This is the Shop Your Wardrobe blog where we talk shopping, consumption, fashion, style and everything in between. Sign up here to be the first to read all about it, delivered direct to your Inbox.
A guest post by Dr Ruth Quibell
My Edwardian kauri pine wardrobe is an old friend. We share history. It was my first grown-up purchase when I started working. I paid $525. I know this because I still, inexplicably, have its neat price tag.
I was drawn to its old-world charm: gleaming wood, carved decorations, and mirrored door. I didn’t care that its top carving probably wasn’t the original design, and more the ingenuity of a backyard restorer. I also didn’t think about practical matters like how heavy it was. And, surprisingly, I didn’t give much thought to its function as a wardrobe: to safely hang and display clothes. On this last count, I quickly found the faded antique it to be a failure.
The main reason it fails is because it is far too small by today’s standards. In a culture of material abundance, we need and expect to store a lot of things. My compact wardrobe is a reminder that most people had far less in earlier times. The handful of brass hooks inside would have once been adequate for hanging up a few coats and dresses.
At some stage someone has added a central railing, made out of what looks like an old wooden broom handle. It’s serviceable and creates more hanging space, but it remains pokey, its dark corners difficult to access. The brass handle fell off some time ago, and its central door hinge is weakened from a battle with horrid wire hangers.
Why haven’t I traded it in for a larger, less cumbersome form of storage?
Well, I’ve certainly considered it while wandering through IKEA and seeing those custom closets, with pull-out railings and dividers. But, as I contemplate my wardrobe’s problems, I’ve come to a much clearer appreciation of why this is one of my favourite objects.
It isn’t only the sediment of habit, laziness or sentimentality that prevents me getting rid of it – as strong as these are. But also because this heavy lug of a robe actually does three important things that help me get ready each day: it makes me feel good, imposes helpful constraints, and creates the conditions for improvising.
Firstly, it lifts my mood. Its central mirror captures whatever daylight there is and reflects it back into my bedroom. It’s like adding another window, and together with its warm wood, it creates an aura of relaxed domesticity. An ordinary suburban bedroom becomes a Grace Cossington-Smith painting. And this makes me feel good, and this in turn makes me less rushed and anxious about getting dressed to face the day.
In this way, the wardrobe is to me what psychologist Sam Gosling terms a ‘feeling regulator’, an object we use to improve or sustain our mood. In the context of getting dressed, if I already feel good, the clothes I wear matter less. I can more easily settle for ‘good enough’, and get on with my day. (Of course, feelings are highly subjective things. For my husband, who has lugged the wardrobe’s dead weight from house to house, six times, it is no mood enhancer – aesthetic merits matter little relative to the burden of heavy lifting.)
Secondly, its small size means that: a) I chiefly only wear the limited number of clothes I can see right in front of me, and b) that I can’t have too many of them or I’m swamped. The surprising payoff is that I regularly wear most of my clothes, and I am more disciplined and deliberate about what and how much I add, otherwise the delicate balance fails.
Working with these constraints imposed by the wardrobe has focused me on having a ‘good enough’ small range of clothes that work for me. And this has been liberating. I have reliable core of favourite shapes, colours and textures rather than chasing every trend. They anchor getting dressed each day. Less choice, somewhat counter-intuitively, is more satisfying and requires less time and effort. I don’t feel as if quite so much is at stake as when my wardrobe was overflowing.
This is something I’ve struggled with at various times. Psychologist Barry Schwartz writes compellingly on the psychological problems created by having too much choice in his book, The Paradox of Choice. More choices can be psychologically taxing, and result in poor decisions. The small size of my wardrobe adds a helpful external layer of discipline. Whenever my wardrobe gets too full, it is a spur to reflection: about what I need, who I am, who my audiences are (and how much their good opinion matters), and what I value. Asking these questions is counterbalance to my reticence to make decisions on what to keep or let go.
Thirdly, living with the wardrobe’s physical limitations is a prod to improvise, both in how I store clothes and how I wear them. The dark corners which are difficult to access, for instance, are the perfect spots for storing out-of-season clothes in vacuum bags. The back of the mirrored door, just the spot for hanging scarves, in easy range to coordinate or contrast with faithful jackets. The battle scars from wire hangers are the impulse to exchange them for the smaller, pretty padded satin ones which are much better for my clothes in the long-term.
