This Sunday Times article on reasons why women are stressed, gives money as one of the causes of habitual anxiety. Not just having too little of it (although everyone I know in London is habitually skint) but the overbearing desire to constantly spend.
A few weeks ago, I watched the second part of History Now: The Story of the Noughties which talked about the surge of credit card debt and consumerism over the last decade, how we became a nation where “You Are What You Consume“. We may now wear better clothes, better handbags; but how sad if this is how we are judged, and how we judge others.
This is especially prevalent in London. When I first moved here from expat life in Brussels, I was amazed at how trendy people were, how much everyone talked about money, buying a place, then a bigger place. Seven years later, I’m probably the same – understandable because we work long hours, life is expensive, trends are everwhere. My Paris-based sister says you can tell what’s currently fashionable within 2 minutes of getting on the tube.
I am pretty bad – constantly shopping, writing “most wanted” lists of what I want to buy next, overflowing wardrobes but constantly feeling I have nothing to wear. Like most shopaholics – there I’ve said it – I always buy the same things that typically suit me (tops), and avoid buying what I actually need (jeans/work trousers) where I can’t find a great fit.
What I’m sure of, is that it definitely doesn’t make me happy. In fact, one of the happiest times of my life was spent backpacking around the world with almost no material possessions; some of my happiest friends are the ones that earn the least, who shop little, but buy things they truly love and will keep for years.
So, last year I felt I was being consumed by shopping and I tried a few things that helped. As always, I thought I’d share:
1. I reduced my wardrobe by about a third – I sold decent stuff on ebay (making about £1000), giving stuff to charity and to friends on “clothes swap” nights. It was then quite easy to see what I had far too much of and what I actually needed. Clearing out your stuff, ridding yourself of what you don’t want or need, is amazingly cathartic.
2. I then enforced an outright ban on all shopping for non-essentials for one month. I think I may have stuck to this and everything. Then, I wrote a list of only what I needed (work trousers; a spring coat, etc etc) and would only look for these things when shopping. And I’d try to wait until I found the PERFECT one, rather than buying three that were sort of OK.
3. I tried to focus on what really counts – tis’ not the handbag that maketh the woman, the best things in life are free – and other similar cliches.
4. Lunchtimes and weekends were my worst shopping times, so instead I tried to do fun things – visit a gallery or exhibition, meet friends for lunch, go for a cycle round Richmond Park. Anything that didn’t involve Debenhams or credit cards.
5. Once a little bit of time had passed, I enjoyed buying small treats – I do believe in retail therapy at times. A nice bottle of wine, a new top, a great CD. And as per The Happiness Project London Rules, such a treat should be savoured and enjoyed.
Of course, I’m still a terrible shopper (“Born To Shop, Forced To Work“) but when I start going on shopping binges, I try to stop myself for a few weeks, or sell a few things on ebay, to recover some equilibrium. And those new shoes? Well, I really needed those. Honest.