The lounge suite saga -- and the virtue of waiting

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My so-far unsuccessful attempts to buy a lounge suite offer a great illustration of one of the guidelines I offer in my book The Inspired Shopper (yes, I'm changing the name!).

Let me give you the backstory. I have been looking for a lounge suite seriously, on and off, for about six months. This has involved one trip to a lounge suite shopping strip, which was enough to make me decide that a new lounge suite was out of the question. They were all outrageously expensive -- over $2000 for anything decent -- and some of them, though new, already looked cheap and tatty. A few sprawls on the couch with a book, a few minor food spills, and I would be wishing I had bought something in a sensible vinyl. No, it would definitely be vintage for me.

I already have a couch and two chairs, but the chairs are very old and shabby and the couch is simply annoying, because it has a cover over it that has to be straightened up, and the cushions re-assembled, every day. The chairs and the couch don't match, and I'm at a stage in life when I long for a proper lounge suite -- I want my lounge furniture to signify things like 'order', 'security' and 'home'.

I did a search on eBay and found a Jacobean lounge suite, feauturing beautifully carved wood and a decent upholstery job, that I checked out in person before bidding on. I was unsuccessful but the whole episode was a valuable learning experience.

So here am I still waiting for my perfect lounge suite. And I'm getting to that tetchy stage.

In my book The Inspired Shopper I recommend waiting as a strategy for buying well. The old-fashioned art of waiting and saving up used to be the standard means of buying big-ticket items. Now everyone wants to buy first and pay later, usually with a credit card. But many people fail to realise that waiting has advantages over and above only spending what you can afford.

For those who enjoy it, leisure shopping is a sensual experience, but above all an aesthetic one. We see any number of things we would love to take home with us. If we relied on aesthetics and emotions alone, we'd take home half the store every time we shopped. The beauty of waiting is that it allows us to separate the wheat from the chaff, so to speak. When those momentary, impulsive attachments to items are gone, we're left with a better idea of the things that really take our fancy -- those that we genuinely want and need. (We may also need to use 'waiting time' to do further research on our own needs and desires.) And when we let ourselves go without for a while, we can use that energy to take us to the right item more quickly.

I'm not saying that waiting for however long it takes is always the right option. If I had no lounge furniture at all I'd probably go to my local op shop and buy some temporary furniture to tide me over rather than sit on the floor.

At the moment, I'm a little stuck in my search for a new lounge suite. I can decide on the colours I like, measure up my lounge room and get on eBay every day, but until I actually put said lounge suite, once irretrievably bought, into the room I won't really know for sure whether or not it's right for the room and the rest of my furniture -- so different from buying clothes, where a visit to the changeroom is usually mandatory.

What I really need to do, I think, is settle on the particular retro style that I want, rather than just be willing to take the first one that comes along at a good price. I may also need to cast my net more widely, and look in stores and suburbs I might not have considered. Despite my doubts, I know that when I find the right lounge suite my intuition will be evident, assuring me it is the right one.

So for now I'll adopt 'active waiting' rather than 'passive waiting'. And, at the risk of sounding too new-agey, I do trust that if I do the work, the universe will deliver a lounge suite that's right for me at just the right time!
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Deprivation and the delights of mix 'n' match

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Yesterday I went on another clothes shopping jaunt -- definitely my last for the summer. I went to my local Target, which almost literally throws out clothes at this time of year. Clothes were discounted up to 60 per cent, and dresses and other items from one of the designer lines were selling for as little as $19, down from over $100 in some cases.

Two things emerged out of my little trip.

More and more I'm coming to embrace, rather than just accept feelings of deprivation as part of the Inspired Shopping experience. When I'm choosing what to try on and, in the changeroom, what to buy, there will be some items that my emotions or rational mind tell me I should buy but my intuition doesn't.

The Yeojin Bae dresses for instance. One of them, a simple black shift with V-neck, short sleeves and made of a satin-like material, seemed too good not to buy. And at under $20, what did I have to lose? But I knew I wouldn't wear it more than once or twice, and I'm just not prepared to buy clothes that fit into that category (unless for a once-off super special occasion). Plus (and I'm afraid this is a secondary consideration, but it's still a valid one) there was no doubt someone would come along who would get a hell of a lot more wear out of it than I would -- in other words, it had someone else's name on it.

