Wellbeing

I Used To Be A Retail Addict. Here’s How I Kicked The Habit

Online shopping used to be one of my favourite pastimes – I was a real retail addict. I would spend hours browsing eBay, looking for that perfect combination of high appeal and low shipping. I’ve probably wasted hundreds of dollars, if not thousands, this way.

The problem was not financial literacy. I’d spent years reading about personal finance; long-term savings, budgeting, frugality – all concepts I was familiar with and enthusiastic about. And yet, the spending continued. Why?

The answers – there was more than one – were tied up with my mental health. And while some might be entirely peculiar to me, a few of them seem more universal.

Either way, I hope that by speaking about these answers, I can provide some insight into what drives this destructive habit – and how to kick it.

I admitted there was a problem

A reliance on retail therapy is often a symptom of some deeper issue. It can be something as simple as boredom, but in my case, it went much deeper. I was suffering from undiagnosed depression, and overspending was but one of many symptoms.

The first step, of course, was to admit to myself and others that I wasn’t “fine”, that something was very much wrong. Getting counselling for my depression helped tremendously; even if it didn’t tackle the retail addict problem head-on, it helped me get back on my feet, so I could at least start to dismantle the habit.

I established a self-care routine

Retail therapy isn’t just about deep-seated issues; it’s often a means of trying to meet simple needs that aren’t being met. Those needs can include sufficient relaxation, feeling safe, and getting enough sleep, all of which are commonly neglected in favour of working harder. Under such conditions, we can come to rely on other (less wholesome) coping strategies just to get through the day.

By integrating self-care into my daily routine – activities like stretching, mindful relaxation, sleep hygiene, and so forth – I not only started to ease my reliance on retail therapy, I began to improve my overall wellbeing.

I took control of my health

Getting healthier has helped me tackle my spending in two big ways.

First, it distracted me from spending. Kicking a bad habit is easer if you replace it with a new, better habit, and getting healthy fit that bill nicely. Instead of firing up my computer after work and logging onto eBay, I was busy calculating calories, figuring out how I could get more protein for less money, and hitting the gym.

Second, it gave me more energy. Combined with my self-care regimen, this made it easier for me to handle challenges without getting too stressed – and less stress means better decisions.

I began to look for real value

When I consider a purchase these days, I think about what value that product would add to my life, other than the short-lived excitement of buying it.

For instance, some new hockey skates would be nice, but they probably wouldn’t make me skate better. I could use some more stylish gym clothes, but they won’t make me fitter. Those leather-bound notebooks are tempting, but they won’t help me write better or faster.

Beyond their raw functions, these things are just window dressing for what really matters; the thrill of nailing a manoeuvre on the ice, the reward of a stronger body, the satisfaction of filing a well-written article. Unless a purchase directly supports and improves these things, it’s probably not worth it.

Back to basics

Of course, practical solutions have played a part as well. Learning to find clothes that fit me properly has been a big one; I no longer feel like I’m on a hamster-wheel of constantly buying clothes yet never having anything to wear.

Another was setting up an “indulgence fund”. This is just a no-fee bank account that siphons a few carefully budgeted dollars from my savings every week, and I use that money for small treats, or save it up for a bigger treat. This means that if I really want something, I can have it – as long as I exercise a little discipline.

Complex problems often need complex solutions

It’s one thing to know that silver-bullet solutions are rarely solutions at all, but it’s quite another to understand why that’s the case. Grappling with depression and being a retail addict has been a masterclass in that regard.

For example, “stop buying stuff” isn’t a good solution; human beings have finite amounts of willpower, so it’s just not a practical answer. A good solution takes into account the underlying issues – including things like lack of willpower – and employs a range of complimentary tactics to address them.

This requires planning and introspection, but the good news is that you can’t really fail. You just keep going until you find the combination of tactics that works for you.

The key is to be patient, look at what works, and change what doesn’t.


Joel Svensson is a Canberra-based writer originally from Melbourne. He’s written more latté-fuelled stories about first-world problems than he cares to admit, and can be found coping with misleading hashtags at @le0jay.