Compulsive shopping is the preoccupation with buying or impulses to buy unneeded items. This can lead to financial difficulties or problems at home or work because of uncontrolled shopping.
It’s not uncommon for compulsive shoppers to spend a great deal of time doing research on items they want to purchase or shopping for unnecessary things. These items might include clothing, shoes, cosmetics and beauty products, jewelry, household items, books and so on. For many, it’s hard to resist items on sale or limited edition.
I realized that I had a problem with shopping when I would shop to improve my mood, spend hours browsing stores online, and was unable to save money due to buying unnecessary stuff.
When I decided to go cold turkey and do a year-long shopping ban, this really opened my eyes to my previous spending habits.
When I was shopping my closet and putting together new outfit combinations using items I already owned, I realized that I bought a lot of stuff for my fantasy life.
I think that we all have a fantasy or imaginary version of ourselves.
The fantasy version of myself wore outfits inspired by Old Hollywood glamour, lived in a warm and sunny climate, and would go to fancy parties and events.
My real life on the other hand looks a bit different. I work from home wearing sweatpants and comfortable loungewear. I rarely go to parties and whenever I do, the dress code is causal. And I live in Toronto, which has winter for nearly six months of the year.
Shopping my closet for a year while I was doing the no new clothing challenge was a wake-up call for me. It taught me that I really wore only 20% of my wardrobe. The other 80% was a mix of items that still had the price tag attached, items for my fantasy life, or items that I didn’t really like or feel comfortable wearing.
While it was all fun and games to shop for my fantasy life, I realized that I was truly the happiest when I wore clothing that matched my current lifestyle.
Does your wardrobe suit your lifestyle?
If you want to get the most of your wardrobe and actually wear everything you have, it’s important to buy clothes that are appropriate for your lifestyle. This is a topic I talk a lot about in my book, Freedom From Shopping.
This means you’ll need to become more conscious of your shopping habits and what you choose to spend money on. While it feels exciting in the moment to make an impulse purchase, like that cute dress you saw on sale, it feels much better to be intentional about your purchases and buy items you’ll actually wear.
When shopping, I recommend carefully thinking about what pieces you need (gaps in your wardrobe), what items you already have (so you don’t buy too many similar items), and what items suit your lifestyle and will be versatile in your wardrobe.
This takes practice. And sometimes you’ll buy something that you think will be great, but you only get a few wears out of it.
That’s okay. This isn’t about being perfect. It’s about developing the habit of shopping with intention and being more conscious about how you spend your hard-earned money.
To help you get better mileage from your wardrobe, here’s a few questions you’ll want to ask yourself:
What is your current environment?
Where you live plays a big role in determining the type of clothes, shoes and accessories you’ll need.
For example, do you live in a warm and sunny climate, but have a closet full of cold-weather clothes?
Unless you plan to travel to colder climates each year, you probably don’t need to buy fall or winter clothing.
What does a typical week look like for you?
Take a look at your currently lifestyle. Write down all the activities you do each week. Now group these activities into categories that require the same types of clothes.
For example, I might wear the same kind of clothes to go grocery shopping as I do to go for a walk around the neighborhood.
Here’s an example of some clothing categories:
- Casual / Daytime (Running errands, Hanging out at home)
- Business / Work (Business casual, Professional, Work meetings)
- Dressy (Special occasions, Work events)
- Semi-dressy (Going out with friends, Date nights, Nightlife)
- Formal (Weddings and other formal events)
- Active (Exercising, Hiking, Going for walks)
To take this further, consider estimating the percentage of your time you spend doing these activities per week (or month).
For example, I spend most of my time doing causal / daytime activities such as running errands, working from home, and hanging out at home.
I rarely go to formal or dressy events. This means that most of my wardrobe should consist of causal or daytime types of clothes.
Understand what you need vs. what you want
Ideally, your wardrobe should represent your current lifestyle. Understanding your environment, lifestyle and personal fashion style can help when curating your wardrobe.
For example, when looking at my wardrobe, I owned a lot of dressy outfits. But I rarely went to parties or fancy events, so I stopped buying dressy clothes because they didn’t match my lifestyle.
