Too often, I end up quietly ashamed after buying clothes.

It’s not because of negative body issues, or over-spending, or that I took a call on my cell while a perfectly nice clerk was ringing me up and then realized I’ve become my own self-centered nightmare.

These have all happened, but they aren’t the main cause of my shopper’s guilt. The main problem is that I give way too much time and attention to buying clothes.

What I’m buying becomes massive in my head, way out of proportion to its role in my actual life. It crowds out all of the thoughts I need, like the date of my car inspection, and the location of my retainer.

I have dubbed this phenomenon “The Shopping Shame Cycle.”

Here’s how it generally goes:

T-Minus 14 days until I go on a walking-heavy family vacation

  • It’s 8 PM and my toddler is asleep, finally.
  • I have two hours of consciousness left before I pass out in a puddle of my own drool.
  • I can shop for vacation sneakers!

But I also want to watch TV, hang with my hubs, play with my dog, clean (hah! No, I don’t.), and, and… I squander away my time standing in the kitchen, squinting through thumbnails on my phone because I promised myself I didn’t need to break out the laptop. I’d only be a minute.

T-Minus 13 days

I wake up feeling hung over. I swear off Zappos forever.

T-Minus 12 days

I get all sanctimonious about having too many possessions and vow to wear my dirty, beat-up, trusty, running kicks on vacation.  

T-Minus 7 days

I spend the rest of the week mentally packing and repacking outfits that will downplay how gross and nerdy my old sneakers are.

T-Minus 2 days

I panic.

T-Minus 1 day

I run to DSW on my lunch break when I should be buying snacks for the plane.  

By this point, I have seen so many variations of the same thing that it is impossible to feel satisfied with one pair of sneakers. After unsuccessfully attempting to erect a shoebox fort in order to create try-on space for myself in crowded the DSW aisle, I buy Nike running shoes that, let’s face it, look exactly like my existing pair.

Because of this, I think I paid too much. I try to explain all of this to my husband. I hear nothing in response.

…He is out buying snacks for the plane.

Vacation

Seriously good time, but…these sneakers aren’t that cool. There are a million cool pairs of sneakers out there. Like that guy’s. What kind are those? I veer towards him, trying to get a picture with my phone. My toddler pulls me back towards our family.

T-Minus 14 Days to Vacation, One Year Later

…I’m squinting into my phone, looking for sneakers.

The truth is, I did fine in my choice last year. No one left unkind social media comments on my vacation photos and I was blister-free the whole time. I just didn’t feel satisfied.

The opportunity cost of having considered so many options made my obsession huge. In those stolen minutes of iPhone browsing, my expectations had grown. This is the source of my shopper’s guilt.

Psychologist Barry Schwartz wrote a whole book about this called “Paradox of Choice”, which I recommend. In his words, “Adding options can be detrimental to our well-being. Because we don’t put rejected options out of our minds.”

This is where it can be helpful to get a few recommendations from friends before starting your search.

You can also look to magazines, blogs, and even celebrities you like for ideas in advance of shopping in earnest. I’ve also found it helpful to order two pairs of shoes to try on and send back the pair I don’t like as much. This ups the satisfaction factor but, you have to be strong-willed if you can’t afford to keep both pairs.

Lastly, I sometimes use a timer. It’s not fun. It’s not glamorous, but it definitely cuts down on the shopper’s guilt. Good luck.

Why I Really Get Shopper’s Guilt” originally appeared on the author’s site, PowerSuiting.com.