I need to pay my taxes, I do not really need a new pair of jeans. I don’t find “need”, in and of itself, to be the best indicator as to whether I should or should not buy a new outfit.

Let’s face it, we are not going to avoid shopping until our current clothing begins to deteriorate and “needs” replacement. (although I may have met a few people who do follow that method).

Our goal is to learn how to become mindful shoppers. So, how does a mindful shopper determine if they need a new addition to their wardrobe? Unlike Mindful Mindy, overshoppers have to plan for shopping. If you find yourself shopping for no reason, then that is a red flag that you “don’t need it” and you should ask yourself

“what am I really shopping for right now? What is going on that is influencing me? Is something troubling me?”.

In other words, what is triggering you to shop?

I've mentioned in other posts Dr. April Benson’s 6 important questions to ask yourself before a purchase, but for me these questions have become the essential guide to ensure I am being a mindful shopper. We need to be reminded of these questions over and over until they become a shopping habit.

I'd like to go through each question again, and how they help me to determine if I “need” the item I yearn to buy when I'm shopping.

1. Why am I here?

Mindful Mindy went to the store knowing that she was looking for new tops. She also knew the maximum amount she wanted to spend. Shopaholic Shelly was at the store to make a return…not to purchase anything else.

Next time you are shopping ask yourself “Why am I in the store or online shopping right now? Was it planned? Do I have a list of what I am looking to purchase and is this item on that list? Did I plan on shopping today?”

If you don’t know why you are shopping then you need to pause and ask yourself if there is something going on in your life that you are using shopping to “fix” or run away from. Don’t buy the item until you can really understand why you are shopping. Put it in hold if you must, but walk away and give yourself some time to work out what is really triggering you.

2. How do I feel?

Mindful Mindy was calm and in a good mood while she was shopping. She was able to enjoy browsing and making decisions.

Shopaholic Shelly was rushed and unsure if she even had time to shop. She was also feeling guilty about charging more. Once she associated the sweater with Reese Witherspoon she started to feel that obsessive “I must have this” feeling.

Rushing, guilt, and obsessiveness are all negative feelings, and a clear sign that now is not the time to be purchasing anything. If your emotions are negative and unsettling, then take a pause. Put some distance and time between yourself and the potential purchase. Wait until your emotions are more settled.

3. What if I wait?

This question has helped to remind me that I can wait. It doesn’t mean I have to wait, but can I? What about my life will change if I don’t buy it?

I recall once looking at a pair of black booties that a blogger had mentioned were “all the rage”. The boots were selling out online quickly, but I had managed to find one in my size. I stopped to ask myself the question of “what if I wait?”. My first thought was, “It will sell out and I will miss out”. I then said, “What will I miss out on?”. That is where I stumped myself. I really couldn’t explain what I would miss out on. I had black booties that I could wear. Sure, the heel may have been different than these new ones, but they were still stylish and in good condition (I had only bought them a year before).

The real answer to “what if I wait?” was “I’ll continue to wear the booties I bought the year before. I will save my money and not end up with two pair of similar booties in my closet”. I did not buy the new booties.

On another occasion I was intentionally shopping for a new handbag in a specific color that I felt was lacking in my wardrobe. This time when I asked myself “What it I wait?” My answer was “I will still not have the color bag that I am searching for to complement some outfits that I own. I could continue to wear the bag that I feel does not match these outfits as well as I’d like, but ultimately I will still want to buy this color bag in the future”. I bought the bag.

4. How will I pay for it?

If you don’t have the money then don’t convince yourself that you do. You know you don’t. You’re not going to win the lottery. Money is not going to grow on that tree outside your back window.

Shopaholic Shelly knew she didn’t have the money to buy the sweater, but she continued to convince herself otherwise. If you find yourself trying to figure out how you can “get the money”, “ borrow the money”, or “open a new credit card account” then pause. Putting yourself further into debt is only going to add stress and worry to your life. Take a picture of the item. Add it to your wish list. But don’t buy it.

5. Where will I put it?

Is your closet already jammed packed with clothing? Are you going to have to squeeze this purchase in there? Is there a chance the closet rod is close to collapsing? If the space is not available then it’s time to clean out your closet, not add more into it. In fact, cleaning out your closet and getting it organized will do wonders to keep you motivated and not overbuy and overstuff it again.

When I purged and reorganized my closet over a year ago, I was so happy with the outcome that I have been able to keep it neat and organized. I can see everything I own clearly..even my shoes. The motivation to keep it neat has helped me to avoid many unnecessary purchases.

6. Do I need this?

Ahh, the last question and the one that is the most confusing. For this question, the first thing I will consider is “Do I already own something similar”. Having an organized closet helps in figuring this one out. Before my closet was purged and organized, I found I often bought items that were almost identical to what I already owned…mostly because I could not see what I already had. Out of sight…out of mind! I have even been guilty of buying the exact same item twice. Know what you own or at least check your closet to make certain you don’t already have something that serves the same purpose as the new item you are considering purchasing.

Once I’m assured that I don’t own something similar, I ask myself “when will I wear this and how much use will I get from it?” I was walking with my daughter through the mall the other day and spotted two blazers that I loved. I could picture myself wearing them feeling chic, strong, and confident . Yet, I couldn’t picture where I would be wearing them! Those blazers would end up as decorations in my closet being admired and never worn.

I’m learning to realize that I can love something without buying it!

Once I conclude that I will wear the potential purchase then I must consider how much use I will get from it? Does it mix well with my existing wardrobe well. Some fashion experts say an item should pair with at least three other things in your closet. I’m not sure I agree with that entirely, but it does at least get me thinking about what I already own and how I might mix and match the new piece.

If you’ve gotten past all these questions and feel more confident about making the purchase, I would still suggest pausing for a while, if possible, before making the purchase. Time can change the way we feel.

Just the other day, I noticed I had a Burberry scarf left in an online shopping cart. The week before I had made certain to “pause” before purchasing that expensive scarf that I loved and had to have that day….and then forgot all about it! I still like the scarf, but I no longer consider it a “must have”. My feelings changed.

This may seem like a lot of work to do just to buy a new sweater, or jeans, or boots, or whatever you are fancying. But, if we truly want to stop over spending then we must do the work no matter how daunting it may seem. By repeating this over and over with each purchase it will become a habit, and we will automatically start asking ourselves the right questions. In time we might all feel more confident in our selections while we mindfully shop…just like Mindy.

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