We all splurge now and then. When your favorite jeans are 50% off the already-on-sale-price it makes total sense to grab another pair. When a new gadget comes out that is sure to make life easier, like that container that is guaranteed to keep your avocado halves fresh, get one for yourself and one for your bestie. And new Christmas decorations? Don’t even think about it; you can put last year’s mantel décor in the guest bathroom.

Do you relate a little bit or a lot?

Maiya Kaur relates. A lot. She is a self-professed shopaholic. Addicted to online shopping, she describes it as her hobby.

“I don’t spend money on a gym membership, crafting, or things like massages and facials. My self-care is online shopping,” Maiya says, “When I’m bored, I shop. I like finding great deals and then I rationalize why I need the things. I’m a sucker for shoes and handbags.” Maiya realizes she has a problem. “My daughter isn’t happy with me because I’ve taken up half her closet with my stuff.” The bigger problem is her credit card balance. “I’m trying to save money to do a kitchen renovation, but I can’t ever catch up with my spending. I guess I want new shoes more than a new oven.”

Stephanie and Alex Martinez are a married couple that enables each other’s overspending. Stephanie matches Alex’s penchant for fishing gear with her need for kitchen gadgets.

“Alex is a big outdoorsman and buys every new fishing or hunting device that comes along,” Stephanie says, “And I’m the same way with cooking. When he gets a new reel, I get some kind of new slicer-dicer.”

Alex’s perspective is similar. “I like to fish and she likes to cook,” he says, “I’d be happy to take Steph out fishing with me, but she’d rather stay home and work up a new recipe. She has a different tool for every possible type of food, but I can’t complain because she’d just point to the garage. I’m just as guilty.” He grins and adds, “We’re going to need a bigger house.”

The Martinez’s are at peace with each other’s buying, but Brenda Wilk’s family is not as understanding with her obsession over holiday decorating.

“Mom decorates the whole house for every event,” says Brenda’s son, Luke, “Not just the regular holidays; she decorates for our birthdays, spring break, even National Donut Week. It’s kind of embarrassing”

Brenda confesses she has a weakness for donut-related decorating. “It’s true, there is just so much cute donut-related stuff,” she says. The problem is that Brenda has accumulated so many holiday decorations she has rented a storage space to hold them all. Her boyfriend, Allen, doesn’t share her enthusiasm. 

“We go back and forth to that storage unit, switching out the St. Patrick’s Day bins for the Easter bins, and then right after that, there’s Earth Day or whatever. It’s excessive, for sure, and expensive, but as soon as we get rid of some stuff, she buys something new.”

“I know I have a problem. I spend way too much on the decorations, and now I’m paying for a storage unit, but decorating makes me happy.” Brenda doesn’t acknowledge her son’s embarrassment. In fact, she takes great pride in her hobby. “I’m kind of known for it now; my friends and family expect to come over and find a kind of wonderland at our house around any given holiday. It makes every day more fun.”

Psychologists say compulsive shoppers are a lot like people addicted to gambling. Their buying produces a temporary rush, much like winning a hand of blackjack. The buying rush is often followed by feelings of shame, disappointment or guilt. The buying is repeated to relieve those feelings. This cycle can get out of control and lead to significant relationship, financial, and emotional stress.

Compulsive shoppers may shop to mask underlying feelings of depression, loneliness, anger, or low self-esteem.  Sometimes the shopaholic is buying symbols for their ideal life. A woman who is unhappy in her marriage may compulsively buy home décor to try to give an image of a happy home life. They may also be more susceptible to substance abuse, eating disorders, and impulse control disorders.

Oniomaina

There is a name for obsessive shopping, oniomania. Onios is derived from the Greek word for “for sale” and mania, well, you know. Oniomania predominantly affects women. Psychologists characterize it by three symptoms.

  1. A preoccupation with buying anything, anytime. Shoppers may buy in stores, online, or through TV channels like HSN or QVC.
  2. Feeling guilty, ashamed, or stressed after a buying spree, and possibly hiding the items purchased from family members.
  3.  The compulsive buying is not related to or occurring during hypomanic or manic episodes.

In her book, To Buy or Not to Buy: Why We Overshop and How to Stop, Dr. April Lane Benson says that the more you believe that happiness comes from accumulating material things, the less actual happiness you are likely to experience. Benson recommends you ask yourself six questions when you are about to buy something: Why am I here? How do I feel? Do I need this? What if I wait? How will I pay for it? Where will I put it? Asking these questions gives you a bit of a “time out” before making a purchase, and, she says, if you are able to answer satisfactorily, you can control your impulse.

Solutions

If you need help reigning in your shopping habits, follow these tips:

Understand retail marketing strategies. Realize that behind the friendly vibes the big discount chains use in their advertising, there are specific tactics employed to get you to buy more.

Unsubscribe from retailer emails. Take some time to go through your emails and unsubscribe from retailers’ lists. When you do buy online, make sure to uncheck any boxes that add you back on to newsletters or announcements.

Clean out your closets often. You might be surprised to find you have clothing, household items, or decorations you don’t remember or have never used. You might also be able to “go shopping” in your own closet, creating new outfits out of old items you forgot about.

Buy one, purge one. Set boundaries for buying with rules like this one. If you bring something new home, sell, donate, or gift something similar to keep your belongings under control.

Sleep on it. As we said earlier, give yourself space between the urge to buy and the action. It may pass and you will feel more confident in your ability to control yourself.

Examine your motivation. While you have yourself on time out, think about why you feel compelled to shop. Does it really have to do with a true need, or are you looking for the rush?

Take inventory before shopping. Before you shop, go through your pantry, closet, or cabinets to make sure you don’t already have the item or something that can suffice for what you think you need.

Don’t use a cart. Running into Target to grab something? Resist the urge to stroll through the store with a cart and go straight to what you need.

Save up for something. Set your sights on something bigger than a new outfit or throw pillow. Create a vision board with a visual savings tracker for a dream vacation, a home renovation, or a self-improvement course.

Stay Busy. Shopping is not a healthy hobby. A hobby should expand your mind, either intellectually, creatively, or emotionally. Seek out other ways to spend your time that keep you out of the malls.

Practice gratitude.We hear this a lot, because it works. Take time daily to express gratitude for all the good things in your life. You may feel less inclined to act on urges to reward yourself with material things.

Practice self-care. Instead of rewarding yourself by spending money, take care of your real self with some regular self-love. Start your day in prayer or meditation, take time for stretching or yoga, and end your evenings with a skin-care regime. Eat healthfully and connect with friends or family often. The more you love your body and mind, the less inclined you may be to seek satisfaction in things.

About Deb Ingram

Deb is a health coach and award-winning health and wellness writer covering plant-based nutrition, fitness, sustainable living, mental health and relationships. Deb also writes for the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies and manages YouOnPlants.com, helping people eat more veggies. She lives near her daughter in St. Petersburg, Florida, and travels often to Southern California to visit her son. Deb enjoys nature parks, restaurants with vegan options, movies, and the end of hurricane season.

View all posts by Deb Ingram

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