5 Ways to Fight a Shopping Addiction

This month, perhaps after watching the video above, I’ve gone and done something essentially un-American: I’ve declared March to be a no shopping, no buying month for me. Food and other essentials like toothpaste that allow me to function as a normal member of society are excepted. I’m not a shopaholic to begin with, and my primary vice is cruising a thrift store or two once a month, but I know I still shop for bad reasons. (Most reasons are bad reasons when I already have everything I need.)

I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with shopping every now and then, but as a national pastime that is wreaking havoc on the environment, it deserves some increased attention. How much of our happiness do we bank in shopping? How do we get off this track of ever increasing consumerism?

As a solution-oriented INTJ, I carefully catalogued all the bad reasons why I shop — and what to do about them. Which of these reasons do you identify with?

Bad reason #1:  Boredom with what I currently have. A quintessentially first world confession: I get bored with my wardrobe. No doubt this has something to do with the fact that I wear solid color 3/4 sleeve tees and jeans almost every day. If I go shopping, I am likely to find a solid color 3/4 sleeve tee in a shade of green I don’t have, or with a slightly interesting neckline. If I am sufficiently bored, and it is $5 at the thrift store, I am likely to buy it.

Solutions: Swap clothes with friends or attend (or organize) a local swap meet. If I’m not up for the sociability of a swap meet, I can always dig through the back of my closet to try on what I rarely wear.

Bad reason #2: A desire to get out of the house. I’m a homebody, but every now and then, the urge to get out overcomes my essential inertia. The thrift stores are the nearest and cheapest activities, so they’re a clear temptation.

Solutions: Make a mental list of activities I enjoy more than shopping (including walking in the woods, seeing a friend, socializing shy kitties, and going to pottery) and do one of them whenever I feel tempted to go shopping. Even if they’re a little further or cost a little more, they definitely bring me more satisfaction. I need to make more conscious decisions about how to spend my time. Shopping should not be a hobby.

Bad reason #3: Dissatisfaction with some aspect of my life. Frustrating day at work? Argument with the spouse? Cat being mean to me? We’re trained to believe in consumer therapy, even though I know from real experience that shopping tends to leave me in an exhausted, indecisive, zombie-like state.

Solutions: Address the core issues instead of seeking temporary distraction. Hah! Easier said than done, of course. Back when I was living at home after college, my dad would say or do something that would make steam come out of my ears — just about every week. Instead of confronting him, I went out and bought lip balm. One tube every time he pissed me off. I’m still working through my stash, and I moved out years ago. My current dissatisfaction is mostly with my job. Instead of going shopping, I should put the time into looking for a different job.

Bad reason #4: Keeping up with the Joneses. I hate to say it, but I am ever so slightly susceptible. I have one particular friend that this happens with (it’s a two way process). We’re often interested in the same things, but once she’s gotten one (or I have), the other is much more likely to want it. This year it was sweater dresses. A couple years before that it was the Celtic Woman CDs. Before that it may have been slightly broken and ‘unadoptable’ cats. (Hello, Brie!)

Solutions: Be more conscious about how buying decisions fit in with existing needs and interests.  I ended up getting rid of the Celtic Woman CDs. They never aligned perfectly with my interests (acoustic folk music), and I realized pretty quickly that I didn’t actually like them very much. The sweater dress, on the other hand, is so comfortable and warm that I’ve been tempted to go to bed in it. It’s become one of my favorite winter wardrobe pieces.

Bad reason #5: Aspirational buying. I’m slightly ashamed to tell you how many pottery tools I have. In fact, I don’t even know the exact number. It’s a lot. I only use about five of them regularly. The others I bought for special projects, or because I thought they would do something they didn’t. For each of my hobbies, I’ve bought things based on aspirations I never actually carry out.

Solutions: Avoid ‘problem’ stores.  (Clay Planet for me, Michael’s for you?) Borrow tools from friends to test out before buying, buy only what I need for projects I have already started.

