A Hard Habit to Break

I started this blog in January 2013 as a way of keeping myself honest and accountable as I worked to overcome my decades-long compulsive shopping problem.  I also hoped to potentially connect with and inspire others who struggle with overshopping.  Over the past year-plus, I’ve made excellent progress with my recovery and have been pleased that many others have followed along and shared their challenges and triumphs with me and with each other.

That’s the good news, but if you sensed that there’s a “but” coming, you’re absolutely right!  While I pat myself on the back for what I’ve accomplished thus far, I have to be honest and confess that compulsive shopping is proving to be a very hard habit for me to break.  In this post, I spill the proverbial beans about my continued struggles and what I’ve come to understand about myself and my motivations.

A Difficult Climb

Recovering from compulsive shopping can be a difficult climb…

A Challenging New Goal…

This year, I’ve set some very challenging goals for myself related to my wardrobe and shopping, as well as my life at large.  While I feel all of these goals are both worthwhile and doable, one of the most difficult ones so far has been my item purchase limit.  Last year, I purchased 76 new garments and shoes, which was an improvement over previous years (when I bought 150-200 items or more!) but still far too much for me to add to my already bloated closet.   In order to meet my goal of having a smaller and more functional wardrobe, I knew I needed to curtail the volume of closet additions I was making. Thus, I decided to halve the number of items I buy this year, making my limit 38 new pieces.

I know that setting that limit was the right thing to do.  In fact, I wish I would have set an item limit for myself long ago.  Setting a clothing budget and other wardrobe-related rules has been helpful, but nothing has been as helpful – and as confronting – as my new item limit.   Knowing I can’t just buy as many items as my budget will accommodate is forcing me to make tough decisions about what deserves to be among my select group of 2014 closet additions.

Struggling Out of the Gate

I have to tell you that I am struggling to contain my overshopping, particularly this month.  I don’t know the exact number of items I’ve bought so far this year (I will tabulate and share that information in my February accountability post), but I think I’ve already purchased at least one-third of my quota in less than two months! I’m still doing okay budget-wise, but if I keeping buying new pieces at the rate I have been, I will reach my item limit before the year is even half over.

Some of you may think that 38 items is still too much to add to one’s closet in a given year, and you’re probably right.  In my heart of hearts, I realize that I should have set the bar even lower, but I wanted to set a goal that would be reachable for me given my current state of recovery.   I still believe I can meet my goal, but I’m going to have to make some changes.

Something to Look Forward To…

You may wonder why I continue to shop so much.  Well, I am sad to admit this, but it’s still the thing I most look forward to in life.  Nothing sparks my inner excitement like shopping does. I feel kind of pathetic to admit this, but I know that some of you out there are nodding your heads and identifying with me.  There’s just something about the hunt for new “treasures” that lights me up inside like a Christmas tree.  Even though I am fully aware what having an overstuffed closet has cost me in many respects, I find it incredibly difficult to resist the urge to shop for more (even though I ultimately want less).

It seems as if shopping is my default activity, that thing I turn to when I am anxious, lonely, bored, hurt, apprehensive, numb, or a whole host of other feeling states.  Just last Friday, I received some difficult news and the first thing I wanted to do was shop.  And I did shop.  I didn’t do the type of damage I used to do, but I whiled away several hours in “retail therapy,” even though I knew full well that it would do nothing to change the state of my life and the news I had been given.  I just needed to escape from my life and myself for a little while and shopping still fits the bill, even if it doesn’t quite “do it” for me like it used to.

I emerged from my latest shopping coma having only purchased two new items, both of which were on my priority list, but this latest retail exploit was only one of many I’ve done since 2014 began.  While I’m being more mindful when I shop and buying less overall, I’m still shopping to fulfill emotional needs as well as sartorial requirements, and I know that’s not the most healthy way of being.  I know better, so why do I persist in using shopping as a salve for my psychological wounds?

Comfortably Numb

In truth, I feel really stuck in my life.  I feel, to quote the great Pink Floyd song, “Comfortably Numb.”  I am not depressed in the seriously dangerous way I once was.  I don’t plunge to the depths of great despair and contemplate my ultimate demise as I did while in the throes of anorexia, deep grief, or clinical depression.   I just feel a muting of affect and an overall sense of numbness.

I have set some wonderful goals for my life, but I have virtually no idea how I will reach them.  How does one make new friends as a middle-aged introvert?  How does one overcome long-standing and seemingly immovable health challenges? How does one who’s had over thirty jobs and three failed businesses find a new way of making a living that she doesn’t hate?  Does a hobby exist that I can enjoy as much as shopping?

I ponder the questions above and I’m left feeling bleak, confused, and blank.  I don’t know the answers and I’m not sure how I will find them.  But I do know how to find good bargains at my favorite stores and I do know how to find clothes that will lift my spirits, if only for a short period of time.  I can’t solve the world’s problems or even my own problems, but I can find a cute top that makes me look younger, slimmer, and more attractive. That is something I can do!

Listening to the Small Voice Within

So shopping is proving to be a very hard habit for me to break, but I am by no means ready to give up.  Even in my low mood and with my suppressed affect, there is a voice within that continues to believe I have it in me to recover and get to a better place.  That voice, as small as it may be sometimes, is what keeps me writing this blog and working to overcome the deeply ingrained shopping addiction that has plagued me for years.  That voice is what keeps me believing in myself and all the others out there like me who use shopping as a salve for our wounds and a way to feel whole and alive.

I’m not giving up on myself and my recovery, and I don’t want any of you to give up on yourselves, either.  We are stronger than we know and we can rise above our inner demons.  We can push back against the hypnotic state that has us whipping out our credit cards to purchase more clothes we don’t need that will only have us feeling better for mere hours after we buy them.

The Life Beyond Compulsive Shopping

There is life beyond compulsive shopping, I know it.  I’ve seen glimpses of it.  I’ve envisioned the view from the other side and I’ve even experienced pockets of time there.  I know that if I keep picking myself up again and moving forward, I will eventually spend more time there.

So I hereby recommit to the goals I’ve set for myself for my life and my wardrobe.  I may have bought too many things so far this year and spent too little time and attention on taking my life to the next level, but I can still turn things around.  I don’t have to have all of the answers.  I just need to take the next step in the right direction, no matter how small or insignificant it may seem.

