Confessions from a former shopaholic

September 4, 2014


Salespeople are always amazed at how quickly and accurately I shop – saving time, money and even closet space.

I confess, I was once a bona-fide shopaholic. At its peak, I once had a credit card bill that came to almost exactly yet ever so slightly over my entire month’s salary – which means I actually spent more than my salary because in HK we pay salary tax once a year and so we need to save to pay our taxes (it’s not deducted from your monthly pay cheque as it is in Canada). This, along with the comment from the owner of my favourite boutique only a week earlier as I was trying on yet another coat (it was a slightly different style and colour!), “You’ve bought so much, shouldn’t you have enough clothes to wear by now? You really don’t need to buy any more…” was a wake-up call. I realised I was addicted to shopping.

Perhaps with the exception of the shopaholic secretary in this article, when we buy clothes we don’t think to ourselves “I am buying this even though I know I won’t wear it. I am buying it so I can store it unworn in my closet, taking up space, because the thrill of the purchase is already worth the price I’m paying for this item, and simply because I can afford to shop and I’ll do whatever I want.” Even though most of what we buy ends up unworn (be honest with yourself, look through your closet!), when we make the decision to buy, we are imagining how perfect our lives will be and how positively others will see us when we wear that piece of clothing. As was the case in my thankfully short-lived few months of shopaholic-ism, it’s not clothes we are buying, it’s self-esteem. In the end, no matter how many clothes we have, we keep buying more because we feel we have nothing to wear. In fact the 80/20 rule applies – if you are like most people (or at least the women I know), you wear only about 20% of what you have in your closet, 80% of the time.

As Einstein is oft quoted, “[w]e can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them”, so I decided to change my thinking. Instead of looking at shopping as ‘I need / I want / I deserve’, I looked at it as an investment to support my career, my lifestyle, my personal brand. In which case consistently losing 80% of my investment (unused clothing) is a terrible return. If this was a mutual fund or stock investment, you’d change your strategy immediately. And yet we don’t change our strategy with clothes, perhaps because it’s ‘only clothes’ so we don’t bother to apply strategic thinking to solve the problem.

One of the things that make me, “me”, is I like to apply the same level of analysis and strategic thinking I give to finding solutions to work issues, to personal ones. My quest to find the ultimate solution eventually led me to become certified as a professional image consultant, even though I had no intention of practicing (the same way I studied aromatherapy and skincare, with no intention of being in the skincare business – never say never!). So why do you always feel you don’t have enough clothes to wear, even when your closet is bursting? One reason would be your closet is filled with clothes that don’t flatter you enough. These are the clothes that look good enough to buy but not good enough to wear. The piece of clothing that looked great when you tried it on at the store, and perhaps it was the most flattering piece in the store when you bought it… but once you added that piece of clothing to your closet, the ‘best in the store’ piece became the ‘looks pretty good but not as good as my other pieces’, and so you continue to reach for the clothes that flatter you best, and leaving the mediocre ones unworn.

The trick then is to find out the elements that suit you best, the elements that decide which pieces become your top 20%, and then apply it with discipline. What suits you best becomes a combination of what you like, what flatters and what is appropriate for your career aspirations and lifestyle. Today, I wear 70-80% of my wardrobe 80% of the time, and the clothing that is worn less frequently is for special occasions like evening wear or exercise clothes, a much better return. I go shopping infrequently – I actually feel I have enough clothes to wear! – and when I do, salespeople are always amazed at how quickly and accurately I shop – saving time, money and even closet space. In short, my design my wardrobe to ‘work’ for me, supporting my career and lifestyle.

The one thing I would like to leave off with is how I view consumerism today. If your budget allows, and you enjoy it, nothing wrong with shopping and buying more clothes. Just as if your budget allows, and you enjoy it, nothing wrong with eating nice meals, or taking nice holidays. I take pleasure in good food and beautiful things just as much as the next person, and I don’t need to go without to prove a point. However, I do make a point of seeing if I am responsible for what I consume – do I really wear the clothes I buy? Just as, do I finish the food on my plate? (not every time, but I try!) People talk about reducing what they use to save the environment, and I care about the environment too…. Sometimes the solutions seem so complicated and far removed from every day life. Yet simple steps count too, and with all the ‘things’ going to waste in this world, perhaps if we each just take responsibility to use what we buy – or to buy only what we will use – whether it’s food or clothes, or even paper, cars or electronic goods, we would already be going our planet a big favour.