Spend it, spend it good (or not)

By Mir
April 4, 2011

I am a stress shopper.

I feel like I should apologize for that; like I should be embarrassed that my preferred outlet for pesky unpleasant feelings is to obsessively hunt down the perfect bargain or just spend a couple of hours walking up and down the aisles at TJ Maxx, certain that today they’ll have that perfect outfit that will make me happy.

It’s not that I’m unaware that it’s a rather predictable and boring transference, and not really the healthiest coping mechanism, it’s just that I’m as good at justifying it as I am at doing it. I’m not binge eating. I’m not drinking or doing drugs. And I’m not spending money I don’t have or buying useless things (it’s not all Hoarders-ish up in here, I swear). So in the grand scheme of things, I guess I consider it one of the lesser possible evils on my personal scale of vices. (Plus it beats just sitting around crying, which I am also embarrassingly prone to, and that NEVER results in a cute piece of clothing or something shiny for my office.)

It probably goes without saying that I’ve been shopping quite a bit, lately, but that never stopped me from saying it before, so: I’ve been shopping quite a bit.

(Here I should pause to mention that actually, no, it hasn’t made me feel any better. Go figure! A smarter person would make note of this and investigate some other coping mechanisms. But old habits die hard.)

Last week I bought a new computer, and while I got a tremendous deal on it and everything, I did not—strictly speaking—NEED it. This has prompted the start of an Equipment Cycle here at the house that makes my head swim, but I think Otto is going to figure it all out for me, because he’s nice like that. (Short version: I have a perfectly serviceable laptop, already, which I use with a monitor here at home. My new, smaller, laptop will be my travel computer, I will buy a used desktop for use here at home, Otto will sell his laptop and my monitor and use my laptop for travel and get a used desktop for home as well. I think. Maybe.) According to Otto, I have been pining over this machine for a long time (true) and we just got our tax refund (also true) and I deserve nice things (questionable). That man is a master enabler when it comes to technology products. I’m just sayin’.

You would think a purchase of that magnitude would keep me sated for a while, but you would be wrong. Because 1) it didn’t actually take me out of the house, away from my family whom I love so very much but occasionally need to escape, and 2) I can’t wear my new laptop.

So yesterday I went shopping for something pretty to wear, and came home with some clothes for Monkey. That didn’t work out quite the way I’d planned. Look, TJ Maxx is like an abusive boyfriend; no matter how many times it smacks me down I keep crawling back. Here’s a partial listing of ways in which TJ’s has messed with me recently:

1) They have the perfect dress. THE PERFECT DRESS. And it’s an amazing price. And they do not have my size.
2) I try on a pair of shoes and they’re a little more than I maybe want to spend, so I decide to wait a couple of days and come back and if they’re still there, I was meant to have them. They are never still there.
3) I always manage to pick a fitting room next to a couple of young, gorgeous, unblemished waifs who repeatedly stroll out to the 3-way mirror and declare “I think this makes me look fat.” I—stumpy, frizzy, and complexion looking its worst under fluorescent lights—remain frozen in my changing cubicle, unwilling to venture out for a look at the rest of me, and convinced everything I’ve tried on is pointless.
4) On a day when I vow that I am JUST SHOPPING FOR ME, they invariably have ridiculous kids’ clearance which I am genetically incapable of passing by. (Hey, Monkey NEEDED those $2 polarfleece pajama pants with skulls on them, man.)


The thing is, I bought the new computer on eBay, and now eBay has these eBay Bucks things where you get money back and then you can use it on a future purchase. Ordinarily my eBay purchases are things like drinking straws and shorts for the kids and such, meaning that at the end of the accumulation period eBay sends me a triumphant email that my bonus $.42 are ready for redemption. But because I bought a computer, see, I now have some eBay Bucks to spend on more than just toothpicks.

So I made the mistake of thinking that maybe I could find that Perfect Dress in my size on eBay. (I didn’t find it. I can’t find it anywhere. Although it’s a Calvin Klein dress, merchandise at TJ Maxx tends to arrive via wormhole and their stuff is not only past-season, sometimes it’s wholly fictitious and unavailable anywhere else.) (But, uh, now I wish I had a picture because I would send every one of you out to your local TJX to look for me. Ha.) When I couldn’t find the dress I wanted, I figured: BUT WAIT, I have this money (free money!), maybe I can find a DIFFERENT dress!

