Mar 13, 2012

how to deal with obsessive tea shopping...

This blog entry is inspired by a recent discussion on, How do you stop the compulsion of buy buy BUY more tea?!
Currently I don't have much of obsessive tea shopping behaviors - well, it helps that I do tea shopping for "business" instead of for personal obsessions. But I have semi-obsessive (just to be moderate) personality, and I somewhat knew it long time ago and have tried to deal with it. I think I did make a lot of progress. To be honest, I still get obsessive on things from time to time, and still LOVE shopping... But to put a positive note, if I hadn't been working on reducing my obsessions, things could be much, much worse ;-)

Generally, I'm not an A type person, and I'm a believer of "do what you want". But somehow I get along with A type people very well, and quite a few of my best friends are A type people - goal oriented, self-disciplined, perfect control on everything, including themselves! I used to tease my A type friends a lot about their strict self-control. And of course, they teased me about my corruptible life style too. Now we've reached such a stage of life where many of my A type friends have started to learn to relax, and on the other hand, I've started to really appreciate and respect self-discipline.

A few year ago, in a meditation retreat, I heard this from Rev. Ryūmon Hilda Gutiérrez Baldoquín, a Soto Zen (曹洞宗) priest. She said, "Freedom is from discipline." It was an empathetic moment for me. As a person who values freedom more than most other things in life, for the first time, I had realized my pursuit of freedom was, more often than not, in the wrong direction. This sentence has since become my motto. Not that I've done well in self-discipline. I won't beat myself hard for my "human weakness", but to me, the awareness and willingness to work on it are both important.

I know tea shopping is fun, especially the options of tea varieties can never be exhausted! I didn't mean to ruin the party but I believe tea appreciation can be fun, and more fun, without compulsive shopping or over-spending. So here is a collection of suggestions from tea drinkers about how to deal with compulsive shopping, along with some of my thoughts. As you will see, I didn't include some of the most rigorous (or cruel) methods. All of them are mild and easy, yet effective!

1. Create a wish list and put on it things that you would like to have but don't have to get immediately.

A lot of shoppers recognized this rule and indeed it could help a lot.

This works especially well on vendors with a free shipping/flat shipping threshold. When I was more shopaholic and stingy at the same time, I would constantly fall into the loop of "the more you buy, the more you save!" Sometimes, you do save by buying more at one time and enjoying the free shipping. But I guess most people end up buying extra things just to meet the free shipping threshold (it happened to me at least). In fact, you only save when you buy what you plan to buy, and group your purchases into larger ones, instead of enlarging your purchase plans! This is very common sense when you keep a level head, which, however, is often lost during shopping :-p So if you keep everything you want in a wish list, and draw from it, and only from it, during shopping, you can more easily meet the shipping threshold without buying extra (and often useless) stuff or leave something out (which becomes the excuse of another purchase soon).

Overall, I think wish list is an easy approach that doesn't infringe much of the fun of shopping. But, let's face it, it doesn't touch the root of the shopaholic problem either! So I think it can be one approach, but not the only one.

2. "Shop your stash!" method as recommended by steepsterite Erin.

Erin said this approach is pretty much from her hobby of cosmetics collection. I have similar experience. Several years ago, there was half a year that I didn't have any income and used up all my savings taking my parents to travel around the northeastern states when they came all the way from China to attend my commencement. Then I knew I had to cut off my spending on skincare and cosmetics. It was then that I realized how much I had stocked up! In fact, my stock pile supplied me all the way through the first two years of my new job. When I used up full size products, I pool small samples of the same kind in empty jars and they supplied me for almost another full year!

Sometimes you just don't realize how much you've already stocked up. Pretty much the same for tea and many other things! "Shop your stash" makes you recognize how much you've already got, and how much in your stock is not put in use yet.

Besides, as we know, owning nice things often brings us feeling of satisfaction - not that it's good, but ah human weakness... :-p Going through your collection could feel like a general going by parades of his soldiers. When you enjoy the satisfaction by going over what you've already got, you may not need to gain satisfaction from immediate shopping. Needless to say, the former satisfaction doesn't cost you anything!

3. "Keep track of your spending" as recommended by steepsterite MadelineAlyce. She also recommended this smart phone App. "loot" which is free and can track your expenses.

I'm very reluctant to spend the time tracking my spending though. I guess it depends on how easy it is to track it and how bad the problem is :-p

4. Don't shop, swap!

Tea swap not only brings you new tea, but also friendly communication. And it barely costs anything. It's also a way to get rid of teas that you dislike but are too good to just throw away.

5. Draw a clear line between the degree of purchase and the degree of appreciation.

This is quite obvious, however, sometimes ignored. Many tea drinkers, especially new tea drinkers, are eager to learn more about tea. That's what's unique about tea. It's not only a beverage, but also a culture. However, in modern life, things are much easier to obtain, even when they are from the other end of the earth. Then sometimes we can easily fall into the consumption loop and deviate from our original pursuit. This doesn't just happen in tea. My photographer friends often rant about how often conversations about photography deviate toward discussion on equipment (expensive camera, expensive lens, etc.). Consumption is always easy, and people tend to fall into it.

Although tasting tea is one of the most important approaches of learning about tea, it's not always true that "the more (expensive) you taste/buy, the more you learn". There are other learning approaches that can be well combined with tea tasting, and that cost little. Reading is an excellent one. 

