Amanda Ford, the bestselling author of Be True to Yourself, now presents Retail Therapy, the ultimate guide to life -- through shopping! Retail Therapy is a playful yet wise look at the pleasures of shopping. Amanda Ford loves to shop, and she exuberantly shares the stories of her most memorable finds -- the perfect pink sweater, a set of precious porcelain dishes, a dusty yet valuable antique. But she also shows how shopping allows us to examine deeper truths about our lives and what is really going on when money is spent. Chapters include "The Best Trends to Follow Are the Ones You Set Yourself," "We Never Know How Things Will Turn Out," "Be Thankful for What You Have," and "Some Places We Have to Go to Alone." Blending tales about her own experiences with life lessons, quotes, and advice, her message is ultimately about discovering your passions, taking care of yourself, and being conscious about decisions.
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About the Author
Amanda Ford is a young, vibrant writer with a talent for uncovering extraordinary meaning in everyday events. In Retail Therapy, Amanda takes an insightful and fun look at the lessons we can glean while participating in a common activity: shopping. Amanda's work has been featured in publications such as Real Simple, Glamour, The Chicago Tribune, and The Seattle Times, and she is a regular contributor to the popular travel website Girl's Guide to City Life. You can contact Amanda through her website.
Read an Excerpt
Life Lessons Learned While Shopping
By Amanda Ford
Red Wheel/Weiser, LLCCopyright © 2002 Amanda Ford
All rights reserved.
The Best Path to Follow Is Your Own
I've Got Just the Perfect Thing, You Look Great, and Other Lies
Saying no can be the ultimate self-care.
When I was sixteen years old I got a job at the Gap. It had long been my dream to work among the colors and textures of my favorite clothing store. On the job, I learned which styles of jeans looked good on which body types and how to tell the size of a shirt without looking at the tag. I loved talking with happy shoppers and working in a place where upbeat music played on the stereo all day long. With my 50 percent employee discount, I could afford lots of clothes even though I earned only minimum wage. I felt satisfied at the end of each month with a full closet, even though my bank account was empty.
Yet there were a few things about the job I hated. The fluorescent lighting, for one. Walking around in oh-so-stylish yet oh-so-uncomfortable shoes for eight hours, for another. The boredom of days when nobody came shopping and I would fold the same pile of shirts seventeen times for lack of anything else to do, for a third. Worst of all, however, was the manager, whose name and face I have forgotten but whose high-pitched voice and singsong tone will forever ring in my ears. "Sell, sell, sell," she would trill. "Don't forget to accessorize the customers!" Translated from manager language, "accessorize the customers" meant pressure people to buy a handful of small items that they would not otherwise dream of purchasing. I could fold a mean shirt, could clear the dressing rooms in record speed, and knew a guy's waist and length measurements at a glance, but accessorizing was not a skill I was able to master. I felt like a jerk saying, "I've got a great belt that would go fabulous with those pants!" My lack of enthusiasm for alerting customers to the lime green socks that had (not surprisingly) just gone on sale for $1.99 was often criticized. My manager scolded, "Amanda, your customers aren't buying enough. Push the new lip balm."
"Sell, sell, sell," she would trill. "Don't forget to accessorize the customers!"
Stores are full of people trying to get you to buy things. If nobody cared whether or not you left the store with a purchase, there would be no need for salespeople pacing the floor, making sure you found the right size, escorting you to a dressing room, and introducing themselves with their names and "Let me know if you need anything else." Although your ego may get a boost when the stylish saleswoman compliments your "great pants" or "beautiful necklace," chances are her motives are skewed. Her aim is to create an environment where you feel happy, confident, and welcomed. What better way to do that than with some good old-fashioned flattery? You feel like a minor celebrity when the saleswoman at the store exclaims, "I absolutely love your hair!" You, of course, absolutely love the compliment. You stand a little taller, smile a little bigger. All the people in the store are admiring you, the woman with the fabulous hair. Suddenly everything you try on fits perfectly, and you end up with your arms full of clothes to buy. Coincidence? I think not.