Here’s where eBay is even worse than TJ Maxx; not only can you not try anything on, you’re at the mercy of people’s photography skills and descriptive abilities. Guess what! A lot of people on eBay come up a bit short on one or both of these measures.

So I managed to waste an inordinate amount of searching online. I do things like click on items where the tiny picture looks promising, but then the full-size photo makes it clear that this garment is actually a crime against humanity. Or I do things like see something pretty and click through just as I see that the starting bid is already 10 times what I’m willing to spend. (I have very good taste, yo.) But I persevere! Because far be it from me to miss an opportunity to get my hopes up, spend money, and end up with something that doesn’t fit!

Come to think of it, maybe I should reconsider drinking. Seems less complicated.


  1. birchsprite

    I too found the perfect dress recently at TKMax (although mine was in Cardiff so not sure that would be much help to you). Despite it saying that it was my size it was actually 2 sizes too big when I tried it on! It was a Calvin Klein dress too. It was very pretty and I was very sad to discover that they only had the one dress left. Booooo hissss. So there you go, even TKmax stores in Wales are just as bad as those over with you!

  2. Mary Jo

    I work at TJ Maxx in New Jersey. If you send me a description I will look for it and even call around to the other TJ’s in our area. If you want, of course. I will even be able to buy it with my whopping 10% discount!

  3. Brigitte

    Ugh. Now I’ll have to go to TJMaxx, just to get smacked down again. Guess I need reminding every so often.

    I enjoy shopping therapy too, but still have never found that elusive outfit that makes me look at least 50 pounds thinner. Hmph!

  4. Lynn in Mass

    I too am very guilty of shopping to “chase the blues away”. I have told a friend that shopping is my “instant happiness”. I feel I have recently lost weight and going on a couple of vacations this year so I need new clothes (that fit). I also feel good if I buy clothes for my kids and a good bargain (definitely helps).
    I have been looking for the perfect dress for my first vacation and recently gave up on that quest. I tried on every dress in my closet and found an acceptable dress that hasn’t seen the public in years that now fits again. It will do.

  5. navhelowife

    I hate TJMaxx. And Marshalls. For those same reasons.

  6. Megan

    EBay frightens me and I have never overcome the fear to either shop there or sell there. I think of it as the western version of a suq where I’m the idiot tourist who will, inevitably, end up buying a fez that I don’t want and paying eight times what it’s worth.

    Which means that my retail therapy is a bit complex – I think of something I can excuse myself for wanting, then I go looking for it, then I get the vapors over the price, then I try to reason myself into buying it anyway, then I realize the guilt will overwhelm any temporary happiness the purchase might bring, then I decide not to buy it at all but warn myself that I will sulk for the next few hours. So I do.

    Not terribly useful as therapy goes actually…

  7. dad

    If it were not for places like TJ Maxx what would you do for aggravation and where would you go for material to produce these entertaining tidbits?

    Yeah, I know you have other things in your life which provide angst but they are not as funny as this stuff.

  8. Holly

    Try Victoria’s Secret. They have some really cute dresses in all sizes. They also have a TON so you are sure to find one that flatters your body type. And they aren’t all slutty looking, either! Good luck! I, too, can NEVER find dresses that fit. They either don’t fit at all or make me look pregnant!

  9. Mary

    My retail therapy comes from their sister company – HomeGoods. I go in there with the good intention of buying something we actually NEED and inevitably leave with someone I just WANT. Yup, did that AGAIN this weekend! But it was so cute and it only cost $8!!!!!!

  10. Joshilyn

    Also, you know, part of your pathology is to get the pretty thing for about 4% of what everyone else pays, Oh Bargain Master! SO REALLY how much harm can you be doing!

  11. Kelly

    If I had any money, I would shop. But I don’t, so I eat. Junky. Junky food. But I’m working on it.

  12. Jen

    I am not a fan of shopping. Of any kind. Which is probably why my stress relief of choice is a stiff drink. Which is probably why I have gained a bunch of weight. Which is probably why I’m not a fan of shopping.

  13. Tracy

    Ok, I’ll admit, you lost me at tax refund. WTH is that? I’m glad you love to shop. But I’m even more glad that you are aware of the Hoarders. Good Lord, those people. I feel so badly for them but even worse for their families that are left to help clean it up.

    I need chocolate….not shopping.

