James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, defines a habit as “an automatic response to a specific situation.” Neurologically, our brains create habits through a continuous loop: a cue triggers a craving, which motivates a response that ends in a reward.
Each of us does good and bad habits every single day, whether we know it or not. This post focuses on one in particular—unnecessary shopping in the context of fashion and beauty—and shares practical tips you can follow to transform this not-so-great habit into a fulfilling ritual. Hint: you don’t need to become a full-blown minimalist to break the habit.
To start off, let’s explain unnecessary shopping through the lens of the habit loop. Cues can arise from endless places: scrolling on social media, noticing your friend’s pretty lipstick, or receiving an email about a sale. The craving is the desire to go shopping. The actual act of purchasing is the response. The reward is what you bought and the feelings you get from those items.
This habit has become a real problem because cues are everywhere and constant and ecommerce has made shopping easier and faster than ever. So, many of us end up shopping to stay on top of trends instead of buying what we need. When we impulsively shop, we’re not just dampening the benefits of the reward (ever heard of buyer’s remorse?). It can hurt our finances. Extra stuff means more clutter, which can negatively impact our mental well-being and heighten stress hormones.
I was an impulsive shopper in my early 20s. I had just moved to NYC to start my career and felt that I needed to constantly refresh my closet to keep up with the glitz and glam of the city. Breaking the habit took time and many different strategies, but I did it by going back to the lessons from my minimalist roots. Now, I am happier because I love and wear everything I own.
In simplest terms, changing the behavior requires slowing down when you get the itch and putting more intention behind the act of shopping itself. It’s impractical to eliminate the cues because you’re going to read emails and see other people. It’s also foolish to cut out shopping entirely because we’re human beings whose tastes and bodies evolve. But in following this process, you can transform mindless shopping into a gratifying ritual that builds a wardrobe you are proud of. Read on for my tips, which you should feel absolutely empowered to adjust and make your own.
STEP 1: BRING AWARENESS
Like the ones you use for groceries or work tasks, the first step is creating a list for fashion and beauty products on your radar.
See the perfect outfit for a friend's wedding? Write it down. Need a shirt to go with your pants? Write it down. Find an easily accessible tool, a notebook or phone app, which you can bust out anytime you start to develop a “craving” to shop. Prioritize the items in your list by urgency. This undertaking injects awareness about what we truly need as well as helps visually map out a plan of attack for when we do go to shop.
Now, it defeats the purpose if you write an item down then five minutes later go to buy it. I suggest waiting at least 72 hours between identifying the desire and purchasing to minimize impulsiveness. Also, the list isn’t static; revisit it from time to time and feel empowered to cross off items if you change your mind.
STEP 2: DO YOUR RESEARCH
You have your list, marinated on it, and are ready to shop. But before you swipe your card, make sure your future purchases are done with intention.
First, shop your own wardrobe. How many times have you dug in the dark crevices of your closet and say, “I forgot I had that!”? Double check that you don’t already own what you think you need. If you have something similar to but not exactly the same as what you want, consider tailoring the piece to meet your needs. I did this recently with a maxi dress I wasn’t wearing much. The long sleeves made it too hot for Miami weather, so I asked my tailor to cut those babies off. It felt so good to check off chic summer dress from my list.
Second, do your research. I strongly believe in shopping based on your values. For example, if sustainability is your number one priority, research resale or vintage stores. If you want to support female founders, check out resources like the Female Founder Collective’s directory. A little extra work at the beginning will yield huge results in building a wardrobe, and world, you believe in.
STEP 3: RITUALIZED SHOPPING
After completing steps 1 and 2, it’s finally time to do the deed! Treat shopping like a special event. Invite your girlfriends for a day out at the mall. If you’re online shopping at home, don’t do it between work calls. Block time in your schedule when you can snuggle up with a glass of wine and a candle.
This approach to shopping is not a routine, mindless, or guilt ridden. It is a ritual that leaves you feeling satisfied that you got what you need and confident that you’re a bit better dressed.
—Phoebe Kunitomi, founder and CEO of okko