Just Another Vice: Retail Therapy
“Clothes.” “Treat yo’self!” “Fragrances.” “Treat yo’self!” “Massages.” “Treat yo’self!” You know how it goes—you have a rough day, week, month, or even year and decide to participate in some retail therapy. I deserve this, is what you tell yourself as you spend a little over your budget, buying one more thing to add to your already overflowing closet.
It’s easy to feel like filling our lives with more stuff—clothes, makeup, tech gear, shoes, knick-knacks—will fill holes left by stress, drama, challenges, and more. Those three words, I deserve this, tell us to reward ourselves for facing hard times and making it through tough situations. Buying new things makes you feel good and provides a temporary relief for the struggle you’re going through.
While shopping is necessary to an extent and can certainly be done in a fun, healthy way, you don’t need to reach “shopaholic” level for it to become an unhealthy habit.
A few years ago, I got myself into a lot of trouble trying to “self-medicate” my depression, fears, and anxiety about the future. I was constantly shopping to make myself feel better, to reward myself for dealing with challenges. It was a small, temporary bandaid on a much larger problem.
And it led to a lot of other problems. I charged thousands of dollars to my credit card that I couldn’t pay off, a consequence that will follow me for the next 3 years as I slowly pay off my debt. I also didn’t really feel much better after buying all the stuff–mostly I felt regret. Instead of a life full of joy, I had a life full of debt and stuff I didn’t need and wouldn’t use.
Worst of all, I was trying to find comfort and happiness in shoes, dresses, and jeans instead of Jesus. I was running to online stores instead of my Bible. Shopping wasn’t a treatment to my depression and sadness; in fact, it only made it worse.
I’ll be honest, this is still something I struggle with. I’ll stop by the store to pick up a few things and think, I had a really hard day. I should get a new lipstick, too. I’m still tempted to fill that hole with stuff that I don’t need and won’t use–things that will never make me feel fulfilled. But I’ve also built up a few barriers to stop myself from acting on this habit.
I budget a lot better now. I watch my money closely and make sure I know exactly where it’s all going. Every month isn’t great, but I have a lot more control over my spending now, and I’ve made it so that I can’t spend more than what I have. When you see how much of your money goes to the things you need, it makes it a little easier to not spend extra on things you only want.
I also try to purge instead of binge when I’m feeling overwhelmed or down. I own A LOT of stuff, and sometimes taking the time to sort through things, reorganize my room, and get rid of a bunch of stuff I never use or wear helps me feel more in control of my life. Rather than buying more things to stuff into my already-full closet, I sort through what I already have, which reminds me why I don’t need anything else.
Finally, I try to remind myself of what will bring me true comfort and happiness. That new pair of boots will be great for a year, but next winter, they’ll be beat up and dusty. Nothing in this world lasts, and if we place our hope in material possessions, we’ll be left empty and wanting more. Jesus tells us this in the Bible, saying, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matt. 6:19-21). When you put your time, money, and energy into temporary things, you’ll only get temporary happiness back.
It’s ok to buy things for ourselves–things we need, and even some things we want. But when we’re using shopping and material possessions to fill a void, we’ll only be left wanting more. New clothes last for a few years, but God’s love and hope lasts forever and will fulfill you in a way that material things never could.
Author: Allie Reefer
Allie is a writer, musician, and advocate working with refugees & immigrants in Pittsburgh, PA. She plays bass and sings on her local church worship team and is involved in several social justice efforts around the city. She loves coffee, travel, naps, inside jokes with her sister, and personality tests (ENFJ/Enneagram Type 4, FYI), and she’s passionate about living out the Micah 6:8 life–act justly, love mercy, walk humbly with your God.