In addition, here is a side story. Long time ago, I always assumed those who grew up in families carrying tea business for generations must have had the most prestigious tea since they were toddlers. Then, what I've heard from quite a few such people is quite the contrary. All of them told me most of the tea they had in their childhood was of much lower grades than consumed by average tea drinkers. (However lower grade tea is not necessarily poor tea, and I have some examples here.) There is thrifty factor in it. But more importantly, to learn about tea, it could be very important to start from the basic. A friend from a oolong business family told me, she started drinking tea at the age of 5, but before she was 9, all she had was all sorts of "debris of tea". And then she started drinking tea of slightly higher grades, and then even slightly higher grades... Her grandpa used to tell her, people who only drink high grade tea (for example the emperors) would be able to tell great tea from poor tea, but that's all. Only people who have experience with tea of different grades can develop the capability of recognizing subtle features of tea of various types and various grades. Of course this is about the training of a tea professional, and we don't have to follow that path by spending a lot of time drinking debris of tea or low grade tea. But I believe such stories tell us that learning is not always from buying more tea and buying more expensive tea. Of course from time to time we can still pamper ourselves by getting excellent teas. But let's face it, it's consumption, not learning :-p

6. Shift your time and attention from consumption onto creation/production.

Here, production doesn't necessarily mean heavy labor or complicated work. And creation doesn't necessarily mean professional level artistic work. For example, taking photos of your tea or tea ware and make them into Christmas card is sort of small production. It may not serve the human society in large, but it serves your family well. Similarly, writing a blog is a small creation. It may not be that meaningful to other people, but could mean a lot to you if you keep doing it!

As a person with slight obsessive tendency, here is what I think - if you have to be obsessive on something, try to be obsessive on production behaviors rather than consumption behaviors. Not that obsessions are good, but some are worse than others!

Now, what are your tips and thoughts about dealing with compulsive shopping?


LTPR said...

Excellent post, Gingko! I could swear it was written just for me :) Particularly appreciate your words about freedom in discipline. The older I get, the more deeply I understand this. But I'm definitely a work in progress. Thanks for writing this up!

ankitlochan said...

we plan to have a 2012 darjeeling first flush online tea tasting session .. any ideas on how we can work on it and have more and more people participate so we can make people aware of single estate high end darjeeling rare exclusive teas ... also more and more discussions would help us interact with each other ... thank you! ankit lochan -

Alex Zorach said...

I'm not someone who has had a problem with compulsive shopping; I tend to err on the other side, being a bit of a tightwad sometimes.

However, I think that there is "unity in addictions" so to speak, and that the factors influencing compulsive shopping are similar to the factors influencing other compulsive or addictive behaviors, including those as diverse as gambling, drug abuse, or self-injury. I think that getting into a healthier place overall is ultimately the solution to all of these problems. This can involve multiple approaches, but many of them come down to being content with the material resources we have in the moment, developing healthy ways of communicating and interacting with people, and finding ways of coping with stress or negative emotions that ultimately put us in a better place.

Linda said...

These are some great tips! Although my compulsive spending is not revolved around tea, I feel that these tips can be applied to any type of compulsive spending. I found a lot of tips to help stop compulsive spending at I hope this is helpful.

Alex Zorach said...

I finished and posted my follow-up post to this, Obsessive-Compulsive Tea Shopping, and Unity in Addictions, in which I propose another possible solution, focusing on the enjoyment of what tea one does not have, rather than coveting what teas one does not have, which is part of a general pattern that I think is helpful in getting into a more healthy mindset that is different from the addiction mindset of focusing on fulfilling immediate cravings.

Thanks much for sharing this and inspiring my post!

Gingko said...

Alex, thanks! You've made quite a few good points on the mentality of obsession and addiction. But I also want to say, would you please be milder on us shopaholics :-p (I've left some comments on your blog post.)

SimpliciTEA said...

I don't know where to start, or what to say here, as this touches on a topic I have struggled with most of my life, and one I have strong opinions about. I am glad there is a discussion about it here, though. I posted a number of replies to the related thread on Steepster.

I guess I want to take a deep approach (as that seems to be in my blood). Only recently have I started to see life as the glass half-full, rather than the glass half-empty. This is a fundamental shift in the way I perceive things, so I feel it's impact in nearly everything I do (as long as I am aware of it, that is). This is one way I like to explain it. 1) If I come from a place of scarcity, such that I unconsciously feel I don't have enough, and/or I feel I need to get the thing I don't have RIGHT NOW, before it's gone, then I tend to make poor choices, and, as this relates this to Tea, buy tea I don't really need (i.e. even though I already have plenty of tea, I choose to buy more of it since it's on sale in the belief that if I don't it will go away and something that good will NEVER cross my path again). 2) If instead I come from a place of abundance, such that I feel I have everything I need in this moment, and furthermore that when I need what I don't have I believe I will get it when the time is right, then I tend to make much better choices (and avoid the sales when I already have plenty of tea, for example).

That's what I call the scarcity (fear) vs. abundance (trust, or faith, or love) concept in a nutshell (Anthony Robbins first helped me to understand this concept over a decade ago, and here I am, now, just getting it). I don't have any more time to devote to that concept now just now, but it's a start. It's one of the most life changing things that has ever happened to me. And I want to share it here in the hope it will help others.

Gingko said...

Hi SimpliciTea, you've given some excellent psyco-analysis on shopaholics! And I can definitely relate to it!
I like your theory about scarcity vs. abundance! Another friend once told me she thinks people with obsessive shopping behavior usually have a big "hole" in their mind that they try hard to fill. Then there came the illusion that the more you buy, the more you fill the hole. That's a little similar to the scarcity vs. abundance you said.
Also I feel it's hard to resist shopping when you think something is the only one and will not be there anymore once you miss it. This doesn't happen as much on tea, but I bet a lot of people have this problem on tea ware :-p