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 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?
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.