Confessions of a secret shopaholic, the truth behind shopping addiction
When does a fun shopping spree become too much?
Shopping has become a contentious hobby in the heat of lockdowns amidst COVID-19. Fashion brands have scaled back on advertising products on their social media, and influencers, particularly luxury YouTubers, have faced difficulty balancing content creation continuity and sensitivity to communities who've been hit harder by the pandemic.
In theory, now would be the "best" time to shop — brands have slashed prices on their products to keep enticing customers and even the secondhand market is witnessing price drops for typically premium items — but any non-essential purchases would add further stress on delivery workers' already stressful schedules, and basically, for most of us, it just doesn't feel right.
And yet while we intrinsically know this, some of us still find it particularly hard to kick the habit. Shopaholics, for instance. Psychology Today's Mariana Bockarova PhD cited shopaholics broadly: "Compulsive buyers are those who are psychologically driven to shop. What matters to such shoppers is not the amount they spend, but the effect that the very act of shopping has on them."
Take my friend *Rachel for example. We first met in school as classmates, and have since grown to become close friends and confidants. Rachel was a former shopaholic through and through. Stepping into her room for the first time should have come with a disclaimer. Her floor-to-ceiling wardrobe was stack piled like a warehouse, and her drawers stuffed with make-up products of suspiciously similar shades.
For Rachel, shopping started out as a definitive coming-of-age habit. She had just started working part-time in the nightlife industry and desperately wanted to emulate the glamourous women she had met at her workplace. "When I found a job at 16, I was working with girls who were older," she shared. "Most of them were already in university, wore nice clothes, carried cute handbags and talked about their sexual adventures all the time. I wanted to be like them!"
She continues, "Growing up the only girl in my family, my parents certainly spoiled me. When I was younger, my mum would take me shopping every week and dress me up all the time in nice clothes. I was never taught any financial discipline. Instead, I learned that if you wanted something, you just buy it. Finally being able to afford clothes I wanted without having to ask for money and permission felt extremely liberating."
Great fashion can be a solution, but only to some problems. According to "On Sustainability: Five Ways To Use Psychology To Change Consumer Behaviour", an article on Psychology of Fashion, wanting to be someone else is not a great premise to shop. In it, , founder of the site and a fashion journalist with a background in psychology writes, "These purchases are more likely to be throwaways and things out of line with one's style sense of self."
Shopping turned from a fun exercise discovering her adulthood into something a lot more troubling. Rachel's shopping habit had started to affect her life and financial stability. She was shopping almost daily with purchases coming in more often than she could use them.
"I had a closet full of clothes with the tags still on. In one period of my life, I was shopping almost every day," she confessed. "I wouldn't have known how to measure my shopping habit. It didn't matter if I had any money left for food if it meant buying something I really wanted." It reminded me of the few times when we had planned to go out for dinner and drinks; she'd message me the day of to ask if we could meet at a cheaper establishment because she'd just spent a few hundred dollars on an online shopping spree.
"Sometimes I shop so much I'd feel sick," she continued. "I'd look at a purchase from a week ago and think, "Why did I buy that?" and regret after. Sometimes if I make multiple purchases online, I'll ship a couple over to my boyfriend and friends so my mum doesn't find out."
Even as is with friends, there are just some things you don't say; or rather, have to tiptoe around. Confrontation is not always the best strategy for people who're in the thick of struggling with themselves. So while under the compliments and jokes around Rachel turning up to school every day in a new outfit was done in jest, there seemed to be unanimity that her underlying problem was more severe.
While it was refreshing to hear her express definite awareness of unhealthy behaviour, it felt strange to hear her detail how she'd actively act against objective self-interest. It's like when Rebecca from Confessions of a Shopaholic actually tells herself how much in debt she is, before proceeding to max out four credit cards for a $120 green scarf.
In an article by Metro UK, this irony was explained: "People enjoy shopping precisely because of all this chemical activity, as the increase of dopamine conjures up powerful feelings of reward and motivation, but this pleasure usually remains balanced by practical financial considerations and the knowledge that overspending hurts. When this process gets out of balance and people become addicted to the pleasure sensation of spending, this can turn into a full-blown shopping addiction, also known as oniomania or compulsive buying disorder (CBD)."
It sounds more serious when reported by professionals than conjured in our minds, mostly because shopaholism seems to have been trivialised. But it is still considered a mental health issue. In "The 7 Warning Signs of Shopping Addiction" , an article in Psych Central detailed, "many people describe shopping as a way of reducing stress or providing relief from anxiety rather than to get a high."
For Rachel, her way of feeling good was derived from her shoe collection. Especially in school, shoes were a huge indicator of social interest. Boots were worn for nights out to the clubs, high heels seemed to indicate adult sophistication, slippers were to be worn either ironically or as protests against early classes. Sneakers were a universal option for versatility, and Rachel owned many. For someone who shopped to aspire, it made sense.
"I have too many shoes for two feet. I only wear one pair of anything at a time, it's like my thing," Rachel shared. " I buy so many pairs of shoes and they just sit in the closet until the pair I'm wearing is absolutely worn out. I recently threw out six pairs of new shoes because I haven't worn them in years and their soles were either coming apart or the leather was cracking. They were all brand new."
With time and introspection, it seems like Rachel has managed to numb her instinct to press "confirm" on loaded shopping carts. Many of the "solutions" mentioned online on how to curb CBD seem to be vague because a lot of the work to be done is personal. It's definitely not wise to revert addictive behaviour from one destructive activity to another; instead, self-investment ultimately proves beneficial.
Today, Rachel often shares how she feels she's come out of a "phase" in her life rife with a lack of motivation for school and a deep motivation to shop. She's currently pursuing her degree and in a committed relationship with her boyfriend of a few years. With the choas that is her teenage life behind her, it seems like she's been able to find the headspace to better evaluate important life choices.
"I think my shopping has now changed. I used to spend several hundred dollars a month on fashion alone. Now, I set aside $100 for shopping. It's easier when I give myself a couple of days to think about a purchase. If I'm shopping online, I like to leave items in my cart for like, two days before checking out. Usually, the desire to buy them passes and I never complete the purchase."
Rachel hasn't completely given up on shopping, but makes sure when she acquires new things, to let others go. "I do a lot of flea sales as well. I sell my clothes for cheap because the goal is always to clear, not to earn a profit." While old habits die hard, at the very least, it seems like her growingly mindful practices are paying off.
*name has been changed for privacy reasons