(?) Bad reason #6: Gift giving. This one, I think, I am least willing to fix. I enjoy giving presents, and I also enjoy looking for them. My gift list is short because I’m not close to many people, but I put a lot of effort into finding just the right things, and they’re usually well received.

Solutions: Switch to non-material presents like concert tickets, classes, meals out, and time spent together. Make more presents. Come to non-gift agreements with friends and family who are open to it.  When a material present is just right, compromise.

I believe shifting our time and energy away from consumerism can do a lot to make us happier and more fulfilled, and I’m putting my money where my mouth is. What are the bad reasons you shop? How do you deal with them?

29 responses to this post.

  1. INFP here… not sure how that relates to this conversation, but I always find it interesting.

    You know, for me, shopping is sort of like a fancy dessert. The idea of it sometimes sounds appealing, but the reality of it all just never lives up to the satisfaction that I imagine. I mean dessert can sound delicious… I can get myself so worked up that I REALLY want it. But the truth is it ends up being too sweet, and not really satisfying, and I get that yucky sugar rush, and then my stomach hurts… ug. And shopping always seems like the same deal.

    I actually contemplated going thrifting today to look for a copy of the new edition of YMOYL so I can follow along with Candi’s club over at Min Hus.
    http://minhus.blogspot.com/2012/03/ymoyl-book-club-whos-in.html

    Plus, I really want one of those bike packs that goes on your rear rack so I can carry an extra layer of clothes, or maybe bring my camera along for a bike photo shoot…

    I thought about how fun it would be to make the rounds… you know, the game of it, trying to see if I can find the book for $.50 instead of shelling out $6 plus shipping on Amazon, and the miracle it would be if I actually found a bike pack (which I’ve been hoping to find for many months now.)

    But the reality is I’d have to drive around, get annoyed by people, and probably end up frustrated and grumpy in the end. So I spent the day playing in my garden instead. Maybe tomorrow I’ll be up for facing the great unwashed.

    Anyhow, reminding myself of the ugly realities of shopping really helps me. And that doesn’t even touch on the ugly realities of owning stuff… which seem to be getting bigger with each year that goes by. Where am I gonna put it? How pissed off will I be when it breaks or doesn’t live up to my expectations? What If I never actually use it?

    The other thing I do is to maintain “wish lists” of things that I want rather than just buying them. It helps me to both shop for a good deal, and to evaluate whether I really do want the thing that seems like a good idea at the moment. The bike pack has been on the list for over a year now… and after a 20 mile ride with a backpack full of extra clothes (which was really a bit uncomfortable) I’ve finally decided it would be worth it.

    Reply

    • Hi Cat!

      Yeah, I don’t know if those Myers-Briggs results actually mean anything, but apparently one of the salient traits of the INTJ is solutions-oriented thinking. I’m a bad listener because I try to offer solutions instead of just listening and being empathetic. (Women are supposed to be good at this. Huh.) I am a little surprised you got ‘feeling’ instead of ‘thinking’.

      I am so with you on the shopping thing. I look forward to going, and then I get peopled out in five minutes, or glassy-eyed after too much stuff and too much piped music. I never find exactly what I’m looking for, and after ten or more minutes, I get overwhelmed and indecisive and leave without buying anything. And then, if I was looking for something I needed, I have to go and do it again until I find it. Stresses me out just thinking about it!

      Interesting point about the stresses of owning stuff. That’s something I haven’t thought much about.

      Reply

  2. Fantastic – good luck with this. I did the same back in January. Week 1 was simple, of course – I was fired up, motivated and bloody minded. Week 2 sucked, I felt deprived and bored. Weeks 3 & 4 the habits started to fall into place so I felt really pleased with myself.

    Interestingly, just this week I went into a charity shop with DD and realised I’d not been in one since the beginning of the year (it used to be a weekly ritual for several of the reasons you’ve listed above – boredom, desire to get out of the house, dissatisfaction). I enjoyed going in but didn’t buy anything.