If I can do it, so can you.  If you’re reading this and you’ve all but given up, please don’t.   This blog is called “Recovering Shopaholic,” but it’s not just about the one recovering shopaholic who is writing it.  It’s about all of us who want to trade our full closets for full lives.  We can do it – together.  Please stay with me for the journey and join me in enjoying the view when we get to the other side.

72 thoughts on “A Hard Habit to Break

  1. I know the feeling and I too am a shopaholic and a middle aged introvert. My problems are very much with online shopping. It’s just too easy. I pay a lot of money in return shipping fees every year. I too am going to limit my clothing purchases. Starting right now……

    • Welcome, Stacy, and thanks for your comment. I knew I was not alone in how I was feeling, but I appreciate hearing from others who feel the same way. Online shopping can be particularly challenging because it’s just so easy to do (and ideal for us introverts). The limits can help, even though they are challenging. Best wishes to you! Please check back in and let me know how it’s going.

  2. My heart goes out to you in terms of how overwhelmed you seem to be feeling about the changes you want in your life. Personally I too feel overwhelmed when I focus on the big goals but when I think of one thing I could do today or this week that will move me forward I am able to act in a positive way. I hope you find a path to move forward instead of this intense focus on weaning yourself off shopping slowly.

    • Thanks for your compassion, Juhli. Your advice to just focus on one thing is very wise. Thinking of the bigger picture often trips me up. I definitely hope it will get easier for me to shop less. There are lots of ups and downs, but I know that finding other things to focus on will help. I have to be patient, take the time, and do the work.

      • I absolutely agree with Juhli -one small step at a time and one small goal at a time( remember the wise adage that a journey of a thousand miles begins with one step). You ARE achieving where you want to be in the future- you only need read back through your blog to its start to see. Chin up Debbie – we are with you on your journey every step of the way, no matter how many miles you will have to travel to get to where you want to be!

      • Thanks so much for your kind words and encouragement, Abgurl. It helps me a lot to know there are people like you out there who are on my side!

  3. I’m right here with you. I’ve made a lit of progress, but I don’t know how to stop wanting. I am so very tempted and there’s a lot of things I’d really like to get. I’m having a hard time controlling my impulses. The things I absolutely want to buy right now total $500+ and not having instant gratification sucks (I’m so spoiled!!!!). I’ve been planning what I’m buying when the ban is up and deciding what I will buy is difficult because I have to stay in budget. This coming from a girl who never stuck to a budget let alone an item # limit. I guess I’m just trying to say I’m really having a hard time with it too. I can’t stop thinking about shopping and I’m looking forward to the day the ban is over. I would love to shake this! I shop when frustrated and have too good a memory for things. I know exactly what I want and they are all ‘holes’ I’ve identifed, especially after thouroughly culling my wardrobe I SEE how small it is… I’m just confused I guess!

    • I know what it’s like to “white-knuckle it” through a shopping ban, Meli, which is why I’ve opted to use limits instead of going “cold turkey.” When I would tell myself I couldn’t shop at all, I just wanted to do it that much more. Learning moderation is very challenging, but I know that’s the way I want to live, so I persist. I know you’re struggling a lot, too, and I’m glad you’ve been blogging about your challenges as well as posting them here. Just keep going and taking things one day at a time. We all have our tough times, but there is light at the end of the tunnel. A year ago, I never thought I’d be where I am now and even though I’m frustrated to still be struggling, I know I will get to where I want to be. You will, too. Keep the faith!

      • Thanks debbie, you’re right that we have to keep faith and just plow on. You’re also dead on- definitely white knuckling. I AM learning things from it though (which I try to concentrate on) and absolutely plan on doing another shopping pause. I really hope I can permanently change my habits rather than do a binge-purge cycle over and over. The challenge will be NOT binging. I keep going up and down- just as I was feeling good the ‘want’ monster came back with a sucker punch. So far I’m holding on but it’s very challenging- more than I feel it should be! And I DO want to minimize, spend less, be more ethical, and become more minimalistic. But the consumerism is much deeper than I thought and while my GUT lies with minimalism, pretty clothes still pull my emotions and feed that odd need I have (for a little while).

      • I definitely get the “want monster”! I promise that it gets easier. Yes, I still have my relapses and down times, but they don’t happen as often as they used to. I believe that will happen for you, too!

    • I know what you mean Meli about wanting – I keep buying because I feel that I can’t miss the opportunity to buy the item of choice as there’ll never be another. My wardrobe is small – currently around 50 items including shoes and coats. The never ending binge and purge cycle and the constant counting of items to ensure I never go over a certain fixed number in my head is driving me insane. Also, the constant buying of “pop” items such as a colour or style I wouldn’t normally wear means that the need to purge is deliberate when the effect wears off. I have decided I am happiest in a uniform style that fortunately my work in education allows – currently softly draping separates. This manifests in my eating too – having lost around 12 kilos since November, I now find that slowly my eating has got out of control again, such as eating portions that are too large, or eating whilst cooking oh how gross. Loving this post Debbie and so relieved I’m not alone.

      • I also struggle with both shopping and eating issues, Andrea, so I know how hard that can be. It’s interesting that you term what you do with your wardrobe a “binge and purge cycle.” I do the same sort of thing. I don’t have all that much trouble purging items from my wardrobe, but if I purge too much at a time, I tend to “binge” by buying more. I’m finding it helpful to purge more slowly and to limit how much I bring in. Of course, the limit has been confronting for me, but I often think the things we find most difficult can be the most helpful to us in the long run. You’re definitely not alone!

  4. Thanks for being so very honest about your struggle – it isn’t easy to choose a lifestyle and make daily decisions that fly in the face of all we’re told and sold each day by advertising and those around us,. My husband and I are in the process of trying to sell off most our worldly goods in preparation for a future, smaller retirement featuring a mobile home and travel. I work in an office of women who talk of almost NOTHING but what they’ve purchased, what they’ll purchase today and what will be purchased next week!! Needless to say, me and my bags headed to Goodwill, have nothing to add! 🙂 Keep fighting the fight – there’s a lot of us fighting with you!!