So, in making even my initial choices, I frequently feel a sense of loss. I don't want to minimise this. It's very difficult, when you're good at spotting bargains, to hold back when there are shoppers around you wielding carts and dumping multiples of cut-price clothes into them (some of the clothes, no doubt, destined for eBay). But these feelings are actually fine, because they tell me I'm working the process properly, and practising discrimination. Yesterday I ended up taking five items to the changeroom and buying only two of them, a short-sleeved emerald green cardigan for $15.50, and a drawstring cap sleeve casual top, in a royal blue that really suited me, for $6.50. Not a bad morning's work!

However, my sense of deprivation continued in the changeroom, when my intuition said no to a pair of $11 jeans. And there was the $10 jacket, down from about $80, with just a button missing and very cute, large lapels -- OK, so it was two sizes too big and I work from home so don't need such office wear, but again, hard to part with. 'Someone is really going to appreciate this find', I thought as I put it back on the hanger.

The fact is, I don't need to know why my intuition -- my deepest self -- sometimes 'rejects' the things that my conscious self thinks are OK. Often I can guess of course, but I'm happy just to trust the process.

The other thing I realised is that I definitely have enough clothes for the rest of summer. The urge for new things can sometimes be a refusal, on my part, to look at new ways to pair up the clothes I have. Sometimes I can wear something only a few times and find it's already lost its sense of newness. Then I know it's time to pair it with something I haven't tried it with before.

I'll be avoiding the sales for a little while, although I'll pop into my favourite fashion stores to look at the autumn ranges (I really enjoy this browsing aspect of shopping).
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My latest shopping trip -- part two

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The hardest thing about writing this blog is not wanting to sound like a breathless, retail-obsessed compulsive shopper. I think anyone who enjoys leisure shopping is in danger of exhibiting compulsive shopping behaviour at different times, and I'm always on the lookout for the telltale signs. With that caveat, I'll now detail the second part of my most recent shopping trip.

I went to my local shopping mall mainly to buy a present for a friend, but I also wanted to check out the clothes shops. This time of year is great for sales. There is Boxing Day and the days following, when great bargains can be had, and then a period when I find leisure shopping quite depressing  the goods have been picked through, the salespeople are dispirited and it all seems quite tired. By mid-January, however, there are often new things on sale. Having had a break since my post-Christmas hunt and gather, I thought it was time to see if there were any new bargains to be had  I still had some summer clothes items on my priority list, a list I keep and update constantly to ensure that I buy only the things I want and need.

Sure enough, I found a pair of cargo pants for $36  the right colour and style, and 20 per cent off the original price. I had been waiting for this clothes item for a while, and it was gratifying to finally find what I was after ('Waiting' is one of the techniques I recommend in my book).

I did my usual Inspired Shopping practice of relinquishing (very easy to do in a changeroom  I relinquish by starting to put the favoured item back on the clothes hanger, and if my intuition alarm goes off, decide to take it). I then decided to pop into a very fashionable clothes chain with a young image.

This store is very concerned with the latest trends and so throws clothes out that aren't selling well at huge discounts, often as much as 70 per cent. I found a black, sleeveless top with a pretty lacy panel at the neck for what I assumed was $8, down from $29.95 (the sale sticker had been ripped off, but other similar tops on the rack were $8 down from the same price). At such a low price, I didn't feel at all guilty that a sleeveless top wasn't on my priority list  in Melbourne we have many very hot days in summer and I knew I would get a decent amount of wear out of it.

However, the sales assistant seemed confused about the correct price. She wanted to give me 50 per cent off the original price ($14.95) , and I pointed out that there was a red tag attached to the garment that said '70% off', so she gave it to me for $10. Two minutes later I realised that she should have given it to me for $8, the price of similar clothes on the rack. I later calculated that 70 per cent off $29.95 is actually $9, but it looked as if the worker making the pricing decision had opted for the lower price of $8.

