My Breakup with Holiday Shopping

The holidays are here at last, which means every radio commercial, web banner and email urges me to charge happily ahead to lock in all sorts of enticing deals. Don’t get me wrong, I love what the holidays really stand for: the season of thanksgiving, gratitude and family. What I struggle with is the holiday shopping merry-go-round.

I’ve made my bare bones gift list and have already set off to handle my holiday shopping with plenty of time to spare. But because I have a busy life, I tend to shop online. Amazon is my true weakness. And how can I resist $100 pants for only $20--plus a free t-shirt! Um, yes please. After all, don’t I deserve some new clothes? I put on weight last year after all, and I still don’t have a full wardrobe to fit my new weight. And while I’m on here, I think I need some new shoes and… wait, what am I doing?

I went through something similar last year. At the end of the holiday season I balanced my budget and found that I more than doubled my holiday spending. Plus I overspent in at least 6 other areas of my life. It was as though I had a complete blackout--and really, I had almost nothing to show for it. It was not like any of the gifts I gave changed anyone’s life. 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 in its place and totally streamlined. I try to only have what I need, and I eliminate excess whenever possible. So you can see why I was completely bewildered by my holiday shopping blackout last year.

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 also known as the addiction chemical. It is the neurotransmitter that is released when we gamble, do drugs--even check email--and, as I’ve learned, shop. I talk about dopamine rushes all the time regarding email, phone addictions and organization. But it wasn’t until I rang in the holiday season last year that I truly felt the effects of dopamine take over me.

It’s very 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 into the feel-good rush of dopamine that courses through our bodies as we tap, click, buy.

This year will be different, I’ve told myself. I’m going to go cold turkey, so to speak, and drop my excessive online shopping habit this holiday season. Now, when I feel my mind wanting to jump online and start shopping, I stop and take 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. For my (relatively) shop-free month, I choose to feed my mind with oxygen instead of feeding the dopamine monster. If, after 5 breaths, the item I want to purchase is still on my mind, I add it to a list on my phone. Even a few days later when I look back, I realize that many of the items on the list are completely unnecessary.

Of the 15 items I’ve added to my list in just the last week, I’ve purchased two in-person because they were time sensitive (birthday gifts) and ordered two essentials (vitamins) online. 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. The rest of the items on my holiday shopping list have fallen off entirely.

In just one week I have less stuff, more peace and less items in my home to manage. Taking myself out of the holiday shopping circuit has already helped me gain perspective, and my holiday shopping has taken a backseat to my actual priorities: writing, travel, and spending time with friends and 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. My goal is to live a life full of just that, life, not stuff.

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Star HansenComment