    Likewise I saw a beautiful sweatshirt in a store the other day, tried it on, colour was MY colour, great fit – my husband looked at me and said “Well, do you NEED it or do you just WANT it?” I put it back on the shelf. Have I thought about it since? Yes I have, but I don’t have any longing; if anything I’m proud of myself and my husband for asking such a pertinent question. I sprout on about separating wants from needs, but don’t always practise what I preach😉

    So now I’m addressing the root causes. For boredom I get creative – If I’m bored with my wardrobe I rifle through and pull out the things I haven’t worn for ages and try and mix and match them.

    For wanting to get out of the house I have no excuse. I live in a beautiful part of the world where I can step outside my door and feel like I’m on holiday. Ya know, people PAY MONEY to visit places like I live – how blessed am I? Every day for the past 2 months I’ve gone out for a walk, just because….it’s been amazing and knocks the boredom thing on the head too.

    For dissatisfaction I have tools at my disposal, some mundane like CBT or a ‘pull yourself together’ stiff talking to. Others more esoteric like meditating to get a clearer picture of what is going on or focusing on a gratitude list. I’ve written a list of simple ‘free’ pleasures (fluffing up the bed and making it with line-dried sheets, listening to music and dancing around the living room, smelling a beautiful essential oil, walking around the garden to see new life emerging) and I’m learning to allow and embrace all my ‘negative’ feelings which is so much easier than fighting or trying to fill the void with a new thing.

    Phew! Ok, I’m rambled and I feel a post coming on…
    😀 Good luck and enjoy the journey x

    Reply

    • Hi Mrs Green,

      I definitely remember your January challenge (it was one of the things that led me to this stage). Thanks for the update on how you’re doing with it! It certainly sounds like you’ve come up with good solutions for dealing with your shopping. Please post about it! The need vs. want thing is difficult for me. Once I see something I really like, my slightly obsessive brain often starts obsessing in earnest…

      Given how much it rains in England, I’m impressed you’ve managed to go out for a walk every day.🙂 Whereabouts in England are you?

      Reply

  3. Posted by seitei on 03/10/2012 at 09:17

    I think this is a very clear and (like usual) thoughtful list. One of the reasons it’s so straight and self-knowing, I think, is b/c you’ve stripped away the distractions of television (and all its advertising).

    How much “consumerism is fueled by advertising alone? I’d venture to say at least 75%. I often wonder how much more stuff I would have if I had been watching tv all these years.

    I had been thinking about this the other day (and I’ve yet to think it through, so excuse my…. plus, it’s early and I must get to work!), but I think one of the causes of this mass consumerism and its effect of the planet is man’s need (or desire) to fit it. How much of our economy relies on fads, ever-changing styles and this need? How many advertising dollars are committed to perpetuating feelings of insufficiency and un-fulfillment? How many resources are frivolously spent due to man’s need to conform?

    Reply

    • Hi Seitei,

      Not having a television definitely exempts me from a lot of advertising. Turning off the TV was the first suggestion someone on Twitter made when I posted about this challenge! It would be interesting to know how effective advertising really is. I don’t think it fuels a lot of my purchases, but then again, it’s hard to measure its influence.

      Peer pressure is a huge factor. I think if we could get the majority to be more globally conscious citizens, the rest would follow. It’s getting to that tipping point that’s the problem.

      Reply

    • Seitei, I’m glad you’ve brought up the issue of advertising: This is a huge issue of our times, and one which is totally pervasive. What I object to is that advertising makes you buy what, how and when the companies want while leaving you the illusion that your own free will guides your shopping behaviour.

      It’s not just TV (good for you for ditching it, Jennifer!), although that’s a large part of it if you do allow it into your house. It’s everywhere. Just think of those grocery store loyalty cards. Facebook. Google. (“when it’s free, the product is YOU”).

