Ask Amber: The Trouble With Shopping

Readers, a question has flooded in! Well, a problem, really. For me to solve. This is awesome. Maybe after this I’ll at last fulfill my dream of having my own problem page in a magazine or something? It could be called “Agony Amber”. Magazine editors: call me!

Now, before I put my Agony Amber hat on, a couple of  three quick disclaimers:

1. Am totally not qualified to give anyone advice, about anything. OK, maybe shoes. Say what you will, but I DO know shoes.

2. Will give it a shot anyway. Because any excuse to get all wordy on you is just fine by me.

3. This is REALLY wordy. More so than usual, even.

So! The question comes from a reader I’m going to call Isabella, because isn’t that a pretty name?

Isabella says:

“Hi Amber,
I have been following your blogs for a while now, and thought you may be able to help me with something.
My fiancé of 3 years has recently started complaining about me buying clothes and shoes. In the past year he has mentioned it casually, but the other day we got in a full scale argument about it. He doesn’t seem to understand that I like to buy clothes for fun and that it makes me happy and more confident when I am wearing certain things. The frequency of shopping is around once a month when I have saved up some money. He complains that shopping isn’t a hobby and that there is something wrong with me. He seems to think I am the only one who is like this, whereas there are many style programmes, magazines, websites and so many high street fashion stores it is obvious there is a huge market for it.
Have you got any ideas of how I should overcome this? I want to keep him happy, and this is the only thing we argue about – I don’t see why it is such a problem. I would also quite like to carry on shopping, and it is my money, after all. I could just not tell him when I buy new things, but I don’t want to lie to him!
Have you ever experienced anything like this before?”

So, I like to shop. I know this isn’t exactly breaking news for anyone who’s been reading this site for more than a day, but it’s true: I didn’t JUST dress up as Becky “Shopaholic” Bloomwood for Halloween last year because I’m lazy, you know. Like Isabella, I shop about once a month, using money I’ve budgeted for the occasion. I have some fairly strict rules to govern my shopping, too: for instance, I NEVER use credit. If I can’t afford it, I don’t buy it. If I REALLY want it, I save up for it. I will also only buy something if I really, really love it, or if I think I’ll wear it constantly. And I do wear the things I buy: these days I operate a cunning “coat-hanger” system which means that I don’t just buy things and hang them in the closet never to be seen again. If something doesn’t get worn, it gets donated, and it serves me right for spending money on something I obviously didn’t really need or love.

But the fact remains, I like to shop.  By that, I don’t just mean that I like acquiring new things: I mean that I enjoy the whole process. I love hunting down something that’s exactly my style. I get a thrill out of finding that perfect dress, or pair of shoes, and I get even more of a thrill when I find it on sale, or on eBay or something. I even enjoy just walking around shops browsing, although I’d probably enjoy that even more if The Others weren’t such spoilsports all the time. Then of course, there’s the whole process of bringing the item home, putting together outfits with it, and then getting to wear it and (hopefully) feel great in it. It’s a creative process, but it’s also a lot of fun, which is I guess explains why so many people enjoy it. Shopping isn’t my ONLY hobby, of course,  (I also enjoy whining about stuff on the Internet, too, for instance. Am well-rounded person.), but it would be fair to call it a “hobby” of mine. And here’s the thing:

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.

To answer Isabella’s last question first, no, I’ve never actually experienced the kind of situation she describes. Oh, I’m sure there are a lot of people out there who feel that way about me and my shopping. So far, though, none of them have been brave enough to come out and say it to my face, though, and while I don’t think Terry really relates to my love of shopping, exactly, he likes the fact that it makes me happy, and he understands that when I’m spending my own money, that I earned myself, it’s really up to me what I spend it on. Sure, he’ll say “Not ANOTHER pair of shoes!” (he said this just last night, in fact)  and it’s his (incorrect) opinion that I have more than enough dresses, but as long as I’m not spending our savings on them or racking up debt, he’s cool.

I originally started off that sentence by saying “I’m lucky” that Terry is like this. But while I don’t want to play down the wonder that is Terry (Who I am, indeed, very lucky to have) I really think it’s pretty much a given that your partner should enjoy seeing you do something that makes you happy, and should understand that we’re not all the same, and we don’t all get pleasure out of the same things. This “Shopping isn’t a hobby” thing? Says who? I mean, it’s not like there’s some magical list somewhere that says “Things That Are Acceptable Hobbies To Have”. Is there? If there is, can we have “gardening” removed from the list? That would be great!