Now $2 is a tiny amount of money to quibble about when getting a bargain like this. I was still in the shop when I realised what had happened and debated with myself whether to insist on the greater discount.

It will, of course, be clear to the reader that I am super-sensitive to the tiniest price injustice in a retail store. I am always on the lookout for any attempts to rip customers off, and misleading advertising of prices sends me apoplectic. So this incident was an important experience for me: was I prepared to make a fool of myself for $2? No, I decided, I wasn't. It was clearly an honest mistake, and if I had to argue my case for any length of time, I wouldn't want to show my face in the store again, thereby preventing me from bagging future bargains. I had to give up on $2 as well as my pride and sense of self-righteousness. It hurt just a bit, but I stayed with the hurt and reminded myself what a tiny amount I had lost.

This little incident was an exercise in maturity for me. And please don't think I'm discouraging people from standing up for themselves in retail situations -- I'm not, and my book includes basic information about consumer rights. In fact, if I'd known as I stood at the counter that the correct amount, according to the '70% off' label, was $9, I would have insisted on paying no more than that. But having successfully argued the case for not paying $14.95, and with the transaction completed, I believe I made my decision based on common sense. This is one of the things I love about being an inspired shopper - I learn something new about myself, and get the chance to practise healthy behaviour based on that knowledge, every time I hit the stores!
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'Relinquishing' at the bookstore!

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As an Inspired Shopper, every shopping experience teaches me something new. I went to my local shopping centre today after not having been for a while. I'd felt 'shopped out', and wanted to give myself time to enjoy the bargains I'd picked up at the Boxing Day sales.

The first item on my list was a birthday present for an old friend. I'd already picked out this present, a book that is the basis for a period drama that has recently been released in the cinemas. The book was about 30 per cent off the full price, and repackaged to link up with the film, with a photo of the lead actress on the cover. I felt sure my friend would love the film (which I'd seen) so I took a punt on the book, having read other books by the author -- but I made sure to use my intuition.

Presents -- for friends, partners, family, and anyone else -- are notoriously difficult to get right. Anthropologist James Carrier sees gift giving as our atttempt to turn impersonal consumer objects into personal things that reflect who we are and our ties with our loved ones. We want so much to tell the recipients, through our gifts, that we know who they are well enough to gauge what they would like. But it's so hard to do this successfully, unless we ask for a 'laundry list'. Intuition, I've found, can help me to pick a present that 'hits the spot'.

Buying books is a big risk -- the basis for liking or disliking a particular author is unfathomable. Sense of humour, literary style, subject matter -- all these can play a role, but the tastes of our friends, partners and family members can remain a mystery to us despite what we already know about them. I rarely buy books as presents unless I know that the intended recipient favours a particular author, or unless I know them so well that the subject matter of the book in question is sure to please.

When I saw this book I'd recently seen the accompanying film. I immediately thought 'Donna' (my friend's name). But I didn't let that decide me -- first, I relinquished the book. Relinquishing is an essential part of the Inspired Shopping process. It can mean simply walking away for a few minutes from something you think you'd like to buy, or leaving the shop and coming back on the same or a later shopping trip. When you do this, you really need to give the item up, temporarily at least -- to convince yourself that you're not going to buy it. Then you watch and see how your intuition -- your deepest self -- reacts.

In this case, I decided to come back and pick up the book another time. This is a great way to relinquish if you're not concerned that the item is going to sell out. Why? Because the item bubbles away in your unconscious, giving you time to assess, without conscious effort, whether it really is what you want. I wasn't going to be seeing Donna for a couple of weeks so there was no urgency.

However, I have to say that my first effort at relinquishing proved to be favourable. My intuition 'alarm' went off and I felt sure I would buy the book when I returned to the bookshop.

I went back today, as I said, and tested the process a final time by relinquishing quickly (simply putting the book back on the shelf and starting to walk away). My intuition alarm went off again, so I knew for certain I could buy the book!

This example is important, I think, because there was some rational basis for my decision. But I didn't rely wholly on my rational mind; my intuition was the final arbiter. As well, I wanted to give my friend a surprise, and asking her if she liked the book's author would have spoilt that.

In my next post I'll detail another aspect of my experience at the shopping centre.
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