If you’ve ever opened up your closet and felt like you had nothing to wear, it could be because your clothes didn’t suit your lifestyle.
Take a look at your wardrobe and access what you have. Does your wardrobe reflect your current lifestyle? Or does it reflect your past lifestyle or fantasy life?
If you have a lot of clothing that represents your past lifestyle or fantasy life, it’s time to make some tough decisions. Can you let go of these items by selling or donating them? Can you repurpose or restyle them to match your current lifestyle?
When I made the transition from working in a corporate office to working from home, I had a closet full of business clothes that no longer suited my lifestyle. I sold or donated these clothes because they were taking up valuable space in my wardrobe.
As you can see, a wardrobe that is aligned with your actual lifestyle can make getting dressed easier and more enjoyable. It also helps you shop more with intention, make better spending decisions, and increase your confidence.
Another way to help you do this is to create a “no-buy list”. This is a list of items that you may have bought in the past for your previous lifestyle or fantasy life, but they don’t align with your current lifestyle.
It may also include items that you love, but you tend to buy too much of them. In this case, it’s about making a conscious effort to buy only what you need and will use, instead of buying in excess.
For example, I used to love animal print, especially leopard print. However, I found myself buying items just because I loved the print, and it was quickly taking over my wardrobe.
Your “no-buy list” will be highly personal and unique to you. To help give you some inspiration, today I’m sharing clothes, shoes and accessories that I no longer buy.
Creating this list has helped me find my personal style, make better spending choices, and be happier with my wardrobe.
At one point, I had nearly 50 pairs of high heels in my closet. In my early twenties, I used to watch Sex and the City a lot. I loved the look of high heels and wanted a closet like Carrie Bradshaw. I thought it really put together an outfit and made it look classy.
I’m also 5 foot 3 inches and have short legs and a long torso. I thought high heels would make my legs look longer and leaner. During my twenties, I spent thousands of dollars on high heels. My most expensive pair of heels were $900, which I felt sick about buying.
I loved designer shoes. I would spend hours shopping online looking at shoes and creating shopping wish lists.
The fantasy version of myself would wear high heels with a cute dress, jeans, or a skirt. She would wear high heels to go out for a fun evening with friends downtown or a date night. She could take any outfit from day to night by throwing on a pair of high heels.
Growing up, I used to be a tomboy. I was self-conscious about my body during puberty and used to cover myself up with oversized shirts, hoodies, and long pants. I didn’t own a single pair of shorts and you would never see me in a tank top.
It wasn’t until I graduated from high school, that I become more confident with my body and wanted to dress more feminine. High heels and dresses were a way for me to feel like a woman.
But the truth was, I only wore high heels to my job. I worked in a corporate office for a few years after I graduated from university. The attire was business formal, so the men wore suits and a tie, and the women wore suits or dresses with high heels.
I rarely wore high heels to go out in the evening with friends because they hurt my feet. When I went to work events, I couldn’t wait to get home and take off my high heels because my feet were screaming. I bought high heel inserts and cushions to make them more comfortable, but I still found myself switching to flats whenever I could.
It wasn’t until I quit my job to go back to school that I realized that high heels were not for me. I haven’t bought high heels in years and my feet have never been happier.
I still have high heels in my wardrobe for special occasions, but for my everyday lifestyle – I love wearing comfortable boots and sneakers.
Handbags and Purses
I used to love collecting designer handbags, especially vintage handbags. I have always been a fan of buying unique and beautiful looking handbags.
I remember the day I bought my first designer handbag. I saved up money for nearly a year so I could pay cash for it. I told myself that after I purchased this bag, I wouldn’t need any other bags. I would wear this one handbag out until I needed to purchase a new one.
But after I purchased my first designer handbag, it just opened the door to more spending. It wasn’t long before I had several designer handbags in my growing collection.
Because I had spent so much money on these handbags, I was afraid to wear them too often. That’s why I bought more, so I could rotate them in my wardrobe. I took care of them to make sure they would last as long as possible.
It seems really silly to think about it now.
When I quit my job to go back to school, I rarely wore my handbags anymore. I realized that I enjoyed wearing backpacks more because they didn’t hurt my shoulder and they were more practical for my lifestyle.
