Full Life Reflections

Striving for happiness, peace, and fulfillment in a chaotic world

Most of you became familiar with me through my writing on the subjects of shopping and wardrobe management on my former blog, Recovering Shopaholic. Although this blog doesn’t solely address these topics, they are still very much present in my mind, especially in recent months. While some people may think that what we wear is insignificant or frivolous, I would wholeheartedly disagree. I believe that personal style can have a large impact on how we feel about ourselves and how we interact with others. Likewise, how we feel about ourselves, our bodies, and our lives can significantly impact the way we dress and the things we buy. That is the focus of today’s post.

For a long time, I have envied those women who maintain minimalist wardrobes while also having a distinctive and resonant sense of personal style. I admire their decisiveness and clarity. They know what they like and what they feel good wearing. They generally have a commitment to simplicity and they value quality over quantity. This is how I want to be, but despite my continued exploration and work on myself and my wardrobe, I haven’t been able to make it happen. My wardrobe is still too large and I’m not always clear on what I like and the style statement I wish to express to the world.

Chaotic Mind, Chaotic Wardrobe

chaotic wardrobe

If your wardrobe is chaotic, perhaps it’s a reflection of a chaotic mind. 

What I didn’t realize until recently is that the chaotic nature of my wardrobe and shopping is strongly related to the chaotic nature of my mind. That should have been self-evident to me a long time ago, but for some reason it wasn’t. I kept thinking that if I explored the topic of wardrobe management for a long enough time, I would eventually “get it” and be able to cultivate the type of workable wardrobe that I envy in others. This hasn’t happened and in fact, I have struggled so much in the past two years that I sometimes feel as if I’m almost back at square one. I know that isn’t actually the case, but it sure feels like it at times. My closet still feels too full and there is still a lot of duplication in there. It’s extremely frustrating and leads me to feel like a fraud, especially since I wrote two books offering advice to others about wardrobe management and smart shopping. I intellectually know the right things to do, but I don’t always do them!

The truth is that many of us shop and dress emotionally and our intellect has little to do with it. This is why I’m much better at shopping for other people, cleaning out their closets, and putting outfits together for them (I used to do these things as a business).  But when it comes to my own wardrobe and shopping, my emotions go haywire and all bets are off! I both buy and purge emotionally and the result is far from ideal. This is why I return so many things and end up with a lot of similar pieces in my closet. And this is why I feel like I’m spinning my wheels with my wardrobe.

Anxiety and Shopping

My anxiety plays a large role in this pattern, as does my poor body image. I go through periods where I feel like nothing I put on looks good on me and my anxiety drives me to try to do whatever is in my power to turn this around. This results in frantically shopping to try to find something… anything to wear that will lead me to feel better – okay – about the way I look. And despite the fact that I only get dressed in “out and about” clothes maybe half of the time, I worry that I won’t have anything to wear and thus end up buying far more than I need. Sometimes I will realize the error of my ways and return some of the excess, but I still have far more striped shirts, black cardigans, and straight-leg jeans than one woman really needs.

I shop because I’m anxious and I’m anxious because I don’t feel good about the way I look. I could say I don’t feel good about the way I look because of menopause and my seemingly interminable gray hair transition, as those have been my most recent crises, but the truth is that I’ve never really felt good about the way I look. This fundamental insecurity led to a very long battle with eating disorders and continued bad body image that I just can’t seem to turn around. Sure, I’ve had times when it’s been easier, like when my weight was abnormally low in 2015 because of health challenges, but those times are the exception far more than the rule. My standard M.O. is that I don’t like how I look and I feel that there is something in the online or brick-and-mortar stores that will somehow change that.

Perhaps some of you can identify with what I’m saying here. Maybe you’re also shopping more for self-acceptance and relief from anxiety than you are for new tops, pants, dresses, and shoes.  We don’t always realize that this is the case, but I wonder to what degree this comes into play for shopaholics (recovering or otherwise). There are many reasons why people shop too much, but poor body image and low self-esteem have always been paramount for me. The bottom line, however, is that although there are a lot of beautiful and stylish items available for purchase, they’re not going to give us self-esteem if we don’t already have it.  They’re not going to make us love our reflection in the mirror. We may feel temporarily better because we’re more stylish or trendy, but the self-doubt isn’t going to go away. Plus, style and trends are ever-changing and it’s increasingly hard to keep up, especially if a big chunk of our self-worth is riding on looking good. It’s a losing battle that can be extremely exhausting.

