What Are Your Shopping “Aftershocks”?

Shopping Triggers Were Discussed Last Week…

Last week, I explored the concept of “shopping triggers,” which are the various stimuli that propel us to want to shop.  I outlined the five types of triggers – situational, cognitive, interpersonal, emotional, and physical – and gave several examples of each.  I also shared some of the shopping triggers that have been personally troubling for me.

That post elicited quite a few comments and I thank those who commented for sharing your trigger experiences with me and your fellow readers.  Some of you also shared your powerful tips for dealing with triggers, which was also much appreciated. I will revisit the subject of avoiding shopping triggers in future posts, but now I’d like to turn to another subject from Dr. Benson’s book, “To Buy or Not to Buy:  Why We Overshop and How to Stop.”

“Aftershocks” Often Follow our Shopping Experiences

Let’s say you succumbed to one of your most difficult triggers and you overshopped.  Your emotions were in the driver’s seat instead of your rational mind, and you bought things you didn’t really need – or even want.  What happens next?  According to Dr. Benson, what follows are “aftershocks,” her term for the undesirable consequences of overshopping.

Shopping Aftershocks

What are the undesirable consequences of your overshopping?

Types of Shopping “Aftershocks”

Shopping aftershocks vary at least as widely as the triggers which precipitate much of our buying.  Dr. Benson divides these aftershocks into seven categories:

  1. Financial
  2. Relationship
  3. Emotional
  4. Work
  5. Physical Body / Living Space
  6. Personal Development
  7. Spiritual

It’s important for those of us who battle compulsive shopping to get in touch with the consequences of our behavior.  We often don’t realize how many areas of our lives are adversely impacted by our overshopping.  Developing an acute awareness of what our shopping addiction is costing us is an important step on our road to recovery.

One Person’s Trigger Can Be Another’s Aftershock

It’s worth noting that one person’s trigger can be another’s aftershock.  While feelings of anxiety, overwhelm, or guilt may lead one person to shop, those same emotions may be the negative consequences of another person’s shopping behavior.  In fact, the same thing can serve as both a trigger and an aftershock for the same person!

Below, I outline examples of each type of aftershock and share some of the most troubling aftershocks I’ve experienced over the years.  More examples of shopping aftershocks are outlined in the second chapter of “To Buy or Not to Buy.”

Financial Aftershocks

When people ponder the negative effects of shopping too much, financial consequences are generally the first thing that comes to mind.   Television shows (such as “My Shopping Addiction”) and magazine articles which profile shopping addiction sometimes focus solely on the financial impact.

While many compulsive shoppers struggle with debt, roughly one-third of overshoppers are not dealing with such financial hardships.  Most likely, however, these people (including me in recent years) experience a number of other shopping “aftershocks,” including other types of financial aftershocks.

Here are some common examples of financial aftershocks:

  • You’re unable to pay off your credit card bills and may even struggle to make the minimum payments.
  • You have little or no money for retirement.
  • Your credit rating is poor and you’re unable to qualify for a mortgage.
  • You’re chronically disorganized with your finances and are often hit with late fees and penalties.
  • You have no savings for emergencies or to cover your living expenses if you lose your job or are unable to work due to illness.

Although I am not currently in debt, this was a big problem for me in the past.  In fact, I had to be bailed out of my large credit card balances three times and once used a debt consolidation program to manage my overwhelming financial obligations.

In recent years, my main financial aftershock was that far too much of my husband’s and my disposable income went to fund my shopping binges.  We still paid off our credit cards every month, but we didn’t have enough money to put into savings or to use toward travel.  This aftershock not only impacted me, but it also adversely affected my wonderful and hard-working husband.

Relationship Aftershocks

There are many potential shopping aftershocks related to our interpersonal relationships, including the following:

  • Lying to yourself and others about how much you shop and what you buy.
  • Neglecting or withdrawing from your family and friends.
  • Having conflicts with your spouse and other loved ones over your shopping behavior.
  • Keeping your problem a secret from the people around you.
  • Your spouse or partner is considering leaving you – or has already left!

As I wrote about in “Shopaholic Lies and Covert Operations,” I engaged in all sorts of subterfuge as a means of hiding and protecting my compulsive shopping behavior.  I hid shopping bags and packages, lied to my husband about how much I bought, engaged in “creating accounting,” and used cash to hide my shopping tracks.  I’m not at all proud of these behaviors and they definitely led to friction and distance in my marriage.