Twenty years later, the wardrobe and I are both a little the worse for wear. Yet, I’ve learnt more things about my relationship to clothes from this odd partnership than I suspect I ever would have from the mythical ‘ideal’ closet. I’ve learned that the ideal working wardrobe for me is distinctive, old, and small. One that removes some of the unnecessary burden of choosing what to wear, sparks a little creativity, and helps to put me in a good mood to start the day. Little wonder we’re still old friends. Today I even fixed its handle and gave it a polish.
Copyright © 2013 Ruth Quibell
About the author: Dr. Ruth Quibell is a sociologist and writer, with an interest in objects, identity and the ‘good enough’ life. She has written for The Age, Sydney Morning Herald and Canberra Times.
This blog-post is an early draft from Precious Things, a book she is writing about our entanglements with intriguing and memorable objects. She blogs sporadically here.
We all have moments in our lives when a choice presented itself. You could choose Door A and all it brings. You could choose Door B and face those consequences.
Some of us were lucky enough to recognise that moment, to see the fork in the road where more than one path was open to us.
Others of us, or all of us at different times, didn’t realise there was more than one choice.
But there usually is. Very rarely is there only one way to go.
When it comes to overshopping and impulsive and compulsive shopping, we can often delude ourselves into thinking that we had no choice. That we simply had to have it!
I am very familiar with this feeling, and spent many an unquality hour justifying a purchasing decision that later I knew was a choice, not a foregone conclusion.
Like those leopard print Converse sneakers I bought on College St in Berkeley in November 2009 – a month before starting my Year Without Clothes Shopping (the experience that changed my life). I already had enough ‘urban sneakers’ in a variety of colours, prints and styles – more than enough. I didn’t need another animal print anything, let alone another pair of shoes.
And yet without stopping for a minute to consider the purchase, out came my credit card and into the bag those shoes went. No thinking. No choice making. No stopping to pass GO between “I love them!” to “I’ll take them!”
It was only later that I had the time to consider that purchase. To wonder where my “choice point” was, and why I had bypassed it so quickly.
It was only later that I had the time to luxuriate in my regret, and feelings of guilt.
I could tell you 100 stories like that. The only thing that would change was the item in question. I deluded myself for many a year about items that I saw in stores that grabbed me by the throat and made me buy them. Items so compelling, so desirable, so “me” that they practically jumped into my shopping cart all on their own!
So I know what that feeling of “I had to have it – I couldn’t help myself!” feels like. I’m very, very familiar with it.
The thing is: it’s a bit of a cop out. It isn’t true that we had to have it. It isn’t true that we had no choice.
And when you tell yourself things like that, you give away all your power. You make yourself weak, and helpless.
I’m very big on empowering others. Everything I do on this website and in my work is about providing ideas, inspiration and practical help to others.
I believe in helping people set themselves up to succeed. In providing handrails (not handcuffs) that will guide them, keep them steady and true, and get them where they want to go.
And awareness is the often the first step on that journey. Without the gentle light of awareness, you can’t see clearly to make a different, better choice. You can’t even see the choices, let alone have any insight into which one to take.
So when it comes to your shopping behaviours and beliefs, it’s helpful to explore the defining moments and powerful choices you have.
Let’s explore ten shopping choices you have
- The choice to let go and move on. The choice to put it down, engage the power pause and walk away. The choice to think about something else, to do something else – other than go to the mall, or click over to your favourite online shopping site. You can let it go, you can let go – and you can move on.
- The choice to confront our beliefs with data. Don’t just assume that what you believe is true – check it out, do some research, read about that label, do a wardrobe review, challenge the belief that we need to constantly update our wardrobes and ‘looks’. Choose to challenge your shopping attitudes and beliefs with facts and information.
- The choice to see the game and offer to change the rules. There is definitely a game going on when it comes to shopping and consumption, and we, the consumers, often don’t even realise it, let alone have consciously chosen to participate in it. Recognise that there’s some hoodwinking going on and that shopping isn’t the answer. Choose to wake up to the many messages we’re given about what to buy and why – and choose to tune out those that don’t serve you.
- The choice to go for something bigger. Your life is far too important to spend it. Your life should be lived! Your life should be savoured, explored, lived large - not spent searching for that perfect handbag or accessory or ensemble that will make you feel complete (it won’t – not for long enough anyway). You’re bigger than your shopping habits – live your life that way!
- The choice to support others in doing things their own way. Rather than making a snap judgement about the choices someone else is making, adopt an attitude of curiosity instead. Their choices make sense to them, so how can you see it their way?