I'm not saying that your hair isn't fabulous or your outfit doesn't look smashing on you; I'm sure those things are true. What I am saying is, Be cautious. How many people do you think the saleswoman compliments in a single day's work? More than one, you can be sure. She is generous with her flattery, and the more lavish she is with kind words, the more lavish you will be with your wallet. A shop is probably not the best place to make friends or ask for honest opinions. Of course the clerks are going to be smiling at you and saying you look great—you're paying their salaries.
Ignore sale signs that tempt you to buy skirts that pull a little too tight around the rear.
Often someone will try to get you to do things that will benefit them but may not benefit and may even harm you. This is why you must figure out what you want and then follow your own way. Saying "No" is essential, because when you blaze your own trail, you must stay true to yourself and may need to sidestep someone who can hinder or interfere with your plan.
Begin by saying "No" when you're shopping. First say "No" to any salesperson who offers you anything you don't want. Ignore sale signs that tempt you to buy skirts that pull a little too tight around the rear or trendy pink tennis shoes that (although they are adorable) will never see the outside of your closet. Tell those T-shirts that call out to you "Buy three, get one free" that you only need one, not four. Tell the clerk at the checkout, "No, I do not want to apply for another credit card" and "No, I do not need socks to match my shirt" and "No I would not like to see the new jewelry you just got in." You'll actually leave feeling energized and more confident than if you had said "Yes" to all the tempters. Instead of having a closet full of ordinary things that you resent for taking up money and space, you'll have room for what you really love. You can put the money toward that beautiful long coat or buy the leather journal you've always desired. Saying "No" brings empowerment—you, and only you, are in charge of your shopping trip.
Not only do we need to say "No" to pushy salespeople and seductive sale signs, but we also need to deal with other people who try to take advantage of us or want us to spend our precious life minutes in unfulfilling ways. Get comfortable with saying "No" while shopping, and then incorporate this little word into other areas of your life. Soon you'll be able to tell the waitress, "No, it is not okay that my food is cold." You'll tell the car dealership, "No, I do not need an extended warranty." The phone solicitors will hear, "No, I am not interested in a free carpet cleaning." But do not stop there. Say "No" to friends and family who ask for more than you can give. Tell your roommate, "No, please don't leave dirty dishes in the sink." Say to your guy, "Sorry, sweetie, but I won't iron your clothes." Make it clear to your mother-in-law that "I can't come to dinner every Sunday night. How about once a month?"
Saying "No" frees you. By saying "No" at the store, you open up closet space and leave room on your credit card for the purchases that truly reflect your style. By saying "No" at home, you free up time in your busy calendar to spend doing those things that truly make you happy.
Keeping Up with Martha
I've always believed that one woman's success can only help another woman's success.
I am a huge Martha Stewart fan. I absolutely adore her and love everything she does, especially the "Good Things" segment of her show and magazine. Thanks to her inspiration, I have made my own glycerin soap; I know how to dry water drops on the inside of a tall, skinny bottle; I know about rubbing wax on the bottom of my dresser drawers so that they slide more easily; and I keep my dish soap in a beautiful glass bottle next to the sink instead of the ugly plastic bottle that it originally comes in.
Some people I know, however, do not praise Martha as highly as I do. They criticize her for being an uptight perfectionist. They call her "The Craft Nazi" and tell stories from gossip columns about how Martha is difficult and how her staff hates to work with her. A friend of mine calls Martha's ideas useless. She once said, "I saw a show where Martha taught how to break a terra cotta pot and then put it back together. What's the point of that?" Obviously the point was to give the pot a new, more interesting look with cracks. "It's aesthetics," I told my friend, but she didn't get it.
