From the moment I started earning money, I have been desperate to spend it. I hear the siren call of the shops, wherever I am. For me a day without an Amazon package is dull and grey. But when I know my doorbell will be a’ringing with deliveries, there’s fission and purpose in the air. In terms of anticipation and enjoyment, I’d liken it to an office crush – the shopping’s not stopping.
Surprisingly, a few years ago, I successfully dialled down my habit well enough to write about the experience for Psychologies magazine. But since then it seems to have ramped back up, and I find I’m constantly looking for something online. But never quite knowing what it is. Or why I’m expecting it to make such a difference to my life.
What’s beneath the buying?
Shopping is generally considered to be a successful short term, self soothing strategy, hence its moniker retail therapy. Generally, if we stay within budget and out of debt, then it provides an effective and harmless mood lift. The reasons why we shop are known as drivers. These will be slightly different for everybody, however, the most common ones are:
It replaces lack of purpose with clarity
Feeling at a loose end, not quite sure what to do with your day? Procrastinating around a task that needs doing? Then why not think up a product you really need and then spend some enjoyable time researching it. Comparing prices and reviews and imagining your improved post purchase life, provides a clear outline to the next hour. It replaces general fuzziness and lethargy with laser sharp focus. It also gives a feeling of achievement and attainment when you find the right product at the right price. Even the act of returning unsuitable items can make you feel efficient and purposeful. Tick goes another item on the to-do list. And of course, it opens up the possibility of some more replacement shopping. And when viewed like this, the shopping’s not stopping , in fact it’s become a drumbeat to your life.
Because you’re worth it, and you want it
This one is hard to disagree with. At the end of a long day spent juggling jobs, childcare and the demands of bosses, friends and family, how can you refuse yourself a well earned reward? You do deserve it, and you are worth it. On top of this there are marketing executives out there, representing multi million pound industries, who will be trying their hardest to help you want what they sell. And what they’re selling is quite often hope. Who’s to say the right shade of lipstick won’t temporarily increase your confidence or a pair of yoga leggings won’t lead to a long term healthy habit? With this logic in mind it’s hard for us to refuse
But real self-esteem and lasting change, can’t be bought at the mall. It has to come from somewhere deeper than that. For an excellent book, with thoughtful tips on boosting and managing self worth in a meaningful way, I recommend Know Your Worth by psychotherapist Anna Mathur.
It helps you repress difficult emotions
People rarely go shopping when they’re feeling happy, they’re likely to find other ways to celebrate a win. But shopping is great for distracting from difficult emotions or dampening down feelings. Shops work hard to make their spaces feel attractive, enticing and relaxing. Clothes are co-ordinated, make up counters are gleaming, and there are no clocks visible on the shop floor. It’s soothing, safe, cocooning and almost like entering another world. On line shopping may not be so experiential but it’s accessible and convenient. It also uses algorithms to keep on serving up exactly what you want. With all this excitement and distraction going on, there genuinely isn’t much time to feel your feelings, let alone explore what’s behind them. And that is one of the main reasons why your shopping’s not stopping.
Taking back control of your shopping habit
Gaining control of your shopping habit, so it feels enjoyable again, is normally a two pronged approach. This means understanding the needs that shopping is meeting for you, and also altering your environment to make it harder for you to shop. However, only you really know what your drivers are and how best to organise your environment.
For example, if shopping is your reward for getting through another tough day, then it could be replaced with a bath and a magazine. The bath provides the comfort and relaxation, and the magazine provides the escape and distraction. Organising your space to make shopping harder for you can mean paying attention to the times when you’re most likely to shop and blocking apps during this period.
Useful further information
If you’ve been reading this post and thinking, “Fine, but my habit is actually a lot worse than that. Over here the shopping’s not stopping at all.” then please don’t panic. Shopping addiction is not unusual, and a great one stop shop to get further information, is the mental health charity Mind.
Mind can provide counselling, or signpost you to specific organisations that specialise in managing addiction or offering debt advice.
If you’re happy to share your experiences of overcoming a shopping habit, then I’d love to hear them.