    • Welcome, Seralisa, and thanks for your comment. Your plans with your husband sound wonderful and I’m sure they are helping to motivate you to make difficult changes. It’s hard when the people around you are on a different page and aren’t very supportive, but many of us here understand and are rooting for you. It’s hard to consume LESS when most of the world is consuming MORE, but when we have powerful “why’s” behind our changes, that helps a lot. Best wishes to you with your journey!

  5. Yes, yes, and yes. Buying 1/3 of my yearly goal in the first 2 months – yep! Doing so to avoid the quiet malaise of a hum drum day to day life – yep. Knowing new relationships would go far in helping to curb these impulses but having no idea how to start as another middle aged introvert – yep. You have company. I was quietly elated inside when my BF mentioned being so fed up with work he may want to quit and move back home early. I feel like my life is waiting for me there and I’m just doing time in the meanwhile. And spending that time involves online hunting and wardrobe planning and all that entails.
    Beyond just not shopping, the next step – replacing that soothing behavior with something more positive – is proving much more difficult. I recently heard ‘the only way out is through’. Maybe we just need to sit with the discomfort until we get to the other side. I dunno. It’s hard.

    • I know you understand, Mo, and we are in similar situations, except I have no other home to go back to where things are better. But since you are away from home for such long stretches at a time and even with no car, that makes things very challenging for you. As much as online connections can be comforting and valuable, we all need in-person interactions as well. You have your boyfriend and I have my husband, but we need others as well. I think you’re right that the only way out is through. I know I need to feel my pain and process is, which is part of why I wrote this post. I also knew that I was not alone in my feelings, not that I wish them on anyone else. I hope things will improve for you soon, either because you’re going back home or because you find other ways of soothing yourself.

      • Yes, I suppose I do have a proverbial light at the end of my tunnel. But I would like to learn how to better create the life I want around me, no matter where I am. I kind of feel like this is some life skill I’ve yet to master that everyone else figured out long ago, ya know? That’s why it’s encouraging to share when you find others with the same struggle. Thanks for being so upfront in sharing!
        I did go to another fun run at a local pub last night (went in Dec. too). And had limited small talk each time with a patron or two, but just didn’t connect. They all are small town locals here and I clearly am not. Ah, well. Baby steps. Next step is to maybe join a gym. Might make a friend or two. Funny, because historically I tune out and focus whenever I’ve been a gym goer. But I can adapt. I’m sure I can. lol At least we will all have a common interest.
        Do you have any specific interests or events you plan on pursuing this year to fill the shopping void?

      • I give you credit giving the fun run another try, Mo. Perhaps the gym will help, especially if you take some classes while you are there. That’s one thing I’m considering. I belong to a gym, but it’s gone down hill, so I’m going to look into switching. I’m also going to look into more Meetups (meetup.com in case you haven’t heard of it). I like those because you don’t have to commit to any regular attendance of anything. I like to be able to go to things once in a while instead of every week. I’m not sure what else I’ll do but those things are a start. Good luck to you with the gym!

  6. What a powerful post Debbie. As you know, I can relate to almost all of it. When I very first started to turn things around and desire a life that shopping wasn’t one of the main activities, one of the most helpful thing I did was go to single events. Plays, concerts, baseball games, etc. It gave me something to look forward to and it really helped me feel rather than just know in my head that I could enjoy something as much as shopping. It wasn’t a big commitment and it started me on the right path. We even found some local playhouses and productions put on by the college that were very inexpensive, but still enjoyable. Sometime after this I read and did the exercises in Dr. Benson’s book. This helped me to see what I was really missing in my life. One of the main things was an outlet for being creative so I took up painting again. I’m also going to teach an art class to my friend’s children that are homeschooled, so I am looking forward to that. I’ve tried a few other things. Some will stick and some I think are going to be short lived. Doing these things has made be feel so much better and so much more like myself. The thing that really convinced me to pursue other interests was when I went canoeing. It’s so not something that I would ever try. When I first got there I felt akward and foolish. After I was able to move past that I really enjoyed myself. I got some of that “rush” that I would get from shopping I think because I was trying something totally new. We’re actually going to go again when it warms up a bit. I would recommend first trying some single events. Plays, concerts, sporting events, kayaking, hiking, etc. Whatever sounds good. If your experience is like mine, after you start it will get easier and you will feel better. When you feel better, I think that things like making friends and deciding on work will be a natural progression. It all seems to take time and it sure isn’t happening fast, but it is happening!

    • Thanks so much for sharing your experience and suggestions, Tonya. I know you understand what I’m going through. I think you’re right that I need to do single events instead of making long-standing commitments to things. It’s much less overwhelming that way. I have gone to some movie meetups, but need to find more things like that to try. I also considered joining a writers’ group since I really like to write and would like to do more. I will take you advice to try things that seem out in left field like your canoeing example (that would be out there for me, too!). I never know what I might like and where I might meet people. I hope you’re right and that making friends and getting more clarity on work will follow on from that. I have to just take things one day at a time and trust the process.

  7. Hang in there, Debbie. You have made great progress, but success is never a straight line always going upwards towards our goal. There are always setbacks and slow downs along the way. You only purchased two new items though. Two! Think back to the days when you would walk out of the mall with mountains of shopping bags. I know I used to.

    I have been really pushing myself to come out of my shell lately. I am also now a business owner, and I need to network and market myself. Which of course I hate doing. I started small. I switched hair stylist to a local person my friend goes to. And was able to have an “oh, you’re Amy’s friend?” conversation. I started going to get facials regularly from a neighborhood lady, and we found we had friends in common, and as two business owners we are forging a relationship that is more peer to peer than customer to business. I also started to go to my neighborhood association meetings. I sat in 3 meetings and didn’t say a WORD to anyone. Month after month! But then they had a mixer at the local vegan restaurant – normally the mixers are kid-oriented so I always have an easy excuse to stay home as I don’t have kids. But I’m vegetarian – if anything they did was going to be up my alley, it was an adults happy hour at the vegan place! I forced myself to go, and say hi, and I was warmly welcomed. People recognized me from the meetings or from walking, and it was do-able. I’m actually looking forward to saying hi at the next monthly meeting. I also started going to a yin yoga class twice a week. I used to go to regular classes at the weekend, and they were so full and intimidating. But this slower class is at 4pm – it’s basically ALL middle aged women, and one guy comes occasionally. It took me a few weeks to say hi to anyone, but now we’re up to small talk, and I’ve been cultivating a networking relationship with the studio owner. None of this is earth shattering although I feel a sense of community growing, slowly but surely. I haven’t made any lifelong friends yet, but it is worlds better than the isolated feeling I used to have.

