Shopping addiction? How on earth could that describe me? I’m pretty down to earth most of the time, and I don’t care for a glamorous or prestigious lifestyle. Aren’t shopping addictions for ultra fashionable, vanity plagued women with a bunch of credit cards?
I’m a thrift shopper and know how to be a penny pincher and deal hunter, so how could it be that this frugally minded, old-fashioned girl came to realize that my shopping habit had crossed the line into a compulsive behavior that was getting out of my control?
The revelation and the rampage
When I was expecting my third baby, we moved to a little cabin in the country. As we packed up our spacious 2 bedroom townhouse, I was able to see just how much stuff I had. A huge moving truck and several friend’s pickups all packed full of stuff. It was not good. Actually I was horrified. Feeling desperate, I took action!
After we moved, I went on a decluttering rampage. Like most things I do, I went full throttle and absolutely transformed our collection of stuff. As I kept on working, our house became tidy, I was way less exhausted, and I felt such purpose when I was on the mission to declutter. I kept myself on track by reading helpful books and blogs, and it worked!
But I also began to realize that all my efforts to declutter would all be for nothing if I kept up my shopping habit. All that clutter would creep back in and all my work and good intentions would be wasted. I was desperate for that not to happen, and I was ready to get real with myself about why it did in the first place.
1. I felt justified if something was useful
One big excuse I made to myself was that things I bought were useful. How could something be a waste of money if it was going to be used? I wasn’t buying jewelry or overpriced name brand fashion. It was just the stuff of life, or things I “needed” for DIY projects or crafts. If it was useful, I could justify the purchase. Again and again and again.
2. I felt justified if something was a bargain
I loved bargain shopping, and most of my stuff came from thrift shops or really awesome sales. I was so excited about how good of a deal I was getting. It was almost a no brainer to pop it in the cart.
I loved ( and still love) really good quality things, and if I found something that was excellent quality, I felt like it would be a waste NOT to buy it. And so I continued to justify my spending. Here a little, there a little.
3. If I wasn’t shopping, I felt I was missing out
The thing about thrift shopping is that every single item is a limited quantity. There’s only one! The marketing phrase “While supplies last” has an even greater urgency when you are shopping for things that are one of a kind. I would actually feel urgency to get stuff before other people did. Yikes!
This is embarrassing for me to say. I mean, we’re talking about things that people had donated to Goodwill, and here I was stumbling over myself to rake it in. But the same would happen with shop or grocery sales. If I didn’t get there soon, I would miss out!
When I realized this, I was ready to start saying that this wasn’t just a habit or a pass time, but an addiction. It felt compulsive and urgent that I shop at least three times a week, and I wanted to every day.
4. “Shopping my emotions”
Most of us have heard of “eating our feelings” or eating as way of dealing with negative emotions. I found that when I was feeling overwhelmed at home, or lonely for my husband, or frustrated with being “poor”, I could instantly make myself feel better by bargain hunting.
Instead of turning to the Lord or facing reality with courage, I loaded up the kids and went out to find some more stuff. It was just felt better than staying home and being miserable.
5. My habits were causing harm
It did take me while to come to terms with this one. It’t really, terribly hard to admit that my problem with shopping was actually harming my family. I was spending us right down to the last dollar of every paycheck, all the while telling myself I was frugal.
This put a huge amount of stress on us financially, but I am actually grateful for this. We had a low income and there was nowhere for the problem to hide.
If we had had more money, I may have been able to keep on pretending it wasn’t that big of an issue, or I may have let the issue expand even more. As it was, when I was ready to come to terms, the evidence of my addiction was obvious.
Relief in reality
Humbling as it was, it was a relief to admit to myself that I was addicted to shopping, that the compulsion to go and acquire things wasn’t ok. It wasn’t just a bad habit, it wasn’t that I was just a poor budgeter. It was controlling me and it was on track to ruin me.
It’s never easy to face up to a big failure. But the good part was, once I was ready to see my problem for what it was, I could actually go about taking action to change.
I quit cold turkey
I quit thrift shopping (and estate sale, yard sale, vintage sale shopping) for two years. Yep! I knew it wouldn’t do to just try and reduce or give myself a budget. I know that these things to help some people, but I wanted a complete mind reset. I wanted no weaning phase, no pretending that my behavior was kind of acceptable. It wasn’t. I had to go cold turkey.
Watching out for online shopping
I was also really careful not to replace this physical shopping with online shopping. If I had to buy something necessary online, I would put it in my cart and let is sit for a few days, just to remind myself that it wasn’t really all that urgent. Then I would buy just that one things, and be careful to not browse around to much looking for a better price.
Regained my love for keeping home
A burden was lifted off me when I trusted the Lord’s leading and finally dealt with the root issue of my clutter. And two wonderful things happened.
- I learned to turn to the Lord with my struggles, and
- I fell in love with being a keeper of my family and home.
I didn’t know if I would every be able to thrift shop again, and I had to come to place of complete acceptance of that fact. I didn’t want to be just biding my time until I could pick up the old habit again. It took two years before I felt really free from the urge.
How I shop now
I’m glad to report that do thrift shop now, but it’s a joy and a pleasure, and not an impulse. It’s really a completely different experience.
I plan my shopping trips, and I buy with purpose, not compulsiveness. I can see now that it’s alright to admit that nearly everything I get is a luxury and not a necessity.
It makes my shopping more joyful to know that the thing I purchase are a reflection of God’s goodness and creativity. I have discretionary income! I have spare time to shop! I have a home to decorate how I like! I can buy my self and my children clothes for comfort and beauty, not just functionality. I have a copper kitchen wares collection that I love.
Yet the urge to have more of these good things does not consume me. In other words, I’m so much more content. Yes, I still like shopping, and I still like to find a killer bargain, but it simply does not control me in the same way.
Can you relate?
If you saw a little of yourself in this story, I know you can relate to how incredibly easy it is to become addicted to shopping. Your justifications may not be exactly the same as mine, but they all have one thing in common. They seem urgent and necessary and maybe even reasonable.
What’s your relationship to shopping? Do you “shop your emotions” like me? Do you buy things you really don’t need because they could be “useful” someday? Do you feel financially strained yet still come home with more and more things?
I’ve felt it all and honestly, I know that in some ways I’ll be on guard against these sneaky excuses forever. But I will say that as my joy of homemaking has grown, the desire to shop has dimmed. The love for what is right and good has filled me up in a way that shopping never could.
What a blessing it is to feel contentment. I didn’t know it back then, but it’s what I was truly looking for. And, trusting the Lord, I’m pressing forward and learning to keep my own home with peace and purpose.