How to Get the Benefits of Retail Therapy Without Spending Money
When I feel like buying stuff, I turn to online window shopping instead.
When a Walmart subsidiary bought online retailer ModCloth in 2017, I vowed never to buy from ModCloth again. And I haven’t. But there’s no harm in looking, right?
Rainbow platform shoes — put ’em in the cart! Romper with foxes all over it — of course! Ooh, can’t forget to check out the Sale section (I never could pass up a sale).
I take a deep breath, and a look at my online cart: ten specially chosen items, totaling $524, none of which I can rationalize spending.
I visualize the life I would live in these clothes, the person I would be: beautiful, strong, creative, unique, quirky, a conversation-starter.
I tell myself these things are already so. And then I X out the computer window and go about my day.
It’s online window shopping, and I do it a lot.
I online window shop for myself, and for my kid too. She only needs one backpack for school, but she would really love this rainbow one. Ooh, and this silver one. Aww, this one looks like a kitten’s bursting out of it. I put them all in my cart, or sometimes my wish list, then I picture the momentary joy each one would bring her. And then, most importantly, I close the window.
When I was a teenager, I would scratch my buying itch with nail polish and cheap jewelry from Claire’s. Yes, my friends and I would also try on a lot of clothes we’d never buy, but it seemed impossible to visit the mall without buying something.
I didn’t need more stuff — I had more rings than fingers — but I was insecure, in search of myself. I desperately wanted to define who I was and what I wanted. So, like most of us, I tried to do it through retail therapy.
More than half of Americans shop to improve their mood, with clothes being the number one item women choose.
Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Mary T. Schmich coined the term retail therapy in 1986: “We’ve become a nation measuring out our lives in shopping bags and nursing our psychic ills through retail therapy.”
A 2013 survey found more than half of Americans — 63.9 percent of women and 39.8 percent of men — shop to improve their mood, with clothes being the number one item women choose.
Amazon. Target. Etsy. Sometimes I just want to buy stuff, whether I need stuff or not. Bags. Books. Jewelry. Fancy underwear.
Yes, we will never fill our empty hearts with stuff, but that doesn’t stop people from trying.
The internet makes shopping dangerously easy. But thank goodness for the equally easy X at the top right of the screen, because online window shopping removes all the downsides of overconsumption. We get to experience the ritual of discovery and choice, without the expense or the hoarding.
With online window shopping, I can fill my imaginary cart to the brim, and when I decide to leave the store and move on, refreshed, to the rest of my day, neither I nor an underpaid employee needs to painstakingly return my items to the shelves.
Imagine choosing armfuls of items at a local boutique, then throwing them to the floor and running out the door. You probably wouldn’t want to show your face there again.
But your faceless presence will always be welcome at the online shops, no matter how many wish lists, Pinterest boards, or expired shopping carts you fill with their goods.
On Pinterest, you can even online window shop things that aren’t exactly things. Haircuts. Vacations. Craft projects. Entire weddings and home remodels.
You’re not a consumer; you’re a curator.
We will never fill our empty hearts with stuff, but that doesn’t stop people from trying.
Choosing products or images online doesn’t magically make those things yours. Just like with vision boards, visualizing a dream isn’t enough to make it come true. But when you browse without buying, you do learn about yourself: your aesthetics, guilty pleasures, values, and what brings you simple joy.
No money spent. No stuff weighing you down. Just the sweet, sweet relief of retail therapy.