Why Does Shopping Make Me Feel Good?


Why do I love shopping so much? Sometimes I just scroll and scroll and scroll through pages of products to free my mind from whatever is occupying it. Every so often, this manic scrolling will turn into a new acquisition opportunity and just like that: renewal. Pink satin kitten heels that will contribute to my new identity as an elegant woman. Ditto that for suede mules. A cropped tweed jacket? Perfect.

These are the physical manifestations of my abandoning who I once was, or tried to be. The garments don’t even recognize that imposter student of grunge I was last year. She wore a plethora of plaid shirts and ripped jeans and leather boots. They’re all languishing on The Real Real right now.

My parents always used to tell me that things wouldn’t actually make me happy. They were the first to point out that shopping incites a high. Maybe you feel good for like, a week, but slowly and surely, the new thing becomes old. Something shinier, prettier, better arrives at market. And lo and behold: wherever you go, there you are. With your stuff. That now feels kind of dated.

We’re all familiar with this narrative, right? We’ve all been taught that stuff won’t make us happy. Big data (whatever that is), supports this theory with its assertion that millennials (that’s us!) are acquiring less, but experiencing and — keyword — enjoying more. I’ve had conversations from here until tomorrow with aspiring brand builders who are targeting a new kind of fashion customer: she who wants to own less garbage, but have more quality. One sweater, one pair of pants, a jacket — that’s it.

It’s a satisfying and relieving thought (and one that I dream about fairly often) that your closet could become a small chest of drawers replete with everything you feel like you need. But see, my approach to getting there is all wrong. Here I’m thinking about purging but essentially, purging only to reacquire. To “get it right” next time. Obtain the timeless pieces that will never go away. Achieve more stuff.

I know that I use shopping as a crutch. When I’m feeling kind of down, or just uneasy, the prospect of new stuff makes me feel like whatever the thing in question is will solve my problem. Intellectually, I know this is not true, but behaviorally, it’s a habit that I fall back on over and over again. Even right now! While writing this, I’ve already visited the Warby Parker website to consider these sunglasses, Matches for these sandals, have sent about e-mail about a Dries jacket, and I don’t even want to talk about this necklace.

But what happens when it stops working? Which, by the way, it has. I’m procrastinating right now, and that’s a different beast, but what happens when you’re pursuing something so much deeper than temporary self-satisfaction? I’m past the point of conflating consumerism with true fashion fandom (an easy mistake to make when you’ve determined you no longer want to buy shit).

This is an important distinction because admiring stuff is a big part of who I am. It is a coping mechanism that sometimes works. I am a genuine fashion fan. That a skirt, or a pair of shoes, or some ridiculous brooch could put a smile on your face when everything else might feel like it’s falling apart is special. That doesn’t mean you have to have the things, though. You can appreciate them from a distance, like art, and let them fill you up without filling up your cart, or abandoning that element of renewal associated with purchase. You can appreciate it without having to worship it.

Earlier I said that the problem with leaning on getting new stuff is that wherever you go, whatever you have, there you are with your stuff. This notion is true when you’re in the process of restoration, or self-healing, too. The difference is that you’re not running away from anything. So wherever you go, no matter what you have, there you are, with you. Point blank. End scene. Sigh of relief. Smile.

For what it’s worth I did still buy those Warby Parker sunglasses. I’m not above relapse, and for now, I’m just glad I know — I mean really, really know — that stuff is just stuff.

Illustration by Maria Jia Ling Pitt; follow her on Instagram @heysuperstar.

Leandra M. Cohen

Leandra M. Cohen is the founder of Man Repeller.

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