- The choice to admit ignorance or fatigue and ask for help. Sometimes we all need a helping hand, an encouraging word and a moment to stop and reflect. We’re not sure if we should give up or go on, and we’re darn tired into the equation. Stopping to ask for help from a friend, or a professional, or just stopping to rest are valid choices, sometimes the best choice we could make (and remember, I’m here to help).
- The choice to call a time out and regain perspective. In times of overwhelm and confusion, it can be tempting to heed the call to just keep moving, to keep doing, to take action, any action! If you’re in a shopping environment, you may feel the best thing is to just pick something and buy it. But sometimes the best choice is to stop for a moment, take stock, ask questions and do nothing. Insight and inspiration will appear but they happen on “God’s time, not mine”, so invoke the power pause, leave it behind, and luxuriate in the sense of calm that comes when you give it a break for a while.
- The choice to get real about our fears and hopes. Unexplored fears and hopes can be the source of much confusion and frustration – and over-shopping behaviour. We only have a vague sense of what we want — more! — but we don’t have a clear sense of what’s driving that emotion. Impulsive shopping behaviours have left many of us unfulfilled, as our shopping has been driving by unexplored fears and hopes. Stop feeding into the confusion and spend a moment or two (or three) to become clearer on what your hopes and fears are.
- The choice to speak a difficult truth. Ah, this one can be a toughie. If you’ve been a “shopper” for some time, it can be challenging to put the brakes on all that ‘incoming’ and explore who you really want to be, and what you really want to be doing with your life’s precious energy and other precious resources such as time and money. Do you really need another handbag, pair of designer jeans, leather wallet or animal print anything (okay, that last one was for me)? Once you face up to your own individual difficult truth, you’ve passed through the doorway where new and better choices can be found. Take that step – face and speak that difficult truth. It won’t kill you.
- The choice to accept fully what is. You are where you are (and possibly some of these qualities will ring a bell for you), it is what it is (the real costs of being a shopaholic can be illuminating to explore – what’s true for you?). Without recognising the situation as it stands, no other choice is available to you. Sometimes the burden you are holding is only ever revealed as it truly is – heavy and awkward — until you put it down. And accepting your shopping behaviours and habits as they truly are is the beginning of that setting-down process, and of becoming aware of all the other more life-enhancing choices you have.
These ten questions are a good starting point for you to start shining that gentle light of awareness onto your shopping behaviours and attitudes. Take some time to sit with these questions and respond to all of them, or just those that call out to you the loudest.
What might you discover?
Which choices will make the biggest difference to your success and happiness, and how you feel about yourself and your shopping habits?
This post was inspired by the powerful choices questions created by my friend and colleague, the inspirational Pam Fox Rollin of IdeaScape.
I was invited to appear on a story about clothes swaps – why people do them, what value they bring and why you’d swap rather than shop.
Watch it here:
What drives human behaviour? Why do we behave the way we do? What ‘sits beneath’ our behaviour? If we don’t understand what drives our own behaviour, and that of others, it’s almost impossible to change or influence that behaviour.
Whether you’re a boss, a marketer or a parent (to mention only a small handful of the roles in which an understanding of human behaviour is essential), what’s critical is that you appreciate that behaviour is not ‘just behaviour’ – it’s coming from somewhere.
Anthony Robbins has identified Six Human Needs and his thesis is that our behaviour is driven by one or more of these fundamental needs, or drivers.
The Six Human Needs
This is Part 2 of The Six Human Needs And Shopping – if you missed Part 1, you can read it here.
Connection and Shopping
If a core need for you is to feel connected to others, then shopping can appear to help you achieve that – at least in the short term. There are many people in a shopping environment you can ‘connect’ with, however temporary or shallow those connections turn out to be.
If you are shopping for others, you can feel that your purchases are gifts, demonstrating how much you care for someone else.
It may be that the specifics of what we are purchasing make us feel more connected – by buying items that someone we know already wears, or has just purchased (even if that is a celebrity with whom we have no direct connection with whatsoever) it can give us a (false) sense of connection with someone (“see how ‘the same’ we are – we’re dressed the same!”).
Unfortunately, shopping (and overshopping) to have our need for connection met with never last, and can sometimes make us feel more disconnected and alone.
Growth and Shopping
Shopping can certainly appear to meet a need for growth. There can be a striving in shopping – having targets to achieve, items on your wish list you want to acquire. Many online shopping sites have a ‘Wishlist” button where you can earmark particular items you wish to purchase in future, however unrealistic that wishing may be (it’s a goal, right? Well, that’s the feeling state they want you to have when clicking that Wishlist button!).
