Why Talk It Over when You Can Shop It Out?

shopping bagsSometimes there’s nothing a worried brain likes more than to go shopping.

Shopping can be creative and social. It’s often optimistic and happy-future-oriented. Plus, it’s distracting. For that moment, every other problem, thought, and plan recedes—it’s only you and the lipstick. Your only worry is deciding between Lady Danger and Ruby Woo. (And why not get both; they’re very different!) “I always say shopping is cheaper than a psychiatrist,” Tammy Faye Bakker once said.

Worried people are often the best-dressed people in a room. Have that tough conversation with your spouse or go shopping? Pop online and pay the bills or go shopping? If you look long enough for the right shade of lipstick, the right pair of pumps, and maybe a really cool bag to make the outfit, things might just get resolved by someone else. Why talk it over when you can shop it out? Like Scarlett O’Hara, “I’ll think about that tomorrow.”

Distraction shopping comes in all shapes and sizes. It isn’t just for compulsive shoppers. And this isn’t just a Hermès crowd issue—it’s discount shoppers, outdoor gear shoppers, vintage shoppers, and yoga outfit shoppers, too. It’s for anyone who fills empty moments trolling for something.

For some, the feeling of shopping, and all the possibilities it presents, gets the pleasure circuits in the brain really happy. And there’s always more we need to buy: the proper-width pant legs; ties; the right length of skirts; the current “in” color of paint.

There’s so much to consider. “Does this look good on me?” is much more fun to think about than, “Am I saving enough for retirement?” Plus, it’s an activity. We are doing something when we shop.

Sometimes, though, what people are really doing is avoiding. Avoiding boredom. Avoiding conflict. Avoiding responsibility. Avoiding feelings. Avoiding the abyss. Sometimes we don’t know what to do with the free time we have, so we shop. And sometimes there is nothing wrong with that.

There are times in a person’s life when we surely could benefit from a distraction. And while some of us may happily buy tombstones that read, “She shopped until she dropped,” many of us want to do something else with our lives, something our job, family, or friends can’t provide. What that something is, is different for everyone. Not knowing what it is, and avoiding thinking about what it might be, keeps us from ever finding out.

How do you know if you’re a distraction-seeking shopper?

  1. Is your closet busting with clothes?
  2. When you get home after shopping, can you remember everything you bought? Are you surprised to find, say, a cute, glittery bracelet at the bottom of a bag?
  3. Are you restless when you get home from the store?
  4. Can you go two days in a row without looking at online deals?

What are we avoiding? It might be a full life—figuring out who we are and how we want to contribute (besides contributing cash to the economy). What do we want to explore? What’s the big idea? When will we start training for the marathon, writing the novel, spending more time with the kids, painting, or traveling?

Ideas are endless; our time is not. And so sometimes we worry. And sometimes we shop.

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  • Val

    Val

    June 25th, 2014 at 11:33 AM

    As a compulsive shopper who has racked up more debt than I can even think about sometimes I am going on record and saying that I don’t think that this is advisory message to advocate at all. There are some who can handle this but there are others like me who easily fall into the trap of over spending and then regret and then feeling like there is no way out of all of the mess that you have caused.
    It’a always fun til the bills start coming in and then reality hits.

  • Debra

    Debra

    June 25th, 2014 at 1:15 PM

    Surely I am not the only one who fills up online shopping carts as a distraction? It is rare that I buy anything but I do fill up those carts just in case, and if I didn’t do it then I would nevr be able to find the item that I was searching for again! It’s fun, costs nothing, and takes my mind off of stuff for a little hwile. It is a win win situation for me.

  • christopher

    christopher

    June 26th, 2014 at 4:14 AM

    What is it about shopping that for women is irresistible? There is nothing that I ever want to do less than go shopping and yet my wife could go out and browse and look all day and never get a thing. It just seems to be something that she enjoys doing that I guess I don’t have the right chromosomes to understand.

  • Cliff

    Cliff

    June 26th, 2014 at 10:33 AM

    So it can take your mid off of things for a while but it is in no way supposed to be used as a permanent solutions.
    It is a band aid, something to ease your pain for a little while, but certainly nothing that will solve your problems.
    Just promise that if this is how you are going to try to handle your problems that you won’t let it become something that spirals out of control, as it can pretty quickly.

  • milo

    milo

    June 27th, 2014 at 10:59 AM

    I can see this from both sides.
    I do think that it can be wise when you are questioning something to find an activity to engage in that will help you actually take your mind off of it for a while and hopefully leave you in a better place later on when the times comes that you actually have to make a decision.
    but I also think that there are probably healthier things that one can do to do this. Exercise? Journal? Take a walk? Read? Anything might be better than shopping. However, if you can handle that and don’t have the urge or the compulsion to overspend then I think that this could probably work for you.

  • Grantly

    Grantly

    June 28th, 2014 at 10:48 AM

    Well good grief it appears that I should have been a therapist because I have LONG been advocating the benefits of shoe shopping to perk up almost any bad day!

  • destiny

    destiny

    June 29th, 2014 at 8:35 AM

    A day out with the girlfriends at the mall, hanging out and trying on a few new things? Even if there is no purchasing involved, that is a great day for me.
    It’s always an adventure when me and the girls get together and it is kind of nice to have some of that together time shopping that most of us miss out on now that we all have our own careers and families.
    There is something about doing that that kind of takes you back to another place and time and it feels good to laugh and have a good time and try on goofy things that you would probably never buy.

  • Jacqueline

    Jacqueline

    June 30th, 2014 at 4:24 AM

    Understanding that for many of us this is actually about avoiding something in our lives that we don’t want to face right now is critical to understanding why this is something that can give you such a high but can also just as quickly bring you crashing down to reality. As long as you use this as a temporary diversion, then I think that it is fine. When it becomes all consuming, that you seriously feel as if you are missing out on something huge by not looking online or by not getting out there and trolling the aisles then that is when there is a pronblem about which you need to talk with someone. This little distraction can quickly turn into something pretty destructive if you are not sure to pull the reins in when needed.

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