Shopaholic Recovery: Past, Present, and Future

I was recently interviewed for a television segment that will air next week (see the end of this post for more information) and I was asked about how far along I am in my recovery from compulsive shopping.  After pondering for a moment, I said that I am approximately 75% recovered at this point and will always have to be vigilant of my shopping behavior and the underlying feelings. In today’s post, I reflect upon the growth I’ve achieved thus far, where I am today in my recovery, and how I see the future unfolding.

Past Present And Future

The Starting Point

I started this blog in January 2013.  At that time, I had a closet stuffed full of clothes that I rarely or never wore, a wardrobe that lacked cohesion, little comprehension of my personal style aesthetic, virtually no control over my shopping behavior, and a completely unbalanced life.  Shopping was my main hobby and I shopped as a way of dealing with all types of feelings and life situations, both positive and negative.

If you asked me in late 2012 about my buying behavior, I would have told you that I was shopping to try to improve my wardrobe and style.  I would have bragged about the excellent deals I had gotten at both retail and resale stores.  I also would have downplayed the severity of my shopping problem because, after all, I wasn’t in debt.  Sure, I exceeded the clothing budget my husband and I had agreed upon sometimes five-fold, but we always paid off our credit cards each month.  I wasn’t in danger of going into bankruptcy or being out on the street.

But deep down I knew that something was gravely wrong with my shopping habits, that what I was doing was far from normal or okay.  The interviewer last week asked me if I had hit any sort of “rock bottom” before I decided to try to turn things around.   In truth, I hadn’t, at least not in the traditional sense.  I wasn’t on the verge of divorce and I was still able to manage my day to day life okay.  However, there were some serious consequences both inside and outside my closet.  The wardrobe tracking I had done during 2011 and 2012 revealed that half of my wardrobe consisted of what I termed “wardrobe benchwarmers,” those items that were worn only once or weren’t worn at all over the course of an entire year.   I didn’t have a lot to show for my overspending except a cluttered closet full of clothes that I didn’t need and certainly didn’t love.

What’s worse, though, is that I suffered from what Dr. April Benson (author of “To Buy or Not to Buy”) has termed the “poverty of the soul.”  I was so obsessed with shopping and clothes that I didn’t have much of a life beyond it.  I felt empty inside and my effort to fill the gaping hole in my psyche with clothes, shoes, and accessories was failing miserably.  Something had to give.

The Progress

So I started this blog as a way to chronicle my journey toward recovery and potentially connect with, inspire, and by inspired by others who struggled with compulsive shopping. I set some goals and rules for myself and took on various challenges (including Project 333) to help me along the way to a healthier relationship with shopping.

There have been lots of ups and downs over the past three years.  Sometimes it felt like I was taking two steps forward and one (or even two) steps back.   The experience of treading water was common, especially when it came to my effort to buy fewer items.   The belief that “more is more” proved difficult to vanquish and I still feel challenged on that front.

Yet, through writing my posts, interacting with readers, and focusing on healthy and gradual change, I have made some strong progress.  I have pared down my wardrobe by over half, downsized my jewelry collection by two-thirds, developed a much stronger sense of style, and am far more satisfied with the contents of my closet and the outfits I wear.  I have managed to adhere to a yearly budget for the past three years and moved from monthly to quarterly accounting last year in an effort to shift toward seasonal shopping.   I shop far less frequently than I used to, make fewer buying mistakes, and have a significantly lower proportion of wardrobe “benchwarmers” than I had prior to starting the blog.

While I used to focus a highly disproportionate amount of energy on shopping and clothes, I have now cultivated some other interests, including my growing love for photography and cooking.  Instead of running out to the mall to help manage stress, I’m now more likely to grab my camera and go for a walk by the water near where I live.   I enjoy feeling the cool breeze on my skin and viewing and photographing the gorgeous colors in the sky as the sun goes down.   Being outdoors brings a peace to my soul that trolling the racks at Nordstrom never gave me.

Although I have dedicated some posts to the topic of shopping psychology, much of my focus thus far has been on the practical.  I have done my best to synthesize what I’ve learned into tangible recovery tips, which I’ve shared in my blog posts and consolidated and enhanced into my two books, “UnShopping” and “End Closet Chaos.”  I have used all of my tips myself, which has helped me get to where I am in my recovery today.   I’m very proud of the progress I’ve made and that I’ve been able to impact many other people through my blog and my books.  I’m also happy to have started a private Facebook community in which hundreds of women from all around the world help each other to shop more mindfully and overcome their various wardrobe challenges.