      When I go to pay for an item at a store, and they ask me for my zipcode, I usually give them a choice: no zipcode, or the wrong zipcode – bona fide existing zip code, just not mine (heh heh). It once happened to me that the zipcode question led to another question and to another, and finally they had all my information. Why give that up to Big Brother? all he’s going to do with it is make money for himself.

      In my search for a new car, I have come to the conclusion (astonishing to me, since I don’t have TV either) that it is completely impossible to buy a box on wheels that will get you from A to B. They don’t sell that. What they sell is an _idea_, a dream, a picture of yourself as enabled by a particular version of the steel with wheels.

      The power of companies (and their stranglehold on our wallets, and our planet) will keep growing until we find a way to curtail advertising – especially to children. If we aren’t fighting it collectively, we have to fight it individually. Got to do whatever we can. I’m afraid a no-buy month will help only a tiny bit. It takes our incessant vigilance: like losing weight, it’s not the diet that will do it, it’s a lifestyle change.

      (Sorry for taking up your comments space, Jennifer: do I feel strongly about this, or what?)🙂

      Reply

      • Hey CelloMom,

        You’re always welcome to take as much comment space as you need! I have to admit, the prospect of fighting advertisers (huge! moneyed! powerful!) as opposed to quietly opting out is a little daunting. (I’m not a shopper to begin with, so this month long experiment won’t have a big impact either way.) In other ‘green’ things, I’ve concluded that personal action must be paired with public action to be maximally effective. And I also agree that how we raise the next generation will have a lot to say about whether our planet goes down or not.

        Your comment about cars (selling you a lifestyle / dream) makes me think of the iPod billboards that used to be up all over the city. No words, just a silhouette rocking out with a pair of white earbuds. You, too, can be young and cool if you have an iPod. It’s very hard to measure the impact of an ad like that, but I’m sure there is one, even if it’s partially unconscious.

        I think you should write about advertising. You’re welcome to guest blog here if you like.🙂

        Reply

        • Me and my big mouth! – but thanks for your support.

          You don’t have to fight the big guns on your own. By “fighting collectively” I mean things like supporting legislation that strengthens our privacy laws, or working with your PTO to keep commercialism out of the classroom, or financially supporting organisations like the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood.

          By “fighting individually” I mean changing ourselves so that we are not the helpless and unwitting playthings of corporations. Opening our eyes: Educating ourselves on the endless and insidious manipulations, and thereby re-gaining our real free will. (“Packaging Girlhood” by Lamb and Mikel Brown has a lot to say about the implanting of a _simulation_ of free will). Choosing Waldorf education for our children: it resonates with a lot of the positive things mentioned in the video.

          What you call “quietly opting out” is, from what I read between the lines, a form of passive resistance, highly informed, and of the kind practised throughout history and the world over by the oppressed to quietly and peacefully sabotage their colonisers. It _is_ a public action. I would bet it took work to get to that position (man! just look at the title of your blog!). –And if you were joined by enough of us it would be extremely powerful.

          Reply

  4. Reasons number one and three are definitely big ones for me. Thrift shopping ends up more as an exercise in frustration for me, but I have a couple of stores that are my weakness. Luckily, I have to go out of my way to visit them so avoidance is pretty easy.

    I declared January a no buying month (groceries and needed consumables only). This progressed into February as well and I ended up having my lowest credit card bill ever. (I charge purchases to the card for the cash back and pay it off each month). Actually, I don’t think I’ve bought any non-consummables this year, and it’s been surprisingly easy. although I am desperately in need of work clothes for warmer weather.

    Reply

    • Hi Candi,

      That’s awesome! I wish I could say the same. I don’t think I’ll really need any more clothing for a while. California’s weather is relatively stable, so my winter and summer wardrobes overlap quite a bit.

      It sounds like shopping is like any other bad habit when it comes to breaking it. That’s encouraging.

