Last weekend, I went shopping at the mall for the first time in over a year. My natural hair is growing out, so I wanted some cute, flowery accessories to decorate my ‘fro! I also needed to buy some flats to replace the ones I’ve wore down to the soles during my travels over the past year. Even though I’ve been training myself to live with less stuff, it was amazing how my sense of “wanting” became heightened as I entered the shopping center. Stores full of clothes I don’t need (and would probably never even get the chance to wear on the regular) seemed to beckon to me with the promise of beauty and belonging if I bought as much as I could from their racks.
Now, to understand why I’m so leery of “impulse buying,” I’ll have to tell you a little bit about how I grew up. When I was a kid, we lived in the projects. It was just my mom, my sister and me and we survived off of government assistance for the first part of my life. We were so poor that a woman from a local nonprofit bought my school clothes every year because my mom could not afford to. So, when my mom got married to her first husband, all of a sudden we had steady money coming into the house and she.spent.most of it. When I was a teenager, we would even go on random shopping sprees at the mall and hide the bags in the closet when my stepdad came home.
Because we shopped so much, even when we had money, we never really had any money.
So in that sense, I understand what the rags-to-riches rappers go through. When you’ve never had anything, you don’t know how to act when you do come into a little bit of money. All of the psychological trauma you go through from living in poverty and feeling “less than” everyone else plays a part as well. We become shopaholics. And I probably don’t have to tell you what the studies show: that Blacks and Hispanics spend up to 30% more than whites of comparable income on visible goods like clothing, cars and jewelry. That’s probably why the idea of the minimalist lifestyle is so attractive to me. I never want to judge my own worth by how much “stuff” I have. I think my life is about much more than that. And yours is, too.
But back to my mall experience. I could feel myself being influenced by all the shiny glitter stuff, so I made a silent promise to myself to deliberately window shop and admire the items in the stores, but walk out empty-handed. For the most part, I’ve been able to cultivate “the watcher” in my mind anytime I feel any pressure or impulse to buy something. It’s a concept that spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle talks about in his epic book, The Power of Now (and honestly, one of the books that helped me to embrace more happiness in my life and stop being so angry at the world):
Be present as the watcher of your mind — of your thoughts and emotions as well as your reactions in various situations. Be at least as interested in your reactions as in the situation or person that causes you to react. Notice also how often your attention is in the past or future. Don’t judge or analyze what you observe. Watch the thought, feel the emotion, observe the reaction. Don’t make a personal problem out of them. You will then feel something more powerful than any of those things that you observe: the still, observing presence itself behind the content of your mind, the silent watcher.
When you do implement Eckhart’s “watcher” concept, it’s incredible to realize just how many of our purchase decisions are driven by the past or the future – in terms of our minds using spending as a false solution for remedying how we feel, felt, or want to feel. After a year of not buying any clothes, it amazes me what people spend money on . . . even when we don’t really have the money to spend. Marketers have found the road to our hearts with commercials and shopping environments that prey on our insecurities. Their job, as it turns out, is to convince us that it’s OK (and even normal!) to us to be shopaholics and hinge our happiness on how much we can acquire. Which is why it’s no surprise that for many women, this definition may hit home:
Shopaholics, when they are feeling “out of sorts, shop for a ” pick-me-up.” They go out and buy, to get a high, or get a “rush” just like a drug or alcohol addict. Shopping addiction tends to affect more women than men. They often buy things they do not need. Holiday seasons can trigger shopping binges among those who are not compulsive the rest of the year. Many shopping addicts go on binges all year long and may be compulsive about buying certain items, such as shoes, kitchen items or clothing; some will buy anything. Women with this compulsive disorder often have racks of clothes and possessions with the price tags still attached which have never been used. They will go to a shopping mall with the intention of buying one or two items and come home with bags and bags of purchases. In some cases shopaholics have an emotional “black out” and do not remember even buying the articles. If their family or friends begin to complain about their purchases, they will often hide the things they buy. They are often in denial about the problem. Because they can not pay their bills their credit rating suffers, they have collection agencies attempting to get what is owed, may have legal, social and relationship problems. They sometimes attempt to hide their problem by taking on an extra job to pay for bills.
Now, I’m certainly not judging anyone here. We ALL have that one vice (or three) that cause us to struggle on the road to true freedom. But – we do have to start being honest with ourselves when we look at the current state of our lives and finances. For example, I meet so many ladies who tell me how much they “wish” they could start their own business, quit their dead-end job and travel the world. I’m usually all, HEY, go for it! Even inside the 31 Days to Reset Your Life Challenge, I hear time and time again from sisters who envision an ideal life of freedom, self-employment and financial success. Yet, when I talk about what that reality requires in terms of time and financial commitment, many folks quickly change their tune. They would rather choose to live what they know is a mediocre existence of working for someone else (with the brief flashes of satisfaction that come with an occasional pair of Christian Louboutins) than the authentic fulfillment that is available to us when we seek to build a life that really matters.
I often want to ask (and sometimes I do, depending on who it is), how is it that you can “afford” expensive purses and shoes every payday, but you can’t bring yourself to purchase a domain name for your website or invest in a business coach? Well, I suppose that’s the more practical concern. The real-deal, million dollar question?
How much are you really worth?
Seriously. What you’re saying is that you “wish” you could be financially independent, yet instead of taking the steps to pursue your ideal life, you waste your time, money and energy on lining someone else’s pockets. And all YOU get in return in a closet full of “stuff” that won’t matter at the end of your life, when your friends and family are reading your eulogy. That may be a bit of a harsh way to put it . . . but it’s true. There is no clothing item in the world that’s more satisfying than the opportunity to achieve your highest potential, and for many of us, that means taking the road less traveled. The path we dream about, secretly long for and even sketch out in our journals.
If you’re reading this blog, chances are that I don’t know you. But what I do know is that you probably want something bigger for your life than what’s currently in front of you AND you’re either already taking steps to get there or waiting for these words to fly off the screen and kick you in the ass.
Either way, deep down, you know that you’re worth much more than the latest fashion label.
You know that you deserve a life that’s more amazing than what anyone else could ever imagine for you.
The question (and yes, I’m asking you!) is whether you’re willing to make a shift in your thinking from temporary satisfaction to long-term fulfillment. What is it honestly worth to you to be able to pursue the life that’s meant for you beyond the mall and the shopping catalogs?
As you well know from countless corny graduation speeches – the choices we make today are the ones that will shape our lives tomorrow. And whether it’s compulsive shopping or any other destructive habit, we have got to start placing more value on ourselves than the things that we put on our bodies and store in our homes. This is YOUR life. YOU are the one who gets to choose how you spend your money and your time. Do what you want with it, but don’t ever say you never had the opportunity to change.
Tomorrow, I’ll be sharing a post about what you actually should be spending your money on – meaningful investments you can make in yourself and your business right now that will start you on the path to success later, even if you’re still at the “side hustle” stage of your journey. If freedom is what you want, stick with me and I’ll try my best to help you get there.
Me? I’ve already got my bags packed. And I’d love to have you along for the ride.