Shopping addiction is no laughing matter

Iona Bain

An article in the Times today caught my eye – but then how could it fail to? It was entitled “Help, I can’t stop shopping! How impulse shopping has taken over my life.”

It is brave and refreshing for someone to admit they have such a powerful obsession with spending money in such a public forum. It opens her up to online accusations of vapidity, empty-headedness and other slightly less polite terms.

Esther Walker admits in the first line of her piece that she thinks she might be “ill”,  and it is hard to disagree with that assessment.

But she may have underestimated the extent to which shopping is ruining her life. Evidence? Her denial towards the end of the piece that she buys anything particularly expensive – because a Mulberry Lily handbag at £650 and a pair of Fiorentini+Baker boots at £400 are bargain basement finds?!

She also insists that she doesn’t have the urge to buy “any old rubbish” but only those items that make her take an inward breath and sigh with esctacy. Only that argument wears slightly thin when you consider a key shopping target to be cheap as chips H&M.

She feels the need to defend her description of shopping addition as a relative of more “serious” addictions like drugs and alcohol. But she can’t stop thinking about shopping, she can’t stop doing it and none of the items she buys bring her contentment (though she contradicts herself on this point too). If that doesn’t make her a candidate for addiction, I don’t know what does.

It all rather suggests that Ms Walker is in denial about the scale of her problem. She prefers to think of herself as a rung below the truly awful cases of people getting into thousands of pounds worth of debt for Prada handbags. Yet the major splurges outlined in the piece and the fact she has two (two!) young children to support rather suggest that the problem is serious enough.

Ms Walker is by no means alone and deserves nothing but sympathy, being surrounded by material pressures and (seemingly) lacking the mental tools to defend herself against them.

We need to start treating shopping addiction not as a frivolous, comment-baiting lifestyle choice but a scourge, maybe even an evil of modern society that can wreck people’s lives and happiness. Ms Walker is to be commended for restarting a debate over whether shopping addiction is real, but it cannot be argued that a propensity for spending money without any real justification is either natural or neutral.

The expert quite rightly says that Ms Walker must find a new substitute for shopping in her life, but that is easier said than done. Lucy Rocca, author and founder of the Soberista movement, has highlighted how empty and black life can seem when a true alcoholic first gives up. That is because you almost have to start all over again and slowly build a new identity that is not defined by alcohol (or in Ms Walker’s case, shopping). Ms Rocca has never looked back, saying her life has infinitely improved since embracing sobriety and her books are well worth a read whether you have an addiction or not.

I would venture to say that anyone with a shopping addiction may require counselling, cognitive behavioural therapy or other extensive talking cures to discover the seeds of their problem, and discover how they can live a new life by new values. This is why none of us should criticise Ms Walker and anyone with a similar problem. She must be supported by her loved ones, friends and the general public to move into a new phase of her life, because it will take considerable personal effort.

Consumerism has been at the forefront of personal freedom over many centuries. But once our lives start revolving around it, expect nothing but a depressing rabbit hole from which we struggle to escape.

To read the article in question, click here 

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