Emotional Aftershocks

As mentioned above, our emotional states can be both the triggers and the aftershocks of our overshopping.  In both instances, the emotions we feel can pretty much run the gamut, although aftershock emotions are more likely to be negative.  Here are some possible emotions which can follow a shopping binge:

  • Anxiety
  • Shame
  • Guilt
  • Feeling out of control
  • Depression and hopelessness
  • Feelings of unworthiness
  • Anger

I’ve felt all of the above emotions and more following my overshopping experiences.  I felt anxiety about my husband finding out what I’d done, I felt angry toward myself, and I felt depressed and hopeless at the seeming “broken record” of my actions.  Feelings of guilt and shame ran rampant, and I also felt out of control and unworthy of compassion from myself or others.  I had many, many emotional aftershocks and I often fell into a deep depression after my worst shopping binges.

Work Aftershocks

Compulsive shopping behavior can also impact our work lives, whether we work for someone else or are self-employed.  Even if we are not currently employed, our overshopping can have affect our choices and behavior related to our future career path.  Common work-related aftershocks include:

  • Your performance at work may be suffering because of your shopping problem.
  • You may work overly long hours or multiple jobs in order to maintain a lifestyle you can’t really afford.
  • You may miss work, leave early, or take long lunch breaks in order to shop.
  • You may be passed over for promotions because your shopping problem prevents you from doing your best work.
  • You may be in danger of being fired for shopping during work time or poor performance related to excessive shopping.

I started my wardrobe styling business as a way to try to make “lemons into lemonade.”  I had been a shopaholic for many years and had also struggled to find a fulfilling career.  Since I was an accomplished shopper, I thought, “Why not help others to shop and get paid for it?”  Sounds good, but it ultimately backfired on me, as my compulsive shopping behavior intensified greatly during the two years of my styling business.

That’s one aftershock of sorts, but the main work aftershock for me over the years is that I spent so much time and energy on shopping that could have gone toward my career development instead. I wonder if perhaps I’d be in a better place now career-wise if I hadn’t burned so much energy on shopping-related activities.

Physical Body or Living Space Aftershocks

Shopping addiction not only affects our emotions and our bottom line.  It can also affect our physical bodies and our homes.  Here are some examples of how compulsive shopping impacts those domains:

  • Your anxiety about debt from overshopping leads to stomach problems, high blood pressure, headaches, or insomnia.
  • You neglect your need for regular check-ups and medical care because you’ve spent your money on shopping.
  • You skimp on high-quality food and physical exercise because you’re spending so much money and time shopping.
  • You resist having people over because your home is so cluttered and disorganized.
  • The utter disarray of your home makes you feel stressed, overwhelmed, and emotionally exhausted.

I’ve mentioned my health issues on the blog before.  I have some of the ones mentioned above – and more.  However, I don’t think my overshopping is responsible for most of those issues (maybe the insomnia…).  Rather, my shopping often serves as an escape from my health worries or as a welcome respite on the days when I feel well.

In terms of my living space, my primary aftershock has been an overly stuffed closet (or at some points, closets).  I kept buying and buying and because I live in a relatively small apartment, I soon ran out of space for my clothing and shoes.  My poor husband got squeezed out of the closets and we had to buy a wardrobe from Ikea for his clothes!  I’m very happy to be paring things down now and gradually cultivating a much more manageable closet.

Personal Development Aftershocks

Famous television psychologist Dr. Phil McGraw has a saying, “You’re either moving forward in life or you’re moving backwards.”  If we don’t consciously focus on our personal development, more than likely we’re moving backwards instead of growing.  Compulsive shopping can definitely adversely affect our personal growth, as the following examples illustrate:

  • You may have wanted to go back to school or take classes, but you’re unable to afford it because of your shopping.
  • As a result of your overshopping, you’ve let go of a hobby you previously enjoyed.
  • You spend so much time shopping that you have little or no time to nurture your creativity or think about your personal development.
  • You’ve stopped challenging yourself intellectually because you’re so preoccupied with shopping.
  • You’ve been unable to travel or broaden your horizons because of your constant focus on shopping.

I already mentioned my lack of travel due to insufficient funds, but that’s only one of the personal development aftershocks I’ve experienced.  I also neglected previous hobbies and failed to explore new ones.  I stopped engaging in writing and other creative pursuits, but I’m happy to be turning that one around.   I’m glad to be writing again and I plan to pursue other creative avenues and hobbies very soon.

