(Nr Marlborough, Wiltshire)– According to doctors, tea offers a variety of benefits for a person who drinks it on a regular basis. Tea has anti-inflammatory benefits as well as antioxidant properties. Those who drink tea are at a lower risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Making tea without additives also contains very few calories, making it a healthy choice for a drink.
The downside to tea is the amount of pesticides that might be used in the production and the lack of knowing what sources were used to make the tea. For those concerned about the environment, the carbon footprint created when teas are shipped across the world is also a concern.
Williamson Fine Teas Ltd. is a fifth-generation company attempting to alleviate these concerns with their new website. In light of stories about Tea farmers being taken advantage of, pesticide use being higher than national limits, and trouble determining exactly where the tea was cultivated, this company is working to show consumers exactly where their tea is grown and how it’s cultivated and delivered to their home.
Edward Magor, spokesperson for Williamson Fine Teas Ltd., stated, “We believe everyone should know the origin of their teas. We are offering complete transparency of the process from the growing tea leaves to the cultivation, processing and shipment. Consumers can visit our website to learn everything they want to know about our teas.”
The Bush to Cup Transparency offered by Williamson Fine Teas Ltd., focuses on introducing consumers to the way tea is grown, who is growing the tea, and more. The company manages all of their farms sustainably to ensure future generations can enjoy the benefits of the fertile soils and wild forests. Williamson Fine Teas Ltd. uses the unique properties of each of the farms to grow the tea naturally, without the use of pesticides.
On the website, consumers can learn about their four farms located in the Kenyan highlands. Consumers can click on a link to each of these farms to learn about the climate, soil, and animals living in the area. The blog also reviews information consumers may want to read to learn more about tea, the benefits of tea, and the growth of the tea.
Consumers can purchase teas directly from their website and take advantage of free shipping with a minimal purchase. The consumer can choose from a variety of flavors and can even choose tea grown at the farm they prefer. This is done by clicking on the name of the farm on the main website and taking a look at what teas are grown there.
Magor stated, “Our teas arrive in a unique elephant container. We have partnered with the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust and a percentage of every elephant caddy that is sold online is donated to this trust. Tea drinkers can feel good about their contributions as they purchase the finest quality tea from our farms.”
About Williamson Fine Teas Ltd.:
Williamson Fine Teas Ltd. is a fifth-generation tea farming business committed to growing the highest-quality sustainable teas. The company strives to benefit Kenya, where their farms are located. The company has over 140 years of experience growing tea and blends fine teas completely grown on their own farms to control the quality of the product. The company is introducing their new website with an innovative bush to cup transparency program to ensure consumers know they’re receiving pesticide-free, sustainably grown teas.
Manor Farm, Little Bedwyn Estate, Little Bedwyn, Nr Marlborough, Wiltshire, SN8 3JR
Before I delve into today’s post, I want to welcome all those who have found my blog via my Today Show appearance on Monday! I also want to share the link to the segment for those who weren’t able to watch it live.
Shopaholic? When compulsive shopping becomes a painful obsession
Many of us indulge in a bit of “retail therapy” now and then, but when shopping becomes a compulsion, the consequences can be painful and heartbreaking. Jenna Bush Hager kicks off a new TODAY series, Compelling Compulsions.
I’m pleased that I was able to share my story in such a high-profile place, as I know there are many people out there who are struggling with compulsive shopping and feel alone and unsure of what to do or where to turn. I hope that some of those people were able to find this community, as well as the “End Closet Chaos” private Facebook group.
Behind the Scenes…
Just for fun, I want to share a little bit about the taping of my Today Show segment. I know that I’ve always been curious about how such pieces are put together. The crew – a cameraman, soundwoman, producer, and reporter (Jenna Bush Hager) – came to my apartment two weeks ago to film. It took over an hour to set up all of the equipment. I couldn’t believe how much they kept bringing in and thought there wouldn’t be space for it all in our two-bedroom space. One of my cats hid under the bed the entire time the crew was here, while the other one explored everything and seemed to enjoy the process.
The actual taping took about an hour. First, Jenna and I talked in my living room for at least thirty minutes (as you could see, most of what we discussed was edited out), then she spoke to my husband for about ten minutes (that part ended up on the proverbial cutting room floor). Then Jenna and I spoke in front of my closet for five or ten minutes (that part appeared at the beginning of the segment) and I was filmed at my computer navigating through my blog and a few shopping sites. Finally, the cameraman filmed my husband and me walking down the street in front of our apartment. At that point, Jenna and the producer left and the other two stayed to do the tear-down. That last hour or so was fun, as we got to chat with the cameraman and soundwoman about some of the celebrities they have worked with over the years (hint – not all of them are nice).
The entire process took approximately three and a half hours from start to finish. The crew was very nice and pleasant to work with. Jenna was sweet and down to earth and you wouldn’t know that she’s an ex-President’s daughter! Here’s a picture of me with the NBC crew in my living room (of course, I had to wear my signature stripes!):
NBC Today Show crew: Hillary, Tom, Jenna, and Max (with me)
What Recovery Looks Like
In my last post, I wrote about my recovery journey over the past three-plus years since I started this blog. I thought a good follow-up to that post would be to write about what it means to be a recovering shopaholic. I dedicated a post to that topic back in March 2014 (“10 Signs That You’re a Recovering Shopaholic”) and I still stand by what I wrote then. However, at the time, I focused far more on wardrobe and shopping related signs and not enough on the psychological and “full life” parts of the equation. Only sign #10 (Shopping is no longer your default activity) highlighted an aspect of recovery beyond the closet and the stores.
I believe that recovery needs to encompass both the practical and the psychological. Not only do we need to make changes in our behavior, we also need to get to the root of why we overshop before we will truly be able to get a handle on our compulsive shopping problems. We have to do the hard work of defining what we’re really shopping for and discover new, more productive and healthy ways of meeting those needs.
While I have made some good progress in these areas, this is where the bulk of my remaining work lies. That’s why I have decided to re-read “To Buy or Not to Buy” by Dr. April Benson and do all of the exercises this time around. Reading valuable information like this is helpful, but the exercises are what really drive the concepts home and help us to internalize them.
