Not-So-Retail Therapy

Most folks who know me well are aware that I do not take much pleasure in shopping–especially the kind of retail shopping that involves plunking down major cash outlays for transitory and often cheaply made consumer goods. In short, I just about have to be dragged to a shopping mall.

That said, I can understand how shopping can be classed as “retail therapy.” There’s the thrill finding that seemingly perfect item to fill a need, or more likely, a want in a person’s life. I’ve been there and done that and have come to find the outcome severely lacking.

Now I practice “not-so-retail” therapy. Let me explain. As a member of The Compact, I avoid buying new items that contribute to an ever-growing waste stream and violate principles of justice and equity that I hold important.

My latest “not-so-retail” therapy sessions involved Goodwill, Staples, and Dollar Tree. Here’s the story.

I’ve been looking for a basic black wool winter coat since moving back north of the Mason/Dixon line (great match for clergy clothes), so I stopped in at my local Goodwill to check out what might be available. Sure enough I found a gorgeous classic style from a New York custom tailor for $12. Awesome! Then I found a pair of black Ann Taylor dress pants that fit perfectly for $4. Nice! Finally, I found a name brand long mock turtle sweater/dress that is perfect for tights or skinny jeans and boots for $3. Score! To make it even better, the nice lady at the cash register took an additional $2 offย  the price of the pants because they were missing a button. Wow!

So for $17 I got three wonderful articles of clothing that are useful, in great condition, and didn’t put anything new into the consumer stream. Plus, these items helped me to get closer to my black/white and shots of bright color basic wardrobe that I’ve been aiming for as clothes wear out. My deal is that when three things come in three things go out, so three summer shirts went bye-bye.

A few days later, after considerable research (assisted by my more tech-savvy spouse), I headed over to Staples armed with a 20% off coupon to purchase a new projector for the congregation I serve. I came out with a fine model that has everything we need along with a set of nice speakers (40% off) for a total ticket of considerably under $500. Being a good steward of the congregation’s money is important. Could I have found one used? Possibly. In this case, I decided to make the purchase new to balance value, need, and time constraints.

Finally, the lure of The Dollar Tree next to Staples was too much to resist, and $13 and change later I emerged with 10 cans of Muir Glen organic diced tomatoes, two jars of an upstate New York regional pasta sauce (great ingredient list), and a box of organic peanut butter chip granola bars. I couldn’t have been happier had you set me loose in Macy’s the day after Thanksgiving with a $1000 gift card.

You probably understand the search for a good value on the projector, but you may be shaking your head and wondering how I can get so excited about dollar store diced tomatoes and secondhand clothing. It is, after all, counter to everything our culture tries to sell us about what it means to be a consumer. That’s the point. I no longer need to be told, sold, or “guilted” into consuming beyond my needs.

As part of a culture that takes way more than its share of the world’s resources, I feel a responsibility to weigh each purchase carefully. I prefer to buy local or regional brands (often dumped at dollar or outlet stores) to avoid supporting agri-giants. I buy used clothing whenever possible and try to avoid big box stores in favor of locally owned businesses.

It’s a constant effort to be an un-consumer in a consumer culture, and I fail miserably from time to time. But I believe it is the effort and thought that count. If all of us would simply begin to weigh our purchases more carefully in terms of justice, environmental impact, and impact on the local economy and our neighbors, I think we’d see a huge difference. At least that’s my hope, prayer, and dream. In the meantime, I’m content to engage in not-so-retail therapy whenever I must consume. Sure is a lot easier on the bank account, too!

How about you? What are your tips for being a more thoughtful consumer? Do you engage in no-so-retail therapy, too?

Photos by sylar_major,ย  informiorium, TAKA@P.P.R.S., and TownePost Network. Thanks!

78 thoughts on “Not-So-Retail Therapy

  1. Recently I read “The Cheapskate Next Door: The Surprising Secrets of Americans Living Happily Below Their Means” by Jeff Yeager. It’s a good book to learn how to live more simply but I’d either been doing those activities or was aware of many of them. I kept thinking “Duh!” and that he was “preaching to the choir.” So if someone wants to learn about starting to live this way this is the book for you. On Amazon it’s been reviewed at 4 stars

    1. Thanks, Anne! I have heard about this book but not read it. I think I’ll check my local library to see if they have a copy. Even though, like you, I often feel like a choir member, I do like to know about what’s out there.