Shopping Will Never Be the Answer…

So I guess what I’m trying to say here is that shopping will never be the answer to “I don’t feel good about my body or my appearance.” There’s an old saying that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. Well, that’s what I’ve been doing with shopping. I’ve mistakenly believed that if I could cultivate the right wardrobe, I would experience the result of feeling good about the way I look and thus also end up feeling good about who I am. That won’t happen. I may have a nice outfit to wear, but I will still be the same insecure person inside. Others might not be able to see it, but I will still know it’s there and feeling like I look pleasant and acceptable will bring me only small comfort.

Clearly I need to do a lot of work that has nothing to do with my closet and my style, as my dissatisfaction about my appearance runs deeper than those arenas. That work is more difficult than downsizing my closet or other wardrobe management strategies. I have done a lot of internal work in the past, but I’m placing more attention there again now. I will share some of what I’m doing – or plan on doing soon – in my follow-up post about my essentials for happiness and peace. But it doesn’t have to be an either-or proposition. We can work concurrently on both our wardrobes and our psyches, and that’s what I’m doing. I hope to have a more streamlined wardrobe and a calmer and happier mind in 2019, and I will continue to write about both topics moving forward.

2019 is Almost Here!

Speaking of 2019, it’s almost here! Now is the time to be thinking about your word/theme for next year, if that’s a practice you’d like to embrace. My word for 2018, essential, has served me very well, and I’m zeroing in on my word for 2019. I will share it in the coming weeks and would love to hear about your words/themes, too. If you’re interested in choosing a word and need a bit of guidance, you may want to check out Susannah Conway’s free 5-day email course on this topic or read this great article from Mountain Modern Life (it’s from last year but it’s basically timeless).

New Year 2019 replace 2018 on the sea beach concept

Happy New Year to all of my readers!

The next time I check in here, it will be 2019, so I want to wish you a very Happy New Year! Thanks for your support during the first year of Full Life Reflections and I look forward to interacting with you more as this blog moves into its second year. I welcome any thoughts you have about the topics of this post, and if you want to share your 2019 words now, I would love to read about that, too.

17 thoughts on “On Wardrobe, Shopping, and Happiness

  1. Irene says:

    Thank you for a great post. I so identify with what you wrote.

    1. Debbie Roes says:

      I’m so pleased that you found this post valuable, Irene! Thanks for letting me know.

  2. Antoinette says:

    I understand what you are feeling completely. I too have struggled recently during the holidays and ended up with a few unplanned purchases. The reasons why I overshop are endless and I am still trying to figure it all out!

    1. Debbie Roes says:

      The holidays are often a rough time for overshoppers, Antoinette. Try not to be too hard on yourself for succumbing to temptation. It’s difficult even for those who don’t have a shopping problem! Yes, there are SO many reasons why we overshop! I don’t know if you’ve seen some of my posts on this topic on my former blog (I know you’ve read it, but probably not EVERYTHING), but here are a few that you might be interested in:

      https://recoveringshopaholic.com/2013/03/21/reasons-we-shop-too-much/

      https://recoveringshopaholic.com/2013/09/09/why-do-you-overshop/

      https://recoveringshopaholic.com/2016/03/23/shopping-addiction-causes/

      I also go more into the reasons on my Compulsive Shopping Tips & Resources “Cheat Sheet” (https://recoveringshopaholic.com/2016/12/10/smart-shopping-cheat-sheet/). I have found that unpacking my reasons for shopping too much is like peeling an onion, but I feel that what I shared in this most recent post encapsulates it best for me at this point.

      Kudos to you for your hard work at overcoming your issues. For others who are reading this, I invite you to check out Antoinette’s wonderful blog: https://www.overcomingovershopping.com/

  3. Gail (Helen) says:

    The media do this to us, I think. It is so difficult to be natural when confronted by gloss and arbitrarily determined “perfection” in appearance. Pleasant and clean and true to ourselves are all we need to be; variety is so much more interesting than conformity, anyway. There is probably no one alive who is not influenced by the societal pressures for popular norms for our appearance, but we can try for integrity in this and so many other areas of our lives.
    Debbie, your pictures to me indicate you are a cute, pleasant, well-dressed woman. I do not see negatives. Funny how we see ourselves differently from how others do.
    There seems to be a two-way or even cyclical process of buying clothes, not feeling better, buying more to feel better, feeling worse…The clothes smack you back. I wonder if planning your “perfect” wardrobe on paper then DOING it even if it meant giving away a lot and buying a little to fill in gaps would similarly hug you back. This is kind of how I got to where I have been clothes-wise for about 45 years. Before, I wasn’t even paying attention and just wore what people (parents, et al.) gave me and what I randomly bought because it looked good in stores, and I wasn’t happy once I did start to look at what I had. I hated the disorganization and lack of thought and consistency. I am not glad that I started paying attention–it seems nobler not to care–but once I did notice, I felt so much better making my wardrobe my own. (It probably looks to most like I still don’t care, but I do. My preferences are not the usual, that’s all. I like limits and enjoy keeping them.)

