The following is a guest post from Tonya, a longtime reader of this blog who has agreed to share her “story of recovery” with all of you. Tonya is an active member of my private Facebook group, where she recently shared her story about downsizing her wardrobe, shopping smarter, and honing her style. I thought what she had to say would be inspiring for all readers of “Recovering Shopaholic.” I asked if she would be willing to expand upon her story and share some before and after closet photos.
If you would like to be profiled in the “Stories of Recovery” series (you can be anonymous if desired), or if you have an idea for another type of guest post on “Recovering Shopaholic,” please connect with me to share your thoughts.
Getting My “Fix” Without Going Back into Debt
I first found Debbie’s blog in May of 2013. Up to that point, the only resources that I had found were a couple of bloggers doing shopping bans, debt blogs, and questions to ask yourself to find out if you were a shopaholic. I had gotten myself out of debt, cut my spending by about a third, had a closet stuffed with 500-600 items, and discovered eBay. You can buy an awful lot for a small amount of money there. I was able to get my “fix” without going back into debt.
I thought I had found a solution to my problem, but I just felt empty. Shopping was the number one activity in my life. Although I had friends with whom I got together and other hobbies such as reading and watching baseball, shopping was my very favorite thing to do. I tried doing shopping bans with rather bad results. I would “binge” both before I started and after I finished. During the ban, I would “white knuckle” it and would come up with extra chores to keep myself busy. It isn’t surprising that I wasn’t successful taking away something I liked (shopping) and replacing it with something I didn’t (chores).
On Fit, Color, and Paring Down
As I started reading the blog, there was a lot of discussion about wardrobe management. At that time, I couldn’t imagine why Debbie would want to pare down if she was trying to shop less. Didn’t it make sense to hold on to every single thing if less was going to be coming in? I started to alter my thinking a bit as I kept reading. After I had started weeding things out somewhat, Dottie wrote a couple of guest posts on fit and color (see those posts HERE and HERE). This helped to open my eyes even more.
I was taking pictures of my outfits every day and I’d say it was about 50-50 as to whether I liked them or not. I realized that I had bought all of the colors and all of the styles. I started by getting rid of everything that was obviously awful: anything in a color that looked really bad on me, things that didn’t fit, or styles that were unflattering.
After that initial pare-down, I’d say I had about 300 things left in my closet. I started keeping all of the outfit pictures that I loved in a separate folder on my computer. Before long, I noticed a trend. Most all of those outfits consisted of neutral colors such as black and grey and had similar silhouettes. When I shopped, I started looking for those elements instead of just buying anything that might work.
Cultivating a Fuller Life and Making Powerful Changes
At the same time this was going on, I started to replace shopping with other activities such as going to plays, watching sports, travelling, reading, painting, or going out with friends. It took a long time to enjoy anything as much as I did shopping, but it did happen. I read and did all of the exercises in “To Buy or Not to Buy” by Dr. April Benson. This helped me to see why I felt compelled to overshop in the first place (see Debbie’s thoughts on the main reasons for overshopping here).
I was spending less, continuing to pare down (I had about 100-150 items at this point), and had a fuller and more diverse life. I still had to fight to not shop, though. Just because I wasn’t doing it as much didn’t mean that I didn’t want to. I have quit a number of addictions in my life. Shopping was a replacement behavior. I knew it was time to deal with the things that made me seek out unhealthy things as coping mechanisms.
I went to therapy for a bit and realized that I needed to make some major changes in how I dealt with certain people and how I viewed myself. I asked my therapist about my compulsive shopping and he said that when I changed what I needed to about myself, the coping behaviors would just fall away. It wasn’t an easy process and I fell back on overshopping for a bit as I worked on things. As I started treating myself better and believed that I was worthy of that, I found that he was right; the compulsion left me.
Fast-Forward to August 2015…
In August when the Facebook group opened, I had about 60-70 items in my closet excluding workout wear, pajamas, etc. I am much happier with my style and wear and like everything that I own. This year, I have spent about a quarter of what I used to when I was at my worst. I have a full life and I’m continuing to develop new interests.
I thought I would stay on the same path and keep cutting down until I was only buying exactly what I needed. I was very rigid with counting the number of items in my closet and planning what I would buy. I passed on buying a few things I wanted because I deemed them not versatile enough for a small wardrobe. I thought that if I didn’t stay completely on top of everything, I would spiral back to buying everything in sight.
After several very thought-provoking conversations in the group, I realized that I forgot to ask myself one very important question, “What did I want to do?” Not what did I feel like I should be doing. I knew what I didn’t want. I didn’t want to shop in a compulsive way. I didn’t want to shop to deal with emotional things. I didn’t want to waste money and buy things I never used. I also didn’t want to own and buy the smallest number of things I felt I could tolerate.
Deciding to Trust Myself
After those realizations, I stopped counting how many things I owned. I deleted almost all of my tracking. I only take an outfit picture occasionally for fun. I decided to trust myself. The only rules I have for myself now are to stick to my budget and to love and use what I buy. As soon as I made these changes, I knew it was the right thing for me. I felt so free and stopped thinking about shopping so much. All of the things that had helped me so much in the beginning had been keeping me from moving forward.
I feel really good about how I shop now. Shopping has been put in its proper place in my life. I still have a small wardrobe, but it’s not quite as small now. I buy some extra things that I want and enjoy, but I don’t feel the need to buy them all. I still have some work to do and I’m okay with that. It’s a process. I feel very grateful that I have a community that understands and supports me through it.
A big thank you to Tonya for sharing her story with us. If you have any thoughts regarding this story or would like to share similar experiences, please feel free to comment. I will be back later this week with my final “grab bag” of useful links for 2015.
This is – for me – the most inspiring story of recovery so far posted. I admire Tonya’s commitment to get to the root of her shopping habits, not just impose restrictions and rules on herself. She dug deep – that takes a great deal of courage.
Yes, getting to the intuitive stage, past the rules and self imposed regulations, is the promised land. I’m on the verge, but not there yet. But I can feel it. The shift. It’s wonderful. And also, a work in progress but totally okay with that as well.
I love your story! I love the pictures, they really helped me to visualize your inner changes.
Very inspiring, especially the work that you put into facing the underlying causes. Thank you for sharing that story,
Thanks for sharing your story and pictures, Tonya! It’s very inspiring.
Tonya you are an inspiration to me also, and thank you for sharing your story.
Thanks for sharing Tonya! I also loved how you really worked at healing yourself and finding what worked best for you.
Wonderful story of recovery! I really admire how you worked so hard at dealing with the underlying reasons you shopped compulsively. Well done!
Thank you Tonya, for this post, and for the wisdom you have shared in the form of comments to Debbie’s posts since May of 2013. I am inspired by your ability to peal back the layers, and make lasting changes, and I have always appreciated your gentle, thoughtful manner of sharing your story and of the evolution you have made over the years.
Thank you Terra. You’ve always been so helpful to me.
Thanks for sharing! I love that you haven’t just reduced the numbers, but you have tamed the obsession with clothes and numbers. Getting past the rules and being okay with ourselves and what we have is definitely the goal. Thanks for articulating that!
Thank you for all of the wonderful comments! I appreciate all of them. I hope to keep moving forward and that things keep improving.
Thanks for sharing your story, I can definitely relate to a lot of your comments. I am working on my self-esteem issues and being compassionate with myself, in addition to anxiety. I am hoping that as those things resolve, I will have less desire to shop.
I found this post really helpful, and the photos are inspiring. I am at the end of the initial pare down like the 300 item closet she shows and contemplating where to go from here. Thank you for sharing.