    I also scheduled an hour of reading time into my day. I told my boyfriend and my biz partner I need my reading time, to educate myself, to feel fulfilled, and to do something I really enjoy. And they are respecting that, and giving me my needed quiet time and space. As introverts it is so important to do something that nourishes us, and builds our energy, especially when we are pushing ourselves and expending energy trying to get out there and mingle.

    As for clothes, so far this year my per-month item limit is going OK. I really want to shop, but I already purchased my two for February. But it’s fine, there’s only a week left now! I can totally hold on until March. I think if I had a per-year limit, I’d blow it all early.

    • Thanks so much for your encouragement and feedback, Sarah. It sounds like you can really relate to my challenges. The small but manageable steps you’ve taken lately seem to have really made a difference for you and probably weren’t too overwhelming, either. I’m sure that after I take a couple of steps, it will get easier. It’s just gotten comfortable for me to be a hermit who is at home with my husband and cats most of the time. I really do want to get out more, but I’ll have to start slowly so I don’t run back and hide again!

      Regarding the clothes, I was originally going to do a per month limit, too, but I wanted to try the yearly limit for two reasons. Some months I either need more things than others or find more things I like and that are on my list. Also, I wanted to challenge myself to be able to shop in moderation. If I continue to blow my limit early, I will pull back the reins and go to a monthly limit. I wanted to do a yearly budget, too, but didn’t feel I was ready for it yet. I may opt to move to quarterly limits for both my budget and item limits. We’ll see… Congrats on doing well so far with your per month limit!

  8. It is so amazing that you are willing to open up and share with us about your life, and this crazy addiction that all of your followers are also trying to overcome. I can identify so closely, as many of us can. It’s so tough to just quit! I have recently opened up to my husband about my shopping addiction and how I want to fix it slowly. Men are “fixers” so to speak. So his instant reaction is to try and fix it. Together we devised a “One in – One out” policy. If I purchase something new, I have to be willing to remove an item from my closet. So it makes me really think about my purchases. Just curious Debbie, have you ever tried that method? And another thing we decided on was that I can only pay cash for my clothing. It’s HARD, to fight the urge to charge it! But knowing that I’m on a limited budget every quarter, I make a true list of what I truly need. Yes quarterly shopping now; another agreement I made in my shopping contract. It’s a tough road, but having your blog helps me realize I’m not alone, and neither are you Debbie! It’s all about a support group really, and this has become that for me.

    • So glad you liked this post, Daphne! It sounds like you and your husband have come up with some good strategies regarding your shopping. I have tried the first two suggestions but not the quarterly shopping. I’m considering using a quarterly shopping budget instead of monthly. Using only cash was helpful for me when I did it, but overspending isn’t as big of a problem for me as it once was. One in, one out is great, but last year I needed to send at least two things out for everything I brought in. I do plan to have one in, one out to be an overarching theme from here on out, as it’s quite helpful. Best of luck to you!

  9. I know what you’re going through. I have had a problem with compulsive spending for many years. I think those of us who have this issue will always have to live with it, like those with other addictions do. Celebrate your successes when you have a victory and can say ‘no’ to buying something but don’t beat yourself up when you do. That said, it doesn’t mean that you (we) should not continue to try and work through the issues that make us want to buy more because we hurt in some way.

    • Welcome, Dee, and thanks for your wise words. I agree that I may always be a recovering shopaholic and may never be fully recovered. That’s how it’s been for me with eating disorders, although those issues plague me far less than they used to.

  10. This is such a good, honest, post. Thank you for being so open with us.

    Your awareness of yourself is remarkable, and I think that will help you get through all of this. It’s okay to struggle, and I admire you for continuing to write here in those moments instead of running away.

    I had a thought when I read your personal goals post – as someone who has also struggled greatly with her health, I can relate to some of what you said. It’s very tempting to frame goals in terms of what you’ll be able to do when you’re better, or to set goals of getting healthier. I have learned over time that this is not a constructive way of living. Hard as it may be, I think you may need to come to a place of acceptance and set goals that work within your current limitations. Of course that doesn’t mean you can’t make a point of doing things that could help you feel better, but it does mean accepting that no matter what you do, you might not feel better, or that it may simply be a matter of being patient and waiting for healing to happen over time. I personally have found that when I work within my own limitations, it is easier to find satisfaction. That mindset is not easy, but ultimately living in the present is a lot easier than waiting for the future better, healthier, version of myself to appear in order to live more fully. Perhaps it is worth considering that you’ve set some goals that don’t give you enough freedom to appreciate who you are already and what is good in your life already and that this is creating some negative pressure on you that may be affecting your thoughts and behaviours.

    Best wishes to you.

    • This comment was very helpful to me, Abby. Thank you! I do think I need to live more in the present and accept my health challenges and work with them as best as I can. I have struggled for many years, but things have been worse in the past year. You’re right that I may need to re-think my goals and not put so much pressure on myself to achieve things. Your last sentence is especially making me think. I may have a “revisiting my goals” post soon. I will definitely continue to share my struggles on this blog, as I know such posts resonate with others. It is always my intention to be real and to be open as much as I can. I don’t do it enough in my “real life,” but I’m happy I feel comfortable doing on my blog.