    1. Debbie Roes says:

      I agree that the media plays a huge role, Gail, especially in the age of Photoshop. The models and movies stars don’t even look like what we see in magazines and on our screens! It’s hard for any woman not to be affected by the media (and social media), but I admire your positive and sensible attitude. I love what you said here: “Pleasant and clean and true to ourselves are all we need to be; variety is so much more interesting than conformity, anyway.” Yes, we definitely see ourselves differently than how others do (thank you for your kind words about me…).

      I do think that doing more planning before I shop and shopping LESS will be helpful for me, but I also need to do more inner work on myself, as my shopping is very often not about actual wardrobe needs even if I am clear on what they are. You seem to be doing great with your wardrobe and it’s good that you embrace your preferences even if they aren’t the usual. I need to do the same and care less about what others are wearing and if others approve of what I wear. Limits are helpful and often give us a lot more freedom than we believe they will. More on this in upcoming posts 😉

  4. jenn says:

    On Wardrobe, Shopping, and Happiness

    I too, admire minimalists’ wardrobes, have read much on the topic of over-shopping (including your very helpful books), and am armed with “rules” for shopping smart. Yet, I blatantly disobey them in spurts. Why? That’s something I’ve tried (and am still trying) to put my finger on.

    Chaotic mind, yes, I think so. I’m definitely not over-shopping with a clear head. And I don’t always feel good about the way I look. That might have been the reason I over-shopped initially and may still play a part. Often I think it’s more about my displeasure with, or more likely, uncertainty about who I am as a person that drives me. It’s as if I’m searching for the missing part that will complete me, make me whole. Define me. Make me stop.

    Maybe nothing’s missing. Most certainly, if something is, the missing part is not something I can buy.

    I’ve heard the best way to figure out why you engage in a compulsive habit is to stop doing it. So, for the month of January, I’m not buying any new clothing or accessories. Perhaps that will help me to further pinpoint what drives me to shop.

    I’ve been thinking about my word for 2019, and I think it’s going to be Contentment. Before I do, eat, (or eventually buy) anything, I want to think about if and how it will bring me contentment in the long run. One of my mom’s iced sugar cookies now and then, Yes! A daily habit of potato chips. No!

    Happy New Year, Debbie. I look forward to reading more from you in 2019.

    1. Debbie Roes says:

      I so resonated with your comment, Jenn, as I often do… This part especially gave me pause:

      “Often I think it’s more about my displeasure with, or more likely, uncertainty about who I am as a person that drives me. It’s as if I’m searching for the missing part that will complete me, make me whole. Define me. Make me stop. Maybe nothing’s missing. Most certainly, if something is, the missing part is not something I can buy.”

      This! Intellectually we know that nothing that is sold in stores will complete us and make us whole, but that doesn’t stop us from searching for it there. I think you’re right that nothing is missing or maybe what is missing is self-esteem (at least it is for me).

      Best wishes for you with your month off from shopping! I do think that taking breaks from shopping periodically can be helpful, not as a punishment but more as a pause for reflection. A friend of mine does month-long pauses a couple times per year and I think it’s a helpful practice (and one I need to start doing, too!). I like the word “contentment” and the way you plan to use it. It makes me think of this post (scroll down toward the end) and how I still have the question “Will this make me happier and proud?” on my desk: https://fulllifereflections.com/2016/06/08/two-months-to-50/. I think I need to ask myself that question more often (and not just have it sit there on my desk)!

  5. Katrina B says:

    Your courage and generosity in sharing your struggles continues to amaze me. You are speaking the universal language of the anxiety-ridden shopaholic here. In fact “shopaholic,” now that it’s in the popular lexicon, sort of trivializes what’s really going on. I don’t see it as any different from overeating or watching TV all day and all night–for me they are all ways to temporarily escape the anxiety. Self-consciousness about my appearance, or crippling social anxiety, or impostor syndrome, whatever it is on any given day, surely a new outfit will fix the problem. Another aspect of the clothing-specific shopping problem is that in a way, clothing is armor. If my armor has a chink (e.g. pants are too short like we discussed last week) everyone is going to see my weakness, and my anxiety increases. To keep pushing this analogy, I can imagine that if I had armor with absolutely no gaps or imperfections, the real me would be safely hidden and protected from the outside world. And so I am always shopping for flawless armor.

    I am thinking about my word also. The last two years I’ve had active words – Restore and Launch – and I feel like I need something more conceptual and comforting for 2019. More thought is required.

    Thank you, Debbie. I wish you good health and much happiness in 2019. Happy New Year!

