Retail Therapy

Sometimes I make fun of the concept of "retail therapy"--it's just an excuse to shop, and it's not healthy to rely on material things to be happy. However, shopping yesterday really was therapeutic. I enjoyed it in a way that I haven't felt in a long time.

I take on almost more than I can handle and I'm always on the run. I enjoy shopping for fun, but even then I have very specific objectives in mind. That certainly helps keep the lid on costs associated with unnecessary impulse buys; I wondered if it also takes a bit of fun out of shopping. I figured out the answer yesterday, when part of the shopping was planned, and the other part was not. My trip to Target was planned--after I was excused from jury duty, I went to a nearby Target because I needed fishnet stockings for my Halloween costume and gray patterned tights (more on working both of these on another day). When I tried to get to the freeway, I took a wrong turn and went in the opposite direction. By the time I figured that out, it was still early enough that I could have rushed back home to get things done, but you know what? I was tired of rushing. I was tired of running. That's all I've been doing lately, whether it's using my little bit of free time to run errands or staying up all night to get assignments done.

I decided to go to Old Town Pasadena, since I was already heading in that direction. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the greater Los Angeles area, Old Town is the hip and trendy section of the city of Pasadena, about a 20-minute drive (or quicker if you drive like me) from Downtown LA. The last time I was there, I didn't have a chance to check out the new H&M. I also wanted to go over to the Forever 21 that opened in the summer--I saw people walking from a general direction with bags in their hands, but I never knew exactly where the store was until much later.

When I was on the East Coast, I thought H&M's accessories section was great. I bought a necklace for $5, and I get compliments every time I wear it. Back then I thought the clothes were just OK--people may describe Forever 21 and H&M as being "cheap," but sometimes the prices they charge are still pretty high for me. This time I went in and left with the same impression. There were about 5 security guards in and around the store (I guess it's that popular with shoppers and shoplifters alike), and I hate feeling like Big Brother is after my every move. The clothes were unimpressive, and even the jewelry section was disappointing (could be a seasonal problem, so I can let it go). The 30% off pants sale was not enough to entice me to remain.

In contrast, I love the new Forever 21 even though there was nothing for me to buy there. It is located at where Saks Fifth Avenue used to be, which is a huge retail space. I like how there are different themes in different parts of the store, and that everything are well-organized, unlike the chaotic mall stores. It helps that yesterday was a weekday, but I think the way things are organized can withstand heavy traffic flows. The store was so big that there was a corner for the guys (which I've never seen before) and another place for baby clothes (shocking). Very cool store.

Despite the successes of others, I can never find anything I like that's super cheap at Urban Outfitters. This time is no exception. I wandered through boutiques that I haven't visited before, and those were unremarkable. My last stop was The Container Store, and I had a great time there. I love home goods, and with my expanding collection of "stuff" in general, I need more things to help keep my room uncluttered...ironic, but it works. The Container Store has lots of very cool but expensive organization tools, which of course means I couldn't buy them, but I was fascinated by what I found upstairs. I was especially interested in packing materials and small boxes for jewelry that I make for other people. To me, presentation makes a huge difference. I acquire or make items at little cost to myself, but I put a lot of thought in selecting gifts. Still, people may not get that and think I'm just cheap; to make the gifts feel more special, I employ fancier packaging that costs only a nominal amount.

I ended up getting these nifty little boxes--the smallest ones (about 2 finger widths on each side) were 39 cents, the blue one was 49 cents, and 59 cents for the one on the bottom. Very inexpensive packaging, yet totally cool. The tiny boxes obviously don't hold much, but they're big enough to fit a simple chain necklace or a pair of small earrings.

The down side is that I spent way too much time at The Container Store and had to pay $2 for parking; I went over the 90-minute free parking period by a few minutes. I was fuming about that a bit, but then I let it go and had a great, cheap lunch in Alhambra with a couple of friends. $6.99 for a combo meal at a Thai place (which includes a small bowl of soup, rice, 3 items of your choice, and a Thai ice tea or another drink if you so wish) is a really good deal. I went home feeling very satisfied.

I figured out what makes a retail therapy session work for me. The cardinal rule remains "don't splurge." I realized that buying things isn't what made me happy, which is good--I bought only what I needed. What made me feel happy was the leisurely time spent looking at things for artistic and fashion inspirations. If I go shopping while stressed, the act of shopping will only become more stressful. To enjoy the shopping and let it be therapeutic, it's necessary to have that relaxed frame of mind first. Don't think about having to pick up the dry cleaning or which legal argument goes with which fact in such and such case. Let it go and just enjoy the moment.


bee said...

I'm a believer in retail therapy, whether it be a book I've been wanting to buy or a scarf I've had my eye on. Your reasoning behind "retail therapy" is spot on -- it's not about what you spend that is therapeutic, but instead the simple act of treating yourself well.

Old Town is one of my favorite shopping destinations when I'm in Southern California. Not so much for the stores (I find their offerings to be typical mall fare: Crate and Barrel, especially) but I really dig how they've revived the area. Oh, and the diagonal crosswalks make me grin every time. :)

BLossom said...

I'm a fan of your style of "retail therapy" also! I can enjoy window shopping and perhaps finding a bargain much more than a pressured "have to find it" shopping excursion.

You are making me miss California. I grew up in Orange County and now live in a much smaller area in Washington State. We have ONE mall. That is right ONE mall. Now we have some nice stores in that mall and an expansion is underway right now, but it is just not enough retail resources for true shopping! I have to drive 2-4 hours to shop in Spokane, Portland or Seattle area for true shopping. But for that, I don't have freeway congestion like LA has...LOL!

Sales Rack Raider said...

Bee: I totally agree with your assessment of Old Town shopping, which is why I don't go there much. I go out there mostly to meet and eat with friends; any (window) shopping is merely incidental.

Blossom: wow, that's a lot of driving! Online shopping helps mitigate some of the geographic constraints, but nothing replaces a casual excursion to look at and try on things. Hope the new expansions will bring you great stores!

Candid Cool said...

The funny thing about Urban Outfitters I prefer the website at the store. It's easier to find stuff, no digging, and all the cool stuff is online, atleast for where I live.

Also I really like those little containers very beautiful.