I posted last Monday about "mistake purchases". On Thursday, my friend Elise alerted me to an article that had just been published in the Wall Street Journal titled "A Closet Filled with Regrets". The summary for the article read "most people only wear 20% of the clothes in their closet". It made me wonder if there is a way we can change our behavior so that we stop contributing to the 80% we don't wear. I've devoted a lot of my energy throughout my adult life working on aspects of my behavior and personality through meditation, yoga, reading, and therapy. Why not apply it to this area of our lives as well?

It's helpful to know what triggers purchases that we end up not wearing. In the article, the people interviewed said things like, "Who knows, maybe I'll be able to make it work down the line" and "I'm holding out hope that I will feel sexy one night and have an event to wear it to". One man purchased pants with a vibrant print on them even though all of his shirts are also printed, leaving nothing to pair with the pants. He lets them take up space in his closet because they are "really nice quality." One woman in the article acknowledges when things don't work, but just doesn't get around to returning them. She then keeps the items out of guilt.

The most surprising statement from the article was this: "In fact, shoppers most regretted, over the long term, passing up an indulgence for something practical or less expensive, according to research in the Journal of Marketing Research in 2008." This explains how we feel when we see all the rarely worn $20 Target purchases hanging in our closet and wish we had saved for one special thing instead.

It's not all our fault. We are constantly pressured by retailers to act without thinking. A relatively recent example of this are "timed" sales that are designed to make you feel as though you're going to miss out on things if you don't buy them immediately. There are even countdown clocks on some of these sites. Other websites now tell you exactly how few of the item they have left in stock. There are constant notifications about discount codes that are only valid for one weekend. With all of these attempts to speed up the process, how can you be mindful about your purchases?

Think twice if you hear yourself say:

"I'll get this altered" (will you?)
"I don't like this detail, but maybe it won't bother me" (it will)
"It's not 'me' but it's a good deal" (even if it's free, if it's not you, you're not going to wear it)
"Maybe I can make it work" (unless you're Kate Moss you're probably not going to make it work)
"These shoes hurt just a little, but I'll break them in" (if they hurt in the store, it's only getting worse)
"They only have one left in my size! Must buy now!" (is that true?)

Mindful ways to prepare for temptation:

Have a wish list and stick to it
Avoid flash sales and unsubscribe from sale notification emails
Find ways to satisfy the shopping urge without spending a lot of money: go thrifting,
buy inexpensive accessories, or shop online and pin the items you like without buying them
Take advantage of sales and specials when you've been tracking something you want to buy,
not when the item is suggested to you by the sale

For what it's worth, I'm guilty of all of these triggers. Just this week I was swayed by a "last minute" sale at shopbop.com for 20% off any purchase. I bought several pairs of jeans to try. At least "quality dark skinny denim" was on my wish list, but I still felt a little manipulated. Because I often shop in thrift stores, the temptation I fall prey to is the "it's only $3, it's no big deal if it doesn't work". Actually, it takes time to bring that item into my closet, creates frustration when it doesn't work, requires energy to get rid of it, and even "only $3" adds up over time.

Just like the emotional work we do to control a temper or overreactions to stress, learning how to react to shopping triggers is a process. Over time, we can learn to pause before we buy. I'd love to start a discussion about this - what are your triggers? What purchases have you regretted? If you're a master of self-control, please share your wisdom!