Nov 19

Retail Therapy, Redefined

by Team Whering

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In the new world where people are controlled by things, retail therapy has become an oxymoron. It used to exist as a justification for those ‘treat yo self’ type spendings after a month’s hard work, or as a feel-better newness fix after a break-up (retail therapy is the fashion industry equivalent to cutting your own bangs when getting ghosted). And sure, you do without a doubt deserve all the best things, but in the flurry of fast fashion and pushy marketing, retail therapy has become a vessel that companies use to get you to buy, buy, buy (& buy again). Now, we find every and any reason to impulse shop, giving into the corporate messages which tell us that we ‘need’ whatever they’re selling us and convincing ourselves it makes us feel good.

Following up on our previous blog posts on wardrobe zen, we’re digging deeper to ask: Is retail therapy sustainable- both for the planet and yourself? At this point you’re probably thinking “well yes, shopping does make me feel good, and is also a distraction from my monotonous repetitive routine. So who cares if companies know what I want?”

There is a certain level of truth to that. A well-referenced 2011 study published in the journal Psychology and Marketing found that shopping does in fact improve mood and feelings of happiness (hello, dopamine). Another study from the Journal of Consumer Psychology found that retail therapy can combat stress by giving us a false sense of control. This might sound good, but wait, there’s more: while retail therapy might make us feel happy, those emotions are often temporary, and can increase chances of impulse buying (do you ever buy unnecessary things online just to feel something or have something to look forward to? Just lockdown things). Retailers profit from those impulse buys and capitalise on feelings of vulnerability. Sure; their products are trendy, but make no mistake- they only have the bottom line in mind.

Look no further than ASOS, whose profits have quadrupled this year with the onset of COVID-19, despite the company being criticised for poor treatment of warehouse workers. Not convinced? Boohoo (who also owns NastyGal and Pretty Little Thing) is another large retailer that saw profits increase by 51% in the first half of 2020 compared to last year. They too have faced controversy over how they treat their garment workers and the quality of their products.

So the big question is: should we keep using retail therapy? How can we manage the sense of control we feel when we buy, and use shopping in a healthy way, so we aren’t left with things we don’t need and a more cluttered world around us? By now you know how much we advocate for sustainable shopping at Whering, but we’re concerned with how an overload of things affect your mind as well as the planet.

There are several things to consider before entering the rabbit hole of internet shopping (it’s real, we’ve all been down there). Why are you shopping in the first place? Are you trying to escape boredom or stress? If so (and we’re sorry to break it to you) but shopping is probably not going to solve your problems. There are other activities that produce longer lasting effects of joy and don’t drain your wallet. Amy Morin, a psychotherapist and author of 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do, says that: “When life is chaotic, we might go, 'what's something I can do?’ [Shopping] gives you sort of a false sense of control in the moment".

We wrote about how doing the opposite of buying- decluttering- can help keep your mind off things and give you back mental real estate for other more important tasks. Decluttering can also be a different way of practicing control; by managing your space to reflect your state of mind. Clean closet, clear mind. If that’s not your thing, then find what does clear your mind, whether that be reaching for a book or meditating (we’re always sending you reading & other activity suggestions in our newsletters, so you might want to check that out).

But hey, let’s not get it twisted. There are situations that do call for a little bit of shopping; say, if you’re in need of some booties to get you through the cold season. Go ahead- treat yourself, but remember that buying needs instead of wants is a form of self-love, which is a very important practice. We wrote about it recently here (yet another shameless self-plug, we’re here to help you help yourself). The important thing to keep in mind is making sure you are shopping because you need and want to, not because some mega corporation told you that the secret to happiness is another blazer you’ll never wear and will feel guilty looking at in a year's time.

Who you buy from and how you shop can affect how you feel about your purchases. Buying locally or from companies with a social impact mission can stave off some guilt you might normally feel from shopping fast fashion- buy mindfully and make it last. Renting, borrowing, or buying second hand are also ways to get your fix without the extra carbon footprint. The limited stock and stricter return conditions of such shopping forces the purchases to be more intentional.

So the next time you’re tempted to dive into Zara’s latest email marketing campaign because you are * annoyed * that your boss scheduled a 5pm Zoom call that clashes with your yoga class, check in with yourself. Will it actually bring you lasting mindfulness? Or could you just get that dopamine from cooking yourself a nice meal?