  11. I am overwhelmed by your honesty. After coming across your blog, I decided to “count” my clothing items, left out accessories, undergarments, socks, sleepwear. Anyway, my total was about 280(I got sloppy counting ). Honestly, I never thought of myself as having a shopping problem, but now I am wondering! I tend to buy “deals” at TJMaxx, (my addiction) and most are throw away type clothing. Less is more is my new mantra. Better quality, fewer things, and buying for the life I have, not the life I want. I love your tips. But moving on, I can relate to much of how you are feeling. I am about 10 years older than you, have an advanced degree, mother of 3 almost grown kids. But I have not worked since having my children (30 years), except for very very part time teaching on and off over the past 12 years. I had a “clique” of friends , but many moved, went back to work, divorced, etc. and life sometimes changes, and you grow apart, or whatever. When you have children you can overlook not working because you are working and very busy. My problem is I never thought of a life without the responsibility of children. So now I too am at a loss and feel that there are huge holes in my everyday life. It feels small. So I work out with a “trainer” once a week, teach at a religious school onnce a week, read tons, discovered I love to bake and kind of enjoy cooking (which my husband expects nightly anyway) and still have 4 close friends. Alot of life is about finding people who are at the same place as you are. That is not always easy. It sounds like you are lucky in the sense that you have a good marriage! By the way, you write very well, and I think that this blog thing is a great fit for you!!

    • I appreciate your comment, Sherri, and your sharing about how you can relate to my struggles. We are both going through life transitions that are challenging our identities. I’m glad you’ve found some balance as of late and have connected with others who are in a similar place in life. I would be thrilled to have 4 close friends. I used to have more friends, but life happens and things and people change. Yes, I am very lucky to have a good marriage! Thanks for your compliment on my writing. I agree that blogging is a good fit for me and I definitely intend to keep doing it!

  12. I thought I’d tackle the goal issues. I’ve suggested volunteering before, but I’d like to amend this to volunteering in a team setting or where you would have an on-going commitment. This may give you a greater chance of connecting with some new folks, if not at the “friends” level then perhaps at the “friendly acquaintances” level. Or perhaps a part-time job might open you up to new acquaintances. I’m not suggesting a big career change here, but something that gets you out into a new arena. (Perhaps working in your favorite store might be a solution IF you also curb the use of the employees discount. Working in retail might be the antidote for over-shopping.) There probably are formal/informal networking opportunities in your area for bloggers, women business owners, etc. Then there are book clubs and other ways of connecting with human beings. It takes some effort to get one’s self out of the house (I know) but the pay-offs are great.

    • Thanks for your suggestions, Dottie. I would love to do volunteering and have a part-time job and still intend to pursue both. My health struggles have gotten in the way, but I think I can pursue other connection opportunities like you mentioned at the end of your comment. I hate committing to things and having to cancel when I don’t feel well, but I will risk it for “one off” meetings that have a lot of attendees (like the book clubs, etc.) that wouldn’t be impacted too negatively if I’m unable to attend.

  13. A few years ago I decided to set some small goals. One was to visit (and hike in) one state park a month. This turned out to be very achievable and very exhilarating. (I hiked mostly “medium” challenging trails except for one or two that had some very tricky spots.) I live in a fairly small state with a good park system so it was a lot of fun seeing the different “wild” parts of the state. More recently, I’ve decided to explore all of the local city/county parks and found a few “wild” parks that I try to walk in whenever I can. Next on my list: joining a local hiking club. The reason why I set these goals was to get out of the house, get some fresh air and Vitamin D, challenge myself physically, and blow away some mental cobwebs. I now need hiking buddies.

    • This sounds wonderful, Dottie. What a great idea! I like the idea of setting small goals and doing things to get outside and enjoy nature more. Good luck on joining the hiking club and finding some hiking buddies!

  14. You have the best blog ever – I know I have to follow you closely to pick up some good habits from you. Haha, my closets will thank me in the long run as they are bursting with more than 600 items, not counting underwear, training gear, sleep wear and accessories. This has to stop at some point, and it might as well be now. Besides I actually really love to shop my own closet – I have so many nice things that I’ve completely forgotten about. 😉

    • Welcome, Safira! I probably used to have as many items as you at one point. Change takes time and small steps will help to get you there. Shopping your closet is a wonderful first step to take. Best wishes!

  15. “I have set some wonderful goals for my life, but I have virtually no idea how I will reach them. How does one make new friends as a middle-aged introvert? How does one overcome long-standing and seemingly immovable health challenges? How does one who’s had over thirty jobs and three failed businesses find a new way of making a living that she doesn’t hate? Does a hobby exist that I can enjoy as much as shopping?”

    I feel you especially on the second question, Debbie. Health challenges of this nature can burrow away at the very core of your being. You’re definitely not alone.

    If you are at all interested, there’s some truly excellent info and tips on the friendship stuff over at CaptainAwkward.com. It may require some poking around and of course your mileage may vary, but it’s an awesome website full of super-supportive folks and great advice on a variety of social/relationship/job/full life topics.

    Anyway, mainly just confirming that yeah, there’s folks like me hanging out around here not judging and not thinking you need “fixing”, just listening, supporting, and relating.

    • I know you can relate to the health challenges, Claire. Thanks for chiming in to help me feel less alone, and thanks for the recommendation for Captain Awkward. I look forward to checking out that site! I appreciate your telling me I don’t need fixing. That means a lot!

  16. Really, really interesting blog. I don’t have exactly your struggles but certainly I fell into the consumerism habit that most Americans seem to have. My first clue was Don Aslett and his books on clutter. The light bulb went on. (This was many years ago, but his materials are still right on.)

    The more significant thing however is loneliness. Mother Teresa once said that Americans were the poorest of the poor in that (in her observations,) Americans were the most lonely of people. Other studies have discovered how very few friends most Americans say they have. For most Americans, the emotional and social network is exceedingly thin.

    I have seen a number of practical suggestions to try to find friends and interests offered in reply to your post, but I would just suggest that one critical element is to think about the fundamental meaning of ;your life. Just being busy is another form of consumerism and will ultimately not be any more satisfying than shopping.

    Focus on your ultimate meaning and thus the value of your life, and you will find an abundance of true friends and meaningful activities. You will live a very rich and fulfilling life, You are an very intelligent and honest woman, but that also means that you cannot fool your self. You are also brave. I wish the very best for you.

    • I agree with Dottie that this is excellent food for thought, Susan! I hadn’t read that about Mother Teresa before, but I believe it. A lot of Americans (and similar cultures) have “friends” (Facebook and the like), but many of us lack deep connections. Meaning is also lacking in many of our lives. I definitely need to focus more on my ultimate meaning. Perhaps that will be a future blog post… Thank you for your comment and your kind words!