      Reply

  5. I have that bad shopping habit!! I am trying desperately to break it but you know, the video gave me a LOT to think about. I am far less “bad” now because more spending means more waste, inevitably, but as a blogger, I have an out of control need to try everything and not everything is just given to me. I think I will have to declare a Buy Free Spring!

    Reply

    • Hi Organic Blonde!

      I went through a phase in which I was burning through natural skincare products. I won many of them, bought many more. And then a year later, I realized that I still had TONS of it left (and close to expiring) and that it took me way longer to use up a bottle of lotion than I thought. So I think I’ve gotten over that particular obsession now. I find that it takes quite a bit of time for me to get over a bad habit and find something better to replace it with.

      I hope you do a Buy Free Spring! I’d love to read about how it goes for you.

      Reply

  6. Great post. Will share on FB and Twitter. But also just wanted to add that there can be ways to shop that are healthy and fun. For example, I am looking for some of those old-fashioned syrup pourers, the ones with the top that flips up. And I don’t want plastic but only glass and metal. It’s been fun browsing around antique shops and thrift stores whenever I happen to pass one to see if they have it. The key to keeping it fun is to remind myself that I don’t have to have a sryup pourer right away, if ever, and that the treasure hunt aspect is more fun than the actual buying. When I posted my quest on Facebook, I got a lot of people leaving comments about how I could just find it on eBay and order it through the mail. But that’s not the point. It’s not really about the acquiring but the game of searching.

    And that, after all, is really what all shopping addiction is about. It’s just that we fool ourselves into thinking that it’s the thing itself that will make us happy.

    Ooh… after writing this, I feel a blog post coming on!

    Reply

    • Hi Beth,

      I don’t think shopping is inherently bad, and simply looking at cool things is a good way to get ideas and inspiration if you craft or do anything creative. I enjoy antiquing, especially when I’m looking for presents. It’s just interesting to see how people used to live, especially before everything became disposable. My experiment isn’t about rigid rules so much as greater consciousness about when and why I want to shop.

      I think shopping becomes a problem when it takes the space of things that genuinely make us happy (family, friends, creativity). I’m a fan of the show Hoarders, and I think it is so interesting the way emotional problems lead to overconsuming as a peculiarly ineffective form of compensation. I’d love to read a blog post from you about this!

      Reply

      • I agree with Beth. I’m a thrill of the hunt/window shopping for fun kind of girl. I sometimes go to the mall to a creative recharge on gray days to get color, style, and sometimes inspiration from how they design the displays.

        I know someone with a real shopping addiction and is no longer married because of it. The video seems to think if we get rid of all media and advertising shopping addictions will go away. Not in the case of the person I know. She rarely watches TV but that doesn’t stop her from buying a ton of stuff when we used to go out together (before I knew she had a problem.) I on the other hand, like to watch TV and buy little to nothing on these trips. Yes, advertising influences people to want to buy things, especially kids. But making that purchase still comes down to free will. A person with a true shopping addiction has a multi layered problem that only professional help can cure, not by getting rid of all advertising.

        Reply

        • Hi Lisa,

          I agree that there’s a distinction between people who shop for bad reasons (me) and people who have genuine psychological problems that manifest themselves in compulsive shopping. However, I’m also thinking that more harm is cumulatively done by people like me, since there are so many of us. I’m not so much advocating less exposure to advertising (though that helps) as more conscious examination of why we shop and what its true cost is to ourselves, our lives, and our planet. It sounds like you’ve already done this for yourself. I like the idea of getting ideas and recharging, but personally find looking at organic forms and going outside infinitely more energizing than going to the mall!

          Not to be totally contradictory here, but I suspect our culture of advertising and overconsumption has played a huge role in why your friend chose to turn to shopping rather than deal with her problems in a more constructive way. You’re right that stopping her exposure to ads now probably won’t do anything, but if we could create a less consumer-based culture, maybe the next generation won’t also see shopping as a substitute for therapy.

