I somehow managed to find myself in Mall of the Emirates on Friday, November 29 – AKA Black (or, in the UAE, white, black-and-white, yellow or even green) Friday. I am not sure if my subconscious, falling prey to an agglomeration of insidious advertising, had inadvertently dragged me there, but my conscious mind merely thought I was meeting a friend for lunch. There were precisely zero thoughts of shopping.
The path from parking lot to restaurant was a minefield – all my favourite shops vying for my attention, innocently inviting me to just come in and take a little look, seducing me with mega discounts and unmissable deals. Something akin to anxiety set in. The experts call it "anticipatory regret", which is basically a fancy term for fomo. All those shops, filled with all those things, just crying out to be mine. Maybe I would never again get another chance to buy Molton Brown hand soap for 20 per cent off. Maybe I would forever regret not owning that Reiss dress, or that faux fur armchair from Maisons du Monde, or those shoes, or those bedsheets, or…
I would not classify myself as a big shopper, and like to think of myself as a pretty reasonable sort of gal. But even I am not immune to the psychological onslaught of the mega sale. The entire experience is driven by a combination of fear – the fear of missing out – and the excitement of somehow cheating the system and bagging an incredible bargain. There is the anticipation of finding something exceptional, mixed with the frustration of dealing with crowds and queues. There is the confusion of perceived value versus actual value – however you frame it in your head, buying something you do not really like for 50 per cent less is still a waste of money.
It is scientifically proven that words such as "sale" and "deal" can trigger the rewards system in our brains, making us less capable of making good decisions. At the same time, the rush of actually getting a good deal sends our dopamine levels soaring.
I managed to walk away unscathed on Black Friday. I left Mall of the Emirates with nothing more than a full stomach – one small victory in my journey to becoming a more conscious consumer. And then Cyber Monday rolled around. My willpower was depleted after my valiant Black Friday efforts – what human could possible overcome so much temptation in so short a time? And so I caved.
I decided that the one thing missing from my wardrobe was a heavily discounted long-sleeved leopard print denim jumpsuit. It arrived, promptly and beautifully packaged, the next day. And it is, hands down, the most ridiculously unflattering item that I have ever owned, which is saying something. Having given in to the fear of anticipatory regret, I am now flooded with actual regret. And shame for not knowing better.
A couple of months ago, I moved house, and was genuinely mortified to realise how much stuff I had accumulated since moving to Dubai. I donated multiple bin-bags worth of clothes to various charities, sent Take My Junk off with a truckload of furniture, and gave away scores of other unwanted items. My new home is a much more streamlined environment. But for how long?
I had promised myself that I would wait for the Dubai Shopping Festival later this month before allowing myself to buy anything except essential household goods. My new home still needs a few bits and bobs, but I wanted to give us some time to settle in before deciding what was actually essential and what we could do without. Plus, I need to give my bank account a break from the trauma of a new mortgage.
But the temptation is ever-present. There’s another super sale taking place in Dubai this weekend, dubbed Gift Season. Running from December 12 to 14, it includes discounts of up to 75 per cent at 1,500 shops in malls across the city. It’s timed to make sure we can all maximise on our Christmas shopping – but how many of us will just end up indulging in a spot of festive self-gifting? It is not beyond the realms of possibility that I will end up with another leopard print jumpsuit that will languish at the back of my wardrobe until the next time I move.