Spiritual Aftershocks

As mentioned above, approximately one third of overshoppers are not in financial debt.  However, virtually all compulsive shoppers experience what Dr. Benson terms a “poverty of the soul.”  Spiritual and transcendent pursuits often fall by the wayside in our relentless obsession with shopping and the acquisition of new possessions.  Here are some examples of spiritual aftershocks:

  • A feeling as if your life lacks meaning or is going nowhere.
  • You’ve lost your connection with nature and the outdoors.
  • You have difficulty being alone with yourself and your thoughts.
  • You’ve lost a sense of community in your life.
  • You feel as if your values and your lifestyle are mismatched.

This category of aftershocks has been a big one for me.  My life became more and more unbalanced as my shopping problem intensified.   At this point, I have little sense of community (although I love the community this blog has brought into my life) and I feel disconnected from most of the people I was once close to.  As shopping became my primary pursuit, my life started to feel even more empty and meaningless than it did previously.  While I used shopping as way to feel a sense of purpose in life, it ultimately backfired on me.

The tagline of this blog is “Trade your full closet for a full life.”  I know I’m not the only compulsive shopper who has a jam-packed closet juxtaposed against a comparatively empty life.   Thus far, I’ve focused far more on the full closet portion of the equation, as it was easier and less overwhelming to contemplate (although it has been far from easy!).  As I get my closet under control, I’m feeling more of a push to address the full life question.   Although many of my shopping aftershocks have been difficult and painful, the spiritual void in my life is by far the most devastating.

What are Your  Shopping Aftershocks?

I’ve presented the categories of shopping aftershocks, highlighted some primary examples, and shared some of my personal experiences.  Now I’d like to hear from you.

  • What are your primary shopping aftershocks?
  • Which categories have been most troubling for you?
  • If you’ve managed to turn things around, did the realization of your shopping aftershocks play an important role in that process?

Wherever you are in your overshopping journey, I’d love for you to share your insights with me and your fellow readers!

Upcoming Course with Dr. Benson Starts November 5th

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, April Benson and I will be co-leading a 3-session course beginning next Tuesday.  For those who are interested, here’s a brief overview of the course.

“Tame Your Closet Monster in 3 Easy Lessons”

The course will be held on November 5th, 12th, and 19th, all Tuesdays. The time will be 9:00 p.m. Eastern, 8:00 p.m. Central, 7:00 p.m. Mountain, 6:00 p.m. Pacific.

This 3-week telecourse will teach you specific skills, tools, and strategies for taming your closet monster. Each week, you’ll learn effective strategies which you’ll practice during the week. This, along with being a part of our online community, will help you integrate these strategies into your everyday life confidently and competently.

Here’s what we’ll cover during the course:

  • Session 1 (November 5th):  We’ll be focusing on intentions and goals. We’ll teach you how to transform an intention into a goal, and we’ll formulate goals in four areas: Financial, Wardrobe, Shopping, and Life. You’ll learn a process for formulating a goal in a structured way that gives you the best chance of achieving it.
  • Session 2 (November 12th)We’ll turn the focus over to your wardrobe. We’ll look at the extent to which your wardrobe is actually a reflection of who you really are rather than who you think you’d like to be. We’ll introduce concepts such as closet “all-stars” and “benchwarmers,” wardrobe tracking, and closet auditing. You’ll start to identify common themes among the pieces you typically reach for, as well as the clothes you almost never wear.
  • Session 3 (November 19th)The final session will focus on shopping.  We’ll delve into how to know what you’re really shopping for, psychologically, and how to avoid buying mistakes and serial returning. We’ll teach you how to identify danger zones and deal with social pressure, as well as how to shop consciously. We’ll also discuss the benefits of having a spending plan and shopping rules and we’ll help you to create both.

What’s Included & Course Fee:

  • Three 1-hour educational and experiential telephone sessions.
  • Each week, you’ll receive a handout after the class, summarizing key points.
  • You’ll also get an exercise to practice during the week to further that week’s concepts.
  • You’ll be invited to participate in a private Yahoo Group for course participants only, so you can communicate with each other between sessions. April and I will also be part of the group.
  • All class members will receive recordings of all three sessions.