Recovery Insights from the “End Closet Chaos” Group
Over the coming months, I will periodically write more posts in the “Behavior & Psychology” category, including sharing some of my responses and insights in relation to the exercises in Dr. Benson’s book. But for today, I’d like to offer insights from others on the topic of recovery and what it means to be a recovering shopaholic. Last week, I posed the following question to the “End Closet Chaos” closed Facebook group:
I am going to write a blog post about what it means to be a recovering shopaholic and I’d love to get your input. I use the term “recovering” because I believe I will always struggle at least to some degree with compulsive shopping, as has been the case for me with eating disorders (I consider myself 90-95% recovered on that front). But at some point, I will get to a point at which the issue of overshopping will take a definite back seat in my life. I characterize my recovery both in terms of behavior and feelings. I have lots of thoughts on this issue for myself, but I would love to read your insights, too. The post will be stronger if it’s not just my opinion. This group has wonderful collective wisdom and I’m very grateful for that! Please share…”
A Very Thoughtful and Complete Response
A number of group members responded and all of their insights are valuable, but one group member was very comprehensive in her reply. Here’s what she had to say:
I feel that being a recovering shopaholic means:
First, KNOW myself, which means being really honest with myself (no self-lying nor excuses allowed!) and recognizing my triggers, my mood, my motivations when overshopping, and my tendency for accumulating and not purging items from my wardrobe.
Second, ACCEPT myself, absolutely, 100%. This means forgiving myself for all of my mistakes and realizing that I’m still a great person in spite of them.
Third, from this knowledge and acceptance (both are equally important, I think), to BE IN CHARGE of my behavior instead of letting myself go. I cannot control my feelings, but I can choose who rules and leads the ship (is it my feelings or is it me?). If I let my feelings rule every single time, I’ll be at the mercy of the wind that blows every day. If my real will is in charge, this will happen less often. Then, even if I purchase many things, I won’t feel like “what has just happened?” as if awakening from a dream where I was not completely me. Instead, I will be completely CONSCIOUS of what I do, and will DECIDE what to do in every situation.
For me, it’s very important that this is a change FROM INSIDE, an inner remodeling of sorts. In my case, external rules and self-imposed limits alone won’t work if I’m not also working on the foundations of what I’m building.
Finally, for me, being a recovering shopaholic means being recovering the CONTROL OF MY LIFE in many other areas. The more I learn and practice this, the more fulfilled I feel overall.
I feel that I’ve learned all of this since I joined this group!
What a powerful response and a ringing endorsement for the “End Closet Chaos” group! If you’re on the fence about joining the group, perhaps this will spur you to give it a try. You can participate as much or as little as you want. The group is a great sounding board for your ideas and a supportive community where you can receive feedback about whatever shopping or wardrobe woes you’re experiencing.
Other Valuable Insights
Here are some other great insights from group members about what recovery means to them:
The most important thing is find out why you are a shopaholic. Psychotherapy helped me with issues like low self-esteem. Self-esteem is learned in childhood from certain negative experiences. Feelings of low self-esteem are perpetuated by constantly comparing yourself to others and criticizing yourself. Mindfulness training helped me with having more self-acceptance and to recognize the negative emotions that trigger buying in order to feel “good.”
Being a recovering shopaholic means becoming mindful of everything, from thoughts to actions. This includes becoming aware of why you shop, when you shop, and how you shop. But it goes beyond that to the past and future: cleaning out your past and becoming mindful of how you got to where you are now, creating new patterns in the present, and having a clear path for the future.
Recovering means you struggle with the thoughts and feelings that got you there in the first place. But it’s an active struggle, and you have confidence that you will win!
Recovering means mindfulness and vigilance, ruthless honesty, knowing your triggers, having a prevention plan, having a relapse plan in case the prevention plan fails, and knowing that support is necessary, along with kindness, self-compassion, and willingn Recovering means that it’s a process, not a one-time project. It also means being open to learning other ways to fill those emotional holes that lead to the desire or “need” to shop.
Saying no to overspending is saying yes to the rest of your life. Recovery means shopping with a list, a plan, a budget, and with intention. Recovery is being willing to sit with your obsessions/feelings and not acting them out. It means talking about your impulses instead of acting on them, and being honest about what your triggers are.
It’s a journey of awareness, learning, and action. We become aware of unhealthy shopping habits, those soothing activities that divert us from honesty and facing our demons. We learn to recognize the signs of trouble, explore personal firewalls to unhealthy behaviors, and find ways to meet our emotional distress head-on. We take action by seeking support, practicing good habits, and forgiving ourselves when we falter – and keep moving through the changes.
Being a recovering shopaholic is the willingness to look at and deal with the issues that made me want to overbuy in the first place. The problem was never that I didn’t have the right sweater; it was that I thought the sweater could deliver things that are not possible to get from an article of clothing. Having a budget, an item limit, and a plan have all helped me to recognize what healthier shopping is and stay on course. This group, your blog, and going to therapy have helped me deal with the thoughts and behavior that led to overshopping and to not replace it with something else.
For me, recovering is life-long. I spent a lifetime getting to this point, and changing it is a lifetime in a different direction.Recovering is accepting a different way of buying clothes, but knowing that I have to consciously choose to shop diffe Recovering includes realizing that I’ll always be one step away from returning to the pattern of behavior that led me to have too much clothing. Recovering is a choice. It is healthy – and it will be work.
Recovery is about being authentic and accountable. It’s about letting go of the “whys” and avoiding extremes.
As you can see, the group had a lot of thoughts on this matter! I hope you got some value out of the above and perhaps gained new perspectives about what it means to be a recovering shopaholic. I agree with so much of what was written, but the main thing I want to point out in closing is that recovery takes time. While there are always outliers who can just decide to change something and that’s all it takes, most of us will experience ups and downs along the path toward recovery. Sometimes it may feel like two steps forward and one step (or even two steps) back, but if we forgive ourselves for our setbacks, keep trying, and take things day by day, we will make progress.
This isn’t a race and we shouldn’t compare our journey to that of others. There are so many factors that influence recovery, and how fast we get there is not what’s of paramount importance. As I’ve often said, we are aiming for progress, not perfection. When I started this blog, I thought I would just do it for a year, as that’s how long I thought it would take for me to recover. It has now been three years, but I’m not giving up. I’m proud to have made the progress I’ve made and I still have more changes I’d like to make. I believe I can and will make those changes and I will continue to share my journey with all of you.
I was recently interviewed for a television segment that will air next week (see the end of this post for more information) and I was asked about how far along I am in my recovery from compulsive shopping. After pondering for a moment, I said that I am approximately 75% recovered at this point and will always have to be vigilant of my shopping behavior and the underlying feelings. In today’s post, I reflect upon the growth I’ve achieved thus far, where I am today in my recovery, and how I see the future unfolding.
The Starting Point
I started this blog in January 2013. At that time, I had a closet stuffed full of clothes that I rarely or never wore, a wardrobe that lacked cohesion, little comprehension of my personal style aesthetic, virtually no control over my shopping behavior, and a completely unbalanced life. Shopping was my main hobby and I shopped as a way of dealing with all types of feelings and life situations, both positive and negative.
