I was raised to shop. Some people eat their feelings. I spend mine.
It started as a fun hobby when I was a little girl, something to do with my mom. And then it became the response to hard times. Whenever I broke up with a boy, my mom took me shopping. (Store of choice? Joyce Leslie - HELLS TO THE YEAH - you KNOW I had ten pairs of stretch-denim capris with different colored belts to match different colored cropped tops.)
And guess what. It DID make me feel better. Now, as an adult, I realize I felt better because I was a fifteen-year-old idiot who was getting dumped by boys who "needed to spend more time working on his Camaro," or "needed to focus on his post-punk-ska-death-pop-techno-grunge band" and so the mere distraction of doing ANYTHING for an hour would help me heal, and it just happened to be shopping.
And spending time with my mom, which even as a fifteen-year-old Terrible Human Being (as many of us are at fifteen), I was secretly happy about that. But the seeds were planted there, and still to this day, at 26 years old, I shop away every bad mood, stress, fear, frustration - and yes, joy.
You wouldn’t believe my rationalization skills. I can rationalize anything. In my warped little mind, I’m not being an airhead about it, I’m not just mindlessly forgetting to pay my student loans and buying Miu Miu shoes. I’m planning, I’m strategizing. I’m doing math, people.
This is where things get embarrassing – I have a notebook that I do said math in. I write how much money I have for the current paycheck, how much I’ll need to spend on bills and such (expenses even I can’t avoid), how much money I’ll have coming in the next week, how much is going out – and so on and so forth for up to three months in advance.
Then I’ll be like “Aha! I KNEW there was an extra $400 in there! I can buy this Thakoon dress and be totally fine.” Wouldn’t you know it, my math is never right? $400 disappears over the course of three months, from bills turning out to be higher to your friend’s birthday dinner being a little more expensive than you planned. You can’t budget yourself down to the penny to excuse extravagant purchases. Well, you can’t, but apparently it’s okay for me to do!
And cost per wear? I am the queen of cost per wear. It’s almost like I work on commission for places like Bergdorf, Net-A-Porter, Barney’s and Moda Operandi, and my only customer is myself. I can sell myself anything. “That is so statement-making.” “That is so versatile.” Everything in my closet is statement-making or versatile.
But, honestly, nothing in my closet is statement-making or versatile. And if I really were an actual queen of cost per wear, I would probably be blackmailed with photos of the things I toss every year that still have the tags on. I once brought five – FIVE – garbage bags stuffed with mostly unworn clothes that had been sadly hanging in my closets at my parents house for years to Buffalo Exchange. They picked like four of the hundreds of things I thought were so very fashionable, and I got about $28.00. What is the cost per wear, you ask of an Alexander Wang dress you buy for $150 (at a sample sale, naturally) and never wear? You guessed it, $150.
Amazingly, though, I just thought I was an avid shopper until this year. I really thought it was just an activity I loved doing, like how some people scrapbook (my scrapbook would be pictures of my favorite purchases, especially pride-inducing receipts and shots of me wearing my trophies, framed in glitter and maybe those "You Did It!" stickers they sell for graduations) or bird watch.
I started to realize this activity was a bit troublesome in its direct conflict with my saving any money. I am 26 with no savings account. Sometimes I have about $14.00 in savings because I do Bank of America's Keep the Change program where they round up your debit card purchases to the next dollar and deposit the change - the reason I joined the bank because I thought I'd have a hefty savings by now.
And my boyfriend and I are moving - from our piece of shit, falling-apart (literally, the ceiling in the bathroom actually fell on the floor last week) - to a new, still closet-sized apartment in the neighborhood we've always wanted to live in. All I had to do was save enough for the deposit and broker's fee. And I have nothing. Because of the shopping. Whoops.
So, yeah, problematic. But, really, I thought it was just a time and money-consuming hobby until all of this moving stress - the only thing I could fathom doing to make myself feel better was shop. Even though my shopping was draining my money, which was the very source of my stress. "How could this possibly make sense to any sane, rational person?" I asked myself. "Oh." That's when it hit me. I must not BE a very sane, rational person.
One would think I would have noticed any of the many warning signs, but one would be wrong. It might bother a normal human being to have at least three different credit card companies calling you at least six times a day EACH, but that’s what the “ignore” button is for. (Okay, sometimes I like to have a little fun and answer and try to make the person on the other end feel bad about himself or herself.)
Another red flag might be the panicked feeling I get when I find something I want and haven’t gotten it yet. I like my gratification instant. When I fall for that 3.1 Phillip Lim jacket, I fall hard and have to have it immediately. All my thoughts revolve around how to obtain it, and I start doing the ridiculous math in my ridiculous notebook. I feel like I have to buy now, deal with the consequences later. It will be easier to deal with the soul-crushing stress and impending-poverty terror when I’m looking SS13-ready in my new jacket.
It’s bumming me out, though, that I can’t do adult things I want to do, like get a French bulldog or go on a real vacation because I am a sad fashion hoarder.
So, I am making an effort. I am starting to sell the things I truly don’t use on eBay, and plan on only allowing myself to use money I earn from that to shop. Going cold turkey isn’t really an option – I work in fashion, there’s too much temptation AND too much pressure to not be seen wearing anything from the 2010 collections too often – but I figure if I can only buy using resources I’ve obtained from purging, it’s a step in the right direction.
My paychecks are now strictly for saving and getting myself out of debt – and hopefully, a French bulldog named Petunia soon. So, do me a favor, friends. If you see me, looking eerily driven and dead behind the eyes, holding a Carven jacket at Barney’s, go ahead and dropkick me. Petunia and I will thank you later.