          Reply

  7. I think the shopping addiction thing is even more prevalent now because of the ease and convenience of online shopping. I used to be at the stores every weekend but now since I am more concerned with health and wellness, I tend to spend a lot of money on health web sites to buy supplements and health products as opposed to clothes, shoes, and jewelery…You give some great reasons why people (mostly women, let’s admit it) shop too much. I’ve found a lot of comfort in repurposing items instead of going out to buy new ones…it’s a green way to shop!

    Reply

    • Hi Robin,

      Sorry about the delay in posting your comment. Akismet on the warpath again! You have a great point about online shopping. I admit that I definitely still spend a fair amount of time looking online. I’m less prone to impulse buying online, for whatever reason (maybe because my wallet is usually not in the same room?), but I know it’s not a good use of my time.

      Do you find that the health supplements make a noticeable difference in your health?

      Reply

  8. Posted by smallftprints on 03/17/2012 at 10:37

    I think I’m doing okay on this one … but I can’t take credit for it because I truly HATE shopping … for any reason! I find that I resent the prices and that more & more stuff is being made. I resent that we, as consumers, are “herded” towards products … this year a certain color is popular, next year it’s different. I suppose that I resent the control that commercialism tries to have over us. Shopping, for me, is rather depressing. And in the end … stuff is just stuff. When I’m taking my last few breaths in life, I doubt that I’ll be thinking that I’ll miss my stuff.

    By the way, I’ve added a link to your blog in this week’s Super Star Saturday event which is hosted by My Baby’s Green (https://www.facebook.com/MyBabysGreen?sk=wall). Have a great weekend! 🙂

    Reply

    • Hi Small Footprints,
      I totally agree that the ‘color of the year’ (what is it this year, orange?) is ridiculous. And sadly, it does seem to be an effective way of getting people to buy more stuff they don’t need, only to discard it next year when another trend comes in. In a lot of ways, I wonder how responsible trendiness is for overconsumption (or if it’s the other way around). I like good design, but I think part of what makes it good is its enduring beauty and usefulness.

      Reply

  9. […] About « 5 Ways to Fight a Shopping Addiction […]

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  10. Reblogged this on hnc003 and commented:
    I found this very interesting to my research topic!

    Reply

  11. Posted by Andrea on 03/22/2012 at 11:11

    Great post! I’m pretty sure this is something we all fall prey to at some point, even some of the greenest people out there.

    I’m okay with cutting back on shopping because I’m been on a super tight budget since 2010. What pains me, though, is not buying clothing. It’s probably a little bit of boredom and a little bit of keeping up (with the styles, I guess) that drives me, but mainly I want to feel good in what I wear, and when old clothes stretch out and fade, I don’t feel as good anymore. For the past five years I’ve been really good at purging unwanted items from my closet and donating them, but I can’t afford to restock. With the arrival of spring I’m even more desperate – somehow over the winter I forget how little I kept at the end of last summer/fall, and I feel like I’ve got nothing to wear!

    The solution is to shop exclusively at thrift stores. I’ll be happy with that solution when I find a thrift store that carries clothing I actually want to wear.😦 I sound like a spoiled princess, don’t I?!

    Reply

    • Hey Andrea,

      Don’t beat yourself up! We all prioritize different things, and no one says you have to be a slob (like me! hah, my clothes are constantly clay splattered) to be a responsible citizen of the world. I don’t mind used clothes because I dress simply, but could you check out consignment shops instead? There are a few by me that have nicer quality things that are still affordable. Also, I don’t wash my clothes unless they’re dirty and often rewear tops three or four times and jeans even more than that. Washing and drying are pretty hard on clothes, so they last longer if you wash them less.

      Reply

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  13. Posted by Izzy on 09/04/2015 at 07:48

    Really great idea. We all need to slow down on our buying and only buy when we need something and we know it will last and is good quality. We seem to see clothes as disposable and are all guilty of buying something, wearing it once or twice and throwing it out. If you are buying new garments, make sure they’re sustainably produced and made from organic or recycled materials!

    Reply

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