If you asked me in late 2012 about my buying behavior, I would have told you that I was shopping to try to improve my wardrobe and style. I would have bragged about the excellent deals I had gotten at both retail and resale stores. I also would have downplayed the severity of my shopping problem because, after all, I wasn’t in debt. Sure, I exceeded the clothing budget my husband and I had agreed upon sometimes five-fold, but we always paid off our credit cards each month. I wasn’t in danger of going into bankruptcy or being out on the street.
But deep down I knew that something was gravely wrong with my shopping habits, that what I was doing was far from normal or okay. The interviewer last week asked me if I had hit any sort of “rock bottom” before I decided to try to turn things around. In truth, I hadn’t, at least not in the traditional sense. I wasn’t on the verge of divorce and I was still able to manage my day to day life okay. However, there were some serious consequences both inside and outside my closet. The wardrobe tracking I had done during 2011 and 2012 revealed that half of my wardrobe consisted of what I termed “wardrobe benchwarmers,” those items that were worn only once or weren’t worn at all over the course of an entire year. I didn’t have a lot to show for my overspending except a cluttered closet full of clothes that I didn’t need and certainly didn’t love.
What’s worse, though, is that I suffered from what Dr. April Benson (author of “To Buy or Not to Buy”) has termed the “poverty of the soul.” I was so obsessed with shopping and clothes that I didn’t have much of a life beyond it. I felt empty inside and my effort to fill the gaping hole in my psyche with clothes, shoes, and accessories was failing miserably. Something had to give.
So I started this blog as a way to chronicle my journey toward recovery and potentially connect with, inspire, and by inspired by others who struggled with compulsive shopping. I set some goals and rules for myself and took on various challenges (including Project 333) to help me along the way to a healthier relationship with shopping.
There have been lots of ups and downs over the past three years. Sometimes it felt like I was taking two steps forward and one (or even two) steps back. The experience of treading water was common, especially when it came to my effort to buy fewer items. The belief that “more is more” proved difficult to vanquish and I still feel challenged on that front.
Yet, through writing my posts, interacting with readers, and focusing on healthy and gradual change, I have made some strong progress. I have pared down my wardrobe by over half, downsized my jewelry collection by two-thirds, developed a much stronger sense of style, and am far more satisfied with the contents of my closet and the outfits I wear. I have managed to adhere to a yearly budget for the past three years and moved from monthly to quarterly accounting last year in an effort to shift toward seasonal shopping. I shop far less frequently than I used to, make fewer buying mistakes, and have a significantly lower proportion of wardrobe “benchwarmers” than I had prior to starting the blog.
While I used to focus a highly disproportionate amount of energy on shopping and clothes, I have now cultivated some other interests, including my growing love for photography and cooking. Instead of running out to the mall to help manage stress, I’m now more likely to grab my camera and go for a walk by the water near where I live. I enjoy feeling the cool breeze on my skin and viewing and photographing the gorgeous colors in the sky as the sun goes down. Being outdoors brings a peace to my soul that trolling the racks at Nordstrom never gave me.
Although I have dedicated some posts to the topic of shopping psychology, much of my focus thus far has been on the practical. I have done my best to synthesize what I’ve learned into tangible recovery tips, which I’ve shared in my blog posts and consolidated and enhanced into my two books, “UnShopping” and “End Closet Chaos.” I have used all of my tips myself, which has helped me get to where I am in my recovery today. I’m very proud of the progress I’ve made and that I’ve been able to impact many other people through my blog and my books. I’m also happy to have started a private Facebook community in which hundreds of women from all around the world help each other to shop more mindfully and overcome their various wardrobe challenges.
What Lies Ahead
So more than three years into my recovery process, here I stand at approximately 75% recovered. At this point, I am reminded of the tagline for my blog, “Trade your full closet for a full life.” I am convinced that those words encompass the key to the remainder of my recovery. I have dedicated the bulk of my efforts thus far to the first part of the equation, my full closet. I have downsized considerably, built a more workable wardrobe, and cultivated a cohesive and inspiring sense of style. While my wardrobe will continue to evolve over time, it’s in a pretty good place and I’m happy with it. It really is time to shine the spotlight much more on the full life portion of the equation.
I haven’t exactly ignored the need to develop a fuller life. After all, I have an entire category of the blog dedicated to that topic and have written quite a few posts on full life subjects. I have pondered what a full life is, whether my boredom was with my wardrobe or my life, how lonely I am, the things shopping won’t fix, information overload, worrying about what other people think, my lack of balance, and my low self-esteem. I even created what I termed the “2014 Full Life Project.”
Yet, even with all of this attention on the issue of a fuller life, I still feel like my life is much more lonely and empty than I want it to be. I’m still vulnerable to turning toward my maladaptive shopping behavior as a coping mechanism during tough times. I still spend the bulk of my time alone and feel that I lack close relationships in my life. I still feel completely unclear about my future or even what I want it to look like. It’s time to turn the flashlight away from my wardrobe and toward my inner being. Selecting “balance” as my theme for 2016, increasing my awareness of my balance challenges, and making some concrete commitments to turn things around is a good start, but I need to delve even deeper.
Honoring Our Real Needs
I am reminded of a powerful quote from April Benson,
We can never get enough of what we don’t really need.”
That’s why compulsive shoppers keep buying more and more; we are trying to fill a psychic hole with material goods. That will never work, no matter how much we buy. So what do we really need? Well, it varies from person to person, but there are some virtually universal needs, such as:
Love and affection
The esteem of others
In order to stop buying compulsively, we need to find new and more productive ways of meeting these needs. What’s more, we need to get better at self-care and honoring our feelings and boundaries. I can’t speak for all compulsive shoppers, of course, but I know that I have a tendency to put others first and myself last. I often say yes to commitments when I really want to say no. When others need me, I’m generally there for them, all too often at the expense of my own needs. I frequently feel resentful about this, but since I have such a strong need to be liked, I don’t speak up and thus allow myself to become depleted through giving more than I have to give. Then I use shopping as a way to nurture myself, and the cycle repeats itself.
Guarding Against Relapse and Furthering Recovery
Fortunately, all of the work I have done on myself since I started this blog has helped keep me from falling into the abyss of compulsive buying in which I found myself for years. But in order to safeguard myself from relapsing or developing an alternate compulsion (I already struggled with eating disorders for years, as well as other compulsive behaviors), I need to work on honoring myself more and speaking up for myself and my needs. I need to allow myself to feel my feelings instead of rushing to cover them up through shopping or other types of avoidant behaviors. I need to trust that if I sit with my feelings (and perhaps journal about them), I won’t go insane; rather, I will most likely gain clarity and peace through the process.
I don’t have all the answers. I’m not even totally sure what I’m going to do, but I think a good start will be to do the following:
Continue journaling: Last week, I wrote about my “unconventional journal” in which I have been writing about my various complaints. I’m going to keep that up, but I’m also going to resume keeping a gratitude journal, as I feel it’s important to balance things out (there’s that word again…). In addition to becoming more aware of what needs to change in my life, I need to remain present to all of the blessings I have as well.