    1. Debbie Roes says:

      Katrina, I read your comment when I was on my trip last weekend and my first thought was, “This woman gets it and she gets ME.” I wholeheartedly agree with everything you said. It has long bothered me how much the word “shopaholic” is used in a sort of tongue in cheek, cutesy way. It’s a real problem that has caused many of us tremendous pain. It has ruined relationships, finances, and lives, and it is definitely as serious as other compulsive and addictive behaviors.

      The part about armor was so dead on for me. I didn’t fully realize until I read your words the degree to which clothing is armor for me. My hair is also armor, which is why I have struggled so deeply with my gray hair transition. This also explains why my shopping issues worsened in 2017 and 2018 while I was dealing with all of the hair mistakes and looking bad with two-toned hair. I would love to feel that I don’t have to hide the real me from the world. Life would be a lot easier if I could just accept myself, be fully me, and not care if others don’t approve of who I am. Maybe one day…

      I like the idea of alternating more active words with more conceptual and comforting words. I look forward to learning what your word is once you decide. Wishing you all good things this year, too!

  6. Gail (Helen) says:

    The level of thought and writing ability among your readership is incredible, providing worthy responses to your provocative posts, Debbie. What a sophisticated use of the blogosphere.

    1. Debbie Roes says:

      I wholeheartedly agree, Gail! I am always impressed by the expression and insights from my readers and I’m very grateful that all of you are expressing yourselves on my blog. I definitely want to write more this year! I have a lot of thoughts, but struggled a lot with time in the second half of 2018. Hopefully I can do better with that this year…

  7. Renée says:

    Jenn says, “Often I think it’s more about my displeasure with, or more likely, uncertainty about who I am as a person that drives me. It’s as if I’m searching for the missing part that will complete me, make me whole….Maybe nothing’s missing. Most certainly, if something is, the missing part is not something I can buy.

    I think that Jenn has a profound insight and I suspect that for so many of us–certainly for me–the problem is really that we’re trying to solve a much more fundamental problem with something that by its nature can never solve it. Shopping, clothes, looking good, body image, etc., while all very well on their own level, cannot answer the questions “Who am I?” “What is life for?” “What will provide lasting satisfaction?” For that matter, “What is happiness?” Some people are fortunate and know from a very early age what their focus will be, whether it’s medicine or teaching or charity work. But most of us never find that focus and end up vaguely dissatisfied without knowing what to do about it, so we turn to acquisition and appearance, hoping that these will fill the hole. Only they never do. I am hoping to follow Jenn’s example and give up something for January, but the internet rather than shopping, as I find the internet distracts me, encourages desires which I didn’t even have before going online, and generally makes me waste time and forget other focuses (focii?) that are more satisfying.

    All best wishes to all of us for a rewarding 2019!

    1. Debbie Roes says:

      Renee, I agree that Jenn’s insight is profound! Your follow-on insights are equally profound and I thank you for sharing them here. I agree that many of us are searching for answers to those all-important questions but are looking for those answers in all the wrong places. My husband was one of those lucky people who knew what his focus would be from a very early age, but I’m one of those who has been at least vaguely dissatisfied (and sometimes highly dissatisfied) all of my life. Acquisition and appearance have not filled the hole. It may feel like they do temporarily, but it doesn’t last. I still don’t know how to fill the hole, but at least I realize now that shopping and trying to look “perfect” won’t do it…

      I share your issues with the internet and I applaud you for giving it up in January. You may not see this comment since you’re taking on the no internet January challenge (sorry for the delayed reply, but I was on a trip), but I wish you the very best with doing this! It’s hard to imagine a life without the internet, but for many of us, a big portion of our lives was spent that way (though I hardly remember it now!). It can definitely be a time-waster. I try to have at least one no-computer day each week, but I sometimes succumb to using the internet on my phone on those days. The Minimalists have been doing “screenless Saturdays” (https://www.theminimalists.com/screenless/), which I think is an excellent thing to do. I may change it to Sunday, but the day it happens on isn’t as important as the break it gives us. Best wishes to you in 2019!

  8. Debbie Roes says:

    Thank you all so much for your thoughtful and insightful comments! I apologize for my delay in response… My husband and I took an end of the year trip, which was much-needed and very enjoyable 🙂 I was able to read your wonderful comments on my phone, but I’m pretty inept at typing more than a short text message on that device, so I had to wait until I got home. I’m going to re-read what you wrote now (the comments are definitely worth re-reading) and respond now.

  9. Amendoza says:

    Great post! Thank you for sharing and for also including some great resources to help me find my word for 2019.

    1. Debbie Roes says:

      I’m so glad you liked the post! Best wishes with finding your word for the year. I will be sharing mine very soon…

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