I don’t smoke, don’t drink, and have no urge to gamble; I’d rather torch a twenty than let a casino have it.
My problem is shopping. All of it. Every type, form, and manner of shopping that’s out there. The online browsing, the in-store hunt. Snagging a good bargain at the mall or at someone’s yard sale. I overshop, overspend, buy extra, buy too much. Then I store it, stash it, hoard it, lose it.
Yes, I literally lose it. Or lose track of it. Or forget I have it. This becomes clear to me every December.
When my older daughter returns home and invites a friend or two to stay over for the holidays, I have to excavate one or both twin beds in the spare bedroom. Both are layered high with stuff I had to have but didn’t do anything with.
It’s a lovely room, or would be if it wasn’t my dumping ground.
When I do clean it out, I’m delighted by what I find, and vow to use it. But then another voice chimes in: the Guest-Soap Voice. No, save it! You’ll want it for a special occasion, or when guests come over. Don’t waste it!
The irony — that I uncover these special things when clearing out for guests but never actually use them for those guests — is ridiculous. My rational mind snorts, What stupid behavior. But it’s no match for the adrenaline rush of acquisition.
That’s my addiction. It’s bad. Really bad. Not exaggerating.
If I were a pie chart — bisected by how much time I spend doing various tasks — the consumer portion would be the biggest slice, much bigger than the writer slice. And that consumer is always hungry.
When I open up the Promotions tab in Gmail and click through all the sales offers from retailers, I’m feeding it. When I browse Amazon, I’m feeding it. When I take a peek at eBay or Etsy or even Craigslist, I’m feeding it.
Most days I buy something, and not just one thing. I’d like to think of myself as a thoughtful creator, but I’m more of a grasping American consumer, not celebrating the red, white and blue so much as spending the green.
And really, if I pause to sit and be mindful about my shopping, I’d have to admit I don’t actually need what I buy. I would be fine without it.
When it’s time to deal with what I’ve bought, I flounder.
HOLDING THE BAG
With hands on hips, my rational mind says, Girl, I’m not putting up with your nonsense. I’m left holding the bag, literally and figuratively, for my spendthrift ways.
And that bag often ends up in the spare bedroom, or on the dining room table, or in the home office area of the living room, or in the front hall dumped by my shoes and purse.
My husband is patient with this. Very patient. He knows I have a problem, but he rarely probes me on this. He’s tried, but I’m a pussy raking him with snarky words instead of claws. Don’t grab my purchases! Don’t touch them! Don’t even ask about them!
Recently, after the part-time position I’ve held for the past five years went through some significant changes in both hours and job responsibilities, I said to him, “I’m thinking of quitting. What do you think?”
He was supportive, just like he always is. But later he said, “In terms of household income, it doesn’t matter. It’s your money, but that’s because you’ve always spent it on your things. What do you spend it on?”
No recriminations, no judging, no pointing a finger at me. He asked a simple question, and I became woke.
What had I been spending it on? Even I can’t answer that fully. But I racked up enough bills that for a while, I was panicked.
Two years ago I took a full-time office job for a furniture retailer, my first time in the corporate sector after years of working for nonprofits and freelancing for online media outlets.
I was hired as a copywriter, and since my start date coincided with the series finale of Mad Men, I bragged, “I’m the modern-day Peggy Olsen.” The job was okay, but once they moved me from writing digital content to marketing, it became horrific. My colleagues googled ad headlines and copy, passing the ideas off as their own; when the boss shut her door, they played fantasy sports.
I lasted six months — long enough to pay off my credit cards, put aside some savings, and buy more shoes, bags, and clothes than I realistically needed. I didn’t go back into debt, but it was overspending that led me to take the job in the first place.
AFRAID OF THE ANSWER
Recently, I lost enough weight to get rid of some clothes and start digging in back-of-the-closet boxes I’d marked “Smaller Sizes” to unearth things I hadn’t worn in years.
You know the joke about shopping in your own closet? What I found was stuff I would have bought all over again. Some pieces sparked the same thrill of acquisition I got from shopping, others made me wonder what I’d been thinking.
But the one thing that stuck out was how much I had, and how much I’d forgotten I had.
If someone asked me point blank, “How many pieces of clothing do you own?” I’d be terrified to start counting. I’d be afraid of the answer.
I don’t need more clothes.
I also don’t need more makeup, jewelry, perfume, accessories, purses, shoes, hair and skin products. No more notebooks, pens, pencils, tape or dispensers, staples or stapler. No more baskets, organizational products, hangers. No more candles, aromatherapy, incense sticks, or anything to hold them or burn them in.
I have enough towels and linens. In fact, I need to get rid of the shabbiest or designate them as dog towels and blankets. Problem is, the dogs have enough beds, blankets and coats even though they’re chihuahuas and need layers in frigid temperatures. They have enough treats to keep them occupied for months.
I have enough books. So many books that I wouldn’t be able to finish the unread ones in a year even if I blew through ten a week.
I have enough cans in the pantry, frozen foods in the freezer, spices in the rack, cleaning products under the sink.
So much shopping has created a lack of space, but the rational me knows that’s easily solved. Stop shopping. Start using those guest soaps. Use enough so that you run out, and don’t buy more.
And for once, the Guest-Soap Voice is silent. Because today I quit my job. My reliable, part-time, steady job. And now, other than freelancing and teaching writing, I have no steady income. I am truly a starving writer, or will be if I continue to spend and shop and buy what I don’t need.
There are so many books out there on happiness, simplicity, frugality, decluttering, self-improvement, mindfulness, creativity, writing, living your best life, that you really don’t need to read these words if you want true insight.
I can’t say that I’m going to offer any.
HOW I’M DOING
But I will tell you the story of how I’m doing. On a regular basis, as honestly as I can. I’m going to track all the guest soaps I use, all the makeup stashes I uncover, all the hair products I apply, all the notebooks I fill, all the books I read, all the things I make good use of. All the room I open up in my home and in my life. All the money I save because I’m really, truly not going to shop for anything that I already have in any form. It may not be pretty, it may not be brand-spanking new, but I bought it, I own it, and I’m going to use it.
I’m still struggling with the concrete outlines of what I will and will not buy. Food seems to be essential, at least the basics, but it’s time to eat that canned tuna fish, those beans, that tomato sauce. It’s time to use those spices because they don’t improve just sitting there.
It’s time to own up to what I own and use it to the fullest.
And to not shop for a year.
Because I have a problem. I shop for entertainment, comfort, excitement, simply to feed my addiction.
My name is Linda, and I am a shopaholic.
Now that I’ve said it, I not only have to cut that off, but deal with the fallout — too much stuff.
Room by room, closet by closet, drawer by drawer, I’m going to mindfully examine my life, my possessions, my obsessions, and let go.
I’ve written it down here for you to be my witness.
The first step is stopping the inward flow. I did that yesterday.
Today is Day #2.
If I’m finding it relatively easy so far, it’s because I’ve temporarily misplaced my wallet, so… no access to credit cards. Since I rarely carry cash, I can’t spend.
Once I find that wallet, that’s when it’ll get real. Because like taking a drink, using plastic is addictive.
Until I come up with a complete and concrete plan — which I hope to outline in Part II — I’m making it simple for now:
If it doesn’t spoil, I’m not buying it.
Photo by Mike Petrucci on Unsplash