What Are You Really Shopping For?

What are some of the reasons we shop? Is there more to a shopping ban than just saving money and reducing waste?

I realized when I did my clothes shopping ban and buy-nothing month that I used to shop for a lot more than just things. I was shopping to fill other needs.


Shopping for Contentment

I’ve written a bit about the ongoing journey to contentment already. The main thing I took away from my shopping bans was learning to just chill and be content with where I am and what I have. It’s hard when ads and beautiful things are all around us. We’re bombarded with advertising everyday that tells us we just need “a little more” to be content.

Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”

Hebrews 13:5

Maybe you don’t love money itself but you love other things that money provides. Shoes. Art. Gourmet food. Entertainment. It’s all fair game. We can trick ourselves into believing that contentment is something we can buy, not something we choose and experience outside of comforts and luxuries.

Maybe you get a small rush of happiness and temporary contentment when you buy something you’ve wanted for a long time. It’s been scientifically proven that for some people shopping can provide that rush of endorphins and happy feelings. But that feeling goes away every time. Contentment is what breaks that pattern of highs and lows. Contentment says “no, I have enough” and is thankful.

Jealousy breeds discontent. I can give someone a compliment on their jewelry and truly mean it without wanting to go buy it for myself. I can acknowledge that I like something and leave it at that. I’m also learning how to be truly happy for others. To “rejoice with those who rejoice” (Romans 12:15) without jealousy welling up within my heart. Other people’s successes are not my failures. Where the competition and one-upping ends, contentment begins. 

Shopping for Self-Esteem

I know many men and women who battle with low self-esteem. We feel inadequate, so we try to compensate with a lot of glitz and glamor. We hope that if we dress a certain way or wear the right things or do our hair just right we’ll be accepted by others.

But this is all in vain if we aren’t accepting of ourselves. It’s impossible to fully gloss over what’s on the inside.

Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great value in God’s sight.

1 Peter 3:3-4

If the inside is what matters, who do we spend so much time and energy on the outside?

The flip side of low self-esteem is vanity. Vanity tells me that I deserve the best things, and I deserve to have others admiring me for my appearance. Romans 12:3 says “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.”

Shopping for Security

And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you – you of little faith.

Matthew 6:28-30

Some of us are afraid of running out. We feel like we must stockpile now because the future is uncertain. But that’s a life motivated by fear and worry. That’s no way to truly live.

We must trust that what we already have is enough. We may not have the huge surplus we would like, but we have more than enough to get by. There is no reason to overcompensate in order to make up for a lack of trust.

Shopping for Identity

We all know what peer-pressure feels like. It’s like a tug-of-war between fitting in and standing out.

One of the ideas that’s been hardest to accept in my journey to become totally in-control of my spending is that there is no one item I can buy that will make me a different person. On some level, it’s easy to blame global media and advertising for my subconscious perception as a woman that this lipstick or that blazer will transform who I am, but I know that it’s more than that. I’m someone who has always had an extremely difficult time managing my impulse spending — especially when it’s directly driven by my anxiety — and I know that my own battle with thinking I can spend myself into a person I like more is mostly in my head. Yes, I am a victim of a society that pretends women can put on another persona like a themed Barbie, but I am also someone who is soothed and reassured by spending money….

…And this trickles all the way down to buying that one perfect work bag which, despite the fact that the worst employee in the office could have it if they had enough money to buy it, we imagine will imbue us with more Professional Woman Savvy. I fall victim to this all the time, and battle myself constantly over my inability to distinguish something I want and something I trick myself into believing I “need.”

What’s more dangerous, though, is when I manage to convince myself that there is an entire person I could become if I simply owned the right supplies and/or collected the right experiences. At different times and for different reasons, there were specific women I had in my head that I strongly wanted to be (whether this was to impress a guy or get a career I wanted), and I wasted incalculable amounts of money trying to become her. Looking back, I can see each of these eras with a cringeworthy clarity, and all I can think is how much happier I would have been if I’d accepted that I didn’t actually want to be these women at all, and that anyone I stood a chance of becoming, I wouldn’t have had to make a concerted effort to purchase.

Chelsea Fagan, “List of Women I’ve Wasted Money Trying to Become”

I’ve totally been there! I’ve wanted to look like the athletic chick, the good mom, the artsy earth mama. But clothes are something we put on. They don’t define us. An identity isn’t something you can actually buy. 

The reality is, clothing and style tells us very little people. Anyone can buy clothes. The brand tells me nothing about you. You might think it does, especially if it’s from an elite designer. But it might not mean you’re wealthy – it might simply mean you have a tendency to buy things you can’t afford on credit to give the illusion of wealth.


I’ve written more about the struggle to find my identity here. As a believer, my identity is now in Christ. It really shouldn’t be in anything else. He gives me a family, a community, and a purpose. I no longer need to search for my identity in things that do not matter.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: the old has gone, the new is here!

2 Corinthians 5:17

These all have applied to me at one time or another. I still fight the urges, lest you think I’ve got it all figured out. But I’ve learned to be honest with myself and pinpoint the emotions behind the spending in my own life. What about you? What are you really shopping for when you make a purchase?

One Comment

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  1. I think I’ve shopped for all these reasons. Sometimes if just feels exciting to wear something new. I’ve shopped for things that I thought would be attractive to my husband, and maybe that’s a decent reason, since I can also tend to wear worn-out things too long sometimes!

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