What this friend and all Martha Stewart naysayers don't understand is that Martha is about so much more than crafts. Martha can cook a gourmet meal, cultivate a dream garden, remove any stain, and advise the proper etiquette for any situation that one might find oneself in. She can paint, decoupage, build, sew, speak a little French, cross-country ski, and run a multimillion-dollar business. Among the women I love the most and me, the ultimate compliment has become, "Martha would definitely approve!"
I must admit however that there have been two times when Ms. Stewart has been bad for my psyche. Once Martha had my favorite handbag designer, Kate Spade, on her show. I love the boxy shapes and unique materials of Kate Spade's purses, but I have only been able to admire them on store shelves because their price tag is way out of my reach. Apparently Martha does not feel the same financial restraints that I do because she said that one reason she loves Kate Spade's purses is because they are so reasonably priced. I felt shocked and inadequate because to me even a Kate Spade purse on sale is not reasonably priced.
Another time that Martha was not good for me was when she featured on her show a segment about garbage cans. Martha showed different types of containers that could be used to contain trash, from a small copper canister to a large antique ceramic pot. She had one on wheels, one with a handle, and one basket-like container that was, of course, hand-woven. Not a single one looked like the blue plastic can that sat underneath my kitchen sink. I quickly began to detest my waste bin; it looked so sterile, so average, with no class, no character. I made it my mission to find myself a garbage can that would make Martha proud.
Searching garage sales, antique shops, kitchen shops, and hardware stores, I learned that the Marthaworthy cans out there all cost more than $35. My girlfriend Rachael scowled when I picked out a $55, large, white tin container with the paint chipped off in certain areas to give it that special shabby-chic look. She was aghast: "You're buying that for your kitchen trash?" Haughtily I proclaimed, "I hate plastic garbage cans." Rachael shook her head and responded, "Amanda, it sits under your sink and holds banana peels and moldy bread. I am not letting you spend that much money on a trash can." Sighing and huffing, I put it back. Even though I refused to admit it at the time, I didn't feel right about spending more than ten bucks for a trash can. I had almost given in to consumer pressure, and I was thankful that Rachael stopped me. Buying that expensive can would not have broken my bank, but spending $55 on a garbage can simply did not make sense. For someone in my income bracket, the thought alone was impractical, irrational, and ridiculous. Any financially astute woman would agree that if I planned to have both a home and a bank account of which Martha would approve, then I should be more protective of my money. Adorable Kate Spade purses and antique ceramic garbage cans may be everyday purchases for Martha Stewart, but these things are over the top for me.
"Amanda, it sits under your sink and holds banana peels and moldy bread. I am not letting you spend that much money on a trash can."
Adorable Kate Spade purses may be everyday purchases for Martha Stewart, but these things are over the top for me.
I've stopped feeling inadequate when I cannot keep up with Martha because I realize that she has built her empire on perfection, and having everything exactly right is what has made her career. My dream is not to be a princess of perfection. Although I enjoy the beauty that Martha creates, I have learned how to use the things I love about Martha in a way that works in my life. For me that means trying a delicious recipe from one of her cookbooks, growing herbs in my kitchen, and organizing my closet with large wicker baskets and beautifully painted wooden boxes. Buying a specially made Vera Wang couture wedding gown, collecting antique figurines, or hand-making cards for every holiday, however, are not things that interest me or fit my lifestyle.
I find that it can be difficult to keep from being competitive with people around me and to stop feeling jealous of things they have and I lack. It can be hard to stay true to the vision I have for my life, and I often second-guess myself when I see people around me who appear to be living lives that are bigger, better, and more than mine. There is a little exercise I have created to keep myself on track when these moments arise. Whenever I catch myself feeling envious or creating a rivalry with another person, I stop and ask myself, "Is what they have something that I really want for myself?" Sometimes I'm feeling jealous simply because I'm giving in to the idea that the grass is always greener in someone else's yard, and what I'm feeling jealous about is not even something that I want. Other times, however, my jealousy is valid. There are times when I see that another person has something in her life that I want in mine. Then I try to use my envy as a catalyst to get me moving toward the things I really want. Maybe I'm jealous of somebody else's wardrobe because she has a wonderful sense of style, or maybe I'm jealous of someone's artistic abilities because I dream of being a painter, or maybe I'm jealous of the strong friendships that another person has because I don't have such friends for myself. Once I discover what I'm feeling envious about, I try to cultivate these qualities or elements in my own life. Competitiveness and jealousy are not always bad; if used correctly, they can trigger personal growth.