Revisit “To Buy or Not to Buy”: I read April Benson’s wonderful book back in the early days of the blog, but I didn’t complete all of the exercises. I plan to do so this year and will likely dedicate at least a few blog posts to sharing what I learn in the process. (NOTE: I have already written a few posts about Dr. Benson’s ideas: mood patterns, reasons for overshopping, shopping triggers, and shopping “aftershocks.”)
Revisit a few other books: There are a few other books that I’ve read previously that I would like to revisit, including “You Are What You Wear” and “Codependent No More.” I would like to do more book reading in general and cut down on the amount of online reading I do. This is all part of my “balance” goal, as well as an important part of my recovery. I’m sure I will come across some other books that I’d like to either revisit or read for the first time, but this is a good start. I’m aiming more for quality – and absorbing the material and incorporating it into my life – than quantity with my reading.
Recovery is a Continuum
I believe that recovery exists along a continuum rather than being a binary process. I may always be a recovering shopaholic and may never be fully recovered, but that will scarcely matter if I get to the 90-95% level of recovery. At that point, I will be living a full life and shopping will have taken its rightful place in my life. I may always enjoy shopping, but I won’t be living to shop anymore. I will shop mostly to fulfill true wardrobe needs, but I will also allow room for a “passion piece” here and there.
I will have so many other hobbies and interests that shopping will merely be one of the things I like to do. I will be a well-rounded person with healthy relationships who takes care of my own needs and has clear boundaries in place. My life will be balanced, intentional, and happy. It won’t be perfect, of course, as nothing ever is, but there will be beauty in the imperfection. I will be enjoying the journey and okay with who I am, flaws and all.
Thanks to all who have been on the journey with me thus far, whether you’ve been following me since early 2013 or just found my blog this year. I value your readership very much, no matter where you are on the recovery continuum. I’m happy to have you along for the ride, even if you aren’t a shopaholic at all and simply want to learn how to better manage your wardrobe and cultivate and express your personal style. I learn a great deal from my readers and I know I wouldn’t be as far along in my recovery today if it weren’t for your support, encouragement, and even the hard questions and “tough love” you sometimes give me. I appreciate you and I wish you the best on your path.
I have been writing this blog for almost 3.5 years now (here’s my very first post, from January 2, 2013). When I started, I thought it was perhaps a one-year endeavor or maybe two years at the most. I believed that through setting goals and rules and writing about my motivations and behavior, I would overcome my compulsive shopping problem in relatively short order. I never expected to attract as many readers as I have or continue the blog for as long as I have. But the readers came (for which I’m very thankful) and it hasn’t been as easy for me to recover as I thought it would be.
This was a typical scene for me before I started this blog…
Earlier this year, I published two posts on the topic of recovery, both my own and in general:
I also shared insights from the “End Closet Chaos” private Facebook group on the causes of members’ shopaholic behavior. These are all great posts that I’m quite proud of, but I’d like to further the discussion today and get more personal about the state of my recovery.
Some Thoughts on Recovery
As I’ve mentioned before, I feel that recovery exists on a continuum. We are usually not either a full-blown shopaholic or completely recovered. Most of the time, we’re somewhere in between these two extremes. I firmly believe that recovery is not a linear process and that relapses are common along the way. When we experience setbacks, all is not lost if we are able to forgive ourselves, learn from our mistakes, and recommit to recovery and our goals and rules. Growth is not possible without some pain and discomfort along the way. This applies to all types of self-improvement, including recovery from compulsive or addictive behavior.
Back when I was in Toastmasters, we used to evaluate each other’s speeches by means of a technique called “the sandwich method.” We would begin by giving the speaker some praise, follow that with specific constructive criticism on what they could improve, and end on a high note with encouragement for the future. Since I have a tendency to be very hard on myself, I’m going to use that method in this post.
When I look back at my progress over the past few years, I have a lot to be proud of myself for:
I have been able to stick to my clothing budget for three years in a row now. I was not able to do so for at least ten years prior to that, so this is quite an accomplishment.
I’ve pared down my wardrobe and jewelry collections considerably since I started the blog. My “out and about” wardrobe is less than half the size it was in January 2013 and my shoe and jewelry collections are only about a third of the size they were when I started the blog.
I have refined my style and am now much happier with the way I dress. My outfit journal, my work with Bridgette Raes, and the End Closet Chaos group have all been instrumental in this regard.
I have developed a few new hobbies beyond shopping, including photography (see some of my photos in my “photography interlude” posts).
I’m much more deliberate in how I shop and how I dress. My purchasing track record has vastly improved (see my latest purchase update here) and I’m doing a lot better at buying things for my actual lifestyle instead of a past, imagined, or wished for life.
My wardrobe is far more workable than it was previously. I love a much higher percentage of my clothes and I’m wearing the items in my closet a lot more than I used to (my “Love It, Wear It Challenge helped a lot with this). My percentage of “benchwarmers” has gone from half my wardrobe in 2012 to roughly 15% in 2015. While I’d love to see that number go down even further, I’m happy to be wearing most of my clothes more regularly.
I am proud of all of the changes I’ve been able to accomplish since I started this blog. I definitely feel that blogging through my journey has helped me to enact and sustain positive changes and I’m grateful to all of you for your support. I don’t think I would be as far along as I am had I not started “Recovering Shopaholic.”
What’s Not So Good…
Although I’m happy to have accomplished all that I outlined above, I still feel that I have a long way to go. Here are the things I’m not too proud of and still need to change:
I’m still buying too many items overall. I set a goal of buying just 36 “out and about” garments this year and have already purchased close to 30 such pieces. At this point, it’s going to be challenging for me to meet my target, but it’s still doable. I get frustrated at myself for buying too many items early in the year and wish that I would have spaced things out better.
I still place too much emphasis on my “out and about” wardrobe and not enough focus on my at-home / workout wear. The reason I set the above goal is that I spend the majority of my time at home, plus I also go on a lot of walks and to the gym a couple of times per week. I need to better allocate my clothing dollars and attention toward my real lifestyle needs, but “out and about” clothes are more fun to shop for. I have improved my at-home wardrobe since I wrote this post, but I was hoping my progress would have been better at this point.
I still shop for emotional reasons and use shopping as a means of escaping from difficult issues in my life. I’ve been dealing with some tough personal difficulties as of late and have once again turned to shopping as a means of coping. I haven’t done any serious damage, but I wish I could find more productive ways of managing my stress. Shopping won’t fix the things that are wrong with our lives; it only leads to more problems in the form of financial and relationship difficulties, guilt and shame, and overly crowded closets. I know this, yet I can’t seem to fully overcome my tendency to turn to shopping as a coping mechanism.