Actually, gardening is a pretty good example here. I can’t for the life of me understand why some people enjoy gardening. Intellectually, I can understand that there’s a lot of satisfaction in creating something, and seeing it grow, of course. But personally, I can’t see the pleasure in enduring back-breaking labour, out in the elements, only to have to do it all over again a few days later. I just don’t understand it, but at the same time, I’m not about to tell all the gardeners out there that they’re “weird” (They are weird, though, aren’t they?) (That was a joke, by the way.), or that they shouldn’t enjoy gardening. Hell, they’re not hurting anyone, and while they’re busy digging in the cold, hard earth, they’re leaving more shoes for me, so have at it, gardeners! Garden for your life!

My point is that just because you don’t understand why someone likes something, it doesn’t mean it’s fair to tell them they’re somehow wrong to like it, or that it’s “not a hobby”. I think people say these things about fashion, or shopping, because it’s frivolous. And let’s be honest, here: it IS frivolous. There’s no point even pretending otherwise. But here’s the thing about that:

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that either.

Sometimes frivolous is just what you need, ya know? We can’t all be super-serious all the time, and actually, now I come to think of it, I can’t really think of anyone I know who has a hobby that could be described as a weighty, important or intellectual pursuit. (Now that I’ve said that, I bet dozens of you are going to comment saying “Actually, my hobby is giving money to charity and building houses for the poor with my own bare hands.”) Hobbies tend to be, by their very nature, fun, relaxing things that give you a bit of a break from the serious stuff for a while.

Some people watch a lot of TV. Some like football. Or knitting. Or…jumping out of planes. And some like shopping, and fashion. I don’t think the person who spends 30 minutes watching Eastenders is a better person than the one who spends the same amount of time reading fashion blogs, or vice-versa. (Unless the fashion blogs are mine, obviously, in which case fashion-blog-reading person WINS.)  We all have things we like to do with our spare time and spare money, and as long as we’re not hurting anyone, what’s the harm? You could, in fact, argue that even a “traditional” hobby like… oh, let’s go with gardening again, shall we?…like  gardening is “frivolous” too. You’re not saving the world, after all. You’re not grappling with quantum theory, or discovering the cure for cancer. Ultimately, what you’re doing is making your environment a little nicer and creating something that’s pretty to look at. Do you see where I’m going with this comparison.?

(Am aware I’m on shaky ground with the gardeners, here. Obviously if you’re a vegetable gardener you’re also putting food on your family, as a not-so-wise man once said. So you win. In this example, though, you’re just a regular gardener, with the flowers and the water features and stuff. But moving on…) 

Of  course, you wanted advice, and you got a rant. Sorry about that. Let’s see if I can rescue this now…

At the risk of sounding like Jerry Springer, I think the best advice I can give Isabella is to sit down and talk to the fiance. I mean REALLY talk. Honestly, his surprise at your love of shopping is… surprising to me. It’s hardly the most unusual thing in the world for a woman to enjoy, is it? It’s not like you’ve just confessed that your hobby is dressing hamsters up as the Beatles and making them dance, say. THAT would be weird. (Although also a little bit cool, it must be said. Assuming the hamsters were into it, obviously.) I think shopping is only really a “problem” for a relationship if you’re doing it aaaaallll the time, getting into debt over it, or sacrificing other things because you just. can’t. stop. shopping.  Like, if you see the assistants in Topshop more than you see your friends and family, or you want to buy a house together but you can’t because you spent all your money on shoes and now the debt collector wants to have a “friendly word” with you. Or if it’s literally the ONLY thing in your cold, empty shell of a life. (Which for most of us, it isn’t, because we are modern women, which means we can enjoy shopping AND quantum physics. Well, some of us can. Liking clothes, though, doesn’t preclude you from ALSO having an interest in other things, although, for some reason, lots of people like to assume that it does.)

To me, a once-a-month shopping trip, with money you’ve saved up doesn’t really fall into that “problem” category, so I think you need to first of all find out what it is, exactly, that bothers him so much about your shopping, and go from there. Hopefully some of the points I’ve made here will be of some use to you, but if not, I’m hoping my readers will weigh-in here with some advice of their own. Because they’re cleverer than me, let’s face it.