What Lies Ahead

So more than three years into my recovery process, here I stand at approximately 75% recovered.   At this point, I am reminded of the tagline for my blog, “Trade your full closet for a full life.”  I am convinced that those words encompass the key to the remainder of my recovery.  I have dedicated the bulk of my efforts thus far to the first part of the equation, my full closet.   I have downsized considerably, built a more workable wardrobe, and cultivated a cohesive and inspiring sense of style.  While my wardrobe will continue to evolve over time, it’s in a pretty good place and I’m happy with it.   It really is time to shine the spotlight much more on the full life portion of the equation.

I haven’t exactly ignored the need to develop a fuller life.   I have written quite a few posts on full life subjects (many of which have been moved to the new blog I started in 2018, Full Life Reflections).   I have pondered what a full life is, whether my boredom was with my wardrobe or my life, how lonely I am, the things shopping won’t fix, information overload, worrying  about what other people think, my lack of balance, and my low self-esteem.  I even created what I termed the “2014 Full Life Project.”

Yet, even with all of this attention on the issue of a fuller life, I still feel like my life is much more lonely and empty than I want it to be.  I’m still vulnerable to turning toward my maladaptive shopping behavior as a coping mechanism during tough times.  I still spend the bulk of my time alone and feel that I lack close relationships in my life.  I still feel completely unclear about my future or even what I want it to look like.  It’s time to turn the flashlight away from my wardrobe and toward my inner being.  Selecting “balance” as my theme for 2016, increasing my awareness of my balance challenges, and making some concrete commitments to turn things around is a good start, but I need to delve even deeper.

Honoring Our Real Needs

I am reminded of a powerful quote from April Benson,

We can never get enough of what we don’t really need.”

That’s why compulsive shoppers keep buying more and more; we are trying to fill a psychic hole with material goods. That will never work, no matter how much we buy.  So what do we really need?  Well, it varies from person to person, but there are some virtually universal needs, such as:

  • Love and affection
  • Belonging
  • Self-esteem
  • The esteem of others
  • Autonomy
  • Self-actualization

In order to stop buying compulsively, we need to find new and more productive ways of meeting these needs.  What’s more, we need to get better at self-care and honoring our feelings and boundaries.  I can’t speak for all compulsive shoppers, of course, but I know that I have a tendency to put others first and myself last.  I often say yes to commitments when I really want to say no.  When others need me, I’m generally there for them, all too often at the expense of my own needs.   I frequently feel resentful about this, but since I have such a strong need to be liked, I don’t speak up and thus allow myself to become depleted through giving more than I have to give.   Then I use shopping as a way to nurture myself, and the cycle repeats itself.

Guarding Against Relapse and Furthering Recovery

Fortunately, all of the work I have done on myself since I started this blog has helped keep me from falling into the abyss of compulsive buying in which I found myself for years.  But in order to safeguard myself from relapsing or developing an alternate compulsion (I already struggled with eating disorders for years, as well as other compulsive behaviors), I need to work on honoring myself more and speaking up for myself and my needs.  I need to allow myself to feel my feelings instead of rushing to cover them up through shopping or other types of avoidant behaviors.  I need to trust that if I sit with my feelings (and perhaps journal about them), I won’t go insane; rather, I will most likely gain clarity and peace through the process.

I don’t have all the answers.  I’m not even totally sure what I’m going to do, but I think a good start will be to do the following:

  • Continue journaling: Last week, I wrote about my “unconventional journal” in which I have been writing about my various complaints.   I’m going to keep that up, but I’m also going to resume keeping a gratitude journal, as I feel it’s important to balance things out (there’s that word again…).  In addition to becoming more aware of what needs to change in my life, I need to remain present to all of the blessings I have as well.
  • Revisit “To Buy or Not to Buy”: I read April Benson’s wonderful book back in the early days of the blog, but I didn’t complete all of the exercises. I plan to do so this year and will likely dedicate at least a few blog posts to sharing what I learn in the process. (NOTE: I have already written a few posts about Dr. Benson’s ideas:  mood patterns, reasons for overshopping, shopping triggers, and shopping “aftershocks.”)
  • Revisit a few other books:  There are a few other books that I’ve read previously that I would like to revisit, including “You Are What You Wear” and “Codependent No More.”  I would like to do more book reading in general and cut down on the amount of online reading I do.  This is all part of my “balance” goal, as well as an important part of my recovery. I’m sure I will come across some other books that I’d like to either revisit or read for the first time, but this is a good start.  I’m aiming more for quality – and absorbing the material and incorporating it into my life – than quantity with my reading.