I continue to place too much focus on my wardrobe at the expense of other critical areas in my life. This shows up even in terms of the posts I do on this blog. For example, I mentioned earlier in the year that I was going to revisit Dr. April Benson’s book, “To Buy or Not to Buy,” but I have yet to do this. It’s easier for me to dedicate time and attention toward trying to perfect my wardrobe and hone my style than it is to delve into scarier and more difficult areas. Of course, my wardrobe and style areimportant, but they are far from the most broken aspects of my life.
I still have too many clothes for my lifestyle and wardrobe goals. If I really want to wear everything in my closet 5-8 times per year (or more), as is my goal, I need to have fewer clothes than I do now. It’s a matter of simple math, plus there’s really no good reason for me to have as many dressier pieces as I do. Even looking at how often I’ve worn my new 2016 purchases (see my last update on that here), I can clearly see that the at-home and casual out and about items are worn far more often. I could get by with far less given my current lifestyle and I need to keep that in mind both when I shop and when I review my closet.
While my closet is a lot less full than it was in 2013, I have not yet traded my full closet for a full life. The tagline of this blog is “Trade your full closet for a full life.” This is what I set out to do when I launched “Recovering Shopaholic” 3.5 years ago, but I’ve really only accomplished half of this mission. My life is still quite small and I have very few social connections and outlets. While I’ve cultivated an amazing online community that I’m very proud of, my face-to-face interactions are close to non-existent and I spend most of my time either alone or with my husband. I don’t have much of a career to speak of, either. Although I know I’ve made a difference with this blog, I would like to do more, plus I would like to make more of an income (the blog is mostly a volunteer endeavor). Yes, my health gets in the way of these things, but I know I could be doing more than I am to at least have a social life and be less of a hermit.
My life remains out of balance in many ways. I selected “balance” as my theme for the year, as I started 2016 feeling extremely unbalanced in terms of how I spend my time related to my priorities. I also felt “behind the 8-ball” in regards to my goals and my to-do list. I made a good start on regaining balance, but I have lost steam in recent months despite my good intentions. I will do a whole post on this topic soon but in short, I continue to stay up too late, spend too much time on Facebook, and not enough time on walks, taking photos, journaling, and decreasing my backlogs. I continue to feel that I’m not getting enough done related to the projects and tasks that matter most to me.
Still a Shopaholic?
So, am I still a shopaholic? I have to admit that the answer to that question is yes. It’s not so out of control that it completely debilitates my life like in 2012 and earlier years, but it’s still a problem. Shopping has been like my “security blanket” for so long that it’s hard to give it up, and paradoxically this blog has made it more difficult in some ways to do so.
Writing about my wardrobe, shopping, and style on a regular basis has at least to some degree kept me locked into the obsession and overly focused on these issues when I really need to be working on other areas of my life. Because my bandwidth is limited as a result of my health challenges, I’m not able to do nearly as much as I’d like. Part of my balance goal for this year is to allocate appropriate proportions of my time to all of the things that matter most to me. That’s why I have pulled back on my posts here some weeks, as well as written about alternate topics (like this one) and included guest posts on subjects I feel will be of value to you.
Ending on a High Note
I have to admit that I’m disappointed in myself for all of the issues I highlighted in the “what’s not so good” section. I keep making some of the same mistakes that I’ve made over and over again and that’s very frustrating to me. It’s also hard to admit my failings to the world by means of this blog, and I sometimes cringe when I hit “publish” because I worry about the negative comments I may receive. But no matter what anyone else says to me, it won’t be as harsh as my inner self dialogue generally is. I can be my own worst enemy sometimes, as I’m sure is also true for many of you.
I want to end on a high note here, in the spirit of the “sandwich method” and because I like to keep these posts as positive and uplifting as possible. The good news is that I’m still alive and remain committed to my recovery. I fully believe that I will put compulsive shopping in my past, even if it takes longer than I expected and hoped it would. I also believe that I will achieve the life balance I so greatly crave, as well as a fuller life. But in order to make these things happen, I may have to think outside the box and do things that make me uncomfortable. I may have to value my needs and well-being above the fears of what others think of me and I may need to risk letting other people down, including the readers of this blog.
The good news is that even if my posts here are sometimes less regular or focused on alternative topics besides wardrobe management, shopping, and personal style, I still have a vast archive of posts for you to explore. You can check out some of my articles for the first time or re-read your favorites (also see my “Start Here” page), as well as the insightful comments of fellow readers. And beyond that, there is the wonderfully supportive and highly prolific “End Closet Chaos” private Facebook group. There are close to 750 members now from all around the world and new members and topics are welcome. I invite you to check it out, even if you just want to lurk for a while. You’ll learn a lot and gain valuable perspectives even if all you do is read what others have to say!
Now it’s time for you to chime in:
Do you feel you’re still a shopaholic (if you ever were one to begin with)? Why or why not?
What positive changes have you made this year (or in recent years) in terms of your shopping behavior, wardrobe, style, or life overall?
In what ways do you feel you’ve fallen short and continue to struggle?
What changes do you hope to make in the coming months in order to end the year on a high note?
If you’re trying to save money, leave your credit cards at home and pack cash only.
A four-part study found what many financial planners already knew: People spend more money when using credit cards compared to cash purchases. People also spend less when they look at their expenses in detail, the researchers found.
Consumers simply feel the pain of paying more when they part with cash, the researchers, led by Priya Raghubir at New York University, write in the September issue of the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied.
In one study, 114 participants estimated how much they would spend using cash vs. credit for a well-described restaurant meal. “People are willing to spend (or pay) more when they use a credit card than when using cash,” the authors wrote.
In a second test, researchers highlighted the future pain of paying by having 57 participants estimate food expenses for an imaginary Thanksgiving dinner item by item, rather than just as a total. When they did this, the cash-credit spending gap closed. When people confronted the detailed reality of expenses, it no longer mattered whether they used cash or something else, the scientists conclude.
Then 28 participants were given a detailed shopping list to work with. In a questionnaire format, spent more when they used a $50 gift certificate instead of $50 cash.
Finally, 130 participants were given $1 cash or a $1 gift certificate to buy candy. At first, they were more willing to spend the gift certificate than the cash. But after holding the gift certificate in their wallets for an hour, they became less likely to spend it, indicating the the certificates came to seem more like real money.
“The studies suggest that less transparent payment forms [such as credit cards] tend to be treated like [play] money and are hence more easily spent (or parted with),” the researchers argue.
Financial planners have long encouraged people to avoid credit-card purchases as a way to save money. Doug Borkowski, director of Iowa State University’s Financial Counseling Clinic, counsels students on the subject.