Tune Into Your Intuition
To follow the voice that tells us what we need to do, even when it doesn't seem to make sense, is a worthy pursuit.
I have come to learn that one of the best tools we have is our intuition. It is our instincts, our deep-down gut feelings, and our little hunches that, given proper attention, keep us from making major mistakes and help us remain true to ourselves. Intuition is subtle; it doesn't work in obvious ways. It's your intuition that's speaking up when you are drawn to a pink handbag. Something deep inside you yearns for pink, and although you cannot explain why, you are enamored by that purse. There have been times when I wanted a brightly colored purse, but I ignored these inner longings because the logical part of me said that black or beige would be more practical. Every time this has happened, I listened to my practical voice, and though it is true that my neutral-colored purses are very versatile, in the end, I feel like something is missing. A little part of me has not been satisfied.
Not only can your intuition help you decide what to buy, but it can help you decide what not to buy as well. I have learned this the hard way and have made many purchases even while that little voice inside me was screaming, "Stop! Don't buy that!"
The most recent of these unhappy incidents occurred a few months ago when I bought a new jacket. I wanted a nice, semi-dressy coat to wear in the rain because my big Cortex coat with its hood and many pockets looked ridiculous when paired with a skirt or sassy pair of pants for a night out on the town. I hadn't been looking hard, just casually keeping my eyes open in case something popped up, when I found a perfect black coat in a sleek, A-line shape. Unfortunately, as I slipped the coat on in front of a mirror in the center of the store, I saw that it wasn't as flattering on me as I had anticipated. It didn't look awful, but it didn't look fabulous either. The hemline fell just below my knees, which made my 5-foot-1-inch body look even shorter, and the belt tied in an awkward way around my waist. Although these things did not scream "Mistake!" something about the coat just didn't feel right.
As I was about to take off the coat and return it to its rack, a saleswoman came over and said, "Oh, that coat looks so cute on you!" I asked her if she was sure and told her that I thought it made me appear short and dumpy. After examining me from all angles, the saleswoman objected to my critique of the coat. "You're crazy," she said. "It looks adorable on you. Just adorable!" I figured that I was being too judgmental of myself and bought the coat, even though I felt unsure about it.
Something deep inside you yearns for pink ... you cannot explain why.
A couple of weeks later my husband, Zach, saw me in the coat for the first time and wrinkled his nose, saying, "It looks kind of weird." At that moment I knew I should have trusted my instincts, but it was too late to do anything about it because I had thrown away the tags and the receipt. In the end, I paid a seamstress more than the coat was worth to hem it and remove its funny little belt.
Your intuition will speak up about many things; it can be your most helpful guide when you are trying to follow your own path. You'll benefit by listening to it.
Have Your Shoes and Wear Them Too
The energy of imagination, deliberation, and invention, which fall into a natural rhythm totally one's own, maintained by innate discipline and a keen sense of pleasure—these are the ingredients of style. And all who have it share one thing: originality.
Excerpted from Retail Therapy by Amanda Ford. Copyright © 2002 Amanda Ford. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
How Shopping Saved My Life: A Word of Introduction
1 The Best Path to Follow Is Your Own
2 You Never Know How Things Will Work Out
3 Gratitude Is the Best Antidote for Discontent
4 Every Woman Needs a Creative Side
5 Men Are Different
6 Heartache Abounds
7 People Help You Through
8 There Are Places a Girl Must Go Alone
9 Try Always to Be Present and Aware
About The Author