My Breakup With Online Shopping
I woke up hungover from the holidays. I felt fuzzy, sad, depressed, a bit numb, and awkwardly tentative. I felt that way for weeks. Was it the thimble full of wine I had at Grandma’s house or the cocktail on Christmas night? Maybe just the winter blues? Nope. Obviously I’m not much of a drinker, and I live in California where my winters stay sunny and bright. So what could have caused this?
Another holiday season came and went where I promised I wouldn’t be consumer driven. Another year I swore I wouldn’t get on the holiday shopping merry-go-round. I made my bare bones gift list and set off to handle my holiday shopping with plenty of time to spare. Because I have a busy life, I tend to shop online. As I shopped, I found myself lured in by the deals. “$100 pants for only $20…plus a free t-shirt! Um, yes please. After all, don’t I deserve some new clothes? I mean, I put on weight last year and still didn’t have a full wardrobe to fit my new weight. And while I’m on here, I think I need some new shoes and shirts and…wait, what was I doing?” Even right now, I just stopped typing and went onto Amazon because I remembered I need a new purse. (Don’t worry, I stopped myself half way down the rabbit hole).
At the end of the holiday season, I balanced my budget. I more than doubled my holiday gift budget…. plus, I overspent in at least 6 other areas of my life. It’s like I just had a four-week blackout...plus, I had almost nothing to show for it and don’t think anything I gave as a gift changed anyone’s life this year. So why did I do it?
I consider myself an aspiring-minimalist. I’m organized and when you look at my house everything is put away and streamlined. I try to only have what I need, and I eliminate excess whenever possible. So how could I have gotten lost in a four-week holiday blackout?
I blame the dopamine. Dopamine is a happy feeling-chemical produced in your brain when you anticipate receiving good news, or when something unexpected happens. It’s known as the addiction chemical…it is the neurotransmitter that is released when we gamble, do drugs, check email, or (as I’ve now learned) shop. I talk about dopamine rushes all the time regarding email, phone addictions, and organization. But this holiday season was the first year where I truly felt it take over me. It’s too easy to fall into this tendency. Our consumer driven world is built for it. We are sold to every minute of every day….on our phones, on the side of the road, on the radio. Advertising is a huge industry that pulls no punches, including preying on our biological reactions to stimuli. It’s everywhere and without being aware, it’s so easy to be pulled right in. And it’s not a matter of straight up willpower, we also have to disconnect from the situations that are built biologically and chemically to ensnare us.
So I decided to go dry for a month. Since my primary crutch is Amazon, I went Amazon free. In claiming that I immediately felt a surge of freedom colliding with a sting of anxiety. “What if someone’s birthday comes up? What if a client needs something? What if, what if, what if…”. I’m not into radical changes or deprivation, but sometimes it’s good to clear our heads and reset so we can refocus on what really matters.
Over the course of the month when I felt my mind want to jump online and start shopping, I stopped and took 5 deep breaths. Our breath is a gateway to connection and alignment. Breath is the one thing we truly need to sustain us from moment to moment...the one true essential. For my shop-free month, I chose to feed my mind with oxygen instead of feeding the dopamine monster. If after 5 breaths the item I wanted to purchase was still on my mind, I added it to a list on my phone. After the month passed, I reviewed the list and was amazed to see how many things on the list felt completely unnecessary in hindsight.
Of the 15 or so items I added to my list over the month, I ended up purchasing two in person because they were time sensitive (birthday gifts), I ordered two online after my break (vitamins), three items made me laugh out loud (I clearly thought I was going to become a world-class sauerkraut fermenter after I took a fermentation class), and the rest have fallen off my wish list completely. In the end, I had less stuff, more peace, and less items in my home to manage. Taking myself "out of the circuit" helped me to get perspective and my shopping has taken a backseat to my actual priorities (travel, settling into my home, and spending time with friends & family).
I share this because we are all on our perfectly imperfect journeys of self-discovery and evolution, including the so called “organizing experts”. We live in a complicated world where mindfulness is not a luxury, but a necessity. I aspire to live a life of less stuff, but more life. So Online Shopping, please take note...I'm not afraid to break up with you to get my head on straight. Consider yourself warned. ;-)