“I have found that if a young person understands that the same amount of money they pay every month for a minimum payment on their credit card could potentially make them a millionaire by the time they reach 65, they might think twice about using that credit card,” Borkowski says.
In this weekly series, LiveScience examines the psychology and sociology of opposite human behavior and personality types.
In the shop window gleams the coolest pair of shoes ever. Despite being able to afford them, some people will walk away, while others — though the purchase blows a hole in their personal finances — grab the kicks anyway.
We all have to spend money for necessities, such as groceries or rent. Occasionally, we also indulge on unhealthy treats and entertainment. Two contrary sorts of people, however, struggle to open their wallets even for things they really need – “tightwads” – while others can’t stop their shopping sprees – “spendthrifts.”
“Tightwads spend less than they should,” said George Loewenstein, a professor of economics and psychology at Carnegie Mellon University. “They recognize that they should be spending more for their own wellbeing. The spendthrifts are the opposite. They spend more than they should spend by their own self-definition.”
Studies have revealed a possible basis in the brain for why money burns a hole in some peoples’ pockets while the mere thought of spending makes others grimace. Understanding why people under- and over-spend can help with ensuring they don’t unduly burden themselves – or their bank accounts – when making a purchase.
To save or spend, by the numbers
To gauge how many people qualify as spendthrifts or tightwads, Loewenstein and his colleagues surveyed more than 13,000 people, beginning back in 2004. Respondents reported how their scrimping and splurging diverged from their desired spending habits.
The researchers reported in a 2008 study that 3,248 respondents proved to be tightwads and 2,046 were spendthrifts. Percentage-wise, that works out to about 25 and 16 percent of the general population, respectively.
The results also showed that males were three times more likely to be tightwads than females, who showed no bias toward either category. Spendthrifts, as might be expected, who used credit cars were three times likelier to have debt than tightwads who also swiped the plastic. Income levels, did not vary much between the two camps, suggesting that spending decisions arose not from the size of one’s cash pile but from ingrained spending behaviors.
Money on the brain
To get a sense of what happens in our brains when we consider dipping into the bank account, Loewenstein and colleagues used functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI. This brain scanning technique monitors blood flow to areas in the brain activated when performing a task.
When study subjects looked at a desirable item, such as chocolate candies, their brains produced a starkly different response than when viewing the item’s price tag.
“We would first show [the study subject] the product, and if they liked the product, the reward centers of the brain would light up,” said Loewenstein. “Then we’d show them the price and the pain and disgust regions activated.”
The key reward center the researchers saw light up was the nucleus accumbens, which plays a key role in pleasurable acts from having sex to hearing music. The specific pain-and-disgust region involved was the insula, which activates upon smelling foul odors or experiencing social exclusion, among other situations.
The findings suggest that that the emotional pain or anxiety of actually having to pay for an item works to keep our pleasure seeking in check.
In some people, the researchers think, this mental anguish is so strong that it overrides rational deliberation; these people are tightwads, and they don’t buy something even when they know they should.
For a spendthrift, the pain of throwing money around does not register in the brain like it does for other people.
Paper or plastic?
Cash versus credit card spending habits have opened a further window into the psychological workings of tightwads and spendthrifts, said Scott Rick, a professor of marketing at the University of Michigan Ross School of Business and a co-author on research papers with Loewenstein.
Tightwads find it very difficult to part with cash, incurring a big spending gap with their less tight-fisted counterparts, especially on unnecessary “vice” products. But when using credit cards, this gap disappears.
“Several papers propose, as well as ours, that it is less painful using credit cards,” Rick told LiveScience. “Not giving up anything tangible kind of helped cure the tightwads of their affliction.” For spendthrifts, the medium of purchasing power didn’t really matter, Rick added, “because cash feels like credit to them.”
In related findings, Loewenstein and Rick have proposed that being frugal is not the same as being a tightwad. Frugal people receive pleasure from watching the money pile up, with a penny saved being a penny earned. “A tightwad finds it painful to spend,” said Loewenstein, “and a frugal person finds it enjoyable to save.”
It’s all about the Benjamins
The researchers have some advice for tightwads looking to loosen up. Tightwads can experiment with multiple bank accounts, for example, dedicating one to savings and another to spending, said Loewenstein.
Spendthrifts, meanwhile, can lessen the damage to their bankroll by avoiding credit cards and setting weekly budgets. Any number of books and online tips are out there to help those who compulsively spend the cheese. “There’s much more advice available to spenders than tightwads,” Loewenstein noted.
As for businesses seeking to cash in on spendthrifts and even getting tightwads to make it rain, to a large extent they already have people figured out, Loewenstein said. Ubiquitous credit card machines have replaced the forking over of bills, for instance, as well as music and screaming sales signs. Casinos for their part wisely go with chips rather than actual units of hard currency, not to mention the flowing alcohol.
“I think the retailers already are way ahead of the game on these matters,” Loewenstein told LiveScience. “They have an exquisite understanding of the pain of paying.”
It’s typically the women of movies and television shows that swipe credit cards at shopping malls. But in reality, nearly as many men suffer from compulsive buying disorder as women, a new study finds.
Compulsive shopping disorder is characterized by an irresistible and senseless urge to buy goods. People who suffer from it go on shopping binges and collect tons of unnecessary stuff and often end up in debt.
The afflicted typically lie to family members and friends about their purchases. Many end up divorced and bankrupt. Some attempt suicide.
Men afflicted too
Previous studies showed that between 2 and 16 percent of the American population were afflicted with compulsive buying disorder. Of those, 90 percent were estimated to be women.
The new study is the first large, nationwide effort to evaluate the prevalence of the disorder. Of the 2,513 adults surveyed, 6 percent of women and 5.5 percent of men are said to be compulsive buyers.
“The widespread opinion that most compulsive buyers are women may be wrong,” the researchers write in the October issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry.
On the street
Still, women get the majority of blame for compulsive spending. An informal and unscientific survey of shoppers (five men and five women) at a large department store in New York City this week revealed that both genders consider women to be the “shoppers” of the two.
“Men, they window shop and go for what they want,” said Ada Mateo, a 34-year-old nanny from Brooklyn, NY. “We window shop, then shop, and then shop.”
While picking up a shirt from a folded bunch on a table, a New Jersey woman who wished to remain anonymous admitted that although she herself hates shopping, most other women find solace in buying things. “Men are more practical, they only shop if they need something,” she said. “Women are more emotional.”
Gregory Watson, a 49-year-old technician from Freeport, NY said that he hoped he wasn’t considered a compulsive buyer. When asked if he thought women or men were more compulsive shoppers, he said: “Women, no clue why.”
But Renato Coda, a 29-year-old programmer from Pennington, NJ, seemed to know why.