  17. Debbie, you are an outstanding, heart-felt writer and this blog is an enormous triumph. I hope you will continue to write for the rest of your life because you nourish your readers and leave us begging for more. But writing is isolating, I know because I’ve been writing and publishing for over 25 years. In the old days after I finished a big writing project, after I submitted it to my editor, the next thing I did was take myself shopping. I looked forward to my shopping days and for a while after I stopped I missed them desperately. But now I go on artist dates instead. Listen to Julia Cameron, she is wise in suggesting the artist date. It works every time, and it’s the best cure I know of, makes me feel good every time.

    • I really appreciate your kind words about my writing, Terra, It means a lot, especially coming from an accomplished writer like you! I agree that writing can be isolating. Thanks for nudging me to revisit “The Artist’s Way.” I read it long ago but didn’t do most of the exercises. Perhaps it’s time to do them now, particularly the “artist date.”

  18. Hi Debbie, after reading this post, i had the urge to reply hoping i can shed some light for you and see through my eyes.
    I have followed your blog since you started, as I sometimes feel I’m a shopaholic. I enjoy how analytical you are. I wish to be able to tag and do spreadsheet with all my clothes but it would takes years if you did it 5 hrs a day. Seriously. There’s no way of counting ‘tops’ in my closet, you’ll lose count.

    This is me: I love shopping and like stuff on sale….I love coming home with like 3-4 bags of new stuff…clothes, shoes, handbags etc. I love all things..accessories, jewellery anything fashion. I read all fashion mags. I have a room kilted out to a walk in closet. I buy more than i can wear and sometimes, the item is so expensive, i save it for a special occasion which means i never wear it. I’m not in debt and always pay off my credit cards monthly. I take care of all my things and I love looking at all my purchases in my spare time in my closet room.

    So here I am, now…with cancer (since July 2012), a few years left to live and going thru treatment after treatment and 1 complication after another where I end up doing an operation here and there.
    All my beautiful clothes, unworn, handbags, heel unused…I sit in a lazy boy chair with a heatpad, recovering from this and that….months going by. I’m in pjs or fleece 24/7.

    I now realize, all this stuff, worn and totally not worn….I can’t take with me.
    My designer bags will still be in the dust bags after I’m gone. So sad cause they are so new looking. Everyone tells me to sell it etc, but really I have no energy and my time is limited, do I really want to spend my waking moments on ebay or a consignment store?

    If I have more time and my health gets better, (hoping) I would go take pottery, or learn a new language, travel or take yoga, Pilates…meet people in all these classes I take, young or old. I try cooking even, as I hate cooking. I go through my community centre brochure and just register myself in classes, things I never even thought I would want to learn. Give me a purpose everyday, and take up my time and meet new friends. So my shopping budget would go to learning and experiences. I would also volunteer my time with my local cancer center.

    So you need to give yourself a chance. Go out there and do stuff instead of shopping…I would still shop but much less as I can probably shop in my own closet.

    Will keep reading your blog!

    • I cannot say how sorry I am for what you’re going through- I hope you can fully recover!! But thank you for the perspective – I really needed it.

    • Annie, I am so sorry to hear about your health. You make the most poignant argument against over-shopping : You can’t take it with you. I decided years ago that I wanted to spend my $$ on building memories with family and friends — a much better investment of resources (financial and emotional). God bless you for your wisdom.

    • Annie, I echo what the others have said. Thank you so much for sharing your insights with all of us. Your comment brought me to tears. You said things so many of us need to hear. I wish I could give you a hug, but I send you love and healing wishes. I hope you will get a chance to take those classes and enjoy those new experiences.

    • Annie, I am going to save your comment to help me remember what is important. Thank you so very much for sharing this wise perspective. Best wishes for your healing.

  19. Debbie – Thank you for your refreshing honesty. You are a brave woman to share your struggles so honestly.

    I have been thinking about your two words: simplicity and joy. I have been wondering if the life goals you have set are so complicated that they are overwhelming. Your goal on your health includes many actions that may be more than you should tackle at once. Perhaps you would feel more joy if you made your goals even smaller, like “I will eat a nutritious lunch at least three days a week” rather than “Vastly improve my health.” As one who has struggled with chronic pain for more than 20 years, I can attest to the power of small changes, one at a time, over vast changes all at once.

    For example, in order to sleep better, I set a goal of not watching TV after 9:00 at night. That goal was much easier to meet than “improving my sleep”. I have found the big goals set me up for failure, guilt and even more depression – all perfect reasons to go shopping!

    Your goal of making three new friends may be difficult, too, for an introvert. Perhaps your goal could be engaging in an activity you like with other people – a class, a support group, etc. Then perhaps set a goal of asking one person out to lunch or for coffee. Putting pressure on yourself to make a friend may take the joy out of the process and set yourself up for failure.

    So I encourage you to look at your goals again and think, “How can I simplify this goal so that I might be more likely to be successful and enjoy the process?” Remember, simplicity and joy. Best wishes as you continue your journey. I am pulling for you!

    • These are really helpful suggestions, Anne! I do sometimes feel like my focus on goals and achievement conflicts with the simplicity and joy theme. I wonder if perhaps just focusing on my theme would be enough to move my life in a positive direction. The smaller goals/actions you mention sound more doable than the bigger goals I laid out for myself. Perhaps the 2014 “Full Life Project” will need some revision. Stay tuned…

      • I think that’s a good idea. For me if I have too many goals or goals which are too big, it’s overwhelming. This year I made a list of “things I’d love to do in 2014,” which was an idea from a post by Courtney Carver in December 2011. I wrote everything I could think of that I’d love to do, but there is no pressure or expectation that I have to accomplish all those things. I review it regularly to remind myself. It feels very positive, like I’m just remembering what I really want to do. I’ve already decided that I’m not that interested in a couple things on my list right now, but I’m making good progress in others. Of course, for some people, lots of specific goals really works well! Best wishes, Debbie – just remember you are making great progress and I’m sure you will continue to do so!

  20. As an addict myself (I’m a recovering alcoholic), I wonder if your blog and its focus on fashion isn’t hurting your recovery? This would be similar to me writing about wine every day — I just couldn’t do it.