  2. Sounds like using good judgement and making wise choices, that I pray daily for my girls and I also ask the same for myself! Better still, if one doesn’t have many needs and even fewer wants, just stay away from the Malls.

  3. This is a really good concept. While I do the whole “coupon” thing which saves my family money, I haven’t really gotten on the “Not-So-Retail” train. My wife gets great stuff at Goodwill for our boys though. One thing I do….don’t waste ANYTHING. We save any leftovers and that’s lunch the next day! Feel free to check my blog out too!

    1. Thanks, Jeremy. My mother has always told me, “Waste not, want not.” Americans waste way too much food, so it’s great that you are aware and willing to use your leftovers. Keep up the great effort!

      1. Oh that’s so true! I saw a special on Food Network last year about all the perfectly good food that goes to waste in our country because consumers have become too picky. I was shocked and disgusted and sick to my stomach. We have a garden, so I understand firsthand the fact that produce doesn’t always look perfect, but that’s no reason to cast it aside in favor of a mass-produced hybrid chosen because it looked exactly like “the American standard” of perfection.

        The same can be said of a lot of products.

  4. I agree with you. This past year I bought a pair of sneakers and four summer shirts. I wouldn’t have bought the shirts if all my old lightweight t-shirts didn’t have holes stitched in them or were fading. My goal has been to wear clothes until they wear out. I hate shopping for clothes and also love a good food bargain purchase.

    1. @halfbakedlog–Even when clothes wear out they can still be used for rags, batting or stuffing for craft projects, etc. It’s amazing how much life each item produced really contains.

  5. Oh, and I avoid malls at all costs lol
    my mantra is pay retail for nothing. I know I can’t pull it off with everything but that’s ok.
    One thing I use often is freecycle. Its a yahoo group in my area. We post “things” that are still good and they are claimed by another freecycler who needs that item! I just picked up a 7′ fake Christmas tree today. I get lots of neat items this way and also give. Its a great way to keep perfectly good item out of landfill and put them in the hands of someone who can use them. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  6. I love this! I love shopping thrift stores and outlet stores. For budget reasons AND being accountable with the resources that God has blessed us with. It’s hard sometimes, but it is so worth it. Congrats on the FP! I hope a lot of people are encouraged to follow in your footsteps!

  7. This is absolutely wonderful! I grew up “stereotypically Asian” so I was always taught the value of not buying thing that you don’t need, always finding the best deal, and NEVER wasting anything…especially food, and of course saving money and living happily below your means. I’m not as crazy about it as my mom is though..she hasn’t bought new clothes in over 20 years!

    1. @segmation–I use the Internet to shop Craigslist, etsy, and ebay on occasion. Living in a rather rural area makes online shopping an attractive option. I try to weigh the issues shipping, fair trade, buying “new-to-me,” and/or supporting local businesses.

  8. Thrift stores are the best! I can often be found swerving into the parking lot of a newly discovered thrift store. Some of them are huge with tons of departments. I always find awesome stuff for cheap. Where we live, we are quite lucky to have a locally-grown farmers market just down the hill with amazing produce for less $ than the big stores – and the produce usually lasts a lot longer! I still like to pop into Macy’s from time to time, but thrift shopping is much more exciting. ๐Ÿ™‚

  9. Hi Sharon ๐Ÿ™‚

    Thanks for your post, I really liked reading it!

    I have recently discovered that there is a global organization that annually promotes a day to reduce excessive consumption and retail spending called “Buy Nothing New Day”.

    Its coming up this month on November 24th and anyone in any country can participate, either alone or as group.

    You can read about it HERE :

    or their website with all the info is here:


    – Ms. Alison Jane

    1. Thank you, Ms. Alison Jane. Nice post! “Buy Nothing New Day” is a wonderful way to raise awareness, especially on the heels of “Black Friday.” I have long made a pledge not to shop on the day after Thanksgiving. I enjoy resting and spending time with family–a much better investment in the long run.

