Recently I had to wait a couple of hours to pick up someone and given that I had to run some errands, I decided to go to Chadstone (the biggest shopping centre in Melbourne and Australia apparently). I hadn’t been there for several years, and now it is a even bigger than before – after a big upgrade they did a couple of years ago. As I wandered around seeing many people shopping, it wondered if that could be considered a hobby.

I suppose it is a quite subjective topic, but certainly having that type of habits can bring all type of issues, not only to our planet, but also to the person who feels she/he needs to be constantly shopping. That’s my topic today.

The shopping centres

Shopping centre

Well, I must say these days I am not big fan of these places, I only go there from time to time to meet a friend and/or catch a movie and I still I try to avoid them, but I have to admit that these places are convenient as you have everything in one place restaurants, supermarkets, cinemas, banks, all type of shops, hair salons and more.

The problem is that once you are there, the messages are always the same and they are everywhere: Buy it now…you need it…massive sale…50% off… last chance…don’t miss out…!!!!

So, even when people go there with no intention to shop things they don’t need, many times they end up doing exactly that. The old version of myself can easily relate to that. I have never had shopping as a hobby, but certainly years ago I used to buy more stuff especially wandering around in shopping centres: impulsive purchases I would call them.

These days when I go to these places I don’t buy for the sake of it, but while I walk around to run my errands unavoidably I do a bit of “windows shopping” and I always see things I like, always. I don’t buy them, but in my mind I say: I could wear that, that’s a pretty dress, what a nice colour!

So, I would say for many people going to these places and leaving empty handed is often hard work.

The hobby

In movies/TV shows, I have heard expressions like “I am bored, let’s do some shopping“. Does it sound familiar? According to wikipedia:

“A hobby is a regular activity done for enjoyment, typically during one’s leisure time, not professionally and not for pay”.

Certainly, I think shopping could fall into that definition as it can be seen as an activity done for our enjoyment (I am sure my husband doesn’t agree with this statement!), but I think the reasons why we buy are way more complex than that. For instance, we can mindlessly shop because:

  • Provides a temporary boost of happiness/pleasure: we have all been there, a new possession sometimes bring a quick and easy boost of joy, but sooner or later hedonic adaptation happens and that great feeling fades as quickly as it came.
  • It is a way to socialise/connect: if you go shopping with friends or family, it is a way to connect with them, to spend time together and have fun. As humans beings, that connection is important.
  • Peer influence: related to the previous one, sometimes we end up shopping because our circle of friends/family do that on regular basis and we feel some pressure to do the same, to fit in, to belong to the group. I think this is particularly common in teenagers.
  • Temporary distraction: if we are bored, sad, worried, stressed, feel lonely or have another uncomfortable emotion, shopping can distract us from feeling that way, to confront the situation. Also, buying something we like can “make us” feel a bit better.
  • Fashion trends are always changing: this one is probably the most obvious one, marketing is always there to tell us how we should look/dress. Fast fashion is indeed fast and again sometimes people feel the pressure to keep up with all that craziness.
  • Self-expression: I think many people use things like clothing/accessories/shoes as a form of self-expression: a display of our individuality (personality, ideas, feelings) and creativity.
  • To compensate/justify: years ago, I justified my shopping with all the time and effort I put into my work: “I work hard, I deserve it”, that was the story I told myself every time I wanted to buy something. Similarly, once I heard the story about this person who grew up in a poor family with many restrictions, but when this person was financially stable as an adult, every month he spent lots of money buying all type of stuff he and his family didn’t really need.

I am far from being an expert on this subject and I know there are even more reasons and perspectives on this issue, but for sure the list above tell us something, it is a complicated topic and a habit that can be tough to break

Have you heard the label “shopaholic”? these are of course extreme cases (watch the video below, I was shocked), but it tells you a lot about how these innocent hobbies can sometimes get out of control.

The issues

Shopping as a hobby can be fun, but it brings all sort of problems, not only to the planet but to our personal lives.

  • Money: this is probably the most obvious to most people, shopping on regular basis for things we don’t need, hurts our ability to save or invest in things that can be more beneficial long term.
  • Close relationships: spending money on regular basis on stuff, can hurt close relationships. Partners and even parents can disagree with the overspending trend, causing friction and tension.
  • Time: Once I heard this quote from Rhonda Hetzel: “How you spend your money has a direct relationship to how you spend your time” and it is true. It is not only money that we waste buying things we don’t need, we also waste our precious and limited time. We browse, we try, we buy and the cycle starts again.
  • Resources and waste: every time we buy stuff we don’t need, we are wasting resources and generating massive amounts of waste which often will end up in landfill polluting our planet for years to come. We are also supporting industries which in many cases are harming the environment.

The alternative

In my post “Alternatives to our default buying patterns” I outlined some things to consider like being resourceful, repair products, borrow them and buy second-hand (please refer to that post for tips and information about these items).

However, I think because shopping as a hobby has little to do with a real need for a product, perhaps these might not be the answer for everyone.

These habits and default patterns are usually hard to break, sometimes people don’t even see they have them until someone point them out because that’s how we operate, it is the normal and familiar (our automatic pilot) what prevails.

As I mentioned above, for me shopping was never a hobby, but here and there I did shop stuff I didn’t need.

My motivation to change came from understanding the impact those decisions were having on the environment, also the ethical aspect of buying these products and supporting industries that were not aligned with my values. The more I learned (watching documentaries, reading articles, books) the more I felt the urge to change that behaviour.

Part of that process of awareness involved understanding:

  • The emotional aspect: for me the main one was probably feeling too tired/stressed from work. I always used the excuse “I work, I deserve it”. If I got a bonus, I thought about what I could get as a reward for my hard work. It was a way to compensate for all the hours I spent at the office. It wasn’t by chance that the times I ended up shopping more were usually after work in weekdays.
  • The triggers: going to a shopping centre/commercial area/department store was a classic one. Once I was there walking around, I often found nice things (and of course on sale), so sometimes I ended up buying them.

Knowing that, for me it was about finding strategies to help me like:

  • Remember the reasons why I have decided to change.
  • Rewarding myself for my work in a different way like planning holidays and experiences.
  • Steer away from shopping centres as much as possible. When I go there I usually have a goal in mind (meet someone, buy something very specific, run an errand, watch a movie/have dinner), finish that and leave. I avoid spending my spare time wandering around shopping centres.
  • Buy second-hand if I need something or I would like to own something different (like a “new” dress). Sometimes, I also “shop my wardrobe”, just taking a bit of time to think about different ways to combine clothes, can bring variety without buying more stuff.

Everyone is different, what works for me might not work for  you, it is a matter of learning more about these issues, finding your reasons to do things differently and evaluate the emotional component that usually triggers these behaviours. We all have the power to change.

“The price of doing the same old thing is far higher than the price of change.” -Bill Clinton

Thanks for reading,