    Instead, I have to distance myself from old habits. I can’t admire my wine glasses, buy a more modern corkscrew, visit vineyards, read about vintages, buy and return bottles, press labels in books, etc. I have to focus on other things, every day — and that includes new friends, new venues, new pastimes.

    I wonder what hobbies you will take up, what ways you will find to enrich your spirit, and how you will ease your loneliness.

    Your blog is an inspiration to me. I’m inspired by your honesty and I’m cheering you on as you struggle to come to terms with what might bring you meaning.

    • Thanks for sharing your perspective, Bette. I don’t feel my blog hurts my recovery because it doesn’t really focus that much on fashion per se. When I was doing my styling business, THAT did hurt my recovery. In fact, my shopping problem got much worse when I was focused on clothes and shopping so much. I do feel I need to focus more on improving my life but perhaps in a less pressured way (as others have mentioned). I’m glad my blog is inspiring to you and I thank you for cheering me on!

  21. I could really relate to your post. I have purchased 20 items this year for $4000 minimum. I like your idea of setting a limit to the number of items for the year but need to find some time to sit down and think about the issue. I am drawn like a magnet to my trigger stores. Today I did manage to escape without a purchase after trying several items on that were nice but not great but I did feel bad- that I set an expectation for the shop owner. I feel like the shop keepers know me as the person who always buys- I may have to shop at stores where people do not know me. However, I love to shop and look forward to spending a day running around, doing lunch and carrying my shopping bags. Your blog is my only hope at this point.

    • I appreciate your openness here, Paula. Congrats on escaping without purchasing yesterday! I can relate to what you wrote about shop owners having expectations that we will buy. I’ve had to avoid some of my past favorite stores for just that reason. When I shop now, I try to go to places where people don’t know me and I don’t get too “chummy” with store owners or salespeople anymore. That’s helped me a lot to not overbuy. Best wishes to you!

  22. Powerful post Debbie. Thank you for putting yourself out there. You and I are so much alike and so are a lot of other people apparently. So at least you know you aren’t alone. I’m so sorry about your health and hope you can be gentle with yourself and heal.

    “How does one make new friends as a middle-aged introvert? How does one overcome long-standing and seemingly immovable health challenges? How does one who’s had over thirty jobs and three failed businesses find a new way of making a living that she doesn’t hate? Does a hobby exist that I can enjoy as much as shopping?”

    This one paragraph pretty much hits all of my feelings too. Except that I am in good health thankfully. It’s such an ongoing struggle to make friends. I have exactly 3 – my husband, my sister, and my niece. I hope family counts anyway or I’m pathetic. But even before I retired, I was friendly with my coworkers but we never saw each other outside of work so I wouldn’t call us good friends, just friendly acquaintances. And they were a wonderful group of women for the most part.

    I want to find a hobby I enjoy. Took one sewing class and enjoyed it but really sewing is a solitary endeavor once you get the hang of it. In April I’m signed up at a local bakery to take a pizza & focaccia making class. My first attempt last week with homemade pizza dough was a disaster! I’m not much of an outdoors person but maybe I need to push my boundaries and learn to kayak or canoe.

    I just wanted you to know that you’re not alone and we are all rooting for you!

    • Just wanted to echo these sentiments – and to say how honest and open you are Debbie for sharing your inner most feelings with us. I cried when I read this post and with every comment from others my heart gives out an enormous cry of relief. I also struggle to maintain friendships not through lack of attracting new friends but over the years looking after everybody’s needs has left me with a massive feeling of some thing missing. At 55 I feel I don’t have much to look forward to other than the daily mundane and mind numbing routine but I don’t have the energy or inclination right now to change anything even though I know it’s down to me. I seek emotional and physical comfort in my clothes – forever searching for the right piece and constantly purging. This blog has helped me more than I can say and continues to do so. Thank you Debbie.

    • I am a counselor who is certified in the Myers Briggs Type Indicator. One characteristic of introverts is that they often have only one or two close friends. And yes, family does count. Introverts get their energy by spending time alone or with one or two close individuals. Extroverts on the other hand get their energy by being with people, preferably groups of people. These preferences are part of the way we are hard wired. It has to do with something called our reticular activating system. Read more here http://www.benziger.org/articlesIng/?p=30.

      Please embrace how you are wired and don’t make the mistake of thinking that something is wrong with you! You are perfect just the way you are. You are not defective; you are just different from extroverts.

      I have found a lot of peace as I have accepted that I am an introvert and I have stopped putting pressure on myself to be more social. I have even come to enjoy how I am. I hope perhaps this information will be helpful to other introverts who follow Debbie’s blog.

    • We do have a lot in common, Kim. I’m glad you’re trying new things and have signed up to take another class (and are even considering doing things outside of your comfort zone). I’m also glad that Anne chimed in with her perspective related to the Myers-Briggs. I definitely think that our connections to family members count! I don’t know what I would do without my husband, that’s for sure!

      Andrea, I heard a quote once that in order to be happy, we all need someone to love, something to do, and something to look forward to. For a long time, the shopping has fulfilled the latter two items for me, but it isn’t making me happy. I’m trying to find new things to do and new things to look forward to. It isn’t easy, but I believe it’s possible. I hope you will keep searching and keep trying for new things to bring joy to your life. Yes, the comments here bring hope, not just to me but to all of us who struggle.

