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How to Escape the Consumerism Trap (Especially When You Work For Clothing Retail)

I spent half a decade working in clothing retail and I initially enjoyed the job since I was able to acquire many valuable foundational skills essential in many workplaces, including - customer service, organisational skills, being able to conduct transactions, and so forth. I ended up losing interest in the job because not only was I not finding it challenging anymore but it also engulfed me into a shopping addiction that I desperately wanted to get out of over the last two years working there.

Working 10 hours each shift for about 4-5 days a week (yes, very long hours and inadequate pay, if you ask me...), and constantly seeing clothes every moment I work, whether it'd be unpacking new stock, selling clothes to customers, or doing recovery on the floor, I was being in high exposure to clothes and I felt as though the clothes coerced me to buy them. I started developing feelings of not having enough clothes (although I actually did) and felt as though I could not survive a single shift without buying a new garment. I would arrive home with bags full of clothing, and receive parcels of clothes I ordered online, making my parents concerned about my spending habits. I initially denied that I had a shopping addiction, but eventually came to the painful realisation when I hit rock bottom at work one day.

(Photograph: igorkol_ter/Adobe Stock)

Shopping addiction is also a coping mechanism for those experiencing depression and other hardships in life, such as low self-esteem. People are given the concept that every time they buy something, it strikes them with a feeling of accomplishment and reward, therefore being coined as the term "treat yo self."I'm not saying that it is wrong to buy something nice for yourself every once in a while - that being said, one item every couple of months - but if it is a constant habit where you are doing it almost everyday or perhaps, everyday, it is considered a serious issue that could affect yourself emotionally, physically and financially. It affects you emotionally, as you lose grasp of self-control where you would feel badly defeated by the fact that you keep failing to restrict yourself from spending money on unnecessary items. This feeling of helplessness can affect you physically due to the stress that is building up inside of you, causing you to have sleepless nights, and having negative thoughts accumulate in your head all day as you are being frequently bothered by your shopping addiction. And yes, financially affected, because you are swindling your hard-earned on material you don't actually need and would not yield much from.

For those out there who are also affected, you are not alone. I will share some tips that would help you break out of that vicious cycle.

While working for your shifts

  1. Leave your card at home, and bring cash instead. I understand that some fast food businesses are transitioning to card-only payments, but there are still plenty that are accepting cash payments. The things you should focus on spending money on, are necessities including transport fares, food, and in times of emergency, first aid (painkillers, band-aids, etc.). Instead of buying lunch from the food court most of the time, why not try bringing your own lunch you prepared from home?

  2. Train yourself to avoid being engulfed by consumerism. Working in clothing retail means that you are constantly being surrounded by clothing, and that's inevitable. I understand you're working predominantly for the pay and also the experience, but this does not entitle you to shop every time you work. Think about how much sacrifices you are putting in to earn your pay, about all the hours you are working hard in order to make this happen. Don't blast your entire paycheque away that easily.

While being outside

  1. Avoid being seduced by sales and loyalty benefits. A majority of clothing retail stores persuade you to join their loyalty programs in order to gain customer retention, and they would badger you with advantages such as free shipping, exclusive membership sales, and so on. You can sign up if you want to, but remind yourself that you shouldn't shop every time a new promotion takes place.

Managing your finances

  1. Set a spending limit for each day. Buy a diary where there's pages that display each month in grid calendar form. As part of your new year's resolution (which can begin at any time of the year), you should aim to spend less than $100AUD or perhaps, even better, $50AUD on most days. Each week you should aim to have at least 4 days where you don't exceed your spending budget for each day, and for each day you don't exceed your budget, you should mention it on the day in your diary. Reward yourself at the end of each successful week with something simple but effective, like putting a gold star at the end of week's row of the calendar.

  2. Create a savings account. Put money in your savings and don't touch it, unless it is for emergencies.

Other tips

  1. Consider a job change. If you are struggling to avoid being tempted to spend money on clothes while working, consider looking for a new job that doesn't involve you dealing with clothes or other items you are interested in buying. You could still work in retail, but perhaps for those that specialise in things you are unlikely to buy, such as gaming consoles, gardening ware, kitchenware, etc. On the other hand, you can look for other industries that you are interested in transitioning towards, which doesn't involve retail and would allow you to develop skills in a different field.

  2. Seek help from a professional. Shopping addiction is a real addiction, and if you feel that you are having an extremely difficult time trying to get out of the vicious cycle, you should consider speaking to a psychologist or counsellor about it. This is an excellent first step to getting yourself out of this sticky situation, in order to help you live the comfortable and mindful life you want to pursue.


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