My Confessions As A Former Shopaholic

“Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony,” Mahatma Gandhi once said. And of course, it’s easier said than done.

I had always thought that “simplicity” was one of my core values. I thought I was a minimalist.

But when I was still in the US, I was in fact a shopaholic even though I wasn’t aware of it. Every Thanksgiving or Christmas when the malls were on sale, I’d buy a plethora of stuff that I didn’t need. Clothes, shoes, bags, hand soaps, you name it. You know how malls open at 10pm on Thanksgiving and people would line up to get in? Well, I was one of those people who were in line with my friends right after finishing dinner.  We’d spend 7 or 8 hours in the mall shopping like there was no tomorrow, go back home after sunrise, go to bed, and sleep until another dinner time. It was literally Black Friday for us.

Did that make me happy? Not really. There was certainly some sort of instant satisfaction, but somehow I felt bored when the pleasure of getting what I wanted subsided. Later I came to realize that it didn’t feel right because my actions weren’t aligned with my values. I was so sure that simplicity was one of my core values, and yet my behaviors proved it otherwise again and again, stirring internal conflicts.

One day I opened my closet and saw all those new items I got that I didn’t need. What the heck? I asked myself. How much water, energy and other resources were put into the production of these things? And how much money could I have saved if I hadn’t pulled out my wallet impulsively?

Case closed. I needed to make a change, and I did. If you look into my wardrobe now, you’ll see that almost all the clothes were from my previous shopaholic era, and I no longer buy anything I don’t need. Moreover, since April I’ve been avoiding using plastic, and that greatly reduces the amount of stuff I could buy because virtually everything comes with plastic packaging.

This change of heart led me to wonder, why exactly do people buy so much? Could it be that we’ve all been misled by consumerism? TV ads bombarding us with the latest fashion trend, Apple launching a new iPhone every year, everyone around us getting new laptops, new cars, new houses…we’re constantly told that we’re not happy – not without all those products!

But is that true? Does shopping make us happy? Or does it take up the space not only in our apartments but in our hearts so we no longer have the capacity to embrace new possibilities in life?

I only became a nomad since I left the US. My life back there was stable – working and cooking on weekdays, hiking with friends or playing frisbee on the beach on weekends. I had an apartment where I lived and stored my things. But after leaving the US, I first moved to Berlin, then Beijing, Hanoi, Taipei, and I’m moving to Shanghai next. What I learned during the process was that no matter how much you have, when you move to a new place, all you can carry is what fits into your backpack and suitcase. That comes down to…30 kilos?

How many precious items can I pack into my bags and not exceed 30 kilos? During my moves, I left my couch in San Francisco, left my favorite bean bag in San Jose (it’s a pink fish – I have to admit I still miss it), left my desk in Berlin…no matter how much I buy, I can’t really bring much to my next destination.

The world is big, but it’s getting smaller and smaller. People from all over the world are able to meet online before meeting in real life. But the Internet isn’t everything. Sometimes you have to actually be in different places to connect with people, listen to their stories, and feel the warmth of their hugs.

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That’s why I’d prefer spending money on traveling, making new friends, buying e-books on Kindle, and taking courses (learning Portuguese at the moment, and plan on taking a Storytelling course in England next). When you stop spending on material things that only give you fleeting pleasure, you end up saving money that you can use somewhere else that enriches your life.

I don’t want to be remembered as a person with lots of new clothes in my wardrobe. I want to be remembered as someone with lots of amazing stories in life. 

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