Over lockdown, I spent more money online shopping than ever. I placed orders often, some for relatively inexpensive items like a new water bottle and some for pricier appliances, like a fancy blowdryer. It seems counterintuitive to be buying more nonessential goods during COVID— I wasn’t going anywhere, so did I need a new pair of sneakers or a wool coat? Probably not, but that didn’t stop me.
Years ago, the Atlantic wrote about how “‘Treat Yourself’ became a capitalist command.” The edict, meant to inspire self-reflection and self-compassion, turned into an opportunity for profit maximization. As we became more aware of our own emotional health, we weren’t necessarily improving our communication with our loved ones or learning how to say no more. We were, instead, deriving brief moments of joy from small transactions.
When I first started using budgeting apps, I was amazed by one of the program’s features that asked you how satisfied you were with an earlier purchase. Most times, I was just convinced that I had a coffee shop addiction. If I was still using the app now, I’m sure it’d be lots of regret or, at best, indifference.
I’m someone who is great at justifying purchases. It comes with the territory— when you have a tendency to swipe your credit card too much, you have to back it up. I usually go down the savings route, citing items that I will eventually need but are on sale now. When I was in 5th grade, my math teacher, possibly fed up with his wife’s spending habits, had a take that still haunts me a little now— you’re not saving when you wouldn’t have bought it in the first place.
There are a number of reasons why people might be spending more during COVID, and according to consumer reports like J.P. Morgan’s, it’s for practical reasons. For me, and possibly everyone who was shopping the nap dress last summer, my reasons are different and wholly centered around self-care.
Sometimes, the items you buy symbolize hope. It’s like buying a suit before landing a job—you could almost say you’re manifesting the good news. I’ve been stuck in my apartment for almost a year now, leaving only to go on necessary errands like grocery shopping and dentist appointments. The clothes I’ve bought these months remind me that this’ll end, and for me, that’s coping. Plus, I’m a hedonist, and the little rush of serotonin when I confirm the Apple Pay transaction? Addictive.
It becomes more complex when you start to think about the cognitive dissonance. The fashion industry is notoriously not environmentally friendly. As you buy more items on a pick-me-up or treat-yourself basis, it’s more likely that they’ll end up in the dump sooner. That’s not to say that self-care shopping can’t include items that you’ve had your eye on for a long time, but for the most part, the items you browse on Buzzfeed’s 20-under-$20 style listicles have a short shelf life in your home.
I’m a self-care consumerist through and through. I’ve gotten better about actually hitting “buy” though, and I’ve become more of a window shopper. The urge is still there—when I get out of a long day of class or find myself in a bad mood, I do a lot of scrolling through online shops. Usually, that does the trick, but sometimes I buy and learn that the excitement only lives until a few days after the package is delivered.