Tuesday, July 11, 2017

No Holds Barred: We the Shoppers

Me in my summer closet. Photos: Patrick Halbe
by Blair Sabol

It has come to this — there is no getting around it! We have become a nation of shopping addicts.  All of us! I have never trusted a person who says to me “I’m not into shopping!”  That is a ridiculous statement nowadays.  It used to be just for kids with a love of Nike sneakers, then it became women who lusted for Birkin bags now we are way past those small “objects.” Shopping has replaced football, baseball or basketball as the world’s number one sport or pastime. It is probably as big as the opioid problem but who is into addictive comparisons. Look at our country’s 10 trillion dollar credit card debt and how it has been reported that most people do not “save” money anymore.  We just love to spend. Some of us even “live” to spend!
Everywhere I go, people complain to me how they must stop shopping.  But not for the sake of saving money it is about drowning in all the “stuff” (as comedian George Carlin said “you need your stuff”).  But now we have all become not just shoppers but hoarders or whore-ders.  We will buy anything at anytime, anywhere.  Pick your poison shoes, techno gadgets, cars, bras, pet toys, makeup, jeans, baby clothes and porn.  Only books get a pass but not if the stacks are mounting up in your microwave and creeping into your bathroom.
Yes, you can say you are a “collector” or you just love to cruise the online sites and stores like they were museums.  Ideally, we should become “curators” and only keep what we need not what we want (I wonder if Mick Jagger is a shopaholic).  But the lifestyle today featuring giant walk-in closets housing sofas and electrical rotary hangers has made us believe we are living the life of a Beverly Hills housewife. We are not!

Even the Beverly Hills Housewives aren’t leading that life.  And for all the clothes consumption, why is it people look so awful? In the old days, you would need an outfit to go to a 5 star restaurant.  Now you go to a top-notch eatery and everyone is in flip-flops and athleisure wear.  Our  “well dressed” bar has been lowered while the search for that one great baseball cap has skyrocketed.
It’s clear that the shopping addiction started in 2002 with eBay — that online flea market of buying and selling.  Now even if you buy the wrong thing, you can go online and get rid of it, maybe even make a buck or two.  You needn’t just cleanse your closet the old fashioned way via the Salvation Army or charity thrift shops. Even they now have too much and are doing a “hard edit” with every entry!
So online shopping has allowed everyone the access (at all hours) to shop and drop and no guilt.  Malls maybe dying, but Far Fetch, the Real Real and Net-a-Porter are exploding! At 3 AM you can find something you never knew you needed to have, to hold, and to bury in a drawer (your “gift” drawer for those purchases you blundered on and hope to recycle on someone’s birthday) never to be seen again.

Contemplating my massive jewelry board of crap.
Personally I have a different problem I am a shopper but a bigger “returner.”  I purchase and “spit back” and live for that free return label.  Its called bulimic shopping but that is only the tip of the shopaholic issue.  There are also people who shop to resell and flip.  That is not my forte either!

I am talking about the need to shop!

Now, in defense of this addiction ... there is nothing more wonderful than shopping therapy when you are down, when you are up just grab that card and go celebrate!  And I do believe that shopping (in a celebratory way) you can give more to yourself than any other “drug.” And though many of us are vigilant about our “closet purges” it is still the “acquiring” that gives us the fiercest jolt.  In fact, it was Andy Warhol who said we should date our clothing like diary.  “What you don’t wear in a year you must toss.  You will never wear it, and if it should come back in style you will want it in a different color.”  If only!

New York closets are usually so small they are instant edit machines.  Once you hang something in the back, it is out of sight/out of mind.  Then there is the theory we should arrange our wardrobes like our overnight bags.  Bare bones too sad!

My editor David Patrick Columbia (and men have it much easier with their “stuff” than women) owns 60 shirts. "I wear only 6 and I really only like 4 of them.  But I am not ready to part with any of them ... I might need them.”  He won’t!

DPC can’t part with his shirts.  Imagine Johnny Depp, who admitted last week that while he is in financial difficulty he will sell all his art and possessions, but refuses to give up his private jet.  “That would be a f**king nightmare,” he said.  We should all be faced with such “purging” challenges.
Obviously, guilt is a big part of the emotional baggage with shopping.  Guilt and a whole lot more.  There are shrinks who gave many of my shopaholic friends Celexa (an anti-depressant) to control their compulsion! Really? Have we come to this?  The drug didn’t help any of them.
A pill a day to take the shopping away ...
Nowadays there is a trend for a more minimalistic life.  Not to mention all the successful authors and websites dedicated to organizing your life and your closets.  One of those is Marie Kondo, who wrote the huge hit “The Fine Art of Tidying Up.”  After I learned how to fold my sweaters into her origami space saving style, I went out and bought more sweaters.  More room to load up! That is the problem with binging and purging ... there is always another binge.  The purge is just “an intermission” — license to shop again.
Drowning in my tsunami of sweaters ...
Then there is Fumio Sasaki — a single guy and co-editor in chief at Wani Books in Tokyo who is an extreme minimalist “to live a better and calmer life.”  His book is called Goodbye Things. He found God after he dumped all his “crap.” Honestly, who better to turn to in an empty room?

Be More With Less’s Courtney Carver (bemorewithless.com) has been successful giving workshops and doing daily inspirational postings When it feels like your stuff is winning:

1. Less is not nothing
2. Holding on is harder than letting go
3. “Just in case” means never
4. Organization is overrated. Less is the answer

Ugh! This sounds like bad Werner Erhard to me!
Pop psychology guru, Werner Erhard.
I have heard almost everyone’s addictive complaint.  I even read popular young fashion blogger Leandra Medine in her manrepeller.com column admit; “I spend a lot of time scanning fashion websites that sell stuff.  I call it market research.  But the truth is, I am addicted.  If not to buying stuff, then certainly to knowing what is out there.  I am constantly pursuing the thing that doesn’t exist; the shoes, the sunglasses or jacket that will change me — or derail my negative thinking spirals.  I now know stuff simply can’t change me.”  But she keeps on keeping on, and she is only 28. Give her time!