  23. Dear Debbie,

    thank you so much for this post. I think it meant a lot to us all.
    First I would like to sincerely congratulate you on this year’s efforts. You have been doing very well !! The important thing is not exactly how much less you buy but the fact that you consistently buy less. You’re developing the right attitude, and getting stronger and stronger. Relapses are completely PART of the process.
    I can relate so well to what you say : changing habits is NOT easy. I am going through a breakup at the moment and it’s awful, awful. After almost 6 months it’s as if it happened yesterday. I am also trying to tackle my shopping addiction while in the middle of psychotherapy -where we reached the point where I’m not sure what I can learn that I don’t know yet. And yet I still feel as anxious as ever.
    It’s exactly as you describe it : once you rip off your support system (shopping, loving) what’s left is really scarier. You realize that the “fuller life” part from your goal does not come systematically after you’ve emptied your closet, despite the huge efforts already made. You feel even more anxious and the only way you know to cope with that is trying to go back from where you came. You realize you are only in the middle of the road and feel emotionally strained.
    The good news is the same as the bad news : you are in the middle of the road. You are too far to go back exactly to how you managed your anxieties before.
    I notice this with shopping : after about 2 years of constant effort to purge my closet and curb my impulse to run to shops to seek short-lived satisfaction, 2 years paved with failures, relapses and such, the need seems to be finally gone. Just gone, from one minute to the next almost. I don’t feel it any more. I know even if it comes back it momentarily will never, ever be as strong again. So trust us recovering shopaholics Debbie : this moment will happen. One day, just like that ! The temporality of inner change is not ours, but we can make sure we always walk in the right direction, and that’s a guarantee it will happen one day.
    It’s the same with making friends. You feel like you have joined new activities, you have tried to talk to people and yet you still have no new friends. Keep trying, keep trusting, and one day just like that you’ll find one. It WILL happen, no doubt.
    The journey is not over though…. is it ever ? Now I have to actually make myself more happy. Fill the void.
    Hugs to all who need them ! 🙂

    • I really appreciate your sharing your experience and your perspective, Clara. I like the comment about the good news and the bad news being the same – I am in the middle of the road. So true… I love to hear from those who are a few steps ahead of me. It gives me hope and encouragement, as I try to do for those who are a few steps behind me. I will keep going on and have faith that it will all kick in at some point – losing the urge to shop, making new friends, finding new joy in life. Thanks for the dose of wisdom and encouragement!

  24. I am very late to this post, but my goodness you have tapped into a lot of emotional baggage here. There is not much that I can add, only that it took me years to accept the fact that I am indeed an introvert, and that it is okay. No more pretending that I have a good time (I used to hope on of my children would get ever so slightly sick to give me a reason to back out of a social commitment). It was hard to decline invitations, and to top it off I am friendly by nature, so everybody assumed I would love to join whatever.
    Your road to recovery will be filled with bumps along the way, everybody’s life is that way as we each struggle with unfulfilled hopes and dreams. I’ll be thinking about you.

    • Thanks for sharing your insights, Cornelia. I agree that accepting our introversion is an important step toward self-acceptance and increased happiness and satisfaction. Like you, I am also friendly by nature, but I enjoy smaller and more intimate gatherings far more than parties and large events. I appreciate your encouragement – today and along the way.

  25. Hi Debbie:

    I am sorry to hear about this and I can trully feel your pain. Have you read the book “Man’s search for meaning”? It helped me a lot during my darkest hours. It may help you too.

    • Thanks, Lynn. Yes, I read that book a couple of years ago and really enjoyed it. Perhaps it’s time to read it again or at least re-visit some of the many bookmarks I made of useful points.

  26. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I am also struggling to overcome shopping excessively. I’ve purged and purged and purged, to only go out and shop and shop and shop once again. I shop when I’m bored, stressed, or just want to feel ‘special.’ And I understand trying to replace shopping habits with new activities. I’ve gotten better about going straight home from work instead of the mall, but it’s boring. So I joined a gym. For a year I went daily and never made any friends and never lost much weight either. I lifted, I ran, I biked, I went before work, I went after work, but I just never clicked with anyone. So after a year, I gave up. Time to try a new idea. I joined a club where people in my area and age range (30-50) got together periodically for activities. Mostly wineries, a couple of lectures, and again, I never clicked with anyone! I’m a mild introvert by nature, but I just can’t seem to meet people on the same page as me. So I always go back to shopping.

    • I can really identify with what you wrote, Lisa. I try other things and keep going back to shopping, too, but as I progress in my recovery, shopping doesn’t “do it” for me the way it used to. I’m now in a place where virtually nothing is truly meeting my emotional needs. I think we need to keep trying new things. Kudos to you for trying the gym and the club, but perhaps those weren’t the best fit for you. As introverts, perhaps we need smaller group activities or things that are basically solitary but allow for periodic interaction with others. As an example, my mother-in-law is an artist. She mostly paints alone but is a member of two art groups and attends two regular classes. That allows her to have some social interaction without being too overwhelmed (she’s more introverted than I am!). I haven’t found my “thing” yet, beyond shopping, but I believe it’s still out there somewhere…

  27. Debbie,
    First I want to thank you for sharing your experience and insights with us. Reading through your posts I have realized that I am a shopaholic, despite my small budget and not too big wardrobe. I thank you for that, because accepting there’s a problem is the first step to recovery right?
    Whenever I read one of your posts about your feelings of a void i your life, my heart goes out to you. As an introvert and homemaker ( read: no job for several years) I can relate to a lot of what you say. Social pressure to work is strong, even if there is no financial need. Have you considered takig some of that pressure off yourself? Having a ‘career’ is certainly not the only way to find fulfillment. In fact many succesful in their careers still have a void in their lives.
    I think you do a lot of good trough this website. You’ve impacted many more people perhaps, than you would through a conventional career.
    As for meeting people, and finding fulfillment as well, many people have had success by visitig a church. You may meet a few friendly people and find good advice, such as ‘there is more happiness in giving. ‘ which has been proved scientifically as well.
    In that vein, you could consider a volunteer activity. Something within the limits that your health will allow, but that will help you connect and make a positive impact.
    Please don’t feel pressured or judged by any of this. I sincerely hope you will find happiness. 🙂

    • Thank you for your comment, Carrie. I’m glad that reading my posts has helped to increase your awareness about your shopping behavior. One doesn’t have to spend a lot of money, have a huge wardrobe, or be in major debt in order to be a shopaholic. There’s more to it than that… I appreciate your comments about the pressure I put on myself regarding career and achievement. I am very grateful to have impacted a lot of people with my blog and it’s been extremely fulfilling for me. I agree that volunteering could be rewarding for me, but I hesitate to get involved because I worry I will have to cancel at the last minute due to my health issues. I may try to find something that wouldn’t be so dependent upon my involvement, as I would feel terribly guilty to inconvenience others because of my unpredictable health. I am going to keep trying to find fulfillment in a variety of ways and church is something I may revisit, too. I didn’t feel pressured or judged by any of your comments. I know you’re just trying to help me. Thank you for your suggestions and good wishes. I wish you the best, too!

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