“It’s mostly when they get together with friends,” Coda said as he was putting his mp3 earphones away. “They go to the mall and shoe stores. My sister does that.”
Shop till you drop
Whatever the case, compulsive shopping can have a serious downside.
The new study, led by Lorrin Koran, emeritus professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Stanford University School of Medicine, found that compulsive buyers tended to be younger with reported incomes under $50,000, a condition that may play role in the debt burden that many Americans suffer.
“Compulsive buying leads to serious psychological, financial and family problems including depression, overwhelming debt and the breakup of relationships,” Koran said. “People don’t realize the extent of damage it does to the sufferer.”
A new shopaholic test could tell if you should leave your credit card at home when heading out to the mall.
The test makes it clear that there’s shopping and then there’s over-the-top purchasing that can wreak havoc on a person’s life. People who become preoccupied with buying stuff and repeatedly spend money on items, regardless of need, are commonly referred to as shopaholics. Scientists call it compulsive buying.
The new test was administered along with a survey that revealed that nearly 9 percent of a sample of 550 university staff members, mostly women, would be considered compulsive buyers. Past studies had put the incidence of compulsive buying somewhere between 2 percent and 8 percent 15 years ago, and more recently, at nearly 6 percent, the researchers say. Other research has found men are just as addicted to shopping as women.
The new test includes six statements, for which individuals answer on a 7-point scale from strongly disagree to strongly agree:
My closet has unopened shopping bags in it.
Others might consider me a “shopaholic.”
Much of my life centers around buying things.
I buy things I don’t need.
I buy things I did not plan to buy.
I consider myself an impulse purchaser.
Respondents who score 25 or higher would be considered compulsive buyers.
“We are living in a consumption-oriented society and have been spending ourselves into serious difficulty,” researcher Kent Monroe, a marketing professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, told LiveScience. “Compulsive buying is an addiction that can be harmful to the individual, families, relationships. It is not just something that only afflicts low-income people.”
Wondering where your score lies? “An individual could respond to the six items to check whether they may have these tendencies,” Monroe said. “However, as with any attempt at self-diagnosing, it should be carefully done and honestly responded to.”
Monroe and his colleagues found that compulsive buying was linked to materialism, reduced self-esteem, depression, anxiety and stress. Compulsive shoppers had positive feelings associated with buying, and they also tended to hide purchases, return items, have more family arguments about purchases and have more maxed-out credit cards.
Previous scales for identifying problem buyers are lacking because they depend in large part on the consequences of shopping, such as financial difficulties and family strain over money matters, the researchers note. But for compulsive shoppers with higher incomes, money matters could be non-existent.
A dwindling bank account is just one of the upshots of shopping ’til you drop. Others include family conflicts, stress, depression and loss of self-esteem.
The shopaholic test is just part of the answer.
“There needs to be more research not only identifying people who have a tendency to buy compulsively, but also on developing education and self-help programs for people who are buying things they do not need or use,” Monroe said. “It can lead to a waste of resources and to deterioration in families and relationships.”
The research is detailed in the December issue of the Journal of Consumer Research. Financial support for the research was provided by the J. M. Jones endowment fund at the University of Illinois.
First there was John A. Thain’s $87,000 rug. Then there was Citigroup’s planned $50 million corporate jet.
Then the world of politics got involved this week when the New York State inspector general released a report saying that Antonia C. Novello, the former state commissioner of health, had such an ingrained tendency for shopping that she had employees from her office squire her on buying expeditions to Macy’s, Saks Fifth Avenue and three different Albany-area malls.
Ill-advised shopping has certainly turned up recently in the news, and yet the issue also forms the core of a much more contentious and continuing debate. As spenders spend while the economy plummets, the psychiatric world is trying to decide whether compulsive buying should actually be considered a disease.
At least for now, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders — which is known as the D.S.M. and is something like the bible of psychological maladies — does not list the condition as a technical disease. While shopaholism, as the laymen say, has been recognized by the German psychiatric community as a subset of obsessive-compulsive disorder, it still awaits its day in the United States.
According to April L. Benson, author of “I Shop, Therefore I Am: Compulsive Buying and the Search for Self,” that day is almost certain to arrive.
“At best, shopping is an activity that can promote self-definition, even healing,” Dr. Benson said in an interview on Tuesday afternoon. “But like any behavior it can spin out of control. In extreme cases, there’s no doubt it’s a disorder. It can be as dangerous as drug or alcohol addiction. Suicides have been known to occur because of debt.”
There has been no suggestion that Ms. Novello or Mr. Thain, who was pushed out after Bank of America took over Merrill Lynch, the brokerage giant he once ran, suffer from any disorder.
But the state inspector general wrote that one of Ms. Novello’s subordinates said that her “fondness for shopping was so well known that employees in the office would give her sales fliers or coupons to encourage her to leave the office so that they would not have to work late.”
The report, which also accused Ms. Novello of misusing state employees for other personal chores, was referred to the Albany County district attorney. Ms. Novello’s lawyer, E. Stewart Jones, who did not return a phone call Tuesday seeking comment, has said that she did not do anything that calls for criminal prosecution.
The literature’s first mention of compulsive buying was in the early 1900s by two of Freud’s disciples, Eugene Bleuler and Emil Kraepelin, who coined the term oniomania —from the Greek root “onios,” which means for sale — to refer to those obsessed with making purchases. Bleuler wrote of “buying maniacs” for whom even the simplest expenditure “is compulsive and leads to senseless contraction of debts.” He suggested the condition was akin to kleptomania, describing it as a form of “impulsive insanity.”
A leading expert in the field, Dr. Donald W. Black, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Iowa, suggested that compulsive shoppers tended to be women who have had relatives also predisposed to buying binges, and lived in areas overflowing with goods and the disposable income to buy them. He added that medical trials to treat the condition have been stymied by a lack of government funding.
There are some, however, who wonder whether oniomania should, in fact, be included in the D.S.M., including Dr. Jack Drescher, a Manhattan psychiatrist and former president of the New York County chapter of the American Psychiatric Association. After musing that the condition may not have much of a “cross-cultural effect” (“There are no shopaholics in poor countries”), Dr. Drescher said: “The question is, is there a pure strain of social behavior that leads people to shopping and nothing else?”
For Ellen Mohr Catalano, an executive coach and former self-help guru, the crucial question was treatment. Ms. Catalano, co-author of “Consuming Passions: Help for Compulsive Shoppers,” suggested taking one’s addiction in hand then “placing it away from who you really are.”
“You don’t tell yourself you can’t do it, or can’t have it,” she cautioned. “You just give yourself some space.”
