A busy store can be overstimulating for introverts, who prefer quieter places — or at least, who can only take so much of a busy one.
When I was younger, “shopping” was considered something fun. That late ‘90s/early 2000s idea of going to the mall has a certain nostalgic ring to it, a cool activity that teenagers did on weekends.
Malls were the land of loud music, of doorway after enticing doorway of stuff, of trends. And the land of Saturday crowds, shrieking children, and bad cologne. All. At. Once.
Now, in my 30s, I ask myself: Why on earth did I ever like this?
But here’s the thing: Now that I know myself better, and now that I understand what a drain it was on me as an introvert, I realize I was just pretending to like it. I had thought shopping for fun was just something people did, rather than stopping to ask myself if I actually enjoyed it.
The truth is, I loathe shopping malls. In fact, I don’t like most in-person shopping, probably 90 percent of the time. I get bored and tired very easily, even if it’s a little bit of browsing while out with family or friends.
It’s not just being around people that tires me — I genuinely have no interest in the monotony of looking at rack after rack of clothes, for example. Not to mention the unpleasant and overstimulating (why-did-someone-ever-invent-this) fluorescent lighting. (Seriously, why?)
Yes, I fully admit that I am not the most fun person to shop with.
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Shopping as an Introvert
Since I mentioned that I hate shopping 90 percent of the time, rather than a clear-cut 100 percent, I should clarify that point. The other 10 percent consists of the pleasant shopping experiences that tend to be more laid-back and quiet, i.e., introvert-friendly: I love going to small local shops, and I love bookstores. I even like some grocery trips (more about that below!).
Going to a busy store can be overstimulating and exhausting for introverts who prefer quieter environments, or at least, who can only take so much of an environment like a busy store.
The realization that I hated shopping was a game-changer, and I learned how to deal with it as a mostly unpleasant necessity. (Besides the tried-and-true strategy of don’t go.) Online shopping also made a difference in making shopping more introvert-friendly. For me, the question of in-person versus online shopping is a lot like the “Could this have been an email?” work meeting.
When I linked my distaste for shopping to my introversion, I started to understand how to manage this particular aspect of adulting even further. Here’s how I survive in-person shopping as an introvert.
4 Ways to Survive In-Person Shopping as an Introvert
1. Take time for yourself when shopping with others.
Over the years, I’ve learned that I have a shopping energy threshold depending on the type of store, and my battery runs down faster in some places more so than others. In the situations where I do better, I’m a more pleasant person to be around. In a bookstore, for instance, I can stay for extended periods of time — it’s probably about 45 minutes to an hour before I start getting restless (if I had to guess). In clothing stores, on the other hand, it’s probably 10 minutes (okay, maybe five).
So if I’m out with a group of people and shopping is on the horizon, I have a few possible options — waiting in the car (if it’s just a few minutes) or going to the bookstore/coffee shop/that bench over there while they roam around. Then I’ll arrange a time to meet back up with everyone later.
Genuinely, I don’t want to drag down anyone’s shopping experience by visibly looking exhausted and bored. (Friends and family: I know I’ve done this to you in the past, and for that, I’m sorry! Kind of.) If someone loves shopping, good for them. But I can only pretend I’m enjoying shopping for so long, and once my battery is drained, I have zero skills at putting on a poker face or a fake smile.
The point is: When you’re shopping with others, sometimes you need to compromise so everyone has a generally pleasant experience — and that compromise includes snippets of time to yourself to do a mini-recharge before you can go home.
2. Shop during off hours whenever possible.
If going to a large, typically busy store is necessary, go when it’s quiet! This may require some trial and error, but I find that mornings tend to be a solid starting point.
For instance, I do a big grocery run as soon as the store opens on Sunday morning, and I love it — I don’t feel rushed to get all my stuff and get the heck out of there, and most of the other (few) people are also there for the same exact reason I am — for a relatively pleasant, stress-free, uncrowded shopping experience.
A quiet, peaceful store where I can go at my own pace before returning to my quiet, peaceful home? Yes, please. If you want to observe introverts in the wild, go to a grocery store first thing in the morning.
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3. Come up with a game plan ahead of time.
Some introverts enjoy planning, mainly to avoid the risk of overstimulation or stress by knowing what’s next and making an experience as introvert-friendly as possible. For me, I don’t like to plan everything (I enjoy spontaneity and surprises!), but when it comes to an in-person shopping trip, I usually figure out what I need, where I need to go in the store, and approximately how long it will take me.
If possible, I also try to pick a store I’m familiar with; I know my local grocery store and pharmacy layouts pretty well, so there is no time-wasting “Where the heck is it?” moments once I’m walking through the aisles.
Having a game plan is also key if I can’t shop during off hours. Maybe the only time of day I have to pick up a few essential items is seven o’clock on a Thursday night, or (please, please, no) one o’clock on a Saturday afternoon. The more of a plan I have, the shorter and more to the point my trip will be.
4. Find the fun in it (yes… the fun!).
Even with something I dread, I try to make it enjoyable. Call it the Mary Poppins method — that sometimes-elusive “spoonful of sugar” when faced with an unpleasant task.
Can I get in and out of the store in under 15 — hey, let’s make it 10 — minutes? (I did this once when I needed to buy a pair of jeans while traveling and had limited time to do so, and it was great — see “I hate clothes shopping” above.)
Can I spend less money on groceries than last time? What if I take five minutes to get birthday gift ideas for someone I care about? How about treating myself to something fun at the end of the trip, like a special chocolate bar or fancy coffee?
Because, let’s be honest — in the grand scheme of things, shopping is not that horrible, and I do feel fortunate that I have the flexibility to go shopping when and where I can. It just drains my energy reserves… a lot. (Especially if there is fluorescent lighting.)
Bottom Line: Know Your Introvert Limits
What it comes down to is this: What can you handle, my fellow introvert? Think about locations, people, and your overall energy levels. For me, I think I’ve figured it out.
Location-wise, I can handle an outdoor outlet store plaza for much longer than the dreaded shopping mall, partly because being outdoors is a natural introvert recharge. I also know the types of stores where I’ll do better: I can spend long, unhurried periods of time in a bookstore, but I need to get in and out of a clothing store as soon as possible.
People-wise, as someone who likes to do their own thing, I have a minimal threshold for the amount of time I can spend shopping with others. I also (like many of my fellow introverts) don’t like crowds. So I try to work in alone time on shopping trips whenever (and wherever) possible.
Energy-wise, I’m less likely to dread a trip if I stop on the way to (or from) someplace I’m already going, like work — i.e., I don’t like taking time away from my precious time at home just to go… shopping.
So figure out what works for you and what you prefer, and the stress and hassle of in-person shopping. Not to mention the drain on our introverted batteries, which can dissipate and even… dare I say it?… allow you the space to make in-person shopping fun.
Introverts, what would you add to this list? I’d love to hear in the comments below!
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