Recovery is a Continuum

I believe that recovery exists along a continuum rather than being a binary process. I may always be a recovering shopaholic and may never be fully recovered, but that will scarcely matter if I get to the 90-95% level of recovery.  At that point, I will be living a full life and shopping will have taken its rightful place in my life.  I may always enjoy shopping, but I won’t be living to shop anymore.  I will shop mostly to fulfill true wardrobe needs, but I will also allow room for a “passion piece” here and there.

I will have so many other hobbies and interests that shopping will merely be one of the things I like to do.  I will be a well-rounded person with healthy relationships who takes care of my own needs and has clear boundaries in place.  My life will be balanced, intentional, and happy.  It won’t be perfect, of course, as nothing ever is, but there will be beauty in the imperfection.   I will be enjoying the journey and okay with who I am, flaws and all.

Thanks to all who have been on the journey with me thus far, whether you’ve been following me since early 2013 or just found my blog this year.   I value your readership very much, no matter where you are on the recovery continuum.  I’m happy to have you along for the ride, even if you aren’t a shopaholic at all and simply want to learn how to better manage your wardrobe and cultivate and express your personal style.  I learn a great deal from my readers and I know I wouldn’t be as far along in my recovery today if it weren’t for your support, encouragement, and even the hard questions and “tough love” you sometimes give me.   I appreciate you and I wish you the best on your path.

Special Announcement – February 29th Television Appearance

At the beginning of this post, I mentioned that I was recently interviewed for a television appearance.  Well, that appearance will be this coming Monday, February 29th, on NBC’s Today Show!   My segment, which will also feature Dr. April Benson, will air during the 8:00 hour.

If you are unable to tune in for whatever reason, no worries!   I will share the video of my appearance both here and on social media as soon as the link is available.   I was interviewed for a long time and shared a lot, but I know the interview will be edited down considerably, so I will be as surprised as you are to see what actually airs.  I hope my story will bring information and hope to those who are struggling with a compulsive shopping problem.

If you’re reading this now and found my blog through The Today Show, welcome!  I invite you to visit my “Start Here” page to learn more about me and this blog and to see some of my most helpful posts.  You can also search for various topics on my Archives page and view Recovery Tips and Resources on those pages on the site. I hope you will find my blog both interesting and useful.

26 thoughts on “Shopaholic Recovery: Past, Present, and Future

    • Thanks, Mette! I know that sometimes videos cannot be played in other countries, but I will try to get the actual video so I can post it on my website instead of just linking to it. The producer had mentioned to me that I could get a DVD of it, so I will pursue that, as I have a lot of readers from other countries that will want to see the segment.

  1. Hi Debbie
    Great post! I’m currently re-reading ‘You are what you wear’ & I’m finding it very helpful (more so second time). My favourite book ever is Jim Rohn – Leading an inspired life.
    I loved the Recovery is a continuum paragraph, I found it very uplifting. In particular the statement ‘there is beauty in imperfection’ was a lightbulb moment, I’ve struggled with self esteem issues due to having had psoriasis since early childhood. I think I will write this out & put on my dressing table mirror, & hope I can be a little kinder to myself! Thankyou as ever for the help & support you provide to us all.

    • I haven’t read that Jim Rohn book, Sharon, although I do like him. It sounds like something I could benefit from, so I will keep it in mind. So happy I could give you a “lightbulb moment” from this post! I don’t know where I first saw the saying, “there is beauty in imperfection,” but it resonated for me, too. I have had self-esteem issues since childhood, too, and although I have improved in this regard, it’s still a struggle. Good idea to put the quote on your dressing table mirror. Every little bit helps!