As for the economy, it matters, Dr. Benson said. In fat times, compulsive shoppers work with extra fervor to keep up with the Joneses. But in lean times, their guilt is a conflicting brew of shame (widespread unemployment) and temptation (cut-rate sales).
“It’s like giving matches to a pyromaniac,” she said.
The stereotypical shopaholic darting from store to store to pick up anything and everything while racking up a hefty credit-card bill is anything but stereotypical. They come in all shapes and sizes.
New research reveals while some super-shoppers spend to boost self-esteem and band-aid other perceived internal deficits, others’ carts are driven by plain-old materialism. Whatever the motivation, however, researchers mostly agree that buying behaviors can range from frivolous fun to serious addiction.
And, it seems, over-shopping is on the rise.
Compulsive buying can be thought of as a chronic tendency to purchase products far in excess of a person’s needs and resources.
“There are some people who are just total rational consumers; they buy what’s on sale, or what they need and nothing else,” said researcher James Roberts of Baylor University’s Hankamer School of Business in Texas. “On the other end, there are compulsive shoppers who buy to their own financial ruin and to relationship problems and other kinds of debt; and then there’s the rest of us somewhere in between.”
Part of the problem, experts say, is that compulsive shopping is often viewed favorably rather than being treated as a problem.
Like an addiction
Some researchers have likened compulsive buying to other addictive behaviors that individuals use to escape life to the point where that behavior controls the person rather than vice versa.
“When it becomes our natural response to bad feelings or bad events in our life, to go shopping as a kind of retail therapy, it can really become a problem,” Roberts told LiveScience.
The consequences of compulsive shopping are far-reaching and could outlast the trendy pair of shoes or digital device you just purchased. These include massive credit-card debt, spoiled relationships, work problems and depression and anxiety, according to the Illinois Institute for Addiction Recovery.
Some excessive spenders cover up debt or purchases — similar to an alcoholic hiding bottles — which can strain once-honest relationships.
“They suffer a lot because of the emotional drain of being in debt and wondering what’s going to happen, carrying these huge credit-card balances that go up and up and up,” said Stanford University psychiatrist Lorrin Koran. “It can cause a lot of suffering and family dysfunction, because there are arguments about, ‘Why are you buying these things you don’t use?; why are you spending this money?'”
Koran recalls some of the compulsive buyers in his research declaring bankruptcy and getting divorced over their buying disorder. One woman was within weeks of losing her house.
Although the consequences can be “quite severe,” Koran says the so-called impulse control disorder is treatable and urges those afflicted to seek psychiatric help.
The results of a telephone survey by Koran and his colleagues of more than 2,500 people, detailed in a 2006 issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry, showed that an average of nearly 6 percent of the U.S. population fits the compulsive-buyer build. They found the spending problem afflicts men and women at about the same rate.
Other estimates for the prevalence of compulsive buying range from a low of 2 percent to 12 percent or more of the U.S. population, Roberts said.
The murky stats on super-shoppers can be blamed on the vague criteria for diagnosing the condition and the associated scales put forth to measure it.
“Measuring compulsive buying is not a straightforward process, yet the ability to accurately measure it is important if researchers are to clearly understand and perhaps predict this growing consumer phenomenon,” Roberts wrote in the February issue of the Journal of Economic Psychology.
To learn more, Roberts and Chris Manolis of Xavier University in Ohio surveyed 406 college students with an average age of 19 and evenly split between males and females. Students responded to questions about compulsive buying, credit-card misuse, attitudes toward money, materialism and consumption as a way to gain status.
“We found that the people who are classified as compulsive buyers under the Faber and O’Guinn scale, the most commonly used scale, seemed to be motivated by internal drivers, things like low self-esteem,” Roberts said.
However, this scale tended to sort people into extremes — either you are a compulsive buyer or you aren’t. “I think we’d do better to have people on a continuum,” Roberts said.
The Edwards Scale, a second approach, did indicate compulsive buyers along a continuum, though the scale picked out individuals driven more so by materialism and other external motivations such as great sales pitches or advertising.
Elizabeth Edwards, a professor of marketing at Eastern Michigan University who created the Edwards scale, says she didn’t measure materialism or other external motivations and thus her scale doesn’t “pick out” individuals driven by materialism. Instead, Edwards pointed out, her scale measures a tendency to compulsively buy rather than the behavior itself.
Why we shop
The overwhelming urge to splurge has been likened to other addictions, though compulsive buying currently is not recognized as a distinct disorder by the American Psychiatric Association.
“[Compulsive buyers] have usually fairly irresistible impulses that they can’t control, and it leads to some kind of harm, either financial or occupational or interpersonal or some combination,” said April Lane Benson, a psychologist in New York who treats compulsive buyers, and the founder of Stop Overshopping, LLC.
She added, “It’s like having an itch and they have got to scratch it. And they don’t realize that just like an itch, if they don’t scratch it sooner or later the itch will go away.”
Benson describes a typical client as a woman who has been buying things such as jewelry, clothing and shoes for years, and for one reason or another decides she needs to deal with this addiction. “They come to me maybe because they decide they have a long-term goal they’re never going to meet if they don’t deal with this addiction. They want to buy a house, or they want to have a baby, or their husband finds out,” Benson said.
Like other addictions, shopping fills some kind of void. In past research, marketing professor Edwards found that compulsive buyers who took part in a 12-step program called Debtors Anonymous also had certain personality types compared with the general population. They tended to have low self-esteem, a tendency toward fantasizing and to be vulnerable to depression and high anxiety.
“Going out and buying a whole bunch of stuff makes you feel better about yourself. Some might argue it’s really just an attempt to bolster your self-esteem,” Edwards said in a telephone interview. “Unfortunately, it probably doubles back on itself and causes you to have higher anxiety and lower self-esteem if it gets out of hand when you’re a compulsive buyer.”
Edwards didn’t find links between compulsive buying and income or gender, suggesting that both men and women are susceptible to spend uncontrollably regardless of their funds.
The prevalence of excessive purchasing is on the rise, thanks to society’s focus on everything material, Roberts thinks, based on his research and a review of others’ past research.
And whereas a slurring drunk or addict at the extremes is a no-no, a gal on a spending spree is commonly seen as a reason for applause.
“The difference between compulsive buying and other addictions is that compulsive buying is condoned by society,” Benson said, adding, “President Bush didn’t tell us to go out and drink and take drugs, but he did tell us to go out and shop. Consumption fuels our economy.”
Benson helps her clients deal with the emotional and practical aspects of this disorder. In addition to finding the root cause of the overspending, individuals are guided in making a spending plan and preparing for what Benson calls high-risk situations that might trigger a relapse.
“It’s important to understand what you’re really shopping for, what are the underlying authentic needs — Are you shopping because you’re lonely? Are you shopping to celebrate? — and finding other ways to meet those important needs,” Benson said.