  10. Lovely post. I’m addicted to thrift shops, second hand shops and garage sales and I’m trying to teach my son the importance of not buying new stuff especially mind boggles at how much plastic from toys gets dumped every year, not to mention stuff toys. I’m also trying to make more of an effort to mend clothes. Congrats on being freshly pressed!

    1. Thank you! Thanks, too, for sharing your thoughts. Don’t even get me started on plastic. Yuck! Your son will thank you some day for showing him a different path. Blessings on the journey.

  11. We are a one income household and my goal is to spend no money unless absolutely necessary. I do a lot of sewing, knitting, gardening and mixing (I make my own laundry detergent for example).
    You are setting a good example for a better world.

    1. As are you! The more people who begin to make thoughtful choices about consuming goods and services and who choose to live within or below their means, the better for the world. Thanks for sharing!

  12. Well said. I like going to estate and garage sales, in art because I’m cheap, but also the things I find sometimes make for good stories on my blog. for those who may be interested.

    Have a great day!

  13. One phrase I’ve always remembered is “Love it madly, need it badly, or don’t buy it.”

    It goes through my mind on those occasions when I see something ‘quite nice’; if I don’t love it madly, and I don’t need it badly… I don’t buy it.

    It has saved me a lot of money over the years!

  14. I don’t belong to the compact, but I live similarly. We don’t buy much new, preferring to look for good quality used products. I can often afford much better quality items by buying them used. I’ve also strayed far from the consumer mindset – I really don’t want to surround myself with a lot of unnecessary stuff. I hate shopping. I did. Have to buy a snowsuit for my kid yesterday (one thing I did but new, to ensure it will last – and it comes guaranteed), but wandering all over the nearest city in search of a suitable one last night frayed every nerve I had. Most of my clothes are great labels that I’ve picked up second hand – silks, cashmere s and wool – and they are great quality.

  15. Congratulations on being freshly pressed! I really enjoyed reading this blog and hope to read more in the future. You inspire me!

    1. I served four rural congregations in North Dakota and loved it! The nearest “big box” store was almost 40 minutes away and the closest real shopping mall was 2.5 hours east of my home. It was a great situation, and the small community was an awesome place to live. Thanks for your comment.

  16. Consignment shops, depending where you live, can also be a great source for clothes and shoes. They may not be as cheap as Goodwill but the quality is often very good and prices a fraction of new.

    I worked retail for 27 months and wrote a book about it. I saw firsthand the enormous gap between what clothing manufacturers pay their overseas workers — pennies, what sales associates earn (relative pennies, part-time work, no benefits, no raises) and what the top executives consider fair. Then what the shopper pays, even on sale.

    Needs versus wants.

  17. I really don’t enjoy shopping either, but… Send me out in the neighborhood on a big garage sale day with a $20 bill and I go a little crazy. When I go to garage sales or farmers markets I take a fixed amount of cash (usually $10 or $20) and when it’s gone I go home. I often go home with at least some cash still in my pocket though.

  18. For the most part, I’m right there with you. There are time when I love designer items. However, I get such a kick out of shopping thrift and neighborhood stores. Making very purposeful decisions on how and where to spend my dollar are important to me. As a boutique owner that sort of thinking helps sustain local businesses.

    1. One of my favorite local businesses is a small, fun, and funky antiques/artisan/resale shop. They have awesome pre-owned clothes, wonderful jewelry, and fun items for gifts. They also sell gift certificates that we give as gifts.

  19. I turned to thrift shops when I realised I just wanted something ‘new’ for me and that novelty can be found for less costly price. Also thrift shop support put funds towards charitable endeavours rather than capitalism. Enjoyed this post. I will continue to be, as you note, an un-consumer who doesn’t want to add to the ‘waste stream’.