  2. Thank you for sharing this, Debbie. I love reading your blog, and you have been such an inspiration to me! Your story parallels mine in so many ways, and I am also working on discovering other avenues (besides shopping) to explore on my journey toward a more balanced life.

    • I really appreciate your kind words, Sue, and it’s helped me to feel less lonely to know there are others out there with similar struggles to mine. I wish you the best of luck in finding other avenues toward fulfillment besides shopping. Shopping isn’t inherently bad, but it’s like everything else in life. There can definitely be too much of a good thing! If we can find other ways of meeting our needs, we won’t feel as compelled to shop.

  3. Looking forward to the TV appearance. I have been reading your blog on and off over the past year or so and have commented sporadically. Your feelings somewhat parallel mine although we have taken different life paths. I only worked outside of the home for a few years before I had 3 children. When you are a stay at home mom, you meet other women in the “same boat” so to speak, and most of your relationships stem from the kids. If you do not have children or a major career, it is tough. Here is where are lives converge; at this point, my children are adults and are scattered across the country. I have no career to fall back on,and many of my “mom friends” have drifted away (moved, etc.) I still have a core group but I do feel lonely and Unfulfilled. I used to be a bit of a shopper, but did it as a social activity with friends.

    Over the past several years I have more time and interest in baking, cooking, reading and now, for health reasons, going to a gym. I still have a few friends, but can go many days without seeing them. I am looking forward to the future when my husband retires and we leave this cold northern city and move to a warmer climate. I already see the writing on the wall; we will need to move to a “retirement” community where everyone is looking to meet people, and we are all really in the same situation. If we do not do that, it could get very lonely and isolating. Perhaps this type of lifestyle will be in your future, and you can kind of start over. Just a thought.

    • Thanks for sharing some of your story with me, Sherri. I have known quite a few stay at home moms with stories similar to yours. It’s easier to have a group of friends when there is a common bond that you share (the same can be said for those who work in an office, as I used to). But when that bond no longer exists, it’s all too easy to become isolated. It does seem that friendship is easiest when we are young and much older. My mom, for example, is retired and has a great group of friends with whom she shares a lot of activities. She doesn’t live in a retirement community, but she moved to a small town and is an extrovert, both of which make things easier. I can see the appeal of living in a retirement community with built-in activities. I would think I am too young for that still, but I know that some of those communities are 55+ and my husband is already in that category. Definitely food for thought… It’s good that you are thinking ahead.

  4. I also excited for you Debbie! I’ve already set my DVR to record the show.

    I’m so glad I found your blog. Like many others out there, your voice, process and methods have helped me in ways I wouldn’t have thought possible. I hope you continue in the path forward and find more of the balance and in-person connections you seek.

    • Thank you, Barb, I’m glad you found my blog, too, as I have enjoyed getting to know you in the Facebook group and have learned quite a bit from you, too (and I am grateful to you for sharing your wisdom in a very well-received guest post). I love the online connections, but they need to be balanced by more of a life in the real world. It’s not an either-or; it’s more of a both-and. I hope you like my Today Show appearance. I am nervous, but hope to be pleased by how it ends up.

  5. Bravo Debbie. I am honored to have walked this journey with you. They say that the way to know if we have given freely of ourselves is by becoming aware of what we have received. I have no idea how the goodness pool of giving works, only that it does. And that when we give to someone, or something, it creates a ripple. The kindness might not be returned to us from the person we gave to, but sometime, somewhere, we will receive from someone else. Thank you for all you have given to me, and to others within the past 3 years. Thank you for the work you are doing here so that anyone who looking for support need not walk the path toward recovery alone.

    • You always write the best comments, Terra. I have been honored to walk this journey with you, too, and I am grateful to you for sharing your insights in multiple guest posts and in thoughtful comments both here and in the Facebook group. I like what you wrote about creating ripples. It’s true that we often don’t know the impact we have on others. I didn’t know if many people would read this blog when I started it. It was my fourth blog and I didn’t draw very wide audiences with the other three, but I have been very happy to have gotten a more widespread reach and to help others who struggle with overshopping and closet chaos feel less alone. Plus, I have gotten to meet some really wonderful women, like you!

  6. How exciting about the television show appearance! I can’t wait to see this!

    I just wanted to also comment that typically people need that “rock bottom” moment to wake them up and show them that there is a problem, but the two years of analysis you did on your wardrobe allowed you to catch it much earlier than most would. I feel this is a great example of the importance and benefits of being able to incorporate data analytics in our lives.