I’ve sold a lot of my designer handbags because they were just sitting in my closet. Even though I lost some money on them, I’m happy that I am past that moment in my life.
Opening my closet everyday and seeing the handbags became a huge sore of anxiety for me. I would constantly feel guilty about the money I spent on them.
Many times, people don’t want to sell items they don’t use anymore because they feel like they’re losing money on them. This is how I felt too because the handbags were expensive and I rarely wore them.
Here’s the thing though – If you’re not using them, they aren’t adding any value to your wardrobe. It’s better to get back some of the money you paid for them, than to not sell them at all.
I used to love buying fancy dresses. This would include business dresses to wear to work, fancy dresses for work events, and formal dresses to wear to weddings and other special occasions.
When I first started working at a corporate office, I had no business attire in my wardrobe. This led me to buy a lot of new clothes. I also became very self-conscious about wearing the same outfit too often, which led me to buy even more clothes.
It’s actually so silly that I was worried about repeating the same outfit too often. I thought people would judge me at work. Now I realize that it’s perfectly OK to repeat outfits. Clothes are meant to be worn again and again.
The fantasy version of myself wore fancy dresses, high heels, and always carried a fashionable designer handbag. I wanted to project to others (strangers) that I was stylish and could afford to buy nice things.
But the truth was – at the time I was making an entry-level salary and was living paycheck to paycheck.
I still love wearing dresses, but I donated or sold 80% of my wardrobe after I quit my job to go back to school.
I kept a few timeless pieces that I actually enjoy wearing and are suitable for formal events or special occasions. I realized that for my everyday lifestyle, I much prefer to wear active wear to exercise or loungewear / casual clothes to work at home.
I have never been a big fan of wearing jeans. I much prefer to wear dresses, skirts, leggings, joggers or sweatpants.
But for a long time, I tried to force myself to stay on top of trends, which included wearing skinny jeans.
Although, I’ve heard that wearing skinny jeans is no longer trendy today. But I don’t follow trends anymore and dress for my current lifestyle.
If you like wearing skinny jeans, by all means, continue to rock them. I think that we should all wear what we enjoy and feel comfortable in.
Colors and prints
I’ve always been the type to wear neutral colors (black, grey, and white). But after following a lot of fashion bloggers and online influencers, I started to branch out and buy more clothes with colors or prints.
I remember seeing a leopard print dress on a fashion blogger and I thought that it looked so nice. My fantasy self would wear a bold print dress.
I decided to buy the same dress (which wasn’t cheap) and was so excited to wear it. But when I put it on, I felt uncomfortable the entire time. I was constantly fidgeting and felt like everyone was staring at my statement dress.
I ended up putting the dress back in my closet and never wore it again. It stayed there for over a year until I decided to sell it.
After experimenting with colors and prints in my wardrobe, I’ve gone back to buying only neutral pieces. I thought bold styles would project to others that I was confident and comfortable in my skin.
But the truth was, I was the MOST confident when I wore neutral colors that I actually enjoyed wearing.
Now when I buy new clothes, I always ask myself these deep questions.
- How many times will I wear this item? If I can’t see myself wearing it at least 30 times, then it’s probably not a good purchase.
- Does this item match my current lifestyle? I still have a fantasy version of myself, but I no longer buy for her anymore. I am happiest when I buy clothes that reflect my real lifestyle.
- Do I already have something similar to this item in my wardrobe? If I already own something similar, do I really need to buy this? Will I actually wear this item?
- What else can I do with this money? Is buying this item the best use of my money? Can I put it towards paying my monthly bills, savings goals, or investments instead?
I love swimming and my fantasy self likes to spend her time in the pool or relaxing on the beach. But since the start of the pandemic, I haven’t been able to go swimming because the pool in our condo is closed.
I also don’t go to the beach very often, so I rarely wear a swimsuit unless I’m on vacation. I used to buy new swimsuits before every vacation because shopping would get me excited for my upcoming trip.
Can you relate?
