How a Recovering Shopping Addict Found Minimalism and Conscious Fashion
“You look like a bowl of Jell-O. Would you lose some weight?” my coach said straight to my face after I came off the court. It was 2011, my final summer basketball tournament before my senior year of high school.
I said nothing as I stood frozen in humiliation, paralyzed by the sting.
That afternoon, I went to Victoria’s Secret and bought a pink strapless bra, dozens of pairs of underwear and a few sweaters from H&M. 250 dollars later, I felt the same emptiness. If you had taken every single piece of clothing in landfills around the world today, they wouldn’t have filled that void inside of me. Yet, I bought anyway.
Throughout college, the string of brutal heartbreaks, alcohol-induced anxiety and depression, “retail therapy” was one of my drugs of choice. I felt worthless; but, I made sure that the clothes I wore were the exact opposite. Whenever I felt sad, fat, lonely, rejected, lost, I would open my laptop and buy myself happy. When whatever I ordered finally arrived, I would either love it, wear it a few times then forget about it or try desperately to remember why I ordered it in the first place. This continued for years, with every low point, happy occasion or boring Sunday marked with a shopping trip.
These weren’t the glamorous shopaholic tendencies you see on TV. I had moments where I couldn’t cry anymore, only mustering the energy to sit in the emptiness in my life with a closet full of clothes that seemingly made me feel good.
Eventually, I found my way onto a spiritual path, doing yoga, meditating, finding kundalini practices and buying less. As my vibration rose, I found more and more things aligned with my new path. My boyfriend and I were looking for something to watch on Netflix and I saw the word Minimalism in gray letters under the documentary category. We watched the preview and I said almost instantly, “Press play!”
The documentary begins showing two successful men telling their stories of accumulating things, only to feel empty in their lives. I barely blinked while they spoke, my eyes stayed fixed and my breathing slowed. At one point later in the documentary, one of the narrators says, “You can buy all of these things, but it’s just not going to do it for you.”
Once I heard these words, after watching the toll consumerism is taking on the human race and the planet, I broke down in sobs. These weren’t the tears of acute sadness or discomfort, I was crying for the person I was when I bought shirt after shirt, hoping that the next one would make me feel whole after I wore it to the bar. I cried for the girl who thought that throwing up every meal was the way she would attract someone who could understand. I cried for the girl who had no one to turn to when she was bullied at school. I cried for the girl who felt abandoned by her mother even though she received gifts from her all the time. Most of all, I cried for anyone who has ever hoped that buying a new outfit would help fill the void inside.
At that moment, I was brave enough to see the dark patterns I had carried with me for nearly 15 years. Even through my tears, I am grateful I was shaken out of my slumber.
Today, we live in a world where the next lip kit is the highlight of our week. Clothes are marked down to nearly nothing because the people that make them aren’t paid enough to feed their children. Second-hand clothing stores have nowhere to go with the ungodly amounts of clothing heaped on them by people keeping up with constantly changing trends. Landfills pile high with the shirts, pants, jackets and shoes of people who once said they couldn’t live without them.
I am willing to see my part in the broken system. I am willing to change. I am willing to help.
If not for the laborers in third world countries, working 15-hour shifts for a few dollars a week to stitch together cheap clothes for us to wear for a month, do it for yourself. Don’t you deserve to find happiness that lasts more than a few days? A few minutes?
I understand how difficult it can be to completely change your paradigm. I went from shopping nearly four times a week to zero. As soon as I reevaluated where my need for things was coming from, I could change my actions. Once you can take a step back from the “If you don’t buy it, someone else will” taglines online shopping companies use, things will shift. Even slowly, noticing the patterns is the first step towards changing.
Today, I buy clothes when I feel they are an extension of the person I have become which is pretty rare. I understand that they will not make me happy, but they are things I will cherish for years to come. Instead of buying four sweaters to give me an initial retail high, I have actual, lasting joy in my life. I created a life I love living, independent of the things that are in it. Even on my worst days, I can understand that my worth is constant and no article of clothing can augment the worth I already hold.
You see, whenever we cling to something, it holds power over us. You cannot live a happy life outside if your life isn’t happy on the inside. No matter how many peplum tops I bought for my weekends, I felt the same. Instead of turning your wheels trying to find something to wear, can you find happiness in where you are, right now? Are you happy in the shirt you’re wearing? Are you happy in the things you spend your time doing? If not, the emptiness you feel after you buy clothing you don’t need will only amplify the problem.
A fulfilled life can’t be bought, no matter how hard we try. In the futile pursuit of the perfect closet, we damage the planet, fellow humans and most of all, our spirits. I know what it’s like to look to objects for joy and convince myself that they genuinely make me happy. I promise you this: it’s an illusion. Happiness is an inside job.