Written by Eleanor Noyce
Have you ever put furniture into your online basket with no intention of buying it? Or lusted after tiles while building your dream kitchen on a virtual design service? Then you’re one of a growing number of ‘fantasy homeware shoppers’. Eleanor Noyce gets to the bottom of why we’re window shopping for homeware.
This year I moved into my first flat in London. Signing the rental contract felt like the most adult thing I’d ever done, and I was excited at the prospect of decorating a new space.
But, I found the transition from my family home to a rented flat without a living room difficult. I was privileged to grow up in a comfortable house and I started fantasising about owning a space that felt as cosy as the one I’d left behind.
Rather than being comforted by the new life I’d created for myself, I felt jarred by all the material things I lacked. I ended up buying an expensive beanbag on credit that I couldn’t really afford. From then on, I decided ‘fantasy homeware shopping’ was the way forward.
Urban Dictionary defines ‘fantasy shopping’ as “going through a store, filling up a cart and leaving it in a random spot”. Or, “when you go online to a site like Amazon, or other retail stores, and fill up a cart and never plan on buying.”
With our feeds full of swish renovation projects and beautifully kitted-out interiors, many people are becoming fantasy homeware shoppers – finding ourselves dreaming so intensely about owning certain homeware that we will go to the lengths of using virtual design services to construct the ‘dream’ home. We will add items from luxury homeware sites to our bottomless baskets and not buy them. Some of us are even purchasing homeware, posting a photograph of it online, and then returning it.
After spending so much time in our homes over the pandemic, is it any surprise we’ve built these fantasy homeware wishlists? Covid-19 has transformed our relationship with our homes. Now, more than ever, we crave security from our surroundings.
According to Statista, online homeware shopping among UK consumers peaked in March 2021 at the height of the second nationwide lockdown. While a survey from Made.com found that 40% of consumers decided to invest in their homes with new homeware during lockdown last year.
However, a 2021 Barclaycard report reveals that online shoppers typically abandon baskets worth in excess of £100 each month, noting that 26% abandoned due to a desire to ‘window shop’. This amounted to £39.4 billion worth of goods between 2020 and 2021 – a figure that has more than doubled since 2018.
In many ways, the internet has fuelled my addiction to fantasy homeware shopping. When I was little, I used to flick through my mum’s Next Home catalogues and make extensive lists of everything I envisaged owning as an adult. Nowadays, I spend my lunch breaks scrolling through Oliver Bonas and Made.com, adding the most expensive items to my basket. I’m able to pretend, just for a second, that I have a shot at decorating my home with opulent interiors.
I’m not alone. Emilie, 22, from Nottingham, has loved homeware shopping since childhood. “I’d create notebooks stuffed full of pictures of homeware and spend hours picking paint colours to match,” she tells Stylist. “Now, I spend a lot of time looking at my dream homes on TikTok and Instagram. When I fantasy shop, I can pick daring colours and lavish items I can’t currently justify.” Over the years, Emilie’s moved from scrapbooks to Pinterest boards, meticulously curating every detail: “I have different decades of my life planned down to the floor panels.”
For 29-year-old Nyxie from Northern Ireland, fantasy shopping helped her realise her homeware goals. Using virtual design services, she and her husband were able to envisage their current home: every element, down to the colour scheme, was planned out. “We’re both creative and have managed to build our own furniture to fit our bedroom using scrap wood,” she says. “The concept started with an Ikea showroom many years ago. I drafted it out using my iPad and then The Sims 4,” says Nyxie, demonstrating that perhaps there is something tangible within this fantasy.
So, what fuels our desire to fantasy homeware shop? Behaviour therapist Olivia James explains: “Our home is our sanctuary from the world. The dream of having an uplifting, calming space is very tempting, especially during a pandemic. Browsing can get us into an almost hypnotic trance when we are imagining how things would look and feel. Virtual design services make our dream space appear more concrete – it’s easier to imagine it becoming a reality.”
Consumer psychologist Kate Nightingale also recognises the motivational aspect of fantasy shopping. “We all have an ideal self; the future version of ourselves and the life we are aiming at,” she tells Stylist. “Quite often, fantasy shopping is done by our ideal self rather than our actual self. It allows us to understand where we are versus ‘the dream’ and what we might need to do to get there.”
However, fantasy homeware shopping isn’t always about self-improvement. It can also be fuelled by a desire to please others, as James explains: “There is the added factor of receiving admiration, especially if we post pictures on Instagram. This can motivate us to make our fantasy shopping more about others than ourselves.”
It’s an observation I recognise. In the past, I’ve deliberately purchased sale items from expensive stores, photographing them in my own home to create the illusion I could afford high-end brands.
Furthermore, the current state of the UK housing market is also fuelling our desire for fantasy homeware shopping. The Institute for Fiscal Studies reports that today’s young adults are significantly less likely to own a home, with mean house prices rising by 152% between 1995/1996 and 2015/2016. As a result, Gen Zs and millennials are increasingly locked out of the housing market, and our financial priorities and aspirations have evolved along these lines.
Jessica, 25, based in London, believes that her housing situation is directly connected to her relationship with fantasy homeware shopping. “I don’t feel like I’m ever going to be able to buy my dream home, so I let it out of my system by browsing homeware and fantasising,” she says. “We want what we can’t have.”
James agrees with this theory. “Young people today find it harder to get onto the property ladder and may be tempted to say: ‘Sod it, I’ll just spend my money on fun stuff’.”
Indeed, renting can fuel fantasy homeware shopping, as Emilie recognises: “My flat is rented, but I definitely use fantasy shopping to fulfil the dream of owning my own house.” This is the crucial element of fantasy homeware shopping: it’s a coping mechanism for a broken system.
For the most part, I’ve found fantasy homeware shopping cathartic. When I’ve needed comfort, it’s been there. When I’ve felt depressed at the state of my own flat, it’s offered me escapism. Perhaps one day I’ll be fortunate enough to realise the interiors of my dreams? For now, I’ll carry on scrolling.
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