Stephy Loves…

Rethinking Retail Therapy

One of the sorting piles from my recent product purge.

In my recent organizing work, I’ve found myself feeling like such a hypocrite, because I have always had a weakness for retail therapy. It’s a form of self-medicating that my entire family is prone to; my mom and grandma at their peaks had craft stashes that took up more space than I’m currently living in.

There’s a certain point with depression, especially when compounded with long term trauma, where you’ve hurt so badly for so long that it’s a struggle to feel anything but numb. Instead of doing the work to find healthy coping mechanisms, I have spent so many years answering that numbness with a new nail polish, or some fancy yarn that I’ll never knit up, or a huge haul of sewing patterns when they’re on sale. I’ve found myself gravitating to hobbies because of the pretty things I can buy for them. Buying something fun lights up the reward centers in the brain that are so dimmed by depression, and cuts through the fog just enough to give a moment where I feel alive.

The beauty industry, in particular, makes a habit of feeding that impulse. We all know that the industry thrives on insecurities. But even among voices like the hugely supportive Asian skin care community on Instagram, the talk of product, product, and more product can be more enabling than empowering. Don’t get me wrong–the products are fantastic, and the users have a genuine love of what they’re doing. I love it myself, but right now, I’m in the middle of taking a step back to re-evaluate how my relationship to the things I’m buying affects my mental health.

My habit of buying things instead of treating mental health issues and learning to deal with them is something that has been toxic both to me and to people I love. In my last relationship, the biggest issues we had were my spending, the mess and clutter from all the crap I bought, and both of us being unable to deal with our mental health needs. I was bleeding all over our life, metaphorically speaking, and kept reaching for bandaids over and over. I called the careless spending self-care, but it was actually the opposite. I was spending the money instead of dealing with my own trauma, depression, and anxiety. It allowed my issues to fester, made him feel unappreciated and used, and poisoned what had once been the best thing in my life. I’m not going to pretend here that he was 100% innocent, because he’s an adult and made choices too. But I could have changed the dynamic, by dealing responsibly with my mental health, and I was too scared and felt too hopeless to do the work.

Self-care is easy when it means taking some time to re-center at the end of a hard day, or going to get my nails done because of the boost to my confidence. As a culture and as individuals, we know how to do that. There’s no script for making ourselves take charge and do the work to manage our own mental health. There isn’t going to be, because a lot of people get very rich by feeding us the line that buying things will make our lives better. But as I’ve experienced firsthand in recent months, giving up instead of working to figure it out will ruin a person’s life. Retail therapy is not a substitute for real therapy, and there is nothing I can buy that will make me love myself any more.

I’m still going to be blogging as I can, but I’m not going to be pushing products as much as I used to. I need to reassess how to handle the subjects I am passionate about without falling back into my old habits of indiscriminate spending. For now, I have gotten rid of dozens of products (how did I have FOUR purple eyeliners?!), canceled my Sephora Play box, and implemented a strict “one in, at least one out” rule, because if I allow myself to be dependent on the two minutes of “yay, new shiny” for my feeling of value, I’m screwed. This is going to be a hard road for me, but in the long run, I’m going to be a better and healthier person for it. I just wish I had seen my life clearly enough to do it sooner.



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