Shopping and Swiping My Way Towards Self-Actualization

Despite insecurities about my skills, one of the reasons I know I’m a writer is because I tend to overthink things the average person doesn’t seem to give a second thought to. I had one of these moments while on a shopping date with a friend. We were at Target, of all places — every millennial’s favorite place to find cute stuff for cheap — and I ended up waxing poetic about why I’m so addicted to shopping.

“Shopping is almost, like, a spiritual experience, right?” I asked my friend while pushing our cart towards the maternity section. (I’ve found some of my favorite outfits from Target’s maternity section, I don’t even care!)

“What? Not really.”

“I’m serious! Like, the things you buy kind of represent who you are and what you want out of life. Like, maybe you’re buying a makeup caddy or day planner, but what you really want is to be more organized. Or you’re looking for a cute new outfit that will help you express who you are to the world. It’s not really just about the things you’re buying, you know?”


My friend wasn’t really here for my analysis of people’s motivations for hitting the mall, but that was a mini-breakthrough for me. As with writing, I kind of use shopping to help me understand and express who I am and what I want from the world. It’s almost a problem — I’ll buy things I have no use for, because I hope that one day, I’ll have a nice office job to wear this sharp shift dress to (and I’ll be comfortable enough in my gender identity to wear it), or I’ll drop $20 on a hardback copy of Janet Mock’s memoir instead of buying my Lean Cuisine for the week because, like Carrie says in that scene from “Sex and the City,” “I felt it’d feed me more.”

And it’s not just shopping — shortly after that trip to Target, I re-downloaded Tinder, after deleting the app in frustration, when I was banned for being trans twice in one day. Even though I’ve always wanted to be in a serious relationship, at that point in my life, I was questioning just what exactly a relationship would even add to my life. And rejoining Tinder acted as a sort of thought experiment.

Though, deep down, I knew I want a serious relationship someday, I was mostly just swiping through profiles to see what kind of people were out there and imagine what they might add to my life. It sounds creepy, but I’d visualize myself in peoples’ profile pictures. I’d imagine us going to a concert or riding bikes in a park together, or whatever other activity they expressed interest in on their profile. I was actively trying to de- and re-construct my identity, because at the time, I had no idea what I wanted out of a relationship — or out of life.

And, in some ways, it worked. Having to dodge countless creepy messages from guys looking to hookup made me realize that casual sex is so not what I want right now. Cleaning out my closet led to similar realizations — especially when I was sorting through piles of clothes, some with tags still on them (!!!), in preparation for a big move.

I had decided to move back to Iowa, where I went to school, to look for work and be closer to college friends, and I had to pack only what I could take with me on the plane. Even though I had no job and no leads, I decided to pack all the office separates I had bought from New York & Company when I still had a full-time job, because I had hope that I’d find a career-oriented job once I moved. I left behind a lot of the flashy heels I used to wear to the clubs (and my beloved pair of light-up Bebe sneakers that I hadn’t even worn yet!) because, while I still love to go out dancing, my priority was finding a job and establishing myself in that way as soon as possible.

I did the same thing when I finally arrived to Iowa and unpacked a storage unit I rented when I first moved back home. I was actually kind of shocked at some of the stuff I wanted to hold onto bad enough to pay $50 a month the past two years. I still had men’s clothes in my storage unit! It kind of made sense — at the time, I wasn’t sure transition was an option. (And yet I was sure that the oversized, ill-fitting men’s blazer I bought at a thrift store would be a suitable interview outfit — HA! — how wrong I was.)

I ended up throwing out all those clothes. I kept some of the women’s clothes and accessories I had collected during my college years — including my sizable shoe collection — because living my life as my most authentic self is a priority to me now. I kept a lot of the books I had saved from classes and campus book swaps — a lot of stuff about feminism and race and being LGBTQ — because I still want to learn about myself and the world, and sharpen my writing skills, and reading helps me do that.

Now that I’m settling into my new life back in Iowa, I’m finding myself having similar thoughts about silly, everyday things, just like I did that day at Target. Especially when I started working part-time and was barely making enough to pay for basic living expenses. Just like Carrie did during her early days in NYC, I had to make so many compromises. (I mean, I still bought food, though — come on, Carrie, a girl’s gotta’ eat!) And that’s where my tendency to overthink things in such symbolic ways comes in handy.

I’ll admit — sometimes, I’d buy the cheapest versions of necessities, like toothpaste and toilet paper, so I could “splurge” on my favorite drugstore cosmetics and hair care products. It seems frivolous, but it’s all part of my effort to continue affirming my gender in a way that allows me to exist safely and peacefully — which is especially important now that, for the first time ever, I’m going by my proper name and pronouns at work.

Yet, I recently decided to put off an appointment to refill my hormone prescription because a friend who lives two hours away invited me to accompany her to a concert at the end of the month and I couldn’t afford to do both. That was a hard decision to make because affirming my gender in that way is important to me — but I also deeply value having exciting experiences that make life worth living.

And though I’m still on some dating apps, I’ve stopped engaging with guys once it becomes clear we’re not after the same things.

Looking back at all these experiences now, it’s interesting to see how majorly a lot of my priorities shifted — but even more intriguing (and, I’d say, more important) is seeing the ones that remained constant. And even though I’m definitely not self-actualized yet, the fact that analyzing these experiences — both in the moment and in writing this — has lead to those sort of realizations makes me think that I might be onto something.

By consciously considering my motivations for doing things, or examining the reasons why I’m drawn to certain things, I’m helping to make my intentions clear, which helps me understand what I really want out of life. And once I know what I really want, it’s easier for me to make choices that get me closer to that goal. Like, though expressing my gender has been a fairly constant goal of mine, maybe saving up to refill my hormones would be a better way to achieve that goal than splurging on makeup?

I guess that’s what some people call mindfulness? I guess I just always thought that that was more about your higher self or whatever, and had to take place in a spiritual setting. But whether you’re swiping through a dating app, prepping for a big move, or just mulling over an impulse purchase at Target, if you think about it in the right way, you can discover some pretty deep stuff. It’s like I told my friend — maybe shopping is a spiritual experience after all?


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Author: eve

I'm a 25 year-old trans woman, on a journey towards discovering and creating myself — and my life. (In other words, I'm having a quarter-life crisis and totally freaking out.) I love writing about my experiences, pop culture, feminism, LGBT issues, new-agey pseudo spirituality and the random, unexpected moments of chaos and clarity that life always seems to throw your way.