So far, there are only two people (writers) who really “spoke” to me about this giant shopping problem — writer Tracey Jackson is now one month into her “Tracey Stops Shopping” blog on her traceyjacksononline.com website.  It is a riveting read!  First of all, she is a real New York woman who simply loves to shop as many NY women do.  She understands how addiction works — “It is such an emotionally driven habit.”  So she has decided to stop shopping ... for 1 year! She is realistic. When I spoke to her, she admitted that she could look out her bathroom window and see Madison Avenue and every shop that she used to cruise daily.  Most New Yorkers have that problem.  Their “crack” is clothing, and “crack alley” is everywhere they walk.  For the rest of us who have to drive to shop, our locations are online only.  Or in my case, my “dealers” are the carwash and Walgreens.
“Monastic is not for me” she confesses.  “I couldn’t even go to LA with just a carryon.  I got really sick of my own buying from Net-a-porter and other sites, and sending 9/10ths of it back.  I realized the online ease with which I could feed my shopping love, and my self medicating mechanism was time consuming, costly and unhealthy.”

Tracey’s shopaholic weekly postings are not a typical narcissistic dumping story — it is funny and true and a must read.  She has even had “a slip” over a basket in Poland.  Go figure!

She is not taking drugs, but just living one day at a time — one “click” (not pressed) at a time.  Her philosophy is heartfelt; “Balance is obviously the key — it is hard with all the internet consumption and lifestyle “porn” out there with the photos of all the closets and the purchases and the insane expenditures.  It pollutes people’s sense of reality and they think they deserve it too.  But then we get sick of things and there is always the next bauble, and we are off and running again.”
Tracey in the dressing room listening to a Minimalist podcast.
Her hope is clear: “I really want to see who is on the other side of all this shopping.  Who lives there without the flow of stuff coming in and going out?  I am fascinated by minimalists — though I could never be one.  I am intrigued by people who live in little houses, though I have no desire to live in a dollhouse.  I think there is a fine place in between and that is what I am searching for.” 

She has acknowledged that she might have set the timeline too long; “A year might be too tough and I am not sure there is a spiritual rainbow at the end of all this.  I am just doing it — and it is hard.  Not shopping isn’t the hard part.  It’s sitting with the anxiety.”
Tracey's desk when she was 8 years old, proving she has always been tidy and not a hoarder. "I kept it that clean. No one had to tell me to. I get nervous if everything is not in order."
We discussed “retail therapy” and we both agreed that you never hear the phrase “gambling therapy” or “sex therapy.”  So is shopping an addiction or an aid, or is it 2 mints in one?

And in the end, she realizes “To be honest, I don’t want to not shop for a year.  I just don’t!  It feels like torture.  And I don’t think I will be a better person.  I will just be a miserable cranky person in last years jeans.”

I am really rooting for Tracey.  She might become the “Dr. Bob” of shopaholics.  She is worth following!
"Keeper of the gate and holder of the awesome scarf," posts Tracey (at Lifestyle Boutique in Sag Harbor).
My other voice of reason on the subject is the terrific George Hahn, men’s lifestyle writer and podcaster!  A month ago he wrote about Steve Wright – a young twenty-something musician and clothing store sales guy in Cleveland who actually got his closet down to that desired “bare bones.”  Hahn’s account is precise and fascinating.  Hahn himself is a great stylist and a very lean and careful shopper.  But Wright taught him a thing or two.  Hahn says “As we move through life, we become virtual lint rollers, accumulating levels of stuff without thinking about it.  Steve Wright thinks about it, and he’s determined to avoid the common trap of stuff overload by curating a very edited design for living that enables him to live quite effectively and efficiently with style.

Go to georgehahn.com to read: “An inspiring example of sartorial restraint.”
25-year-old Steve's Wright's closet. The shelf above the shoes is completely empty.
Hahn explores “less but better” in a positive way, even though it was something to see a photo of a closet with just 5 jackets, 3 T-shirts, 8 white shirts, 1 pair of sneakers, 6 assorted types of shoes, 1 watch and 1 hip lapel pin! It is austere, but perfect.  Not sad or frugal!  His wardrobe is remarkably sophisticated.  “Steve’s life edit is staggering” as Hahn sees it.  “Wright lives in a 600 square foot studio apartment, and has no real drawers — just cubby holes, shelves, and 3 closets — one for clothes and 2 almost empty.”  Check it out!

Hahn concedes, “While I don’t think I could strip down as far as he has, his design for living has given me pause and made me think.  I just put 2 sweaters, 3 more shirts and 6 pair of dress socks into a growing bag of clothes for the thrift shop. My “less but better” pursuit continues ... Steve inspired me in this matrix of life where so many of us are caught up in the motion that confuses bounty with excess.  Steve took the red pill.”  And it works.
Steve's closet floor.
And now I honestly try to ask myself before every purchase “Is this something I absolutely CAN’T live without! Is it absolutely necessary for my life?” And frankly, most everything I can pass on!  I don’t even obsess for days about owning anything anymore. (That bottomless pit of need!)  Am I depressed?  Maybe I am just older and no longer have the lifestyle to own or wear all this “stuff.”

My sharp 95-year-old mother is currently teaching me the ultimate shopping lesson; “I have seen it all, owned it all, dumped it all and currently I need or want for nothing.” (Except a little Lands End!)

She is truly “Free, Free at Last.”  I pray I can get to her level.
Amazon Prime Day is here! The shopping marathon begins ...