After realizing that I wasn’t getting the best use out of my swimwear, I decided to not buy any new ones. I have enough swimsuits in my closet and it’s a waste of money to keep buying more. Especially when I only go swimming a handful of times per year.
When buying clothes, it’s important to consider your current lifestyle. We often get caught up in shopping for our fantasy life and convince ourselves that we’ll make good use out of an item if we buy it.
However, if I don’t go swimming or to the beach very often, it doesn’t make sense to buy a bunch of new bikinis.
Pay attention to what activities you actually do and what clothing items you actually enjoy wearing for those lifestyle activities. This can help you stop buying clothes that you’ll never wear.
“Must-have” wardrobe essentials
For a long time, I used to read posts from fashion bloggers and online magazines sharing their “must-have” items that every woman’s wardrobe should have.
I’m embarrassed to admit, but I’ve bought a lot of items from these “must-have” lists that I didn’t even like or enjoy wearing. I thought the items looked good on others, by it didn’t fit my personal style.
For example, I remember seeing a trench coat on a lot of wardrobe essential lists. It was a classic piece and timeless, so I bought one thinking it would be a good investment for me.
Every time I put it on, I felt silly. There were only a few times that I left my home wearing the trench coat. Even though I tried so hard to make it work with my wardrobe, the style just wasn’t for me.
I know that those “must-have” wardrobe essential posts can be a great starting guide for those who are looking to build a capsule wardrobe or minimalist closet. But it’s important to actually think about what you enjoy wearing, making sure it fits your personal style, and matches your own lifestyle.
I have never been one to wear a lot of jewelry, except for earrings. But for some reason, I’m not sure why, I started buying more jewelry in my early twenties.
As I was upgrading my wardrobe to make it more fashionable, I thought jewelry would be a great way to complete an outfit. I saw other fashion bloggers and women in the media wearing pretty necklaces, rings and bracelets, and I could see my fantasy self wearing those items too.
I really liked the jewelry at Tiffany’s. When I saw the movie Sweet Home Alabama as a kid, I loved the scene where Reese Witherspoon picked out her engagement ring at Tiffany’s. I dreamed about the day I would get to pick out my engagement ring too.
I did shop and try engagement rings on at Tiffany’s with my boyfriend, but we both realized that it was too expensive and not worth the cost. I ended up getting my engagement ring customed made from a jeweler instead, which I have been very happy with.
I’ve bought a few items more affordable items from Tiffany’s, but I found that I rarely wore the items. I realized that I think jewelry is pretty to look at, but I only enjoy wearing it for special occasions.
I’ve put jewelry on my “no-buy shopping list” because I don’t need anymore and I rather spend my money on other things.
If you find yourself being tempted to buy certain items, especially items for your fantasy life that you most likely will never wear or use, I recommend putting them on a “no-buy list”.
The purpose of a no-buy list is to remind yourself of the things you know that you shouldn’t spend money on, especially when you feel the temptation to impulse buy.
In this case, one of the items on my “no-buy list” is jewelry because I rarely wear it.
Expensive active wear
I used to think that in order to get motivated to stick to a fitness routine, I needed to invest in good quality workout clothes.
Sure, this might work for some people. And if you want to buy expensive and good quality active wear, that’s a personal choice.
For me though, the only way that I’ve been able to stick to a fitness routine is by changing my mindset and signing up for a subscription to Beach Body on Demand. (NOTE: I’m not a Beach Body coach, I just really like their programs).
I’ve been working out consistently (6 days per week) for a year following the programs on the Beach Body app, and it’s been the best way for me to stay motivated.
I purchase my active wear from Old Navy or Aerie because it’s affordable and the quality works for me. I realized that I don’t need to buy expensive gym clothes in order to stay motivated.
Floppy, wide brim hats
My fantasy self likes to wear pretty summer dresses and floppy, wide brim hats. I think they look good on other people, so I bought a few hats for myself.
But every time I put one on, I felt like they looked silly on me. It really didn’t fit my personal style.
The only hats that I actually enjoy wearing are baseball hats in the summer and toque or beanies in the winter months.
Whenever I get the temptation to buy another floppy sun hat, I pull out my “no-buy list” to remind myself why I don’t need it.