‘Shopping for growth’ could also be interpreted as identifying and aspiring to a certain standard of quality/brand that you want to be able to purchase – one day. When you have the ability to purchase Brand X, then you will have really made it. Or so the psychology (and persuasive language in marketing messages) goes.
Contribution and Shopping
Shopping a lot can meet a need for contribution, particularly if you are shopping for others – you may feel that your purchasing is meeting the very real needs of someone else, and it may provide a sense of philanthropy to buy in this way.
But that’s not the only way shopping (and overshopping) can seem to meet a need for contribution. You may feel that you are contributing to the economic health of the society in which we all live – after all, Retail Associations (and others in the money world – economists, forecasters, and so on) are often warning us against a “slowing economy” when consumers become “penny pinching” and don’t purchase at a rate of knots that would make your hair curl. Of course, this kind of “for the greater good” consumption often comes at an extremely high personal cost.
Points to Ponder
Which of these 3 of the Six Human Needs would you say drive you the most when it comes to your shopping? If you are shopping to attempt to meet any of these 3 needs, what impact is this shopping behaviour having — on you, on relationships, on your finances?
All of these six needs are legitimate and need to be acknowledged and honoured. What I’d encourage you to think about is: What are my legitimate needs and drivers? And what other ways could those very legitimate needs be met, apart from shopping more and more?
Your life is too important to be spent — it should be lived, every moment of every day. However ‘small’ or ‘large’ your goals and life is, it’s all yours. You get to choose. You get to choose what you do with your time, your talents, your attention, your money, your space, your precious life energy. Choose wisely.
This has been a very fascinating topic for me to explore and write about, and I hope you enjoyed this two part series on Shopping And The Six Human Needs!
What drives human behaviour has long fascinated us – everyone from philosophers, writers, therapists, politicians, comedians, coaches, bosses, parents, spouses, marketers, business owners have been intrigued by what makes people behave the way they do. In fact, it’s hard to think of a field of human endeavour where some understanding of what drives human behaviour isn’t relevant, if not essential.
So it intrigued me to consider the Six Human Needs that Anthony Robbins identified and to apply them to shopping – and overshopping in particular.
The Six Human Needs
This is Part 1 of The Six Human Needs And Shopping and in this article, we’ll look at the first 3 of the Six Human Needs:
2. Variety (Uncertainty)
Certainty and Shopping
If certainty is a core need for you, then shopping (and overshopping) can meet that need perfectly. Shopping is always there – there are always shops to be shopped at. There’s never any concern that the shops won’t be there, or won’t be open, or won’t want to take your trade.
If you are living with a lot of uncertainty in other parts of your life (major life transitions or upheavals such as job changes, home or geographical moves, relationship breakdowns, children leaving home, parents (or partner or yourself) becoming seriously sick, getting older and wondering what life is all about) then shopping can seem like an easy thing to turn to – you can rely on it, after all – it’s always going to be there.
Variety and Shopping
Shopping meets many a need for variety – there is so much stimulation in a shopping environment! Things to see, touch, smell hear. People to interact with, watch, talk to, and be sold to by (that’s why they’re called “sales people”).
One of the reasons some women overshop is pure boredom. They have a need for variety and stimulation that simply isn’t being met elsewhere, and shopping seems to be a quick and easy fix for that particular need. Unfortunately, it’s also a shot in the arm that wears off very quickly – sometimes before you’ve even walked out the door of the store if not by the time you’ve put the bags in your car.
Significance and Shopping
Shopping offers many opportunities to have needs of significance met. Shopping (and especially overshopping) can provide drama, it can bring an exclusive focus on you, you, you, more, more, more. There’s that elusive dream/quest of searching for the perfect outfit, the perfect item – you know the one I mean, the one that will complete you.
Shopping, and overshopping, puts you in the spotlight, however briefly. It can make you feel like the star of the show, the centre of attention, like you are important, unique, special. Shopping, and overshopping, can make you feel like you are seen and of significance.
Points to Ponder
Which of these 3 of the Six Human Needs would you say drive you the most when it comes to your shopping? What impact does this need have on your shopping behaviour and habits? And on how you think and feel about shopping, and yourself as a consumer?
We’ll pick up Part 2 of The Six Human Needs in the next article in this series.