The power of retail therapy

“Oh boy, I got such cute outfits today! What else can I need?” — Aline Kominsky-Crumb, poking fun at herself in her comic Of What Use Is a Bunch? 

The idea of “retail therapy” — shopping as a balm to soothe the soul — chafes against everything I like to think I stand for. 

“Look at those conformist robots!” I scoff to myself as I observe the squads of 20-somethings exiting the Uptown Victoria’s Secret with their overpriced underthings. 

But my disgust is pure projection. When my life opens up before me like a meaningless void, do I face it head on, with courage and strength? 

Or do I grab my credit card and head for the clearance room at the nearest Schuler Shoes? 

As the parent of small children, sometimes I want a quick fix for my angst. And whether it’s a new pair of red suede boots or 7 pounds of secondhand clothing at the “buy it in bulk” Goodwill, I’ve come to believe what you’re not supposed to believe — that money can buy happiness (at least, fleeting happiness).  

Once I came to terms with this uncomfortable truth, I wanted to explore the possibilities. What mood-boosting things do other parents spend their money on?
I posed this question to a bunch of friends and my favorite Facebook “mom group.” 

A variety of themes emerged:

Consumable indulgence 

“I find great joy in the ‘odds and ends’ basket at the cheese counter. My partner isn’t into fancy cheese, so I get myself mini cheeses and make a fancy cheese board and open a bottle of decent wine at home.” — Michaelann, Minneapolis 

Honorable mentions: Fancy coffee makers, fancy coffee drinks, wine.


“Lip balms. Tinted lip balms. I buy and lose them on a constant basis, but it’s the first thing I search for in my purse when I want to feel put together.” — Molly, Minneapolis 

“Earrings at Patina or I Like You in Minneapolis! A great pair of earrings makes me feel like I finished my outfit on the most sluggish of days.” — Ariane, Minneapolis 

Honorable mentions: Haircuts/color, tattoos, nail polish.  

Space enhancements 

“After my divorce, I spent a lot of time making my space exactly how I wanted it to be. I would spend my solo afternoon perusing SouthSide Vintage (Minneapolis). It made me feel as though I had some control over my life amidst a divorce that made me feel so out of control.” — Johannah, Minneapolis 

“I find creating a calm, beautiful space to be very therapeutic, so my favorite thing to do when I’m alone is to get something for the house. Getting some decent curtain rods or a nice rug can change the tone of a space, and I like to hunt until I find the perfect thing at the right price. There is a sense of pride and satisfaction when you find the finishing touches to a room you’ve been working on for a while — and we aren’t the type of people who can decorate all at once so this last bit is kind of a big deal.” — Tianna, Minneapolis 

Honorable mentions: Plants, new sheets.


“I take myself out for a giant slice of tres leche and a LaCroix from Cafe Latte. Or I’ll take myself on a date to Shamrocks for a burger and a beer, and extra bleu cheese for my fries. I guess I buy myself solo dates.” — Lauren, St. Paul 

“My best ‘treat yo self’ has been learning to go to the movies by myself. It was a little scary at first, but was dying for a break, so I went. Now there is nothing more relaxing than a quiet, cool movie theater and a snack that I don’t have to share with anyone else! Worth it every single time.” — Stace, Minneapolis 

“L’Occitane nourishing hand cream, a slice of the turtle or chocolate-chocolate cake at Cafe Latte and a fresh new book. Then I find an amazing corner in a cafe (in winter) or outdoor seating somewhere amazing like W.A. Frost in the summer, and I have my own date.” — Devon, Lakeville 


What’s your favorite way to — within reason — buy some therapeutic happiness?

Shannon Keough lives in St. Paul with her husband and two children. Send questions or comments to