  14. Michele

    Send me the picture, I’ll look for you. (enabling here)

  15. elz

    I am also a stress shopper. I don’t even look at clothes or shoes for me anymore at TJ Maxx, Marshalls, or Nordstrom Rack, because inevitably I won’t find my size or at the right price, etc. Now I go just for kids. Besides, my nice friend Mir always points me to great deals on clothes for me!

  16. elz

    Also, seriously. A tax refund?! Ha, we haven’t gotten one of those since the year before we were married TEN years ago. Stupid small business taxes.

  17. Little Bird

    Crate and Barrel Outlet is like that to me. BUT!!! Miracles happen!! I found a rug there, about a month ago. It’s pink and orange. It matches my bedding and feeds my love of orange. I didn’t get it. This weekend I went there again with my mother and IT WAS STILL THERE. It is currently adorning the floor in my bedroom, working in lovely harmony with my bedding (and a throw blanket, and my trash can, and a hundred other assorted items in my room). It was a whopping $60.
    So, don’t despair, it CAN happen!!!

  18. TC

    PLUS, ebay is online, so like the laptop, it doesn’t fulfill the ‘get the heck outta the house’ urge. So even if you do find the perfect dress there, you’ll wind up back in the stores the next day. Trust me, I know…uh…….OTHER PEOPLE who have this same problem. Yep. That’s the ticket. OTHER PEOPLE.

  19. Nancy R

    Can you get the dress in a larger size and have it altered?

  20. 12tequilas

    (She *could* but that would cost ‘er extry!)

  21. Jen

    My happiness is in buying shoes. My weakness is sandals. No stress if the ones I want don’t fit as it’s never about weight gain or loss, and they never highlight the midsection. Oh the cute styles that are out for this season! *sigh*
    Doesn’t help that there’s a Factory Shoe store right by my office for midday pick-me-ups. :)

  22. The Mommy Therapy

    I also use retail therapy to soothe my delicate emotions. It just feels right.

    Shortly after marriage I went to a therapist for a while to deal with all my life changes and that was the number one thing he told me to stop doing. He actually banned me from buying any clothing for 2 months. It was rough, but it felt oddly good. I don’t want to ever do it again though.

    Anyway, love that someone recommended victoria’s secret. I actually admit to having a very cute, A line sun dress (built in bra support, hooray) from there but the majority of their catalouge makes me think of women shopping for “business” attire or outfit to wear for a Housewives of Orange County dress up party. That is not to say that all of it is, just what pops to mind.

    My fantastic advice to possibly call a few other TJ Maxx stores? I know they often get similar merchandise in a lot of their stores?

    Good luck. Don’t stop shopping!

  23. Elena

    Well, it won’t look cute in your office, but I did google BACON JAM tonight after Barbara Samuel, cook & author extraordinaire, Facebooked that she had made some. No, no, don’t thank me. I’m just trying to help you gain enough to get into the Perfect Dress in your size!

  24. mamaspeak

    meh. I hate shopping for myself now. I’ve gained a ridiculous amount of weight in the last two years (meds) and hate looking at myself in the mirror; not to mention the dress size I’m in. I’m trying to focus on being “healthy” but there’s no therapy in that, is there? So I spa once a quarter. Yeah, it’s expensive, but I do actually feel better when I’m done. (Just got back from a weekend in San Diego. Counting the minutes till the next one.)

    My MIL “swings by” TJMaxx pretty much everyday. It’s a personal quest to find the “perfect whatever.” She lives in KS, so when she comes out to visit here in CA, she has to go by the several w/in driving distance to look for XYZ for this or that cousin. I hate those stores; TJMaxx, Marshalls, Ross, etc…. they just stress me out. Too much clutter every where.

  25. Betsy

    As someone prone to retail therapy, my fortitude has been tested by a temporary move to France where T.J. Maxx does not exist and price tags for the simplest of Ts, cardigans and dresses, and, hold me back, all those amazing shoes, are prohibitively high. Edible goods, meringues, breads and flan have been my replacement. Now that we are looking at an imminent return to the United Shops of America I am worried I may have an anxiety attack upon first setting foot in a TJ Maxx or Target again. And I might start shopping again to compensate for my good bread withdrawal.

  26. Karen

    Buy the shoes when you find them. .. and I happen to be stopping in TJMaxx today… if you’ve got a picture?….. just sayin.

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