Malls, shops and stores are quite challenging for those on the spectrum and Aspies as they present a smorgasbord of external sensory stimuli and anxieties that end up overwhelming an individual. However, going to the mall or going shopping in brick and mortar stores is something that is unavoidable. Sure, there is the alternative of shopping online instead, but sometimes, there are just some cases in which you do have to go out to one of these establishments, either to buy something, or to meet up with family or friends.
Just as a note before we continue, for me, shopping days and mall days do include hanging out with family and friends (movies, eating out, etc.), and buying things from clothes to gadgets. This is different from running errands, which I classify as buying things from the grocery store, hardware store, school and office supplies, drugstore, paying bills, and going to the bank. I’ll be making a separate post on that.
For me, shopping days are both exciting and nerve wracking, especially when I’m shopping alone. Aside from the sights, sounds and smells that assault my senses as I move around the mall, there are the anxieties and worries that plague me when it comes to actually deciding to buy a particular item, especially when it comes to clothes, as I do not want to make any mistakes or have any regrets with what I bought or with what I did at the mall.
So, especially as the Christmas season means that we will really have to suck it up and go to the mall to buy gifts and presents for our loved ones, I came up with this list of tips and tricks that have allowed me to survive any mall experience.
1.Do Your Research- Whether its a family or friendly hang out in the mall, or a shopping day for you, make sure that you do your homework. Know what establishments or places you will be going to. If you are watching a movie at the mall, know the schedules before hand and include it when you plan your hang out. If you are all eating out, check out reviews and what the recommended food is there. If you have any food allergies, make sure that you know that you can order something to eat while there. If you are shopping for clothes, make-up, beauty related items or accessories, know which brands are ideal, what stores you can get them at, and if in doubt, bring along a friend with you knowledgeable in that particular area. Also, if you are going shopping, know which stores you will be going to within the mall, and if you don’t know the area well enough, before you go shopping, consult a floor directory or map, so you can plot the most efficient way you can go around the mall and go to the stores you need to go to.
2.Make A List- I LOVE MAKING LISTS. Every time I go out, I either have a mental or physical list in my head. If I’m hanging out with friends and family, I have a mental list of restaurants that I can use to suggest as to where we’ll eat, and a mental list of proposed activities that we might be able to do together at the mall. For shopping days, I have a checklist of things that I need to buy, with the particular brand, and in my mind, I know which stores I have to go to. Also, when it comes to shopping lists, put the ones you need to prioritize on the top of your list.
3.Bring Earphones or Noise Cancelling Headphones- External stimuli can drive people on the spectrum and Aspies crazy. In order to mitigate this, and when it is getting too much for me, I pop on my earphones (you can use your noise cancelling headphones if you have a pair), and listen to music that either makes me happy or calms me down. This allows me to concentrate more on the task at hand, and it allows me to retreat a bit into my shell for a bit, which recharges me.
4.Wear Comfortable Shoes or Sandals- Shopping or hanging out with family and friends at a mall might also mean that you will also have to walk around the mall as well. Make sure that you are wearing something comfortable on your feet, because you do not want your feet to hurt, which will only cause you to become tired and irritable.
5.Take Breaks- If there are moments when you feel that the stimuli around you is too overwhelming, if you think that you need a moment to take a minute to catch your breath, or if you feel that you are getting tired already, take a break. You can sit down for a while, or you can retreat into a cafe or restaurant for a while, and get some energy back before going back into the fray. I take my shopping breaks at cafes. While there, I sometimes eat or drink, pop on my earphones, and check all my shopping lists to see what I need to do, or weigh the pros and cons of things I’ve already canvassed.
6. Shop During Off-Peak Hours & Days- Shopping at times and days in which you know that there will be less people at the mall definitely makes for a better shopping experience as there will be less stimuli around. I typically really like to go shopping during weekdays as the malls are usually full during weekends. I also prefer to watch movies on weekdays (excluding Fridays), as it means that there will be less people with you at the cinema. This also means that the lines won’t be as long, too.
7. Turn It Into A Game or Adventure– This really depends on the individual, but I find that shopping trips become more enjoyable for me, especially when it’s crowded, when I envision it as an adventure video game. In my head, I usually give myself extra points for not bumping into people, and finding the most efficient route to a particular store or section in the store, and it makes the entire experience more fun overall.
9.Stick With What You Know & Are Comfortable With- This comes in handy for buying clothes, make-up and beauty items. I usually stick with brands that come highly recommended from experts or friends who are experts, and with things that I am used to and comfortable with. When it comes to make-up, I choose brands that work for me and don’t make me feel itchy, and with clothes, I usually go for items which are really comfortable for me. I also usually buy one style of pants or shirts, and then get different colors or variations of it, so that I can just accessorize to dress it up. They cannot make me feel itchy or too hot. I’m pretty sensitive when it comes to the sense of touch, so I pick clothes with materials that I find comfortable. I also know which brands don’t work on me, so I avoid those altogether. Underwear and shoes also need to be comfortable, but for me, it takes a little bit longer to truly find the best ones for me.
10.Manage Expectations and Emotions- Don’t be sad if you ended up not buying anything, or not being able to complete everything on your check list, at the very least, you were still able to get some things, and you were able to canvass particular brands which you can ponder over until the next shopping trip.
And those are my tips on how to survive your next shopping trip. Let me know which tip you liked best, and if there are any other tips and tricks that you use when you go shopping or go to the mall. Just sound off in the comments section below!