    • Thanks, Jane. I hope you will like the show segment. It will be interesting to see which of my comments they decide to use. They talked to my husband, too, so he will likely also be in there. I think you’re right about needing to hit “rock bottom.” I would have thought I’d have gotten there with the multiple times I was in debt, but I got bailed out by people in my life all of those times except one (that time, I used debt consolidation). Maybe it didn’t “sting” enough for me. But the tracking made a big impact on me, especially since I am not one who likes to be wasteful and I care about the environment. I want to be more mindful and prudent of how I shop and what I wear. I still have quite a bit of growing to do in these regards, but as I have said before, I am aiming for progress not perfection. As long as I am improving, I know I am on the right track. The blog has helped considerably and I have felt blessed to be able to positively impact others, too.

  7. I hope you felt a great deal of satisfaction as you chronicled your journey so far for this post. You have been such an inspiration to me and so many others, and I know I wouldn’t have made the amount of progress I’ve made with this problem if I hadn’t found your blog almost two years ago. I refer to your archives over and over to seek out a particular quote or idea, and have referred many of my friends here as well. Starting the Facebook group was such a gift to all of us who have found meaningful connections there, and I am very grateful for the opportunity to get to know you better there, as well as so many other like-minded women. I will be waiting anxiously to see you on the Today Show, and I know that no matter how it goes, Team Debbie has your back!

    • I really appreciate your kind words, AggieMom! It always makes me happy to learn that others have benefitted from my blog, as well as the Facebook group. I didn’t expect either one to grow as much as they have, but I am very pleased. Hope you liked the Today Show segment. It’s good to know that I have a supportive community who has my back!

  8. I saw the Today segment and have had this problem off and on since my teen years. It s painful to have the awareness but not be able to wipe out the behavior and its destructive consequences once and for all. I too am vigilent for this snake to rear its head again so I can check myself . The disease has many faces and masks. It takes courage to consistantly face my darkside and I think it contributed greatly to my failed marriage but your only ready when your ready to get real with yourself and others. I recently heard someone say – When we know better we do better.

    • Welcome, Jo, and thanks for your comment. Awareness is an important part of recovery, but even after we know we need to change, change is hard and takes time (and yes, courage). I have had many ups and downs with compulsive shopping, too, and I’m not totally out of the woods yet. This problem has caused a lot of pain for me and my loved ones, too. It’s hard not to beat ourselves up for that, but doing so doesn’t help us to change. Your vigilance will pay off over time. It’s often true that when we know better, we do better, but we need to be patient with ourselves and just take it one day at a time. Small changes add up, so try to celebrate your wins when they happen.

    • I could have written the same thing myself. Thank you Debbie for all the work you have put into this blog, I know I personally have benefitted a lot.

      • You’re welcome, Tara. I’m glad you have benefitted a lot from my blog. It makes me feel good to know that I’m helping people.

  9. Debbie—Great spot on the Today Show! You looked fabulous and spoke very well. I’ve been reading your blog for two years and it was fun seeing you “in person”. You represented yourself and your “cause” so effectively.

  10. I waited to read this until after the interview aired. I’m glad I did. I actually like the insights shown here more than the snippets shown on the interview. It’s nice to see the thought process and all of the changes that have been going on over the last couple years. Even just looking at your outfit photos you seem to be looking much happier! 🙂

  11. Debbie, I enjoyed your television appearance on the Today Show. You have come a long way in the past three years and you gave an excellent interview. Also, Jenna Bush Hager did a wonderful job pulling the segment together.

  12. I loved this post Debbie. You did so well in your appearance on the Today Show. I can’t wait to see what the future is going to bring!

  13. Thanks to all who praised my appearance on The Today Show! I’m glad you all liked the segment and I appreciate your kind words and support. I hope that the increased visibility means that I am able to reach more people who struggle with compulsive shopping. They need to realize that there IS hope and that it takes time to overcome this issue.

    Bethany, I shared a lot more with the Today crew than was aired. I wish I had the full video to share with my readers, but I’m grateful to have had that wider platform to spread the word. I’m glad you enjoyed this post. I thought it would be a good accompaniment to my Today Show appearance.

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