The other day, my friend P. announced over dinner that he’d decided to quit shopping. I’m used to these kinds of announcements, like friends telling me they’ve quit gluten as I finish my pasta. Now, shopping seems to be the new gluten. I walked home later that evening and pondered my shopping habits. I know exactly why I eat gluten. I know what pasta and bread give me: pure delight. But what about shopping? What does the experience really give me, apart from more clothes?

For as long as I can remember, I’ve never been able to “save” new clothing purchases. I need to get into them immediately. The prospect of wearing something fresh, of trying out a yet-unexplored version of myself, has always electrified me. I’ve climbed over cash register counters to have electronic tags removed so that I can wear sweaters right out of the store. Whenever an online order arrives to my office, I take the package straight to the loo and try it on. As for the items I do save, I dream about the moment I’ll finally wear them. (I’ve been dreaming about wearing the boots in this story since August.) I will then wear my new prize two or three times in a row until the post-purchase high starts to fade and the item doesn’t feel like a foreign object anymore, but becomes a natural ingredient of my daily outfit recipe.

I was three years old when I first experienced the invigorating effect of sartorial newness. It was a pair of black patent leather Mary Janes. When I put them on, I felt at one with the world. These shoes completed and comforted me. I wore them non-stop. Thanks to the clattering sound of the half-inch leather heels and my habit of emphasizing every step down the stairs with a subsequent pause, my family knew I was approaching the breakfast table before they could see me. Clack, clack. My parents joked that I loved them so much I wouldn’t even take them off to sleep. I’m 23 now; I still know this feeling.

Wearing a new piece of clothing is like being freshly showered, listening to a new song that lifts your spirits, or like walking out of the house on a bright, crisp fall morning with that new song in your ear and a boundless will to make this day a great one. Those fall boots I mentioned, for example? They’ve filled me with an eager energy to tackle the end of autumn, the start of winter. They bolster my mood; they make me feel hopeful. Life always gives you another chance, even if only in the form of a new pair of shoes.

The dark side of shopping is the over-consumption, the fast-fashion production. For as much as I donate that which I no longer wear and try to be smart about what I buy (and why), I know shopping means I’m inherently part of the endless cycle. I also know that the heady rapture of buying something can fade into boredom or disappointment, or both. Often, a new purchase that looked like the last missing piece of a puzzle at first glance will turn into an empty, emotionless piece of fabric only weeks later. Suddenly, you realize you’ve been fooled.

Scientific studies have proven that when we buy something, it’s not just the reward of taking a new item home that makes us happy; the anticipation of reward releases dopamine, a chemical known to be energizing and motivating. Shopping, these studies seem to conclude, can be a dangerous drug. So I understand my friend’s wish to win back control, and thus his decision to quit shopping entirely.

But for me, shopping wisely is like eating mindfully. I have faith in my ability to judge whether I’m really hungry or when I just want to eat because I’m bored. I try my best to avoid hasty purchases – those midnight munchies. I sleep on almost every piece before I buy, even if I think I desperately “need” it. Around 70% of my wardrobe is second-hand. I try as much as I can to resist the allure of high-street bargains and save up money for investment pieces, especially in autumn, when a really good pair of boots is worth a thousand nice-to-have-but-unnecessary tops.

And it works. Some pieces in my wardrobe are three years old and still make me feel freshly-showered when I wear them.

Before I swipe my credit card, I always ask myself a few questions: Can I think of five things in my wardrobe this item would go with? Do I still dream of it 48 hours later? Is it worth the money? The final test is one that goes back to childhood: If I know I’ll love something so much I won’t even want to take it off to sleep, that right there is my answer.

Photos by Marlen Mueller; you can follow her on Instagram @marle_mue or visit her website. Shot at hotel Nuernberger Eck

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  • Rachel

    This article speaks to my shopaholic soul

  • Amanda Faerber

    Same. I have so many times told myself that I will not buy another thing for X days or weeks or until I’ve achieved X accomplishment/goal. The analogy between shopping and food is so apt. I tend to hold new things, not wearing them until the exact right time … never thought about it but maybe that’s because I, too, can’t get enough of the anticipation and excitement of having a “new” thing. Also, yes on shopping out of some emotion … for me, overspending is always a signal that I need to refocus on happiness.

    • Silvi

      Interestingly enough, I also draw that same parallel. I’ll go through these cycles where I “deprive” myself of items that catch my fancy, and when I feel like I’ve saved enough (“enough” being based more on a vague feeling than some numerical value), I’ll binge! A weirdly apt equivalent to adding the weight back after going on a diet. Really wish my “mindful eating” habits could just as easily translate to “mindful shopping.”

  • Hayley

    Great shopping philosophy; my own is very similar.

    • Amanda Orlando

      same here!

  • How did I miss that Zara dress?

  • Áine Hegarty

    I love those Marni boots, girllll.

  • I’ve been trying REALLY hard to do this. My new rule as of late is I am not allowed to buy something new unless it’s shoes, socks, undies or work out clothes. Saves me a lot of money, and I’ve taken to enjoying sifting through the racks at Goodwill. And even before I buy something secondhand, I try to employ those questions you stated above.

  • lulu442

    This article kinda made me want to shop. Like, I just opened two new browser windows. Time to take a few deep breaths and re-read I think.

    • The Confessions of a Shopaholic movie does the same thing to me..

      • gracesface

        have you read the books?? SO good. at least the first 3 were, in my opinion.

  • Claire’s pieces have quickly become the ones I look forward to! Please keep them coming!!

  • Harling Ross

    CLAIREEEEEEEEEEE

  • Earth

    R.I.P Sustainability

  • diane

    My purchasing rule is that I must be able to wear said item on a Tuesday afternoon. All too often, I buy things more appropriate for a Saturday night, which then languish in my closet until they get consigned or donated. The Tuesday mantra works for me because it is a barometer for my real life.

    • Emily O’Reilly

      I love this this rule! I never realized how many ‘going out items’ I have in my closet that just sit there because they aren’t versatile enough to wear on a Tuesday afternoon. Love it!

  • Caddiewoodlawn

    The biggest thing I do is to only buy things I love that are high quality. Do I like it? Great, but I’m not buying it. Do I love it? Awesome! Is it acrylic that’s going to pill after two wears? Too bad, not buying it. Do I love it, and is it going to last? PURCHASE! This is true for everything from staples like t shirts and underwear to more expensive items, like sweaters and dresses.

  • Gloria Cook

    This article is how I treat my life. I’m almost a fashion merchandising college graduate and I’d say my shopping and eating habits are pretty healthy, considering I don’t have an ideal expendable income. I never shop in malls or fast fashion stores. I only buy something if I have thought about it for over a day, and during the contemplation phase, I put together outfits at home with a picture of said piece. Most of my clothes are also second hand from The Real Real, Poshmark, Tradesy, or the consignment shop I work at (@wear_its_at_shop)! I’m going to share this article with my fashion class and hope it cures other cases of over weight / purchased wardrobes.

  • Aimee Aimee

    Thank you for a great explanation. I was looking online for a similar idea and really appreciate it
    Machines Embroidery Workflow

  • Iva Quint

    I love Claire’s writing! Thank you!!

  • Leave your wallet at home and wear the stuff you kinda like.

  • Aimee Aimee

    Vector Format
    Excellent article! As always, the articles you publish give me inspiration and help me to incorporate you techniques.