Course fee: $99.00

As you can see, the 3-session course will cover a lot of ground! If you participate, you will be able to make a powerful shift in multiple aspects of your overshopping problem.

  • You’ll be able to clearly understand where you are today and where you want to go in terms of your finances, your wardrobe, your shopping, and your overall life
  • With our help, you’ll be able to create a tangible and doable plan to get there.
  • You’ll also be able to make sense of your wardrobe and make some good headway in making it work better for your unique lifestyle, body, and personality.
  • You’ll be armed with a multitude of techniques to help you shop smarter, make fewer buying mistakes, and buy clothes you’ll actually love to wear and which fit your budget.

In just three short weeks, you will make significant strides toward getting your overshopping problem under control once and for all. You’ll not only be ready to meet holiday challenges, but you’ll also be ready to forge a new reality for yourself in the coming year!

Ready to Sign Up?

To register for the course, please click on the link below:


We hope to have you in the class!

15 thoughts on “What Are Your Shopping “Aftershocks”?

  1. I used to be in debt, but my recent financial woes were not enough money to do other things such as travel because all of our extra money I spent on shopping. It also seemed like too much effort to book play tickets or a trip because I was using up so much time and energy on shopping. Since I have (mostly) stopped shopping to excess I have redone almost my whole kitchen, gotten new living room furniture, gone on several trips, to a couple of plays, concerts, and baseball games. My husband and I have really enjoyed these things and I feel guilty that I was the reason these things were not an option for him before. The last couple of years have been very different for us. Another thing I did was I would waste so much time online shopping that I would neglect things like laundry, cooking, cleaning etc. I felt like quite a jerk asking my husband to pick up take out on the way home because I “just didn’t get a chance” to make dinner. Doing the things I’m supposed to be doing is something that helps to keep me on track. I let hobbies go. I have started painting again and I’m reading much more than I was. I think that being creative is very important to me and I feel more like myself again. I understand the term poverty of the soul very well. When shopping was the main thing in my life, even though I had close friends and family, I didn’t have the connection that I do now. This is a great post because I need to keep reminding myself that the changes I have made really have made my life so different and so much better than it was.

    • It sounds like you have SUCH a full life now, Tonya. I’m so happy for you for all of your wonderful growth and change! You inspire me as I am still a few steps (or more) behind you. Reading about your progress helps me to see what’s possible and I’m sure others feel the same way. Yes, the “poverty of the soul” is really the worst part. I’m gradually realizing and reclaiming the richness in my life. Kudos to you for your progress!

  2. I finally realized I had an ebay-buying problem when I started turning the Priority Mail envelopes inside out before putting them in the trash — the white interior didn’t reveal itself as did the red/white/blue exterior. Geez. What was I thinking? I was hiding the evidence of shopping, much as an addict hides her drug paraphernalia or an alcoholic buries her bottles at the bottom of the dumpster. I had to take a long, hard look at myself and what I was doing to those I loved. It did take years to change, and like every addict, I’m taking it one day at a time for the rest of my life.

    • Thanks for sharing some of your “covert operations,” Bette. I can identify with what you wrote, as I used to bury shopping bags, clothing tags, etc., deep in the trash can (or hidden in another bag) so my husband wouldn’t see them. I never thought I was an “addict” at the time, but the description really rings true now. You’re right about “one day at a time.” I try not to think too far ahead and instead think “just for today”…

  3. Thanks for this fantastic post! And the Teleseminars sound really exciting, well done!

    I shopped for the highs but the aftershocks started bothering me after a few years. The first wake-up call was the amount of clutter and overstuffed wardrobes. What really started worrying me more was my cold, cynical, callous attitude towards other people. I discoverd I was shopping because I was spiritually empty.

    Outlining your true values and realigning your small and big life goals with them will help. So does being compassionate towards yourself and other people. I feel these realizations have given me a renewed sense of purpose and direction and brought me to closer contact with other people.

    Things are still not perfect and there are lots of triggers out there still – stress, loneliness, feelings of being rejected and boredom are probably my main triggers. But now I feel I am more in control and quite often able to resist temptations and find another course of action, addressing the underlying needs more directly.

    • Thanks for sharing your triggers and aftershocks, FrugalFashionista. The cold, callous, cynical attitude toward others is not mentioned in Dr. Benson’s book, but I can definitely see how that can happen. I remember being very judgmental about the way others dressed (I think I live in the most casual city in the country!), but now I am far more accepting and tolerant of many different styles. The triggers you mentioned are big ones for me, too. I’m so glad that you are feeling much more in control of your shopping these days and closer to the people in your life!