  20. Second-hand clothing is THE BEST. It is always pre-shrunk, worn soft, and as stretched as it is gonna get. Love it!! ๐Ÿ˜€

    Excellent post, congrats on the FP! ๐Ÿ™‚

  21. It is gratifying to know that there are people who subscribe to the idea that more is not necessarily better.
    It is NOT.
    The profit mongers are constantly bombarding us with ever new versions of their last product.
    Does that mean that the last one was no good? If that is true, then where is our refund?
    This is the point: Corporations and the already rich have devised ways to separate us from the little money we have. This they do by stoking our desire for ever new things that most of us can do without.
    Meanwhile, the earth, oceans and the environment is polluted with the consequences of our insatiable appetite for what in the long run compromise our health.
    It is like committing slow suicide.
    By observing nature, we can see the damage we are doing to the earth.
    But what we need to realize is that what we do to the earth and the environment, we do to ourselves!
    We will pay with our health-exotic diseases that defy all known therapies, low quality of life, world-wide obesity etc.
    It’s already happening.
    Will we pull away from the brink before we keel over?

  22. Congrats on your non-so-retail therapy success!

    Hmm…on being a more thoughtful consumer: I have learned to become a successful “down-sizer”–a practice I coined with one of my roommates as I would go through all of my things each month and throw out/recycle what was appropriate, and donate the items I no longer used.

    This not only significantly keeps clutter at bay, but when you go to make a purchase, you don’t want to add “junk” to your collection.

    In doing this, I always re-think items when I go to the store — do I really need this? If I want it, am I going to get sick of it? Is it cluttering? After training myself in this thought process I now only purchase items I know I will keep for a long time, and I always keep in mind to take care of them! I feel I value items more when they are well thought out.

    Quality over quantity ๐Ÿ™‚

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  23. Fantastic–showing the inevitable link between saving resources and being thrifty! Great post and well-worth the fresh pressing!

  24. Unfortunately I do a lot of Retail Therapy but I’m learning to spend my money more on things that can benefit others (like my students) and my family. To me, the fun in shopping is finding the really great deals like you did. I find I appreciate those items more then things I bough regular price.

  25. This is an excellent way to shop. The only thing I buy in “regular” stores are my unmentionables. It all started when I bought my first piece of second-hand furniture – a beautiful two-drawer mahogany night stand for $10. Very nice blog Sharron, thank you.

  26. I think if you buy something in a charity shop, then it’s like undoing the bad things that that massive companies do in the first place, because it’s pumping money back to the places where these sorts of companies might be damaging. Of course it’s a shame that there has to be this kind of damage control, but it’s at least it’s something.

    1. That’s a good wayy to look at it, Sophie. Good karma or intentions in purchases help to pass on the good, and that is good for all. We can make a difference if we choose to do so. Thanks!

  27. Keep up the Goodwilling, and congrats on Fresh Press! I haven’t had an article of new clothing in years, and I never wore fashionable and name brand clothing till I began shopping at Goodwill and Salvation Army. And because my taste changes in a blink, a lot of the purchases are recycled there again. Another aspect of consumerism is realizing that the majority of the time, I simply don’t need or have space for something that I think I love. I’ll visually appreciate it for an interlude, then move on. I do confess to a weakness for temporary tattoos, though. I wear them like jewelry.

    1. Hi, Linda. I like your idea about visually appreciating something and then moving on. Admiring without coveting is a good thing indeed; resisting purchasing unneeded items is even better. Thanks for stopping in!

  28. I love your term of “not-so-retail” therapy. I’m actually a big shopper, and very much into fashion, but I’ve realized as of late that I participate far too much in the consumer-driven nature of our society. I’ve totally overhauled my thinking, so that for the next year I can’t buy anything “new.” I’ve become totally reliant on Goodwill, thrift stores, and consignment shops. It’s amazing the beautiful, often barely-used things you can find.
    I also like what you said about being a good steward. I feel like that’s something that we church-goers often overlook. Thank you for this wonderful post!

  29. Reblogged this on Athena, Ivan, and The Integral and commented:
    A refreshing alternative to conspicuous consumerism. We should all strive to evaluate our needs and wants more carefully. There is a big difference between the two. Oftentimes what we THINK we need is actually a very strong desire, but doesn’t fit into a “vital” category: food, shelter, safety, water, health.

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