In my 12 years of helping people de-clutter and organize their lives, I know one thing for sure – Americans have too much stuff. Even though our houses are, on average, 50% bigger than the average house in the 1950s, we still need storage units to hold some of our belongings. Come on people, what’s with all the stuff! Is it making you happy?
I recently watched a TV show on which a financial planner was helping a couple develop a strategy to get out from under their credit card debt. The wife (I can’t remember her name, but I’ll call her “Janet”) went to the mall every weekend with her mother and sister and employed a shopping strategy whereby she “saved” money by buying things on sale that she didn’t need. The financial planner referred to Janet’s strategy as “spaving” – the misguided notion that spending money to save money on things you don’t need is a viable financial strategy. As it turned out, Janet got as much pleasure from being with her mom and sister as she did from making the purchases. She revised her behavior so she would simply enjoy the time with them without making any purchases. In the long run, she got more happiness from reducing her financial burden than from spaving.
I’ve worked with a particular client (I’ll call him “Joe”) for quite a few years – he’s on an eternal quest to make his condo less cluttered so visiting family members can stay overnight in his spare bedroom. Unfortunately, that bedroom is filled with “bargains” from shopping adventures. As much as Joe loves the idea of having an inviting home, he can’t get over the thrill of the bargain hunt, and his hunting “trophies” have taken over his guest room. Joe justifies his purchases by saying he’ll be giving them as gifts to those same family members he can’t have over, and he feels good about how thoughtful he is. Sadly, the gifts never seem to make it to their intended recipients. Joe is fed up with his situation – his bargains and his intent to be thoughtful sure haven’t made him happy. By the way, you may be surprised to know that statistics suggest that almost half of over-shoppers may be male.
I’m fortunate to have an inherent dislike of shopping, so I’ve never found myself in Janet or Joe’s situation. But I certainly do understand it. In my training to become a Certified Professional Organizer in Chronic Disorganization, I learned that over-shopping is sometimes due to an unmet emotional need. If you think you may be shopping for that reason, ask yourself what you’re really shopping for. Like Janet, are you shopping for the social aspect? Are you trying to add some excitement to an otherwise boring day? It might be helpful to document how you’re feeling before, during and after you go shopping to see if there’s a pattern or common trigger.
The media certainly doesn’t make it any easier to resist the lure of shopping – magazine ads, TV ads, billboards, and even the content of TV shows and movies all tell us that more is better. If you can’t resist this external stimuli, turn it off – get off the catalog mailing lists (try CatalogChoice.org to make it easier), turn down the sound and walk away from the TV during commercials, unsubscribe from e-mail notifications from stores, etc.
You might also enlist the help of a supportive friend to keep you on track – is there someone you can call when you’re feeling tempted to shop who might fill the emotional void you’re trying to fill? Maybe you could take your support person with you when you absolutely have to go to the store to help keep you from straying into dangerous over-shopping territory. In addition to support from a friend, here’s a resource you may find helpful: Stopping Overshopping, LLC
In the words of writer Eric Hoffer, “You can never get enough of what you don’t need to make you happy.” Best wishes as you search for what truly makes you happy.
Wishing you simplicity, harmony and freedom,