  4. I am having some aftershocks right now as I look at the pile of 150 garments I have purged from my closets so far this past week.
    I can see the time, energy, effort and space it took to get these things in the first place and now the time, energy and effort it is taking to remove them and the courage to let them go.
    But this is an aftershock I am glad to have. I want to get this stuff out of my life.

    • I feel you Carolyn, as I gaze morosely on the enormous pile of clothing that must be processed and schlepped, first to the consignment store, with the rejects going to St. Vincent’s for donation. It is exhausting work to prepare all these garments for resale. Why did I ever accumulate so much stuff that I don’t really care about?!

    • Congrats for purging so many items from your closet, Carolyn! That’s tremendous progress and your should definitely be proud of yourself. I can certainly empathize with your feelings about the time, energy, and effort you put into buying and releasing all of those items. I’m glad you also acknowledge your courage, as that’s a very important piece of the puzzle.

      Deby, I often ask myself the same thing! It IS exhausting to both accumulate and release such a large amount of stuff. I hope and pray I’ve learned my lesson and won’t repeat my past overbuying mistakes!

  5. I have a rather unusual confession to make because this post hit me in an unexpected way. Yes, I have been a shopaholic for clothing and other forms of personal adornment, like jewelry and bags. But I realized as I read through this post that I have been in an even worse “aftershock” situation.

    You see, for the past decade, I have been addicted to a form of property buying and flipping. I have moved 4 times in 10 years. I have owned 3 houses on the SAME street–and not just the same street–but within eyeshot of each other! My pattern has been that I will buy a house, completely renovate it over the course of 4-5 years, then feel bored by the space, and move on to another house. Because I like my neighbors, I stay on the same street. At the present moment, I can look out my office window and see all the houses I have owned and currently own (now rental property). I live next door to one of them right now.

    Because of this, I never have the time or funds to travel because I am always either in the middle of, or paying off, a renovation project. I think about how I would like to travel in the abstract, but then my thoughts are drawn back to whatever renovation is going on at present. In some ways, I enjoy “stay cations” because it is exciting to me to renovate, but at the same time I feel like I am limiting myself to enlarge my horizons.

    I also often am not able to contribute to my retirement as much as I should, because I’m using those funds to pay for my projects. On the other hand, my real estate certainly has value that increases as I continue to fix it up.

    I ask myself why I am so drawn to real estate, and I think its because I am not knowledgable about investing and fear the stock market–it seems so volatile. Yet a building is always there, and it increases in value, especially if you keep it maintained. I can see my buildings and they make me feel secure, unlike getting nervous about the yo-yoing of stocks.

    • Thanks for sharing this part of your story, Deby. I’m sure you’re not alone in being addicted to property flipping. In fact, as I read your comment, I thought of a friend who used to buy and sell real estate quite a bit. When the real estate market tanked a while back, she stopped doing it, but then she started shopping a lot! Maybe the shopping was fulfilling some of the needs that the real estate buying and selling had previously met.

      I don’t know much about real estate investing and fixing up houses, but I do know that these activities occupy a lot of time and energy, much like shopping can do. For me, shopping often served as a way for me to avoid having to think about difficult issues in my life. So perhaps your house projects fulfill a similar need in you. Of course, there are often multiple reasons why we do things, but this might be a place to look, especially if you want to stop buying and fixing up so many houses.

  6. A very insightful post. I recognize many of these for myself after shopping. It is just as important to recognize how one is going to feel AFTER the purchase high wears off, as to recognize why one is in the store to begin with. I’ve felt guilt enough times after shopping that it’s started to become a deterrent. And the few times I have shopped and gotten to wear an item right away, because I really did need it, has been such a pleasure. I’d rather feel more pleasure after my purchases than guilt now. So when I am in a store I try to remember to ask myself, how am I going to feel after I make this purchase?

    • That’s a great question to ask. I think that if we take a moment to think about how we’ll feel later, we may avoid a lot of ill-advised purchases. I still get caught up in the moment sometimes and buy things I’ll feel guilty about later, but I’m trying to be gentle with myself as I work to turn my bad habits around. I can see that I’m making progress, so I don’t get as upset about the mistakes anymore.

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