Friday, January 19, 2007

Tough Talk-Shopping Addictions

I've mentioned my love of kids clothes in the past. I probably haven't been real candid about how out of control that "love" has gotten in the past. It's not real fun to talk about, but here goes.
A couple of years ago, I truly became a shopping addict, going way out my comfort zone in terms of what I was buying and how much I was spending. I spent a couple thousand dollars on a big name brand clothing company, buying clothes that didn't fit our lifestyle from a company I didn't want to support. This wasn't "me" at all. I always swore that my kids would wear plain t-shirts, hand tie-dyed of course, and hand-me-down jeans. By the time I realized how bad I'd gotten, Bird had over 30 outfits. Halfway through my "recovery", Beo walked into Bird's closet, saw her nine pairs of shoes, and got more serious about my problem. I know he worried about me, but with me being in control of the finances, and having all sorts of great justifications, I'm sure he felt reluctant to get too wrapped up in it.

What is it that made me so crazy about these clothes? It was so out of control. Sometimes when there was a big sale rumored, I'd drive over 100 miles to hit both store in our area. I would buy something, then end up feeling terrible about it, and sell it in a storm of guilt. For a while, I made myself feel better by looking at how I wasn't as bad as "the others". In one of my online recovery groups there were women hiding huge boxes of clothes in their attics, lying to their husbands, secretly spending savings and maxing out credit cards, and even going into bankrupcy, all for these clothes. We talked about how having our kids so well dressed somehow validated our lives as Stay-at-Home-Moms. There were work-for-pay Moms too though, and I think they thought the same thing-that having well dressed kids meant that they were good Moms even though they couldn't stay-at-home. There may have been some of that "Good Mom" validation for me, but I think a big part of it was that I just plain loved the clothes, and how good the kids looked in them. I loved getting something lovely and new in the mail, washing it, hanging it in the closet. I loved going through the many outfits. At the core though, it wasn't healthy. I think it's okay to have a guilty pleasure, but when it starts making you compromise your values, live outside your means, and make questionable judgements, it's time to step back. A lot of times I'd catch myself shopping when I was going through a depressed period, or stress. Buying something made me feel better. Finally, about this time last year, I got fed up with myself and called it quits. I've only made one purchase from "them" since. That doesn't mean it's been smooth sailing though.

I switched my loyalty to a company I believed in, which was a good start. Hanna Andersson is a wonderful company-dedicated to social responsiblity. They believe in being environmentally conscious, and offer organic clothing options as well as Eco-Tex clothing. It's been tough for me not to let the allure of supporting a company I believe in get me back into my old buying habits. I'm definitely improving, in 2006 spending about 1/3 of what I did the previous year, but I'd like to do even better. I've vowed to get half of this years clothes second-hand, returning to my environmental values. I've set a strict budget for myself, allowing myself $40 a month for kids clothes, plus whatever I can get for resale values on last years clothes. To you, it might sound like plenty. To me, I feel like it's barely enough. Today when I noticed that Sprout had outgrown yet another pair of shoes, I immediately thought to order another pair. I had to stop myself to remind myself that one pair of shoes could be enough. As I go through the kids clothes for Spring, I have to ask Beo for help in decision making at every turn, because I'm so scared of making a wrong turn. So far though, I've done well. We're getting ahead instead of behind on our budget goals, and I've resisted many a siren call.

The whole shebang is so unlike me. Some of our friends laughed when I told them about it, back when I decided to get control of the worst of the habits. It's not just that it seemed ridiculous to them that someone like me would get actually "addicted" to something like this. To people who have never felt the compulsion, or the rush of shopping, it's virtually impossible to understand. It's hard for me to admit to all of this. I feel downright ashamed to have let myself get sucked in to something that is so contrary to my values, that feels so superficial. Ultimately though, I have to face my issues to deal with them, so here I am coming out of the closet. I took this picture of Bird's closet to show my recovery board how far I'd come, and how proud I was of how much I had "purged". A year later, the closet is about half as full. I don't want my kids to grow up thinking that they have to have dozens of outfits to be happy. I don't want them to think that that's normal. I want them to feel blessed that they have enough, but I don't want them to feel entitled to more than they need.


e4 said...

I guess the good news is, you realized it, you changed your behavior, you know you have that tendency to watch out for, and you have a support system. And at least it was something on the benign side of the spectrum.

Thanks for sharing your experience. That took some courage.

womynrev said...

wow. thank you for being brave enough to say that all out loud. you have a witness here, my friend. and the compulsion to acquire new "things" saturates the culture we live in... so I'm extra proud of you for identifying what it is that is important to you and ratcheting back your habits.

and just as a little sidebar, I'm so glad that Beo is so supportive a guy.

you are terrific.