Retail Therapy

Image taken from melvdesigns' photostream on Flickr under Creative Commons License

Of all the phrases that have potential to grate on me I think the one that irritates me the most is ‘retail therapy’.

‘Retail therapy’ encapsulates so many of the problems in society at the moment. Do we really  all think that we can fix our problems by consuming more? Do we really all think that buying something is the key to making us happy?

More and more lately when I do wander around the shops I find the experience the exact opposite of what ‘retail therapy’ is supposed to be about. I find it depressing.

I see people lured by sales, buying things that underneath they probably don’t really want and almost certainly don’t really need. Largely I find the experience of ‘shopping’ quite hollow. I am left wondering why we can’t all see the fact that there is so much more to life.

Perhaps I’m not the best judge though. On a scale of 1-10 of being hip/cool/fashionable I probably rate a 3. I’m probably the kind of person who should actually be taking a little bit more notice of image.

Sometimes I have odd bursts of trying to look more presentable, or more ‘corporate’ at work. To look like someone who has potential to climb ladders (though I probably end up looking more like a painter and less like the upwardly mobile public servant).

But it never lasts.

I’m never consistent and image always falls by the way side. When it boils down to it, I have higher priorities. I’d rather fit in a run before work than blow dry my hair and apply make up. I’d rather write my blog than iron. Image will probably never be one of my main drivers.

Maybe for people whom image is one of their key drivers to life shopping is important. Maybe artists and photographers get a lot out of seeking out ‘beauty’ and buying it. And all of us to a degree are enriched by having beauty in our lives.

But I still suspect for the majority of us, when we hit the shops to treat ourselves, to reward our hard work, or to compensate for the lows of life, we are barking up the wrong tree.

I’ve really appreciated reading the posts of another blogger lately – Thinker Maker. In her posts  Who are you without shopping? and Deprivation and ethical lifestyles she explores some of the key issues lurking under that simple phrase ‘retail therapy’. If you don’t shop, who are you – what fills up your life? And when we do shop, why we should try to understand WHY we are doing it.

What is the underlying issue? Do we need time out, do we feel frumpy and thus maybe working on our health and exercise is a better response? Trying to drill down to the real issue and what an appropriate response to the issue is. Sometimes it might be shopping. But probably the majority of times it won’t.

As I move more and more away from a consumerist life style, and simultaneously try to move more and more away from hours unconsciously wasted watching TV or surfing the net, I’ve been consciously trying to fill my life with more creativity.

No I’m not suffering delusions of grandeur that I can take up painting and win the Archibald prize. I’m just trying to DO things: to be a creator, and not a consumer. I want to be an active person, making and shaping my life and contributing things to the world, not passively observing it all go by.

I want to create meaning actively, not consumptively.

Buying things has a place in our lives. So too does surfing the net and watching TV. But I think the key is we need to do it mindfully. We need to be conscious of why we are choosing to do it, and what we want the result to be.

If we’re tired and need to rest our body and can do with a laugh, an hour in front of Seinfeld is perfect. If we’re depressed and dissatisfied with our life, spending $500 on clothing is probably not cutting to the nub of the issue.

We all can feel a bit better about ourselves when we wear an outfit in a colour that compliments us, and a style which is flattering. But all the better if we achieve this being conscious of doing it rationally, and consciously. Do it whilst being mindful of the need for all of us to reduce our consumption.

We don’t need to quit buying, but to learn to be conscious consumers. Both out of environmental need, and to better understand ourselves.

A lot of us tend to get caught up in the modern day cycle that the cartoon in this post alludes to.  We work long hours in jobs we don’t like to buy things we don’t need. We are lured by advertising, and by social norms and expectations.

Tom Hodgkinson in his books How to be Free and How to be Idle delves into the origins and questions this ‘wage slave’ cycle. He calls for a return to some of the medieval ideals of community and creativity.  I really like many of his ideas, though I’d happily abandon some (his passion for smoking, drinking and his belief that depressed people should abandon medication to name a few).

I think Hodgkinson is spot on though in that we need to actively claim back a slower pace of life. We need to seek out idleness. We need creativity and variation in our lives to thrive, not the monotony that many of our jobs provide.

One way to help free ourselves is to consume less. The less we need, the less we have to earn, and the more time we have to create, and engage in all the variety that life has to offer beyond working and shopping.

What is more, if we can really understand the things that make us happy, rather than falling back to shopping as our therapy, I think we’d be able to contribute more to solving serious global problems. We’d have more to give financially, and more time to give intellectually.

The Australian PricewaterhouseCoopers’ Entertainment & Media Outlook 2010-2014 says the forecast growth will increase the revenue of the entertainment and media industry in Australia to $36.2 billion by 2014. The World Bank estimates that the additional improve foreign aid required to reach the Millennium Development Goals by 2015 is between $40-$60 billion a year. Australian’s entertainment budget for a year almost gets us to the bottom estimate.

Low income countries cannot meet the cost of the Millennium Goals domestically. We have a global, collective responsibility.  Australia’s foreign aid budget has increased from $3.8 billion to $4.3 billion next year (ABC News), and will rise to equate to 0.5% of our gross national income by 2015-2016.  This is still well below the UN target of 0.7% for developed countries. And in real terms, it is such a tiny fraction of our wealth that our government is giving. (See World Vision for some interesting graphs on how we compare to other countries). By consuming less and donating more as individuals, we really can make a difference.

Do you indulge in ‘retail therapy’?

Does it make you feel better?

Do you think it would help both your own understanding of yourself and the problems of over consumption if you really tried to understand why you want to shop?

What role does ‘shopping’ have in your life?

Image from with thanks to melvdesigns.

About greenleftyidealist

Green, left and idealistic. A mum, a runner, a rogainer, a public servant and wanna be writer. My dog is golden.
This entry was posted in consumerism, equity, ethics, psychology, society and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Retail Therapy

  1. Hayley says:

    This post touches on so many things that I’ve been thinking lots about recently. Overshopping, personal style, idleness, mindfulness, community and creativity – yes yes yes! They are all so related.

    I’m really fascinated by what you wrote about your image, partly because I’m working on creating a digital program right now about authentic personal style. I have the idea that not wanting to spend much time on upkeep can be built into your style, and you can still dress in clothes that make you feel good in a very low maintenance way.

    I don’t wear makeup or iron either, and every time I can get away with not blowdrying my hair without freezing to death, I do! I don’t consider myself trendy, but I do feel really good with what I’m wearing on most days, and that’s way more important than complying with the shoulds & social conditioning.

    Anyway, hope you keep up the super interesting posts!

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  3. Thanks Hayley. I have a post formulating about image in the back of my mind so will probably be tackling that one soon. Liked your post on using oil as an natural cleanser recently and also looked up your older post of the bicarb soda/applecider vinegar shampoo alternatice. I’ve been using it for a few days now and it works a treat and as an added bonus helps my eczema issues!

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